Sunday, March 1, 2015

The 23rd Friday: The Art of Bucket Choosing

“There’s nothing inherently good or bad about instructional strategies. They are, in essence, the ‘buckets’ teachers can use to deliver content, process, or products. Yet some buckets are better suited than others to achieve a particular goal. The buckets can be used artfully or clumsily as part of well-connected or poorly conceived lesson plans and delivery.” 
Carol Ann Tomlinson

My quest to learn more about differentiation by reading Carol Ann Tomlinson’s second edition of The Differentiated Classroom continues, as does my desire to share just a bit of my learning. The quote above comes from Chapter Six of her book, a chapter in which she begins offering specific strategies for differentiation. Today, I share just three of those herein. Please note that space limits me to simply describing the three strategies, but know that Tomlinson gives detailed explanations and examples of each in her book:


Stations are different spots in the classroom where students work on various tasks simultaneously. They can be used with students of every age and in all subjects. Stations allow different students to work with different tasks and invite flexible grouping since not all students need go to all stations at all times.


An agenda is a personalized list of tasks that a particular student must complete in a specified time. Teachers usually create agendas that last a student two to three weeks but the duration can vary. Agendas can be used during a portion of the day at the elementary level or a certain day of the week at the secondary level. They can also be used as homework rather than class work, for both, or for an anchor activity when students complete assigned classwork.

Orbital Studies:

Orbital studies are independent investigations, generally of three to six weeks. They “orbit” or revolve around some facet of the curriculum. Students select their own topic for orbitals and they work with guidance and coaching from the teacher to develop more expertise on both the topic and on the process of becoming an independent investigator. This allows students to pursue topics that matter to them while seeing how what they learn in class connects with a world beyond the classroom. To some extent, reading about orbital studies reminded me of “Passion Time,” or “Genius Hour” approaches to creative teaching and learning.

Here are a few additional resources relating to choosing the best "bucket" in order to differentiate our instruction: 

As I have mentioned in previous posts about this important topic, differentiation is NOT a set of instructional strategies; instead, it is simply (and as complex) as the way in which teachers anticipate and respond to a variety of student needs in the classroom. Still, having an ever-expanding bucket of instructional and management strategies from which to choose as we differentiate our learning experiences we plan for our kids is certainly a part of the differentiated classroom concept. As Tomlinson states in the quote above, the bucket itself is like almost anything else in education: in and of itself, it is neither "good" or "bad." What makes it one or the other is the purposeful intention a master teacher employs when matching student learning goals to the bucket best suited to achieving such goals--knowing all along that different students may well respond better to different buckets.

I am in awe of teachers who continuously explore new instructional strategies as a way to best meet the needs of their unique learners--and then match these strategies with the goals they have for their students' learning. Focusing on instructional strategies that will benefit the learning of all students and choosing which to use, when, and for whom, is another way we Teach with Passion!

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