How to adjust your worksheets for effective differentiation

All teachers use worksheets.  While we know that using worksheets all the time is not the best teaching practice; we also know that a well constructed worksheet, used purposefully, can be a great tool for independent or scaffolded practice.  Worksheets can also be a valuable formative assessment tool.

Unfortunately, some worksheets involve so much reading (deciphering instructions) that some students are unable to complete them accurately.  Sometimes the worksheet you choose is only appropriate for students who are accomplished readers. Students may give up as they see the task as being “too hard” or teachers see the results and assume that the students do not understand the concept.

How do you adjust worksheets so students with learning difficulties are able to participate and show what they know just like everyone else? Here are some tips!

  1. Blow the photocopy budget

    The size of text on worksheets seems to get smaller every year and students with reading difficulties, dyslexia or vision impairments, are immediately behind the eight ball.  Increase the font and line spacing to make reading instructions and questions as easy as possible.  If supervisors are questioning the amount of photocopying you are doing, tell them it is due to an important strategy for differentiation in your classroom.

  2. Use Different Fonts

    basic fontsInstructions should always be in a bold font while example responses (see tip 3) can be put in italics. This makes it easier to access the text on the worksheet.  Changes to font help students to separate different types of text.  Be warned: too many changes in font type can become very confusing, so ensure that each time the font modulates, from one type/ size to another, it has a clear purpose.

  3. Lead by Example

    Sentence Starters, Modelled Responses and Examples all point students in the right direction.  Students who struggle with receptive and expressive language often don’t know exactly how to put their answer/ knowledge into a format that makes sense to others. Don’t leave them guessing about what you want from them.  Don’t let them use “I didn’t know how to start!” as an excuse for not attempting a task.

    workshet with example

    While this is a worksheet for early years, it is a perfect example of showing students how to complete the tasks.

  4. Use Visual Supports

    Icons for types of questions, small images of required materials and diagrams are all good examples of this.  When appropriate, allow students to draw/ sketch their answers as this will invite reluctant writers to provide an answer.  Your visual learners will thank you too!  Check out my recent post about visuals.

    ten types of visuals

  5.  Don’t use 10 words when 2 will do.

    writer breeds more words than he needsStudents with poor working memory, receptive language difficulties and reading difficulties will struggle to read long directions and questions.  So keep it brief and clear.  A great way to check if your directions are clear is to ask a friend to read it and see if they know what to do.  A friend who isn’t a teacher is the best person to ask.  This ties in well with the Rule of 7 Lesson Planning Challenge!

Admittedly, it is difficult to make all of these adjustments to every worksheet you use in a week.  This is especially true if you are teaching a course you have taught before and you are hoping to re-use the resources.  Each week, I aim to adjust one worksheet/ activity for each class that I teach.  By the end of the semester I have at least 20 modified worksheets that I can use next semester.  I can adjust one worksheet a week next time I teach the course as well.  Every semester the students in my class have different needs so it makes sense that some of the materials will need to be adapted to accommodate them.

There is so much you can do to support the diverse needs in your class.  The ones above will make written materials so much easier to access for most of the students in your class whether their specific needs are related to difficulties with vision, reading, comprehension or even intellectual disability.

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Differentiation Using Visual Aids

Everyone knows that using visual aids when presenting information is a good strategy.  Everyone from businessmen to teachers know how effective visual aids are when you want to grab the attention of your audience.  We all know that there are some things that are just easier to explain with a picture or a drawing.  We all know that.

10 20 80 hear read and see

Even though we know it, this infographic supports my point.  It is  better to use visuals in our lessons and in the materials we use (i.e. worksheets etc).

 

Most Primary School Classrooms are filled with visual aids and concrete materials that teachers use.  We use posters for rules and routines.  We have big and colourful word walls with pictures to support new vocabulary.  We display flow charts and diagrams and photographs and symbols to remind students of lessons we have taught.  Primary School Teachers tend to use visual aids all the time.The fact is that students are more likely to retain the information presented in class if it is repeated in different ways (including words and visuals).

Secondary School Teachers are less likely to use visual support.  Why is that?

I don’t need to convince you that using visual aids is just good teaching.  You might be wondering how using visual aids in the classroom is a differentiation strategy.  Here are some examples.

