Saturday, August 18, 2012

Is on-going assessment driving your differentiated instruction?

Ahhhh . . . the start of the school year.  Everything is so fresh and new and exciting.  There's a whole new batch of little honeys about to enter your door.  You're poised and ready to envelope them with all the know-how and wisdom that you can cram in from now until June.  You're anxious to get started . . . there's so much to learn, but WAIT!!!!!

Before you do anything, before you plan your guided reading groups and start tiering your math centers, there is something you need to know.  You need to know your students and you need to know their starting points.

Remember the three basic guiding points of differentiated instruction:

 Believe it or not, all kindergarteners do not enter your doors equal in shape, size or readiness.

The first couple of weeks of school is the perfect time for pre-assessing for readiness and understanding.  Allow for exploration of centers, materials and manipulatives and you can't imagine what you find out.  Instead of spending two weeks teaching shapes, in those first few days of school, you might discover that most of your class already has already mastered that topic. Those that have mastered them can move on and expand their understanding. 

I think often, teachers consult their teaching manuals for a guideline of what to teach and when without considering that some of their students may have mastered the material and still others may not even have the prerequisite material needed to begin understanding the concept.  But because the manual says to teach shapes for 10 days, they teach for ten days.  With preassessment and on-going assessment, your instruction will always reflect your students' readiness.

With differentiated instruction, we are constantly assessing.  That doesn't mean that we're giving quizzes and tests.  On the contrary, I don't really do those kinds of assessments at all in my kinder classroom.  Instead, I use several different formative assessing techniques (many of which you all probably use too.)

I use all of these and more (observations, role play, conversation, etc.) but a check lists is most definitely my tool of choice.  I have check lists for letter recognition, counting, sight words . . . but the ones I use the most are my common core checklists.  I keep them separated by ELA on one clipboard and Math on another.  It is easy for me to observe a child making a rectangle from two triangles and quickly mark it off on my checklist or add the date of observation. 

These are what my poor checklists looked like at the end of the year, but you can see they were lovingly used.  I paced them out by quarter so that I could quickly see how to tier for a specific skill and how the class was pacing for the year to meet all standards.  This system might not work for everyone, but it was perfect for me.  It kept me on track and it was a quick visual of where all my students were at any given time. I have since revamped my checklists, added the common core coding that I had had written in by hand previously, and worked out the pacing so it flowed better from my experience.  This is what I have to work with this year:

If you'd like to find out more about these EDITABLE checklists, you can click on the picture above or find the math version HERE and the ELA version HERE.  I have them paced out for each quarter of the year or separated by standard in both color and black and white.

I hope you're able to take the time during these first weeks of the school year to really get to know your students and start mapping an initial plan for their instruction.  The one thing you can say about differentiated instruction, it's never boring. We are always assessing, adjusting and instructing . . .but the time and effort is well worth it when you have the payoff of successfully engaged students, neither bored because instruction is too easy nor frustrated because it is too difficult. 
Good luck and let me know how it goes for you.


  1. These look great! What a good idea!

  2. This posting could not come at a more appropriate time for me. Our county started our state version of the common core this year and next year we go to the national common core. However, the standards are hard to understand because they do not match the student's abilities for this time of the year. I am in a year round school and we have finished our 6th week. Thanks again for the great information.

  3. Thankyou so much for this post! I completely agree that we rely too much on teacher manuals to depict how long we should stay on a topic. Thankyou also for the checklists-they were just added to my cart! You're a genius-seriously:)

    1. I wouldn't put it out there if I didn't use it everyday in my own class. If you're like me and on the go 24/7 in your class, this is a simple, easy tool to keep track.
      I'm glad you like it.

  4. Thankyou so much for this post! I completely agree that we rely too much on teacher manuals to depict how long we should stay on a topic. Thankyou also for the checklists-they were just added to my cart! You're a genius-seriously:)

  5. Great post! I love your visuals! I think it can be easy to get so caught up in planning you forget where you need to start - with your students' levels.

    - Sasha
    The Autism Helper

  6. I love the quote about how the children who enter our classrooms are so different. The picture speaks volumes. I would love to use it in my presentation for back to school night. Would that be ok, as long as I give you credit? You are so intentional about differentiating! Thank you for providing so many strategies.

    Mello’s Memos

    1. Certainly, go for it. I'd love for you to use it.

  7. great post and you are sooo right about our kids being at all different places...Our jobs is to meet and raise each one.....
    Kindergarten Lifestyle

  8. This is amazing! I am so impressed! :)
    Apples and ABC's

    p.s. I just pinned it! ;)

  9. Love this! I love ALL your stuff!!!!! My goal this year it is differentiate more because I never feel like I am able to push my advanced students because we typically put such an emphasis on the ones who can't. Both of these are now in my cart and will be purchased very soon. THANK YOU!!!!!
    Mrs. Shelton’s Kindergarten

  10. Such a great post! We just finished our first week and my kinders are all over the place with their knowledge!

    Lovin’ Kindergarten

  11. Very true. I don't know how people can begin teaching before they know where their kids are academically. Kinder kids do have such a broad spectrum of abilities.


  12. Thanks for the great insight and advice Marsha! I was wondering if you have ever posted about how you organize your portfolios? And how do you organize your observation notes?

    Fun in PreK-1 is Having a Giveaway!

  13. I teach 2nd grade, but I LOVE your checklists. They are so much more easily organized and have a great layout which makes it easy to see what you're looking for and make a note. I wish I could find some for 2nd grade! I'm trying to make some myself based on how you did yours for kinder. It will be a project for this summer! Thank you for the wonderful idea!!! :)

  14. Do you have these on Teachers Notebook? constant login problems with TPT it's not even worth my time...



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