We’re Doing Differentiation All Wrong

Two accommodations for lower level learners that you always see are (1) assign them less problems, and (2) have them do the easier problems.

Here’s why these are both TERRIBLE ideas:

  • If you are weak at something, you require more practice, not less, for mastery.

I.e., your higher level learners may grasp the concept after doing #s 1-10, but your lower level learners will not, and will probably need 20 to 30 repetitions before they have a good handle on it.

  • At the end of the year, the students’ progress will be measured by the state’s diagnostic. Which, no matter what standard they are being tested on, will be ALL hard questions.

So your lower level learners need lots of exposure to these types of problems; skipping these will not help them test well.

Here’s the student workbook page from the state adopted textbook, for dividing fractions


Notice that it starts easier, and progresses to difficult word problems?

Which questions do you think we are encouraged to emphasize to our delayed students? (numbers 1-6). But which questions will be on the exam (questions like #8 or 9).

What Should You Do, Math Teacher?

Instead of fewer questions for your lower level learners, you must assign more. And instead of skipping the harder questions, you must emphasize them.

Here’s some accommodations you should do for your struggling math students:

  • Extended Time: This does not just mean extra time to finish the test. It should also apply to the learning process. If most of your students can learn the material in two days, these students may need five. Or ten. Or twenty….


  • Extra Practice: I’m sure there is something that was hard for you to learn, and took you more practice then everyone else. For some of your students, math is the same way. So if most learn the concept with 10 practice problems, these students will need more. Which is why they will spend longer learning the skill then the rest of the class.


  • Immediate Feedback: Often the student will do the assigned work, but do it all wrong. Thus reinforcing a bad habit. Instead, answers should be supplied immediately. With technology, this is easy to do (KhanAcademy, IXL, AAAmath, etc). However, if you don’t have these, supply an answer sheet, or give immediate feedback in the class.

Final Thought

This recommendation is often scoffed at, as it would require different students to be on different skills at the same time. But that is exactly what I am recommending: A whole class, differentiated.

Think about this: 100 years ago, they had all the grades in the same room. Today, with technology, it should be easier than ever to do.

Here’s how I differentiate: http://www.rethinkmathteacher.com/differentiation-for-everyone/

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