Now if you happen to have noticed the title of my post, you're probably thinking, "What could a box of rocks have to do with differentiated instruction?" Well, you trusted me the last time I was here proclaiming the powers of the almighty clipboard when differentiating, so I'm asking you to place your faith in me once again.
It all begins with a little boy and his box of rocks. Within this prized shoe box, lie the most valuable earthy possessions and treasures of my six year old son.
When this sweet Irish lad was only 2 1/2 years old, from within the depths of his toddler-sized trousers one day as I was doing the wash, I recovered 2 Hotwheel Cars, one superball and 23 rocks (No, I am NOT exaggerating.). It was a wonder he could even keep his little pants up!
Three years later, I wish I could report that things have improved, but the proof is in the picture. These are the latest addition to his collection that I recovered from just yesterdays' wash. The sit proudly on my laundry room window ledge.
My son is a collector of all things natural. He studies, he sorts and he ponders. . . He is a salamander-hunting, Petoskey stone-searching (It’s a Michigan thing.), bird-watching, flower-smelling, and blackberry- picking NATURALIST.
This summer as he investigates every inch of our 11 acres of woods, he is in the best possible classroom for a child who shows tendancies towards naturalist intelligence. But what happens to children like my son when kindergarten calls in the fall? How can we as classroom teachers find a place and a means to meet the needs of students like my own son who gather and demonstrate their intelligence through nature and working with natural items? My answer, of course, is through differentiated instruction.
Remember this little guy? He reminds us of WHY we differentiate. Differentiated instruction is done in response to a students’ interest (This is the HOOK that creates interest and meaning.), readiness( This is a students starting point in regards to a concept and NOT their ability.) and finally, learning profile (This includes learning styles and multiple intelligences.).
Many people tend to focus a great deal on responding to a learners readiness when they think of differentiated instruction and understandably so. But I really believe that a student’s interest and, in this case, a students' learning profile need to become as important as our response to a students readiness.
Brain research supports the notion that learning is optimized when skills and ideas are meaningful to the learner. It suggests that when students are allowed to engage in hands-on, real-life experiences, learning is at its best. So why wouldn't we consider different learning styles and intelligences? It only makes sense.
When we think of a students learning profile, of course, we are thinking of how they learn best. It’s how they attain knowledge and, likewise, how they represent what they know. The last time I was here I reminded you that Gardner tells us that intelligence is not just a singular notion but rather, knowledge can be acquired and represented in up to eight different ways.
In my lesson planner, you will find a copy of the chart illustrating the 8 intelligences above. I use it when planning my centers and activities so that I am reminded of the many different types of intelligences that are represented in my class. (If you'd like a copy of your own, just click on the picture above to download it.)
In all honesty, despite living under the same roof with a 6 year old who is a naturalist, it is the most difficult intelligence for me to incorporate into my class. It’s crazy, I know! I mean I have a science center, sensory table and allow for an occasional activity outdoors when the Northern Michigan weather permits, but I have had to really make a conscious effort to find ways to respond to the needs of naturalist students in my classroom beyond just offering learning center activities.
I had to start by understanding what it means to have a naturalist intelligences. . .
. . . and consider how I could incorporate this into my core objectives and essential skills. I had to think about what we do in kindergarten and make a place for natural elements and activities. I really needed to find meaningful ways to bring it all together. So here's a couple of ideas of what I have come up with . . .
In kindergarten, we sort and make patterns, so offer natural items such as rocks, pine cones, acorns, leaves or whatever you can find in your backyard or woods to practice these skills. Here's a little "I can" poster to put next to a sorting tray (just give the picture a click if you'd like a copy).
In kindergarten, we count. Offer materials from nature as manipulatives for creating tens frames numbers in this "Ten Frames Fun Build" activity. It is aligned to the Common Core, is self-correcting and tiered to meet the various readiness levels of your students. Just click on the picture to pick it up for your classroom.
You'll only find it free here on PreK and K Sharing (one of the perks of being such great readers).
In kindergarten. we also learn about bigger and smaller numbers. Here's a simple game using acorns we play in my class called ‘Oh Nuts.’ Never played 'Oh Nuts?' Click on the picture below to find out how.
In kindergarten, we read, so offer LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of nonfiction picture books for students to choose when they shop for books to read from your library.
In kindergarten, we write. Write outside on a beautiful day, write in the sand, on the side walk with chalk, write by using sticks or stones to form the letters.
In kindergarten, we work with words. How about some painted stones to use for putting letters in alphabetical order, writing words, or sorting letters that are in their name or not in their name. Here is an 'In my name' activity for the beginning of the year. Children sort letters that are and are not in their name. If you'd like a copy of this sorting mat to laminate and use in your own working with words center, just click on the picture below.
Incorporate natural elements into activities that appeal to other intelligences. In kindergarten, it is still developmentally appropriate to have dramatic play. So offer a rock or seed shop. Collect seed catalogs, varieties of seeds for sorting, and pretend selling or offering plants to customers. How about incorporating natural elements into art? Allow your students to paint with flowers, feathers or even worms!
You've never painted with worms? Click on the picture below to find out how.
These are just a few ideas on how you can differentiate your instruction by responding to the naturalist intelligences within your class. I'm hoping all of you can come up with some more ideas to share.
In the meantime, it’s summer and Mother Nature’s school is in session for my little rock hound.
You’ll can find us combing the shores of Lake Michigan for the illusive Petoskey stone
digging in the dirt
and searching the woods of our home for the biggest and juiciest blackberries in Michigan.
School's in session so get on out there and enjoy Mother Nature's classroom, and please stop over to my blog and let me know if you come up with any other great ideas for bringing nature in for our naturalist learners. You can check out other ideas for differentiating in your own classroom by visiting my own blog. I hope you'll stop by. I can't wait to hear from you!