I currently work in a role at my school in which I focus on meeting the needs of all the diverse learners in the school. It’s a job I absolutely love, and each day is different!
So, it’s no surprise that I love learning about and sharing new and fun ways to differentiate.
When we talk about differentiation, there are several different things that we can be diversifying in our classrooms to help all our students.
Teachers can differentiate content, process, product, and learning environment in order to best serve their students.
We do a combination of many of these differentiation strategies all the time, often without realizing it. So, when we’re intentional, we can program even better than we are and truly provide students with rich learning experiences to suit their own needs.
Today I want to focus on differentiating product. When we talk about differentiating product, we’re talking specifically about how students demonstrate their knowledge.
After you’ve completed your teaching of content and formatively assessed, the product is what students show, create, prove, teach and so on, to illustrate that they’ve understood and mastered the concept. Our summative assessment is based on this product.
Obviously, we know immediately that if we do nothing but multiple choice tests to assess our students, we are completely disregarding students who demonstrate their knowledge better in different ways as well as all of the levels of knowledge that cannot be tested on a multiple choice test.
This is why it’s so important to diversify the products you are asking students to complete to show their knowledge.
Below are some of my best tips and favourite strategies for differentiating product:
Be clear with what you are assessing
Make sure that you are extremely clear with students about what you are assessing and why it’s important. Talk about the difference between formative and summative assessment and why they’re both important.
Be extremely clear about which outcomes you are marking when you do grade work.
Students need to know exactly what it is that they are supposed to know and/or be able to do. Not only is this fair and transparent assessment practice, it also makes students more connected to their learning and the learning process.
Your formative assessments and the product students are completing needs to directly show the content you’ve asked students to know – and students need to know what this is!
For example, if the outcome you are asking students to demonstrate is an understanding of photosynthesis, you have to tell them that you want them to show/tell you exactly what photosynthesis is, and the assessment you’re asking them to complete needs to directly evaluate their knowledge of photosynthesis.
Vary your assessments
Don’t be that teacher that uses the exact same form of assessment for everything! As I mentioned above, using the same form of assessment will only benefit some students and will only test some skills. Not only that, it’s incredibly boring!
There are so many different ways you can assess student understanding! Differentiating process and product are some of the most fun ways to differentiate because they allow us to be so creative!
Here are just a few of my favourite ways to assess students (I’m not including the usual tests and essays):
- Write and perform a play
- Make a commercial
- Create social media content (Instagram posts or TikTok style videos are so hot right now)
- Write a blog post
- Complete a graphic organizer
- Make a mind map
- Create a presentation
- Make a tri-fold (Science fair-style)
- Write a radio advertisement
- Create a podcast
- Make a board game
- Design a cereal box
- Design a book jacket
- Make a wanted posted
- Make a newspaper complete with articles and photos
- Teach someone else the material (they could record or you could watch this)
- Make a picture/children’s book
- Make a graphic novel
- Make an interpretive dance (yes, this one works if kids can properly explain their reasoning and it’s crazy, stupid fun)
- Write a brochure
- Create an infographic
- Create an art project, like a painting or a sculpture – this works in way more classes than just Art
- Create a business and a product
- Make memes
- Write a jingle or a song (I’ve had students rap about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it was truly amazing)
- Create a collage
- AND SO MANY MORE – this list is legit never ending!
Don’t rely solely on tests
Obviously, I’m not a huge fan of tests. Now, that being said, I definitely still do give students tests.
Testing is a form of assessment which is really useful for demonstrating some skills and which many students like and are good at. Not only that but, unfortunately, test-taking is a skill which students do need in order to pass high school and succeed in post-secondary schooling, if that’s the choice they make.
What I don’t like is when testing is the only form of assessment used.
Pen to paper tests don’t assess so many skills and knowledge needed in the “real world” (also a term I hate to use – students are already living in the “real world” and are “real” people). We need to build up communication, reasoning, logic, collaboration, inferencing, and questioning skills. Not to mention way too many more to name.