  1. Visual Prompts for classroom rules/ routines: I have told you about how I display my class rules/ routines. Photos of students following the rules and carrying out routines makes rules clearer to students.  Seeing what is expected is a better reminder than being repeatedly nagged by the teacher repeating the rules.  This is especially true for students with autism.

    Stop Look Listen Visual Prompt

    I use this when teaching and rehearsing our attention getting signal. I ding a bell then point to the sign.

  2. Icons on Worksheets: when I create maths worksheets I include a small image of a calculator.  If the calculator is in a circle and crossed out, students know they are not allowed to use a calculator.  If the calculator has nothing around it or over it, the students know they can use their calculator.  My students who struggle with reading can see quickly and easily if they are allowed to use a  calculator.

    calculator circled

    The calculator icon is circled in red.

  3. Icons/ Colour Coding on Teaching Slides: I use a bold font in green for instructions (or questions students need to answer).  If there is information that students need to copy into their note books, I use a different font in purple or blue and a small picture of a pen.  This highlights text for students with dyslexia and students who get overwhelmed with large amounts of text.

    teaching slide independent task

    This slide includes the directions for an independent task that students complete at the beginning of the lesson.

  4. Illustrating Vocabulary Words: insert images on your handouts so technical language is clearer to students or have students draw images beside vocabulary words and definitions.  This will help them to understand and remember the meaning of the new vocabulary.  This also provides an opportunity for your visual thinkers to show what they know.

    Word Wall Term 1 2014

    This colourful Word Wall includes words with definitions that students have illustrated for display.

  5. Visual Aids Displaying the steps of a process taught in class.  Check out this teaching slide where the teacher has highlighted the buttons on the calculator that students need to use when entering an addition or subtraction equation.  This strategy is vital when teaching students with speech and language difficulties (especially receptive language), difficulties with executive function and problems with working memory.
subtraction teaching slide calculator

This slide was used to support the teaching activity, and then it was printed out on large paper and displayed in the classroom for students to refer to during future lessons.

 

The bonus reason for using visual aids in your classroom is that it will make it so much easier to achieve the Rule of 7 Lesson Planning Challenge.  The more images you use, the less words you will need!

 

Let us know in the comments if there other ways you use visuals to support your students with learning difficulties.  Happy Teaching and Differentiating!

 

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Rule of Seven: Lesson Planning Challenge

What if your struggling students actually managed to write all the notes quickly and remembered the main idea of your lesson?  What if students re-read their notes when it was time to study? What if they were able to explain concepts simply without misconceptions!

The rule of 7 is simple.  Seven words, steps or points are the maximum for optimal memory retention.  That means, quick definitions of vocabulary words need to have 7 words or less. Wilfong (2012) states that truncated definitions should be limited to 3-5 words.

cant explain dont understand

Here’s the challenge…

Choose one lesson this week and apply the Rule of Seven. 

 Here are some steps to follow.

  1. Read and (if possible) re-write the lesson goal so it has 7 words or less.  When doing this, consider the main idea of your lesson and what you want your students to remember next lesson.
  2. Review the learning activities that you have planned. How long will each activity last? 5-7 minutes of instructional time (that’s teacher talk) also applies. If you are planning to chalk and talk for 15 minutes you need to rethink how you are going to sequence the lesson.  Split that 15 minutes into three 5 minute blocks or five 3 minute blocks or don’t divide it evenly at all.
  3. Last, but not least, review how much writing you are expecting your students to do.  If you are asking students to copy notes in their books, keep it to 7 or less dot points.  That doesn’t mean that each dot point can be a paragraph! If asking your students to write their own summary of the lesson, limit them to 7 words or less.  It will challenge them.

There it is.  The rule of 7 challenge. It is hard, but you can do it. I know you can.  I would love to hear how you go.  Let us know in the comments.   How does this rule change how you plan? What happens in the classroom when you plan your lessons this way? Is it worth the extra effort?  Is it easy or difficult for you? How do you make this challenge work for you and your students?

I can’t wait to hear from you!

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Diamante Poetry: Writing with Word Types

This form of poetry can be challenging, but once your students get the idea they will benefit from using the form to write about different topics.  Check this out.

