different learners in a classroom challenges teachers to think
differently about how they facilitate the learning process - from
curriculum, to instruction, to assessment. Teachers can differentiate
process, content and/or product. Our focus is on differentiating the
products of learning - assessments. Assessments are a way for
students to show what they have learned. By differentiating assessment,
teachers open up doors for students to demonstrate their developing
knowledge and skills in ways in which they may be more "fluent" or
which may challenge them further. This is true for both higher-level
and lower-level learners. Teachers are able to plan the most
appropriate activities and assessments to meet individual student
needs. By focusing on adapting assessments to match learner needs and
strengths, teachers can provide opportunities for students to be
successful. Such a change is significant for students who may otherwise
not be able to demonstrate mastery with "traditional" assessments. To
better understand the practice of differentiating assessment, we will
break down the ideas of "differentiation" and "assessment", looking
carefully at each, then consider the concept of differentiated
assesment, and provide some concrete examples.
is "a process through which teachers enhance learning by matching
student characteristics to instruction and assessment" (Access Center).
Teachers should differentiate using methods that are based on the
student's needs, which may include readiness (a student's academic
standing/progress), learning style/profile (how the student best
learns), and student interest (in what is the student most interested
in relation to the concept). Differentiation can be assigned to
students, chosen by students, or designed by students. Keep in mind
that differentiation does not necessarily mean individualization!
It would be incredibly impractical to attempt to write 20-30
individualized lesson plans. Instead, differentiated practices look for
patterns, and create lessons that target groups within the classroom
(e.g., students who are ahead, behind, stuck, need more practice,
Assessment is an opportunity for students to demonstrate thinking before/during/after instruction. Assessment can be assessment for learning (formative assessment: informal and formal) and assessment of learning (summative assessment: teacher test and performance assessment).
It is also important to note that assessments can be assessed in
different ways. Teachers can assess, students can self assess (ipsative
assessment), and students can peer assess. Keep in mind that assessment
involves the product, or how the student shows they have learned the material.
is "often equated and confused with evaluation, but the two concepts
are different. Assessment is used to determine what a student knows or
can do, while evaluation is used to determine the worth or value of a
course or program. Assessment data effects student advancement,
placement, and grades, as well as decisions about instructional
strategies and curriculum. Evaluations often utilize assessment data
along with other resources to make decisions about revising, adopting,
or rejecting a course or program" (edtech.vt.edu).
assessment combines the best of differentiation and assessment
practices, using assessments designed for specific groups of learners. Assessments can vary by purpose, 'assessor' (ie teacher, student or peer), cognitive level, and modality.
The following is a list of examples of differentiated assessments.
Several examples will be explained in depth and the rest will be
- Unit Collage
Unit Collage template is an open ended assessment that allows students
to demonstrate their understanding through written language and visual
representation. This is important
because some students learn most effectively when presented with visual
representations. Visual learners should therefore be tasked with
creating visual and nonlinguistic representations of information.
Marzono, Pickering, and Pollock (2001) found nonlinguistic
representations as "the most underused instructional strategy of all
those reviewed" in a book they co-authored. For visual students,
evidence has been found showing students who create visual
representations of a concept are then better able to comprehend and
recall that concept. There are a number of activities that help
students create nonlinguistic representations, including graphic
representations, physical models, developing mental pictures, drawing
pictures/pictographs, and learning kinesthetically). These
representations allow students to expand on the knowledge they have
gained and by allowing them to draw they are able to more fully
understand concepts. Such demonstrations of understanding are also
quickly shared and can bridge language barriers where language
expression or reception may be difficult.
- To see the template and an example/additional information of a unit collage, please visit the links below...
- Assessment file: http://www2.scholastic.com/content/collateral_resources/pdf/s/SP_UnitCollage.pdf
- Article on "Unit Collage" assessment: http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3751408
- Individual projects
projects can take the form of learning contracts and study buddies with
self-assessments and rubrics to be completed along the way. These
projects can be completed individually, in flexible groups (see below),
or in interest groups. Individual projects allow for high levels of
differentiation because you can work with a specific student (or
students) to devise practical goals that are aligned with the
curriculum. These goals can appropriately challenge the students within
their zone of proximal development. Projects may also be longer-term
enrichment activities with a high level of accountability or
shorter-term projects for students who need something smaller-scale in
focus. The tasks associated with individual projects can touch on the
varying levels of cognitive learning (Bloom) And remember, when
formulating these kinds of projects be sure to include: A state
purpose, strategies and resource, and the actual assessment (what will
- Role Playing
playing allows students to take on a procedural task and demonstrate
their understanding through behavior. These types of methods are used
in CPR classes. One can imagine having a CPR class where the assessment
was purely pen and paper, an assessment that would be challenging and
potentially misleading since being able to name where to do chest
compressions is different from actually finding the place where one
would perform such an operation. In the same way, a student who can
demonstrate understanding through doing in a concrete way, rather than
explaining in an abstract way, has another opportunity to share their
knowledge. This is great for students who are not pencil-and-paper
learners, and we all have a few of these folks in the classroom!
- Other Differentiated Assessments
- Adjusting Questions
in a large group discussion situation, teachers direct the higher level
questions to the appropriate students and ask more suitable questions
for those students with greater needs. This allows each student to
answer important questions that require them to think based on their
specific readiness level. In terms of the actual assessment/product,
you might simply assign different groups of students different
end-of-lesson questions based on their level.
students may demonstrate that they do not need instruction when
presented with a concept. This can be assessed by assessing a student's
knowledge, skills, and attitudes and providing different activities
since they have already mastered this component of the curriculum.
- Flexible Grouping
idea comes from the notion that students should not be put in the same
leveled group across the curriculum. Like teachers are apt to do, we
should group some students based on similar readiness. However, we
should also use mixed readiness groups, interest-based groups of both
similar and varied interests, similar and mixed learning profile
groups, random groups, student choice groups, and whole class groups.
We should be flexible in our grouping so we do not pigeon hole
students. The teacher should change groups consistently enough so that
they do not feel identified with any one particular group of peers, one
part of the classroom, etc.
- Learning Contracts
takes the form of a written agreement made between the teacher and
student that results independent student work. The contract outlines
daily and weekly work goals and develop management skills. The teacher
is also able to keep track of each student's progress. Assignments will
vary depending on student needs.
- Learning Styles
involves giving students tasks based on their preferred learning style.
This may help in intrinsically motivating a student, given that they
will be assigned work that they will likely be engaged in while
completing. For example, a math lesson could be adapted to involve a
- Tiered Assignments
- This involves teaching a series of tasks with varying levels of complexity based on student needs.
Contributed by Zach Burrus and Dave Messer, ACE 15