The 305 Differentiation

Last year I took an online course through an organization called SPELD NZ.  It’s a course that educates its participants on specific learning disabilities (e.g. dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, dyspraxia etc).   I plan on going through my notes again and share some of the knowledge from this amazingly eye-opening course on my blog but for now I shall refrain from going on about it.

One of the things I gained from the course is how unaware I’d been of students who function differently in my classroom.  Students with specific learning disabilities are defined by average or above average intelligence with certain functionality differences that hinder them from achieving their potential in a regular classroom setting.  With this knowledge I realized that many of the behavior that I thought were just ‘naughty behavior,’ were all stemming from different degrees of specific learning disabilities.   Case in point, my ‘slow’ students during dismissal time:

At our elementary school the dismissal time is 3.10.  Since I have 4th Graders who do not need a lot of time to gather their things and stand behind their chairs, I allow them to get ready just a few minutes before the dismissal time.  Usually the first table group that is ready, gets to leave first.  Our class setting has changed to table groups only a few weeks ago so this ‘being dismissed with my table group,’ has only been going on for a little while.

Since this new routine, there have been three groups that are always dismissed last because three students in each of these groups are always late in getting themselves ready.  We’ve been talking about team work and supporting each other rather than bossing and nagging each other, so my students have been kindly helping these ‘slower’ students with their pack up.  But of course, the table groups were beginning to get a little tired of this.  Thus began the execution of my 305 rule.

I called on these three ‘lagging’ students and told them that they need to start getting ready for dismissal at 3:05 which will be before everyone else.  I laid down the ground rules of doing it discreetly and quietly.  They were to get ready at that time, no matter what we were doing in class.  And I wrote ‘305’ on a permanent space on the board and told them that, that would be their reminder.  Like magic, when it was 3.05 these students very discreetly got themselves ready for dismissal and all of them were first to be ready from their table group.  And I swear one of the students’ face was like this:

The 305 rule allowed them to be ‘saved’ from the stress of being the last ones all the time, and even boosted their self-esteem a little bit.

Differentiation is often regarded with academics – extending bright student and providing support for lagging students.  But I’ve realized that there are so many other things that students need differentiation for.  It is obviously impossible to cater for all students but when we can, we should….if only to see a smile like the one above.