So, make sure you’re utilizing a variety of assessment methods, like some tests mixed with options from the list above.
When you do give pen to paper tests, make sure you utilize a variety of different types of questions. Multiple choice is certainly the easiest to grade, but it’s important to throw in short and long answer, matching, fill-in-the-blank, and so on.
Give students the opportunity to answer a variety of questions as some will be better at certain questions types than others.
give students choice
One of the best and easiest things for you to do as a teacher in differentiating product is to give students a choice of how to demonstrate their knowledge.
I personally love choice boards. They provide a plethora of options for the kids, and you’ve designed the options, so you know they all assess the content.
Choice boards are great to use at the end of a unit or focus. For example, at the end of a Science unit or a novel study, you can have the students pick an idea from a choice board that will demonstrate all the content you are looking for.
You can also use choice boards throughout the year. For example, if you teach Art, you may have your students work in their sketchbooks during times when they’re finished a project early – have them choose assignments from a choice board and state that by the end of the year, each student has to have a certain number completed.
There are, of course, other ways to use choice as well. Let students choose between answering two different questions, or pick between three or four assignments, and so on.
When kids are given choice, they are able to pick what works best for them and will take more ownership in their learning and schooling.
go through rubrics with students
When you create a rubric for an assignment, it is vital that students know what everything on the rubric means and what you are looking for.
Give them examples of low, average, and high work, and discuss these as a class.
Even better – create the rubric for an assignment with your class! Our students are smart, ask them what should be done well and graded on their assignment, and they’ll tell you.
Don’t be worried about this, you can always help guide the students toward including anything they may have missed.
use a single point rubric
I prefer to use a single-point versus a multi-point rubric for two major reasons.
The first is that it allows for more teacher reasoning. Sometimes we want such an intense and failsafe rubric that we completely take out any professional judgement from our assessment. We are educated professionals who know when work is good and when it is not.
Sometimes multi-point rubrics are so specific that they don’t allow for any creativity or leeway.
For example, a lot of art rubrics I used to create would say “no white spaces”. If a student drew me a beautiful black and white sketch, they should technically be getting a lower grade, just because of the wording on the rubric. Someone who madly (and badly) coloured in every inch would be getting a higher grade just by default.
Instead, I just have the criteria I’m looking for in the centre of the rubric, then what needs to be improved on one side and what was done well on the other. Then, I give the final grade (using my professional judgement) at the bottom.
The other reason I like single point rubrics coincides with the ability for more creativity I mentioned above.
I like when students are able to have a little more flexibility in showing me their knowledge. When a rubric is too specific, all that creativity is lost.
Furthermore, when I use a single point rubric, I can specifically tailor it to each student and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Each student has the same rubric, but the comments for each criteria can be much more directed toward the student when I am completing the grading, which I like. It allows me to grade a little more personably than with a multi-point rubric.
allow students to work independently or in groups
Some students work well individually, while others thrive in collaborative groupings. It’s important that they have a mix of these scenarios when working on their product.
Of course, we can’t always allow them to choose independent or collaborative work – then they won’t gain skills in the area they like less.
Mix up group, independent, or student choice work when you can to ensure they have practice with each.
let students propose their own product ideas
Finally, the last way to differentiate product is to allow students to pick how they show you their knowledge and/or skills.
If you’ve given them some different options, but they have another idea that they would prefer, ask them about it. As long as the end result will clearly hit all the outcomes (and is appropriate, of course), let them do it!
Students always have so many interesting and creative ideas which I love to see. I think I’m pretty creative until I hear some of the awesome ideas they have!
They’ll have more fun and enjoy school and the content more if they get some say in the matter!
Well, what do you think? Is there anything else you like to do in your own classroom? Let me know in the comments below!
Enjoyed this? Here are some other blog posts on Katie is a Teacher you may like:
Want even more? Here are some Katie is a Teacher resources you may be interested in: