Differentiation Edition 2.2

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 8th 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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