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Every school year presents a lot of challenges for both students and teachers.  Students are trying to “test the waters” with their new teachers, and teachers are trying to figure out what their new students know/don’t know.  Tomlinson said that readiness of a student is “the current knowledge, understanding, and skill level a student has related to a particular sequence of learning.”  One way that a teacher can start to differentiate the instruction at the beginning of the year is by giving “start of unit” assessments.  This type of assessment shows the teacher what the students know and don’t know without the pressure of being a graded assessment.  The one subject that this can be a little more difficult with is ELA.  When working with grammar, the pre-assessment works well.  However, when you have to teach a new book and you have to follow a set curriculum for the book, it is very difficult to differentiate.    

Another way that teachers can help start with differentiation is by having different forms of delivering the lesson material.  There have been many debates about the “learning style” testing that has been going on for years.  However, there are four recognized learning styles.  A teacher should make sure that every different lesson has an aspect from each learning style.  I always allow students to work by themselves when I offer group work.  There is nothing worse than being a student who doesn’t like group work, being forced to work with a group.  I have been that student far too often myself.  I am far too much of a perfectionist/control freak that when I was a younger student, I took over the group and just did the work because I wanted to get a better grade.  

Another way that an ELA teacher can differentiate their classroom is with different spelling word groupings.  This is known as “tiering”.  After the initial first test, which has varying levels of difficulty, the teacher can break the students into their ability groups.  This makes sure that the students that are above grade level have challenging words to help expand their vocabulary, the ones on grade level are working with the words that they should know how to spell already, and the ones that are below grade level are given words that are within their level.  When the students consistently fail for multiple weeks, they get moved to the list below theirs.  Conversely when the students pass with an 80 or above for multiple weeks, they get moved up a list.  All of the lists get progressively more challenging as the students improve their vocabulary.  

I am sure that there are many more different ways to differentiate at the beginning of the school year and I am looking forward to reading what others are thinking.