A Little More on Rigor, and Differentiation

A third grade teacher I was working with was feeling anxious about differentiation, as we all do.  It’s a constant worry for teachers, and I’ve been on a mission the last few years to find small ways to differentiate in the classroom.

I’ve come to realize that rigor comes hand in hand with differentiation.  That often times even my own daughter, who has been identified as a gifted and talented student, has not learned mathematics deeply.  She can do some amazing calculations, but when asked to go deeper she isn’t always thinking deeper. And neither were these 3rd graders, or most students that I meet on a daily basis.

Enter our math challenge. We decided that rigor can mean understanding the complexity of something…not harder, more and not even always something different. Differentiation can simply mean deeper. So we chose ONE problem from the assignment that the students were working on and asked them to do this on the back of their paper:


We were pretty surprised with what happened. They could build it with tools, they could make visual models, but not ONE student could do either a real life story or tell us how it works.  Their stories were muddled, didn’t make sense or were missing information.

So, for the next few weeks, we put an emphasis on the story. Every day we picked one problem and had them all write a story about it. This story was shared then to the rest of the class to help the rest of the students become better. And it worked, more and more students were able to match the equation with a real life situation (hello math practice standard #2!).

This is a great small step for differentiation because of the open ended nature of the two prompts on the right side of the poster.  After a few days, students started asking very cool questions. They were talking about why we regroup when there is 10 of something. Why not 7? Why not 9? It led to much deeper conversations with our gifted students as well as elevating others.

EVERYONE had access to this rigor. EVERYONE is learning.  EVERYONE is going deeper, not just your gifted students.


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