Differentiating in Baby Steps, Part 4: The Rolling Roster

You may want to read Part 1, 2, and 3 on Differentiating in Baby Steps first, here.

One incredibly simple model for getting students into pairs for work – and then keeping them in pairs for work – hit me this year (it only took me 10 years to come up with it).

The Rolling Roster.

Step 1: Give students a task, “First Thing Work:” something to get them focused at the start of class (Journal, a drill, etc.) For examples and more about “First Thing Work,” click the link above.

Step 2: Do your “Housekeeping” since you might not have a chance to speak to the class again: announcements, deadlines, instructions, homework-heads-up, and the like. For more about “Housekeeping,” click the link above.

Step 3: Give students their assignment. The assignment should have at least two, but no more than four sections. Design the assignment with the following criteria:

A. The individual can complete the assignemnt in 10-30 minutes.

B. The assignment must be somewhat open ended, allowing for multiple perspectives or multiple solutions.

C. Design the assignment such that students would need or spend about between 10 and 20 minutes discussing.

Examples:

  • Students might work individually on a complex problem, and then share their findings, comparing and contrast solutions and capturing further questions.
  • Students might write a mini essay or essay outline, and then share their work with a partner. The partners give one another critique or feedback.
  • Students answer a series of interpretive literary questions. They compare their answers and challenge each other to back their interpretations up with text.

Step 4: When each student finishes her independent work, she writes her name on the board (and in some cases, the number of the problem / question / task she worked on. This is how the student indicates that he or she is ready to work with a partner.

Step 5: As soon as a suitable second student puts his or her name on the board, you, the teacher, take a marker and draw a line connecting the names of two students who will work together. Yell out, “Student (name) and Student (name)!” Other students continue working quietly.

Step 6: When the two students are done working together, they get up, erase the line connecting their names, and return to their desks for independent work until they finish the next problem… to put their name back on the board. If they are done, they move on to “anchor work.”

Your task: Roam the room, listen in on groups, and keep an eye on the board – for a student who is waiting to be matched with a partner. Use ClassDojo’s randomizer feature to make sure that you visit all students – not just the “problem students” or “advanced students.”

Caveats:

1. Don’t allow the student to draw their own brackets. Sometimes, you will want to skip over the next appearing name (Student A has already worked with Student C, Student A doesn’t work well with Student C, etc.)

2. Keep an eye on slower students in an odd-numbered room who might find that they are still working while everyone else has paired up. You might need to ask them to join a twosome even without completing their work.

3. Keep an eye out for students who might stall in order to work with someone they like – although in the grand scheme of things, even if you overlook this, it’s rarely harmful.

4. Be sure the anchor work for class is posted and clear. Though the anchor-work between round 1 and 2 would be preparing for round 2.

5. If you need to start everyone out at the same time, use this fantastic, adjustable randomizer by Mr. Matera, and if you’re using any kind of digital calendar, post that day’s roster for students to check upon arriving to class!

6. You may want to provide/allow headphones or earplugs for students who would be distracted by the sound of people talking. If headphones are allowed, spend some time at the start of the year talking about expectations with iPods: for example, students must prepare a mix of music for worktime to prevent shuffling and texting during work time.

7. Students must have “anchor work” to work on, to prevent a student who does not have a partner from distracting others and/or from misusing the computer in class, etc. For more on anchorwork, see Part 2 of this series.

Benefits:

1. Students never lose focus: from independent work, to partner work, and around again.

2. Gives you extended time to collect student data. I recommend using ClassDojo to record target behaviors you have already identified and discussed with students: for example, active listening. (For more on how I teach active/compassionate listening, see my blog post on magnetiCClassroom.com.)

3. Students operating autonomously will streamline the extent to which you must serve as “logistic-ringmaster.” This conserves your energy, preserves your voice, and should you need to address the class, you will get better attention from the students as you have not been barking orders at them!

This is part 4 of a 4 part series. Read part 1, here.

Differentiating in Baby Steps, Part 3: Differentiating by Interest through Credits

You may want to read Part 1 and 2 on Differentiating in Baby Steps first, here.

The course catalog, my freshman year of college, was almost as fun as a J. Crew catalog. I couldn’t fathom how many options were open to me, and the sense of choosing my own academic destiny was intoxicating.

Why must students wait until college before they can have the autonomy to choose the credits they need to meet their goals?

The most concrete form of differentiation you can employ in the classroom is to offer options to students for their major assessments. Would they like to create a poster, a NPR style radio show, or build a theme park?

There’s one problem: we all know that it takes much longer to build a theme park than it does to make a poster. Unless it’s a huge freakin’ poster.

How to solve that problem?

Create a table where you delineate how many credits a student can receive for a certain kinds of work, and what grade is possible by amassing a certain number of credits. Click here for an example.

Caveats

1. You must provide models of excellence and a few sub-par models and students must articulate what they see as the difference. They need to own what they’re getting into when they choose a certain project type, and many an amateur film-maker rued the day they chose to do film, even though it earns more credit; film can be a time consuming burden for a student who doesn’t love working on it.

2. Tag models of excellence each year to update the student model portfolios. Yes, the first year is hardest. I created a few of my own models the first time I allowed certain modalities.

3. When a student chooses to aim for less than an A (this tends to be more acceptable at the high school level where student autonomy is more encouraged), it might be wise to meet with his/her advisor (or send a note home) to make sure other responsible adults are in the know. In truth, this type of choice can be a “canary in the coal mine,” and help you find students who need more support and encouragement. They would know if this is a) someone about to fall through the cracks or b) someone who is on three teams and the school play, being responsible and realistic with time-management.

This is part 3 of a 4 part series. Read part 4, here.