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Like all of you, I have a variety of levels and students with special needs in my classes. Differentiation is not just a possible strategy for instruction but is an ethical responsibility. All students deserve to make growth and learn. Advanced students need opportunities for challenge. 

It is critical that teachers structure units and lessons so that all students can access a clear standard. Students who struggle must understand what they need to do to meet expectations and students who are advanced must be challenged to meet a more complex learning goal.

The Common Core State Standards are the foundation that teachers need in order to effectively differentiate to the various needs of their classroom.

Step One

Align with the SACI framework by selecting a CCSS standard, or the professional learning team, departmental or grade level designated standard.

Step Two

Break apart the standard and create a 4 point rubric. The rubric/scoring scale is an essential learning tool for teachers AND students (Marzano’s Formative Assessment and Standards –Based Grading). The rubric is an essential component to curriculum planning as it clearly indicates proficiency indicators so that when students fall under the proficiency level the teacher can use the rubric to identify the specific areas in which the student is not meeting. The rubric is an essential learning tool for students. Students can see where they fall on the continuum of the standard. If they are struggling they can see the specific areas they need to improve on. If they are advanced, the 4 on the rubric is a challenge level and allows students who have met proficiency to move ahead to a more complex and appropriate learning goal. The 4, or challenge level, on the rubric is simply the level up on the Common Core State Standards.

Example in Action

Last week my students were working on building research and paraphrasing skills while researching Shakespeare and the Renaissance. Using the research standards in the CCSS, I was able to determine what 3 proficiency should be for ALL students. If students met the clearly articulated goals they earned a 3 proficiency which would be 90%.  This was the goal for all students, regardless of level or special education status.  Interestingly, when the more advanced students met the goal, they packed up their books and said, “I’m done”. That’s when we pulled out the rubric and together walked through their research presentations checking for mastery against the rubric. This allowed students to reflect on the quality and accuracy of their work. If they were indeed “done”, I pointed out the challenge level expectations and guided them onward to the next level.

Was it easy? No.

Did it take time to plan clear learning outcomes and create rubrics? Yes.

Was my rubric perfect? Not yet.

Were there issues along the way that need to be addressed for the next time? Yes.

Were students completely comfortable with this way of instruction? No, but they will be.

Were they appreciative of the clear learning goals? A little!

Nonetheless, I will continue to work away in this manner as I feel that I am moving in the right direction of making sure all students are working to their potential.

We have received great feedback from fellow educators who have created units of study around the SACI Unit Design Template.  Thanks to all of you who have begun to revamp curriculum around the Common Core State Standards.  As Susan stated, it may not be easy at first, but the more you use the Common Core to create your units, the more opportunity students have to master the skills needed to be the leaders of tomorrow.  Implementing the Common Core will provide you with the skill-set to transform and energize your curriculum.

Don’t Forget:
You still have time to submit a grant proposal through Next Generation Learning Challenges (Building Blocks for College Readiness).  Next Generation is offering up to $10 million in grant fund opportunities.  Deadline is March 4, 2011.    Have a great idea?  Instead of letting it just sit in your brain, make it come to life.