Drachenstübchen: differentiation in class

dragon parlor

Here is a dream of what elementary school lessons could be like.



Differentiation in the classroom – additional effort?

Differentiation in class is seen today as a model solution to somehow do justice to all students. In extremely heterogeneous learning groups, many teachers equate differentiation with extreme extra work. But it is really imperative for more effort?

Here are a few methods that colleagues sent me after I recently published a post on differentiation.

Differentiation with learning stations:

One suggestion that works particularly well in elementary school is to work on learning stations. Station work can be carried out in all subjects and if the colleagues agree on the sequence of stations, even first graders can quickly find out the trick.

When planning stations, I always consider what is the minimum requirement that all students should meet and what other exercise formats I could offer that suit the different types of learners. Usually I then provide two to three compulsory tasks for a double hour that all children have to work on. There are also tasks that deal with the topic in an exciting, tricky or creative way. If it makes sense, I also try to have a digital station in my program.

How does it look in action?

Here is an example from the numerical writing course:

All students should:

Two students create a memo game together. You have to agree on display options. They talk about the number to be displayed. When painting, each student works at his level.

There are:

1 dice game for cooperative learning on the digit
1 brain teaser to ponder and think about
1 Performing task to cut, glue or craft the number
1 perception worksheet: right or wrong?

Pupils exchange their ideas on tricky puzzle tasks. Strong and weak students work together and learn from each other.

Follow-up stations (sand, board, digital board)

Kneading station: Knead number or represent as a quantity (knead balls, cubes)

Laying station: Lay out quantities of Lego, bricks, beans, marbles or similar.

All students should create 5 stations if possible. Two are mandatory, three may be chosen. Super students do more too! You will then be given additional permission to work on other tasks. Very weak students may only do 4 tasks. You will then have to take an extra assignment with you as homework. Nobody is allowed to take part in the motivating election tasks if they have not tried to do the mandatory tasks beforehand.

While the students are writing on the digital tablet, the teacher can observe the direction of writing on the screen.

Since many motivating tasks, such as tracing on the digital board or the chalk board at home, are not possible and many children do not have modeling clay at home, most children are extremely motivated to accomplish these tasks at school.
Also the cooperative tasks such as: Find two pictures for the number and create a learning poster, or a dice game is more exciting to do at school than at home.

Not all students have to learn and do the same thing?
No – with me, students can choose according to their compulsory part according to their preferences. In an evaluation round at the end of the lesson, or sometimes the next day, the students present what they have achieved. So all children benefit from it.

"We made a poster. Here is the 4. Here are four tires. That is 4 leaves of the clover!" "That’s a four from plasticine." etc. This evaluation interview also gives all students the chance to speak about what they have learned. Weak and strong students, everyone has achieved something, everyone at their own pace and with their skills. A weak student who writes very slowly, however, may be good at kneading or building a Lego tower and thus has the chance of success.

Is learning stations with different tasks associated with more work than learning stations that are the same for everyone? No – not really. What matters more is how well a school is equipped and what material is available. Sand boxes for writing in the sand, building blocks, beans or the like just have to be bought once. Then you can use it again and again.

Similar to the numerical writing course, the stations also work when learning the letters and later in grades 2 or 3 when working on more complex topics in German, mathematics or subject teaching.
What is important is the mutual discussion about what has been learned, because there the students learn from each other, the teacher has the chance to discuss errors that have occurred and all students can contribute something, everyone at their own level. In contrast to tasks in which the students cannot have a say in what they want to work on, this leads to increased participation (student engagement) and motivation of the students.

Is that possible in troubled classes with troublemakers?

Yes, especially in classes in which pupils regularly disrupt or block lessons, it can even be helpful to let the pupils decide how to organize their learning process.
The teacher continues to dictate what is learned. The goal is clear, only the students decide the route themselves.


That’s exactly how I do it. Usually 3 mandatory stations, the rest is play, expansion, deepening. Weak students are proud when they have ‘done something’.

So it is with mine too. And I think it’s very important that less strong students can be proud of themselves from time to time. This is extremely important for a healthy self-esteem, sometimes to be proud, and sometimes to have defeats. But only defeats make you sick. It’s no different with us adults.

