Fearing Differentiation

A couple weeks ago I was listening to a podcast of Liz Kolb’s Blogtalkradio show and heard her guest speaker make some interesting comments about teachers and differentiated instruction.  He suggested that he thinks a vast majority of teacher buy into WHY it is important to differentiate, but there are many who still shy away from it.


First, it’s the road less traveled.  When you differentiate from “old school” (pun fully intended) teaching methods, you become vulnerable to attack from misunderstanding parents, communities members, and sometimes even administrators.  “Why did Johnny have this homework and Tony had this homework?” they ask.  “Why were these project assignments different?” the questions continue.  “How do you intend to grade these fairly?!”

Fair Grading is an interesting concept when it comes to differentiating.  Fair grading is a concept that only exists when you’re comparing two students.  The longer I’m in the classroom, the more I learn that true education…true instruction…true assessment, has nothing to do with comparing students.  Conversely, it has everything to do with the uniqueness of a single student.  Differentiate that student’s instruction…that student’s assessments.  It makes…a unique student.  Imagine that.

To keep everyone happy and to keep it objective, rubrics (like from Rubistar) should be a differentiated teacher’s best friend.  They make the grading easy and predictable.  Last fall, I attended a workshop session in which the presenter shared his use of rubrics in his classroom.  The process is as follows:

1.  The students are given the project (or paper, or homework, or presentation) rubric.

2.  The students are given the assignment.

3.  Upon completetion of the project, the students use the rubric to give themselves a score/grade.

4.  The students turn in the assignment with the rubric.

5.  The teacher uses the rubric to assign her/his own grade which is the actual score the student will receive.

Here’s the kicker…

6.  If the student’s score is within a close margin (let’s say two points) of the score the teacher gave, additional bonus points are added on!

Brilliant!  This process strongly encourages students to look closely at the rubric as they’re working and especially before the final product is submitted.  Hopefully, the student identifies “weak” areas according to the rubric and wants to correct those!

Has anyone used this (or similar rubric strategies) in the classroom?  Feedback?