More than 280 teachers from across the Cherry Creek School District gave up part of their evening on Feb. 16 to attend the district’s first-ever differentiation open house, titled “Tips, Tricks and Tools… Oh my!” The event was held at the Instructional Support Facility and hosted by the district’s elementary differentiation coaches – teacher leaders who receive special training in differentiating instruction for children at different levels or with different learning styles.
“We know that one size doesn’t fit all and as educators we are always working hard to create multiple pathways for students to access the content,” said Summer Snyder, district differentiation coach. She helped organize the event, which had a fun and festive atmosphere and featured dozens of different booths or stations where teachers could get new ideas from colleagues who are differentiation experts.
"This night is set up to support teachers and provide more tools for their tool belt,” Snyder explained. “When teachers stop at a booth, the differentiation coach will explain the strategy or tool, provide multiple examples of how to use it both in elementary and secondary classrooms and give the rationale as to why the strategy works.”
Among the attendees was veteran educator Jenn Padgett. She teaches fifth grade at Arrowhead Elementary and has 13 years of experience, but she is always searching for new ways to meet her students’ needs.
“I’m here today because I enjoy hearing ideas and sharing ideas. You can never get enough ideas about how to differentiate in the classroom,” Padgett said. “I love the opportunity to talk to my colleagues and get ideas from other teachers.”
The free event attracted whole teams of teachers, including the kindergarten team from Highline Community Elementary.
“In kindergarten, you have a range of learners; some who are still learning foundational skills and some who are already readers. We want to be able to support all of our kids,” said kindergarten teacher Brandi Garcia.
“We’re looking for ways to engage the kids and get them thinking in different ways about problem-solving and learning,” added fellow kindergarten teacher Dionne Williams. “As we’ve gone around, we’ve asked a lot of presenters how we can use this for kindergarten. A lot of them have been able to give us suggestions of ways to use it effectively at the kindergarten level and that’s been really helpful.”
Presenters emphasized the five pillars of effective differentiation: classroom environment, curriculum, formative assessment, respectful tasks and instructional arrangement. They also shared more than 35 research-based strategies to support differentiation and student engagement.