3 Differentiation Habits I’ll Be Continuing after Remote Teaching

by | 05.11.21

Sara Wilcox is a teacher in Massachusetts. Follow her on Twitter @EducatorWilcox.

This year, I’m a sixth grade social studies teacher at a school for students whose families have opted for remote learning, and I’m grateful to be part of a team that has found our groove. From the start, I’ve leaned on Universal Design learning structures, focusing on ways to make the most of the virtual environment to offer choice and support that make learning accessible for our students. 

I’ve viewed the challenges of teaching remotely as an opportunity to grow as a teacher. I’m looking forward to carrying my improved approaches to differentiation into my practice going forward – especially by keeping these three habits:

Build scaffolds into every lesson from the start.

When I’m in person with students, I often rely on my ability to notice when they need extra help and then jump in to offer it. There’s always the risk, though, that some kids are flying beneath the radar. Maybe I’m not noticing when they start to struggle, and I might not end up offering the differentiated support they need. In remote teaching, those types of in-the-moment check-ins are much more difficult,  so I’ve gotten into the habit of building in scaffolding from the start for all students – such as offering digital templates students can use for certain lessons, if they aren’t confident with a tech tool yet and providing annotated exemplars with writing assignments. It’s making my teaching stronger and my students more confident in demonstrating their learning.

Expand the options students can use to demonstrate their learning.

Students are learning a range of technologies this school year, so when I offer a model for a final project, I’ve started saying, “Do you have a different way you’d like to show your learning? Run it by me.” I’ve had students present what they know through stop-motion videos, digital 3D models and digital tools that were previously unknown to me. I want to keep that openness to possibility going forward instead of boxing kids in. I want to keep encouraging them to follow their curiosity and utilize their strengths.

Leverage technology to elevate student voice. 

I started using Pear Deck this year, and I’ve realized that it levels the playing field for student voice. You always have those students in class who raise their hands right away, and then the ones who never share their great ideas. When I use Pear Deck, I can highlight students’ comments anonymously, and that helps me ensure everyone is heard. I don’t want my classroom to be an intimidating place for introverts. I am considering ways to maintain this leveled playing field in the classroom, and I can even imagine inviting students to share their comments digitally from their desks once in a while. 

This year has been full of challenges, and we’ve all had to find new habits and practices. I’d love to know a way your teaching has grown this year. Share in the comments! 

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