As a NSTA New Science Teacher Fellow, part of my work requires completion of two explorations. These explorations can best be described as small action teacher research projects, but with the added benefit of real-time feedback from various experienced science mentors. For my winter exploration, I chose to focus on analyzing student work to inform and drive my instruction and assessments.
For those not familiar with my current position, I am shared staff between two single-gender middle schools. This means I spend half of the year with one gender, and then move on to teaching the other gender for the remainder of the year. One large disadvantage is that I have to cram an entire year’s worth of science into five to six months. As a result, instruction is very fast paced and it doesn’t leave a lot of time to really delve into the major concepts and skills.
This is where my attempt at differentiation in student work comes in. Earlier this month, I introduced 2-5-8 menus for our Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration unit. The unit spanned only 8 days, and my goal was to keep scholars engaged by giving them choice over their final performance tasks. Scholars picked 2 activities whose points totaled to 100 points. A generic rubric was photocopied on the other side of the 2-5-8 menu.
After a few days of perusing the 2-5-8 menu, here are some things I learned.
- Scholars became very engaged, especially those who previously were not during previous direct instruction and class activities.
- Scholars realized they needed to think more deeply about concepts and skills they were learning in class in order to create their products.
- Scholars were asking higher-order questions and more clarifying questions in class because they knew they needed to learn the information in order to create their products.
Areas of Improvement:
- Expect things to get messy and loud! (Also, be comfortable with learning being this way) This type of learning requires scholars to talk, to move around, and to be more active than they usually would be during silent seat-work. I should also have been more specific by setting clear expectations about what they can or cannot do (ie. staying seated in one area vs. walking around the room). I should also have specified locations in the classroom where different classes can put their unfinished work.
- Provide more independent class time for scholars to work on their projects. Many scholars do not have materials available at work so it is important that I give them time in class to have access to posters, crayons/markers, and Internet access. Using differentiated menus when I am already in a time-crunch to cover topics before deadline was probably not the smartest idea right now… but at least, I am trying something new and learning from it.
- One generic menu is not sufficient for a mix of products. Have at least a minimum of criteria for the different products so the scholars know exactly what is expected. If possible, have some samples on hand.
I have learned from informal observations and listening to my scholars that I need to give them more time to do their work. Despite a very restrictive deadline, they are my top-most concern and I need to give that to them. So, I’m trashing the next lesson. I’m giving them more in class time to catch up, work on and finish their final projects, and do 1:1 conferences with struggling scholars tomorrow.