Differentiation in Specials Classes

In the specials departments, we use a variety of differentiation techniques to allow all students to access the curriculum.

First, teachers must clearly delineate the difference between course content, lesson activities, and enduring understanding. Content is the collection of facts, ideas, and skills that students will be exposed to during the course. Some of this will stick and some will not, but content alone does not identify the true goals of a curriculum. Lesson activities are the vehicles for engaging with the content in such a way that students can develop enduring understanding of those concepts that are essential for future learning in the discipline and across the curriculum. By clearly identifying the enduring understandings at the heart of each course, we have more flexibility to adapt the content and activities to meet the needs of our students.  Let’s take a look at a few examples from the specials departments.

In Physical Education, one of the most popular activities in every grade level is the climbing unit.  The content and activities seem fairly straightforward:  the students learn safety procedures and climbing strategies in order to climb the many different obstacles in the gym.  But while these are critical elements in climbing, they are not the point of the class.  The students are doing all this in order to develop an understanding of the power of perseverance, the value of goal setting, and the necessity of supporting and relying on each other both literally (holding the belaying lines for each other) and figuratively. With guidance from Mrs. Fitzer, students choose their own climbing goals and reflect on their progress throughout the unit. They are free to choose partners in Middle Division, deciding whether they want to push themselves to new heights by partnering with a stronger climber, or to build leadership and collaborative skills by partnering with a student with lower skills.  In High School, students choose the kinds of challenges they will attempt.  In every case, students challenge themselves to accomplish personal goals through trial, error, reflection, and going back again to make progress.

This model is repeated throughout the specials departments.  Teachers identify the enduring understandings of each course. In Visual Art, Mrs. Sayre provides a variety of scaffolds that are available to all students. She gives all instructions orally and writes them on the board, often with pictorial icons to support understanding when students struggle with written text. All projects can be expanded for students who enter the course with prior experience or who are more intuitive throughout the process.

Leslie Buford
Language Specialist and Head of Specials