The Same, But Different!

As I continue to focus on my math program and look more at how to meet various student needs, I can’t help buy think about the concept of “everybody doing the same thing.” I usually argue that I rarely (if ever) have everybody the classroom doing the same work. I think this gives a different perception than the reality though. Doing things differently, does not mean that the content needs to be different as well.

For me, the differences come in the open-ended activities. Every week, my teaching partner and I plan for what we’re going to teach each day. We discuss the topics and we create the specific activities.

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While we do not necessarily create different activities for everyone, we do create activities where all students can be successful and all students can learn something new.

  • Sometimes this means providing open-ended questions where students choose the values that work best for them.
  • Sometimes this means providing a range of tools.
  • Sometimes this means giving different options for sharing their learning (e.g., from written responses to audio recordings).

Then in the midst of these open-ended activities come the guided few activities, for those students that need additional support in areas that others may not. Leaps and Bounds has become a great resource for these guided activities. Instead of teaching the full-class a lesson on something that only a couple of students struggle with, I can now just pull those couple of students and teach the lesson to them.

I can even make the decision in the middle of a math class that I need to group students to review a difficult concept or provide more direct instruction. Having students working through problems together gives me lots of opportunities to sit down with different groups of students, hear their discussion, see their strengths and needs, and plan accordingly. The big idea may be the same for everyone, but it’s the follow through that’s different.

How do you meet various student needs in the classroom? Do you use this “same, but different” model? What does this look like for you? I would love to hear more!


2 thoughts on “The Same, But Different!

  1. Well worded, Aviva. I like your bolded points in blue.
    It’s not a new development that students learn differently. Most teachers understand that meeting needs means differentiating instructional practices and some understand that assessment practices can be differentiated as well. In most subject areas, alternate tasks are quite common. They are becoming more common in math but how best to differentiate math instruction and assessment is still developing.
    Students differ, not only in their cognitive functioning and processing, but also in their attitudes, learning styles and preferences. This can present challenges when considering how each student learns mathematically (not just the skills or concepts that may or may not be lacking).
    Open-ended problems provide great opportunities for students to approach problems from various cognitive platforms – bringing different concepts and skills to a critical thinking activity.
    Marian Small identifies the “Zone of Proximal Development” as a key consideration when designing activities. We MUST know our learners and where they are to consider what they need to move forward. This goes beyone just what skills or concepts they require but also considers how they learn mathematically.
    If our instructional practices are beyond the Zone of Development for some students or doesn’t meet the Zone of Development of others, then we haven’t met the needs of our learners.
    Every student working on the same text questions or workbook questions certainly runs the risk of ignoring learning preferences and doesn’t honour the attitudes, skills and concepts students students could potentially be developing and applying to critical thinking, problem-solving scenarios.
    I guess the long and short of it is that more variety of activities to discover, learn and demonstrate learning the better. Of course, being responsive to student need – learning preferences and styles, cognitive skills AND conceptual development – need to be honoured and represented.
    Activities that provide opportunity for collaboration and discovery, independent thinking, use of manipulatives, opportunity to practice and rehearse using the concepts and procedures, and the opportunity to network would be good start (haha)….all while in an environment that values mistakes as a critical avenue to success, of course.
    Just some thoughts!!!

    • Thank you so much for the comment! I completely agree with you, and I think that you made some wonderful points about knowing our learners and what we need to do to differentiate for them. I think that the question that often comes up is, how do we do this? Even if we know what math instruction needs to look like, there’s often talk of the struggle with meeting such diverse needs.

      I think that we need to start with looking beyond the textbook. The textbook makes it easy to say, “turn to page ____” and “do these questions.” This tends to stop the differentiating from happening. Everyone is doing the same thing instead of thinking about how everyone can have an entry point for richer problems.

      I know that our Board purchased LEAPS AND BOUNDS this year, and while I’m still figuring out how to use it best, I do like that there’s a combination of guided and open-ended questions. For people that are comfortable with a textbook, it still has that “textbook feel” to it (something that I was discussing with some educators this weekend), but many of the tasks are differentiated. You can also easily modify the sheets to work for various learners. With the various pathways, this program takes into consideration the “zone of proximal development.” Maybe it’s a good starting point.

      So much to think about … Thanks for extending the conversation!

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