Math Mondays: Problem Rating to Support Differentiation

Assessing students ability, particularly at the beginning of the year, can be time consuming. But I have seen the deep benefits of differentiating for my students in the long run, so knowing where each student is from day one is important.

Among my favorite reasons to differentiate: 

  • Not leaving a student behind
  • Having kids work at their own pace and actually learn before moving on
  • Mastery learning so that every kid is learning every day
  • Engaging students
  • And building confidence in children. Students who thought "I can't" learn "I can." 
Of course, differentiating requires organization and skill. I'm not a master yet, but I've learned some tricks. One of my favorites is the problem rating system.  

How it works: 

  • VARIETY OF PROBLEMS: I give the students a set of problems at the beginning of the year. They encompass a wide variety of skills and tend to be mostly word problems, although sometimes I'll give some straight up equations. The questions are related to skills students should have mastered the previous year and skills related to the class I'm teaching. 
  • TRY EVERY ONE: I have students try every problem. They can use any technique to solve them. 
  • RATE THE PROBLEM: Most importantly, I ask each student to rate each problem on a scale of difficulty from 1 to 10. 1 is so easy they didn't have to think. 10 is they don't even know where to start. I emphasize that this is their opportunity to be in charge of their learning. The ratings are a quick way for each student to let me know how comfortable they are with a type of question. 
  • REVIEW: I review the solutions and ratings and then start each student in the curriculum where they seem to be at. We do whole class projects mixed in with individual and small group competency based learning. While its a great deal of work up front, the individual benefits are huge. I continue to have students rate 2-3 problems a week. This way, I can easily see when some students are ready for the next concept or an assessment. 
For my students it is incredibly empowering. It is the rare child who doesn't master at least a year of math or more when they are in my class.  More on mastery learning coming soon.  

In the meantime, check out some of the ideas and products below to help you differentiate in your classroom.

Math Mondays is a weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching math.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message on Facebook or at the store in the question and answer section.



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    1. Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate hearing that someone finds a post helpful.