Diamante is a seven line poem where the theme or topic of the poem ends opposite to the opening topic.  This is an excellent activity for students to use their knowledge of synonyms and antonyms.  When published and displayed around the room they also provide environmental print for students to use during other writing activities.  This form is more difficult than it seems so teachers should provide appropriate scaffolding for students, throughout the writing process.


Line 1 – Name (Noun) Theme/Object
Line 2 – Two adjectives describing the noun in line 1.
Line 3 – Three participles (-ing or -ed), relating to line 1 and 2 of the poem.
Line 4 – Four nouns (2 referring to the noun in line 1 and the other 2 referring to line 7).
Line 5 – Three participles (relating to the noun in line 7)
Line 6 – Two adjectives (describing the noun in line 7)
Line 7 – Noun (names the Theme or object which is the opposite of the noun in line 1)
This particular outline is good for teachers but certainly not what I would show my students.   Start with example Diamante’s and deconstruct them with your students.  Model how to write one of these poems by using student suggestions for words.  If you want students to write their own poems, provide a topic and have students work in small groups to list nouns, verbs, adjectives, antonyms and synonyms relative to the topic.  This will make the writing process much faster.  Here are some examples. 

Children
Young, energetic.
Growing, playing, learning.
Boys, girls. Dads, mums.
Loving, working, providing.
Grown, tired.
Parents


Day
Light, lively.
Awakened, Shining, Revealed.
Sun, Rainbows. Moon, Stars
Sleeping, Darkened, Covering.
Lonely, Quiet
Night.
Enjoy the writing process with these poems and give students opportunities to display them in interesting ways.
This post first appeared on A Great Title but has been updated as of 18 April 2016.(http://agreattitle.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/diamante-poem-of-opposites.html)
You might find these FREE resources useful – see below.  Please note that I did not create any of these resources, they have been created by some fantastic teachers who sell on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Make sure you provide feedback if you choose to download one or more of these.
Happy Writing
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What NOT to say!

It seems that the blogosphere- well the one that I’m in- seems to be a bit preoccupied with the things we shouldn’t be saying in the classroom and reading these posts got me wondering!

 

Check out this post from I Speak Math: Don’t Say That! and this one from The Cornerstone: Unhelpful Things I’ve Said to Students

The first one- Don’t Say That- is specifically about the things teachers say when teaching mathematics concepts.  You see, understanding mathematical language is an important part of learning mathematical concepts and processes.  When we misuse mathematical language we lead students to form misconceptions about those mathematical concepts.  Put simply, when teachers introduce a new process they may pass on their own misconceptions.  Some teachers, in an effort to simplify a difficult process, will teach the students a trick or avoid using the  specialised mathematical language required to understand the concept.  Students who only learn shortcuts end up with an unstable foundation of knowledge and this leads to confusion later on.  No teacher would do this on purpose!  But many teachers do it all the same.

The second- Unhelpful Things I’ve Said- is more about the phrases that are often said in frustration.  The focus is on the things teachers say when responding to negative student behaviours.  No teacher wants to be unhelpful, but every teacher says unhelpful things at times, because we can’t possibly be perfect!  Teachers are human and it is impossible to be the most reasonable, patient, responsible or even helpful person in the classroom every minute of the school year.  We are in the classroom an awful lot you know!

So, What?

It is impossible to delete what we’ve said.  Correcting misconceptions in any subject can be a long and difficult process (possible but difficult).  Repairing a bruised relationship is hard work.  The things a teacher says in a day can have a huge impact on how the student feels and what they believe/ understand when they  leave the classroom. So, why do we talk so much?

We can’t write a perfect script for what we will say in the classroom, because stuff happens.  An effective classroom is by nature dynamic and students are certainly an unstable ‘property’ of the classroom equation.  We can (and should) plan the words we will use to explain new concepts and consider how our words could lead to misconceptions.  Responding to student behaviour is a whole different story; you can’t possibly plan for what might happen when emotions are involved. You can have a plan for managing your own behaviour and your own words; you can reflect on the situations that you managed well and the ones that you wished went better.

Reflective practice is the key to being a better teacher.  Reflecting on what we said and even what we didn’t say will help us do it better next time. Sharing our reflections helps our colleagues become better teachers, too!

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