Differentiation is Easier Than You Think

I think every ESL and EFL teacher can bemoan the fact that students coming into our classes have very, very different levels of English. Some students have come into my preschool with no English exposure at all. Other students have been able to carry on age appropriate conversations with me. A handful of my students have been native English speakers.


The difficulties with English speaking readiness is frustrated by diverse student needs. Generally speaking, boys need to move. Generally speaking, girls don’t like games. My older students have grown out of the fingerplays I loved using with them a year before. All of my students have short attention spans (bye-bye lectures). At the beginning of this year, none of them were interested in phonics and literacy past simple alphabet sounds. Then one of my students really struggled to pay attention at all, for more than two minutes. I’m serious. I talk with this child’s parents every day to give them daily updates.


Identifying the learning profiles, interests and readiness of these students, especially my two-minute-focus child, can’t be overstated. Identifying these things helps me to decide and determine if every child is being reached with my instruction, or if I’m leaving some students’ needs out of the picture altogether.

Students can’t and shouldn’t have to rewire their own strengths and interests to match my preferences as a teacher. I’m the professional. I’m the one who’s getting paid to teach. I’m the one who has the ability to change, not a preschooler!


Teacher Question: “How can I figure all of this out?”

Teachers of young children need to depend upon parents at first when the child is still new to the classroom. Subject teachers of young children need to depend upon parents and homeroom teachers. Both teachers could send a list of multiple intelligence activities to parents to have them check off what students are interested in and/or good at doing. They could circle things students dislike or have trouble doing.

Teachers of older children should involve the students along with the parents, of course! The older a student is, the more a student should be able to give input into what interests them and what they like doing or how they like to learn.


I’m personally going to use multiple intelligences to hit two birds with one stone.  I think identifying a student’s strength in these intelligences also helps identify interests. I hope that my sweet department teaching assistant will be willing to translate yet another checklist to send home to parents! I’m going to leave a space at the bottom for parents to give any more details about student’s interests.


Readiness is determined by frequent assessments. Formative assessments should be cyclical and regularly used in class for teachers to test where students are in their learning.

For preschool, I use games the most for formative assessments. I have a weakness of not using individual formative assessments since students at this age can’t write, but I think drawing the answers to a formative assessment question could be a good assessment for teachers of students just a little older than mine. The last time I tried a drawing assessment in class, several students told me “我不会!” (I can’t do it!) So, this might be something I need to work up to a little better or students are just not ready for this type of assessment


Teaching Strategies for Differentiating

If you’ll look at the mind map below, you’ll see the strategies I picked for the hypothetical learning objective I made for CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.K.3.

Differentiation_for_Student_Needs (1)

I chose these strategies because they allowed me to broaden my reach of differentiation. The strategies listed under “Learning Profiles” let me target several intelligences at one time. Both strategies covered at least three intelligences, but I think the 21st century song project could possibly be constructed to accommodate for the needs of all eight intelligences.


The broad teaching strategy under “Interests” really individualizes the learning experience by letting students pick their own library book to then identify characters. If I were really to organize this activity for class, students would have to pick shorter books with illustrations, so it would be easy for me to determine if they identified all of the characters, (what good children’s author would not illustrate their characters?!?!). I would also require students to turn in their projects and their picture books at the same time. Although grading would take a bit of time, this would be a great summative assessment or an activity that deepens the understanding of characters by applying the principles of characters to other stories.


My favorite strategies on this map are for the “Readiness” category. I love that so much choice is given to students and that I can also customize the think cards for two types of students. Before using the think cards, I would need to be sure about the readiness level of my students, so formative assessments before this activity would be very important. The learning menu activity lets students determine their own levels of readiness and would allow me to monitor student progress and understanding as they finish each activity.


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