Differentiation in math education has always
been one of my greatest passions, but I always had a difficult time finding
differentiation resources that could clearly explain how to make it all work in
a math classroom. Over time I’ve learned
from colleagues and developed some of my own strategies, and now I’d like to
share with you what has worked for me and my students.

The focus of this edition of my differentiation
series is on differentiating homework.
We’ll walk through why, what, and how in this post.

First of all, I do not differentiate every
single day. That’s exhausting, and in
many cases, unnecessary. However, I
started differentiating homework based out of the needs of my students. In my district, students begin tracking into
regular versus accelerated classes in fifth grade. Each year their placement is reevaluated and
students can move up or down based on their in-class progress and test
scores. {Whether this is a great method
or appropriate for our students is a topic for another day.} However, the reality is that I end up with a
handful of students in my standard eighth grade math classes who were in
accelerated math for seventh grade but didn’t quite make the cut this
year. They would be bored stiff if I
didn’t offer challenge opportunities for them, and parents really appreciate
the extra acknowledgement that their student is a strong math student and needs
more than what a standard {undifferentiated} class would provide. And, on the other hand, I bet you have
students with individualized education plans who required reduced or modified
homework. Alas, I began differentiating
homework!

Differentiated homework depends on where I am
sourcing the main assignment from for that night. Sometimes I assign math problems out of our textbook. In that case, I remove a few simple problems
and select some above level problems from the same section in the book. There are many overlapping problems between
the two levels, but the students who need a little extra challenge have a couple
different problems. Remember that these
are students who wanted to be in accelerated and hope to move back up the
following year so they’re willing to do the challenging work. Buy-in is really important here. Find a way to sell it to your students if you
feel this is something that they need.

Other times I assign a worksheet for homework. In this case, I usually try to find two
different worksheets that cover the same skill but one may be a bit more
difficult like containing an extra step.
I have been known to pull out the ole cut-and-paste strategy to replace
some problems with something more challenging by covering the problems up with
new ones. I also have recently been
writing my own assignments that are differentiated. Many of the problems overlap but there is a
version that is more difficult than the other.

Differentiating for those students who need a
shortened assignment can be as easy as circling the problems they need to
complete on the worksheet or providing a shortened assignment from the
textbook. In the homework I am creating
I provide a one-page version of the regular two-page homework assignment. For students needing friendlier numbers, I
recommend looking for a secondary worksheet option for them, possibly searching
the grade level below.

Ok, so there are a few different homework assignments
out there. How do we make this work in
the classroom? Option 1: Post the
answers on your website. However, this
isn’t my favorite strategy because a few issues can arise with this. The main issue is that most of my students
don’t bother to log on and check their answers.
They see it as an extra step that adds to the length of their math
homework time, instead of understanding that it’s a vital component to make
sure they are practicing correctly.
Another issue is that many resources, especially those purchased on
Teachers Pay Teachers, can’t be posted online because of the terms of use.

So that brings us to Option 2: Project the
answers on the board while students are working on the Problem of the Day or
while you are checking the homework. I
typically start with the Problem of the Day projected on the board. Then about halfway through checking homework,
I switch to homework answers. So by the
time I have made it around to everyone (checking for completion only), students
have completed the Problem of the Day and have checked their homework and they
are ready to rock and roll – quickly going over the POD, asking homework
questions, and moving on to the lesson for the day.

When we go over homework, there might be 1-2
questions, several questions, or crazy amounts of questions. If there are only 1-2 questions, I answer
them at the front board. If there are
several questions, I usually call up student volunteers to neatly show their
work on the front board so students can look at the ones that they need
to. I elaborate with a brief explanation
as needed. If there are crazy amount of
questions, then I might go over one, then have students work together to make
corrections, and regroup to see if there are still additional questions. We may be able to move on after the
collaboration or we may need to do some re-teaching that day instead of the
planned lesson. I have not found having
different assignments to be an issue here.
After all, students tune out in the same way if they don’t have a
question on something that is asked. The
key is not to spend too much time on homework here so it’s not a waste for any
student. Lots of questions from a
student or two equals after school help.
Lots of questions from the class means pause where you are and do some
reteaching.

Do you teach 8

^{th}grade math and want all of this work done for you? If your response is “yes please!” then check out my 8th grade curriculum that includes differentiated homework.
Catch up on the rest of the series for tons
of ideas you can implement in your own classroom!

Comment below if there’s something else related
to differentiation that you’d love to read about!

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