Differentiating for Diverse Learners

Dotted blue decorative line - ASSISTments Images
The impact of distance learning has not hit communities equitably. At a time when access to technology has become a must-have for learning to continue, there continues to be a digital divide along race, socioeconomic and geographic lines. Read more to find out how ASSISTments provides support for teachers.

We know within our education system students often have unfinished learning due to years of inequitable opportunity, and that problem is exacerbated by the current COVID-19 pandemic. This past school year, over 50 million students experienced a 3-month interruption in their formal education with an estimated 21% of those students not making any contact with their teacher during that time (Kurtz, 2020). 

The impact of distance learning has not hit communities equitably. At a time when access to technology has become a must-have for learning to continue, there continues to be a digital divide along race, socioeconomic and geographic lines. This fall, as students begin a new and uncertain school year, there is no doubt they will need additional guidance and support navigating a mix of remote and in-classroom learning, while also making up for lost learning time. Teachers certainly feel this reality. We are consistently hearing from our teachers that they need support with differentiating for students, especially while they are working remotely.

Differentiation and learning loss

One of the challenges related to differentiation that we hear most from teachers is the need to simultaneously meet the diverse needs of their students while also maintaining a focus on grade-level instruction. Research suggests there is a lot of value in finding a good balance between the two. TNTP’s Opportunity Myth (TNTP, 2018) found that when students missing grade-level knowledge and skills spent 50% of their time on tasks at their grade-level, they gained the equivalent of 7.3 months of additional learning as compared to students that did not receive that access. In contrast, when students spent the majority (81%) of their time on below grade-level tasks, this has a negative effect on learning. 

ASSISTments supports scaffolding and differentiation

At ASSISTments, we’re supporting teachers with finding that balance. We allow teachers to easily assign online from high quality open education resources like Illustrative Mathematics and EngageNY, limiting the disruption remote learning has on student access to grade-level work. We also make that experience more scaffolded and supportive for students. As students submit answers, ASSISTments provides immediate feedback and allows for multiple attempts. This creates a daily stream of formative data that helps teachers further scaffold learning in the context of meeting high expectations. 

Should a teacher decide they want to revisit a prior concept or skill, we provide them easy access to the assignments from prior grades in their curriculum, as well as a repository of common core aligned questions and mastery-based skill builders, which they can assign online to a small group or individual students through their learning management system. ASSISTments is all about creating the flexibility for teachers to make choices that work best for their students. Teachers value that we complement their instructional routine, and enhance their daily workflow, unlocking new ways to support differentiation.

Turning to a real classroom application, see this clip from Joaquine Pina, a math teacher from Yuma, Arizona, describing his routine using ASSISTments and Illustrative Math during a recent webinar. Joaquine uses the student-facing tasks from his curriculum as an opportunity for collaborative and differentiated learning via Zoom, allowing students to work in small groups. He then uses the cool downs from his curriculum (also within ASSISTments) to check for understanding, and to inform grouping and instruction for his next lesson. This may include assigning additional practice for those who need it, using our Skill Builders.

How to use ASSISTments for differentiation in your classroom 

Let’s assume you’re a 7th grade Illustrative Math Teacher. You might go into ASSISTments after teaching each of the lessons in Unit 1 and assign the aligned student-facing tasks.

Example Math Problem - Assistments - Formative Assessment Solutions - Image

Unit 1 focuses on scale drawings. When you look at your data in ASSISTments - you may notice that specific students struggled with the above question. At that point, you can consult the Illustrative Math Adaptation Guide. You will learn that students who struggle with this are not familiar with equivalent ratios, a prerequisite concept and should revisit a lesson from Grade 6 Unit 2. You decide to pull this small group via zoom to review that content, and then use ASSISTments to assign the related student-facing tasks as a follow-up. For students, the learning will feel coherent with what they are focused on as a whole class, and clearly ladder up to the grade-level skill.

As students and teachers come back to the new normal for school during COVID, We are proud of the fact that we make it easy for teachers to continue to implement their curriculum in the classroom and at a distance, and provide rich data that can support differentiated learning. We will continue to support teachers’ daily practice as they ensure the students who are most vulnerable and in need of support get what they need to grow as learners.

Visit the Teacher Toolkit for resources curated to support differentiation, and sign up for the September webinar from our Amplifying Teacher Voices series: How to Differentiate for Diverse Student Needs using ASSISTments feat. Q&A with experienced users (September 30 at 3pm ET).

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