Product Differentiation

Differentiation is a one word description for a method to reach every student and provide them with access to the curriculum that fits their learning style and their interests. There are four areas that differentiation can occur: product, process, content, and environment. We will be focusing on product differentiation. Differentiation can be a difficult idea to grasp since so many have differing ideas on what it should look like. Truly, differentiation in your classroom may not look like differentiation in my classroom. Just as our teaching styles may differ, the ideas about differentiation can produce a range of methods and items. Product differentiation is what students provide to show what they have learned. In the past, worksheets, quizzes, and tests were the products. We have grown from this model to include products such as projects and multimedia designs from which we deduce student learning. Here are some ideas on how to implement product differentiation into your classroom:

  1. Genius Hour- This is product differentiation at its finest. I use this in my own classroom. The idea behind it is to devote one hour a week into letting students research their own interests and provide a product that presents their findings. If you can’t devote an hour a week, that’s ok. I have had to modify this for my students so that it is a year-long process. Some students complete their first Genius Hour within weeks while others may take the full school year to complete one. They can complete as many as they like and I have checkpoints that they must see me for approval before moving forward. For Genius Hour, I provide 101 ways to present their material. The student chooses from this list. Prior to beginning Genius Hour, I have to explicitly teach what type of open-ended questions would work best as well as how to do effective research. I don’t go in-depth, but do give a good overview. I also survey students prior to beginning to discover what type of learner they are: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. This allows me to help guide them with their choice of product if my assistance is requested. .
  2. With content-driven material, provide students with options to show their knowledge. In example, give two options such as a PowerPoint presentation or a short report to explain the state symbols. It does not have to be a multitude of options each and every time. Sometimes, too many choices can lead to trouble for your students and you.
  3. In order to assist my students that struggle, product differentiation may the same product, but the option of groupings as well as extension activities is added in. I may ask a struggling student to complete one portion of an activity with assistance from a co-teacher while other students may be asked to complete two portions of an activity independently or with a partner.
  4. Lastly, the use of rubrics are important for product differentiation. I have developed a generic rubric that looks for critical elements of learning rather than develop specific rubrics for each and every product developed. You can do this, but that is your choice. For my students, I wanted to be able to use one rubric each time, so that there was no confusion about what I was looking for in their product.

The most critical element of product differentiation is to have clear expectations and guidelines for the students to follow. If not, you could end up with a multitude of products that are all over the place. What are some ways that you have incorporated product differentiation into your own classroom?

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