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Nonnegotiables of Differentiated Instruction: Respectful Tasks


Carol Ann Tomlinson: Effective differentiation will almost inevitably incorporate what we call respectful tasks. All of us want to feel that we’re regarded with respect. Respectful tasks say to students at least three things:

  • One is, "We’re all studying the most important ideas—everyone of us should master those: you’re a part of our group."
  • The second is, "You can’t master important things without using your brain, so everyone in this class will be thinking and problem solving at a high level."
  • And the third is, "I want this task to be so interesting to you that it’s hard for you to disregard it—even if you didn't think you wanted to learn today."

In a differentiated classroom, we’re asking students to trust that we have their best interests at heart. That we’re looking to see where they need to be, and we’re helping them move there. Respectful tasks help bring kids on board so that they’re willing to be part of a class in which people may sometimes do different things because what they’re doing looks just fine to them.

Ryann East, Spanish teacher: I like my seating arrangement because it can be easily adapted to different tasks. We move around a lot. I get students at the beginning of the semester prepared for how we’re going to move, because we’re constantly moving around and changing things. We talk a lot in language class, so it’s set up to promote that conversation in the classroom and also to let them see everyone, get to know everyone, and create that community within the classroom as well.

In today’s lesson, we did a tiered activity. [In] the first readiness level, their objective was to know the subject pronouns in Spanish and to start to memorize the –ar verb endings. So in this task, I had the students do an activity that went over the English and subject pronouns, and then they started a little bit with the –ar verbs. They just went over the endings and made sure they knew the endings well.

The second task was readiness level 2. These students were working on the –ar verbs and conjugating –ar verbs. In this activity, their objective was to memorize –ar endings and then conjugate them in the present tense with verbs we had used the previous semester.

I color-code things. It’s easy for me to keep track of where the students are and what students should be in what group. Then I differentiate by readiness, so I color-code those different levels. The task cards I give them are the same color as what I highlighted on my sheet. That way, when I go around the room, it’s easy for me to know what task they’re working on.

Source: From Differentiated Instruction in Action (Program 2: Middle School), 2008, Alexandria, VA: ASCD.