Differentiating Professional Development

SpoonEdutopia recently came out with an article, “Why Don’t We Differentiate Professional Development?” http://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-dont-we-differentiate-pd-pauline-zdonek This is something I have been doing for decades so I decided to share one of my low-tech strategies.

Participant Potpourri. I usually do this for Elementary reading workshops, but it could be done with subject and any group where the teachers have different grade levels. It takes a lot of planning, but it is always worth it. Besides, I often re-use many of the activities for other schools as well. Here’s how to do it:

  • Ask the teachers and principal beforehand, what reading skills they wish to work on with their students: phonics, phonemic awareness, print awareness, using context clues, practicing fluency, comprehension, original writing, reading expository text, etc.
  • Choose a wide variety of children’s literature on different grade levels. Consider using books already in the school’s text or library. Make sure each book would be really interesting to most kids and that you can use each to develop a variety of children’s reading activities.
  • Write instructions for three or more activities for each book. Include activities that will reach children with different strengths. I usually include several of these: (1) something to draw (such as a favorite part), (2) something to act out (such as an exchange between characters), (3) something to build, (4) something to sing (such as about the main idea), (5) something to dance (perhaps the sequence of the book), (6) a game of logic or spatial reasoning to play related to the book, (7) something to inspire creative writing, (8) an outdoor or nature activity, (9) an activity that encourages positive social/emotional behavior, and/or (10) one or more language activities that foster reading skills.
  • Gather supplies that will be needed to complete the activities.
  • Use large grocery bags or cardboard boxes or large plastic containers. Put a book, directions for related activities and needed supplies in the container.
  • Label the container with the name of the book and the suggested grade range.
  • Array the containers around the room.
  • Go from container to container and say the book title and mention one activity.
  • Tell teachers they can try out the activities in as many or few containers as they wish, they can choose to work alone, with a partner or in a small group, and that they will have two minutes at the end of the workshop to show and tell what they did.
  • Encourage participants to take photos or otherwise document the activities. (If you have a projector, these can be part of the show and tell.)

For a math workshop, I might put different games, word problems, or “tools” (like a base ten chart), along with dice, counters, manipulatives, and other appropriate materials in the containers.

For social studies, I might choose different historical times or cultures for the containers.

For science, I might put a different scientific question to hypothesize about and then conduct suggested experiments to prove or disprove the hypothesis.

High tech activities could also be used or be used instead if the teachers all have access to tablets or other equipment needed (and their students will have access as well!)

The possibilities are endless!

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