This is definitely a great solution for most of the class to keep them motivated. In my opinion, however, real differentiation only begins when I consider children in my planning who really work at a different level. Children who already master various arithmetic operations when entering 1st class must not be slowed down. And especially children who have difficulty recording the amount need much more practice than 2 worksheets.
Therefore, in my eyes, the real differentiation only begins where I have individual plans for the children in my class (a large part of them get on with the same or a very similar plan), which extend over several months. While some children are still trying to find out what it is with this character "A" others are already writing their first stories. This does a lot of work at the beginning (actually), but gives a lot of air in the time in which the plans then run (as a teacher you are a seasonal worker anyway).
If someone would like to deal with this type of differentiation, I can recommend these two books: "Learn individually – work together" and "Individual learning with a system". I have also had good experiences with the grid of competencies. Then, however, you need an idea of ​​what the children who quickly reached the goal can then make sense. (For example, they learned chess from me.)
LG! Chester

Hello Chester! Actually, I don’t disagree with you, except for the two worksheets: If the students have great difficulties with quantities or other topics, then I have found that it doesn’t help if I do more of the same , Then I would rather try to reach my goal in other ways. Lay, stick, tinker, feel, draw yourself. For me, teams of experts also work great, i.e. those where the strong ones explain the weaker children again in children’s language. I don’t know if it only works so well because of the special school situation abroad, but it helps the weak academically and most strong students on the social level. Unfortunately, I don’t know the books you write about, but they sound very interesting. I’ll google them. And yes, with very big differences, I agree with you. You have to do it differently. After the compulsory part, I like to use cooperative tasks, brain teasers or even tasks on the computer. With my first graders I have 2 freaks who easily calculate and multiply up to 100. In the freer work phases, you can choose your own program at the computer station (so I use the online programs from Lehrmittelverlag Zurich.) While the first graders choose a game from class 1, the two math heroes can decide whether they want something from class 1 or class 2 choose.
My pupil with visual impairment, for example, can work much better with the computer stations than with the math book, since the math book does not double in size with one click. But in such special cases you have to look spontaneously. Just wanted to give courage, to make more free decisions, and away from pure frontal instruction and that "same AB for everyone". I would be happy if you could give me more information about the books! LG, jasmine

Hello Jasmin,
with my statement "2 worksheets are not enough" I did not mean that there must be more ABs. I totally agree that you have to switch to the acting level again. And yes, letting the children choose their own tasks from a pool, as you described in your post, is also much more sensible than chasing everyone through the program in step.
What I wanted to express: Overall, I think we have to get away from what is always held high in the legal traineeship seminars (at least for us in Lower Saxony), the hourly target. I think that was only invented in order to be able to judge the prospective teachers “objectively”.
Both books show a way of letting the different children in a class learn at their own pace over a long period of time. in the "Individual learning with a system" plans are issued that are not intended for a fixed period (as is the case with weekly plans, for example), but apply until they are finished (after a few months). There is a shelf with quite a lot of materials for the different learning content, which are clearly identified by symbols, colors, numbers (therefore "with a system"). There the children can also choose something themselves, but the teacher can also specify a material in the plan by clearly naming it. If the children choose something themselves, they enter the label in their plan, so that the teacher can understand what they have done. The preparation is very complex, I have to admit that. I tried this in the 1st and 2nd year of my class (however, I did not mark each material individually, but always material groups for a learning area). The preparation was still very time-consuming (but it was also my first class and I couldn’t use any existing materials), but I also had a lot of fun. Because the children worked very quickly very independently, I always had a lot of time to devote myself to individual children. I also left the children free to choose whether to do math or German. With grades from grade 3 and the associated control of learning objectives, I then switched to competency grids in individual areas. In other words: Unfortunately, the children then had to learn in step with me too, i.e. they had to cover certain learning areas at a certain point in time (class work).
"Learn individually – work together" I haven’t tried it (yet), just read it with a lot of enthusiasm. Essentially, learning paths are used there (I think that is already relatively widespread). But what I particularly liked were the learning offices. Every child has his or her learning place there, which is shielded from others (cost factor, but is tolerable) and which they can design themselves. (Of course there are also places for partner and group work.) Here, too, it is important to advance at your own pace, neither to have to wait for others, nor to slow down classmates with your own work pace.
I would not implement both methods 1: 1, but I think it is worth reading in and linking it with your own way of working if necessary. Or just to get a feel for what is possible.
LG! Chester

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