Week 10: How does my UbD unit reflect my understanding of differentiated instruction?

It has been a struggle to finalize my unit this week, but with the help of my instructor, I was able to come up with a satisfactory unit on analyzing two quantitative variables. The process of using Understanding by Design has been enlightening. I have only come across this within the last year, but it has been around for about 20 years!

Although UbD is not synonymous with differentiation, I found it difficult to come up with some strategies that work with high school level math. Talk to 5 different high school math teachers and ask them how to differentiate their lessons, you will most likely get 5 different responses!  To be honest, I don’t consciously differentiate a unit or particular lessons.  I have come to know after years of teaching mathematics in high school where students have difficulty, and have developed some strategies that would help them in certain areas.  Is this differentiation, or being proactive?  So when I am asked about differentiation, I get a little flustered.

I know that students talk to each other after a lesson, and sometimes during a lesson, about the content we just learned about.  Although I don’t call it Partner Talk or Think-Pair-Share, the idea is they are discussing and reflecting on the lesson.  Do all the students do this?  No, but the ones that need affirmation participate in this strategy.  A strategy I encourage my students to engage in is writing “notes” on their assignments.  I suppose this is similar to Journaling, but it probably doesn’t have the same connotation.  I will try to have students reflect on their learning either every day, or after several days.  I will have them write these thoughts down on a separate sheet of paper, or in a Google doc that they can share with me at the end of the unit.

Another strategy I have developed in the last 4 years is giving students the choice to do any problems in a problem set.  We do a core number of them together, but during their independent assignment time, they can choose the number and difficulty of the problems they work on.  This allows them to be confident in their efforts, and for those that want a challenge, they can try some difficult problems.

Another way that I will differentiate is to allow students to use one of two technologies, the Texas Instruments graphing calculator, or the online graphing calculator Desmos.  The reason for this second choice is to allow students who have a smartphone, or their personal laptop to utilize this technology for reasons other than social media or games!  The TI graphing calculator has some limitations, but is satisfactory for this unit, but I would prefer them to work with Desmos.  I will provide troubleshooting and general operating information on both devices.

Lastly, I will allow the students to choose their medium of preference for their report of the performance assessment task, which means they can hand-write, or type-write, or present in a slide show, or orally present with visuals.  This allows the students to utilize their preferred learning style so they can be successful.

It has been a struggle this week to finalize my unit, but I will see how the unit will progress throughout the next few weeks!  I am excited to see the results.


7 thoughts on “Week 10: How does my UbD unit reflect my understanding of differentiated instruction?

  1. I can definitely see how it would be challenging to differentiate in a math classroom. It seems like there is a limited amount of things that can be changed or done differently. Notes, talking, choosing questions to work on, and changing up how you assess students is all I can really think of as well. Keep thinking and trying new ideas.


  2. As McCarthy (2015) states, “every teacher already has the tools to differentiate in powerful ways for all learners.” You clearly are differentiating for your students and likely have been for quite some time. I think, when you’ve been in the classroom for more than a few years, those changes you make that you see as proactive are differentiation. You’ve made conscious decisions to modify your content, process, product, and environment based on the needs demonstrated by your students. That is, by definition, differentiation as it demonstrates a knowledge that our students are different and they do not learn in the same manner or at the same pace as every other student in the room.

    It’s challenging to consider our practices in a new light, particularly if we’re already doing pieces of what we’re being asked to consider. What we perceive as “just what you do for your students,” may in fact speak to defined principle of learning that we didn’t even know about – go us! I remember reading Harry Wong for the first time and thinking, “Well aren’t most of us doing this?” Given that he likely made tons of money as a speaker, author, and consultant…perhaps not. 😉 There will always be new ways to rebrand, reconsider, revamp, or repackage what we’re doing in education…just as there will be “advances” that seem familiar. Sometimes these changes and reconsiderations are absolutely onto something (differentiation as case in point) while other times it will feel to you like a 100% reinforcement of your status quo. It’s imperative that we stay on top of these changes, but equally imperative that we recognize what we are already doing well.


  3. I appreciate your viewpoint. Sometimes I feel we are asked as teachers to integrate “one more method”, when I feel that I have been doing something similar for years. It’s sort of funny how I can predict in what ways students will make a mistake, and I try to point them out as my lesson progresses. But it seems to fall on deaf ears! Kids are predictable, but even if I try to anticipate and make conscious decisions in lesson development I feel I affect about 20% of them positively. The rest make the mistakes I am trying to have them identify and not make! It’s a process. 🙂


  4. Jim,
    I also had a hard time with finishing my unit this week. Every time I would sit down to write, I felt like I was overthinking it. I am glad that I am hearing that I am not the only one. I have used the Udb template in the past, but sometimes I get writers block. Its good to see that you can reach out to your peers for inspiration. Your plan sounds like a solid one. Thanks for sharing.



  5. I like your practice of letting students choose which problems to solve in a set. I’m sure the low hanging fruit is the first to go, but giving them a sense of “ownership” in the assignment may help those reluctant ones. I also like the idea of letting students choose the medium for their performance task. Again – flexibility and ownership.


  6. You have some very practical and tangible differentiation examples and I am appreciative of this. In summary, it seems that options for students are very important for differentiation. I agree with this but always have difficulty on providing these options for students. I am interested in how your assessment process goes with giving the students the ability to show their knowledge of the performance task through the means you have listed: hand-write, type-write, slideshow, or verbally present. I need to figure out multiple ways for my students to respond to the performance task that I am going to give to them. I think I will give some examples of each of these ways to students so they have an idea of what their final work can look like. Having this can give students an example to possibly move towards. I think my UbD unit would have gotten better if I had a finished result example.


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