Creating Powerful Product Assignments Part 5 of 7

This is the fifth in a series of posts (1: What They’ll Know   2: Product Choice & Grading, 3: Content Expectations & Grading, 4: Process & Grading)about creating powerful product assignments at the end of a unit of study. Now it is time to scaffold for success.

What kind of scaffolds do you need to gather for your students to be successful? For me, rubrics are always the first on this list. I think having the grading guidelines listed clearly from the beginning in very clear and specific language really helps guide students to be successful. Additional ideas could be a variety of brainstorming graphic organizers, timelines, goal sheets, progress monitoring calendars, revising and editing schedules, etc. These will vary based on what your final product is and what your class has used. You don’t always have to build these from scratch, there are lots of free options online. Find what works for you and your students and run with it.

Creating Powerful Product Assignments Part 4 of 7

This is the fourth in a series of posts (1: What They’ll Know   2: Product Choice & Grading 3: Content Expectations & Grading)about creating powerful product assignments at the end of a unit of study. Now it is time to establish your expectations for the process.

First off, will students be graded on the process to create the product in addition to the product itself or only the finished product?

For group projects, I always include a process grade as it is where I cover teamwork. However, I would argue that the process grade is important even for individual projects as it rewards those who create and stick to a plan over those who procrastinate. The goal is to help the students build good work habits.

If you are going to grade the process some things to consider including teamwork, planning, research, editing, communication, ability to stay on the projected timeline, etc.

Creating Powerful Product Assignments Part 3 of 7

This is the third in a series of posts (1: What They’ll Know   2: Product Choice & Grading )about creating powerful product assignments at the end of a unit of study. Now you are going to figure out the content expectations.

First up, the students are showing what they know from the unit of study. So what are the requirements that they must meet for content and how will the inclusion of that content be scored?

I personally like using a rubric to grade as it keeps the grading streamlined and transparent. For example, in a biography project, second-grade students must include a date of birth & death, full name, two details about their personal life and three details about why they are famous. That is all 8 required components for a score of 4 out of 4. A score of 3 out of 4 would be granted for 6-7 required components. A score of 2 out of 4 would be granted for 4-5 required components. A score of 1 out of 4 would be granted for 2-3 required components.  A score of 0 out of 4 would be granted for 0-1 required components.


Creating Powerful Product Assignments Part 2 of 7

This is the second in a series of posts about creating powerful product assignments at the end of a unit of study. In part 1 you figured out what the students must understand, know and/or be able to do after the unit of study. Next up you get to decide how the students are going to present their knowledge or the type of product, the guidelines for that product and how you plan to grade it.

  1. Are you going to set a required product style such as a travel brochure, Haiku or wiki?
  2. Are you going to provide students with a short list of options and let them select their product style from the list using an academic choice board?
  3. Are you going to let students embrace their talents and passions, selecting their product style on their own and then seeking approval from you on their choice?

If you are going with #1 or #2, what are the requirements for the product? How big should it be if it is a physical product? What level of craftsmanship? How many parts will it have? How long should it be (pages, time, number of slides, etc.) if a digital product?

For example, for a fifth-grade slide presentation using the slide medium of their choice students are required to have a minimum of 12 slides in their presentation and every slide should have some sort of visual (graph, chart, image, video, etc.) to earn full credit on this rubric item, 4 points. Students earn 3 out of 4 points for at least 9 slides. Students earn 2 out of 4 points for at least 6 slides. Students earn 1 out of 4 points for at least 3 slides. Students earn 0 out of 4 points for at less than 3 slides.



Creating Powerful Product Assignments Part 1 of 7

This is the first in a series of posts about creating powerful product assignments at the end of a unit of study. Before you can really dive into the product itself you need to figure out what the foundation of the product is by looking to the core of the unit of study. Here are three questions to guide you:

UNDERSTAND: What concepts do you expect your students to know at the end of the unit?

KNOW: What facts do you expect your students to know at the end of the unit?

DO: What skills do you expect your students to be able to demonstrate at the end of the unit?

Differentiation in Action

One way I have differentiated content was using the website NewsELA to generate multiple different levels of an article for the class to read. Students met with their reading leveled groups to read the article together. Then we shared out as a class to create a graphic organizer about the topic that everyone copied into their journal. We started the discussion having the lowest reading level share out since their article was the most generalized. I moved up in order to the highest reading level group. As each group shared out more information was added to our graphic organizer. What is really great about using these articles is that all the students can participate at a level that is comfortable for them. The students got much more involved than when we read a single article, whole class. I think that the smaller groups bolster more voices to share out and that translated into more voices during the whole group. I would use this method again if I was working in a classroom that had such a wide range of reading levels. I felt that the students were able to access the thematic content presented in the articles and were more confident reading articles at their own challenging, but not overwhelming,  level than articles below (lost interest) or above (confused) their reading levels.  I loved how the higher readers were able to dig deeper and share that new knowledge with their lower reading level peers using peer to peer communication.

However, my favorite moment was probably when a whole group of my middle readers was super confused about this gene-editing article we read and two students from the lower reading group understood not only what they were confused about but also were able to explain it using the simplified terms from their article. It turned into this whole peer to peer teaching moment, it was kinda like watching a bunch of Christmas lights turn on all at once.

Curriculum Spotlight: Newsela

My first master teacher just introduced me to Newsela which she uses all the time with her fifth-grade class. It is a free site that cultivates news articles for students to read. The best part, each article is available at a variety of reading levels so you can differentiate for your students without any heavy lifting. Some articles are also provided in Spanish, which can be a great resource for ELL students or even Spanish classes. 1

5 Misses: Differentiated Instruction

Yesterday, I gave five examples of Differentiated Instruction. Today, I am sharing five things that are not differentiated instruction. Everyone makes mistakes but maybe this post can help guide you away from misclassifying a strategy as differentiated instruction.

  1. Giving students different manipulatives to work on the same concept in the same way. For example, one student gets M&Ms, another uses Jelly Beans and another uses legos. Students are all using a manipulative in some fashion to build one to one correspondence while counting.
  2. Providing a single list of activities or books to the whole class and letting the students select their own off the list. Student choice boards or lists are great but if there is one list for all of the students it doesn’t count as a type of differentiated instruction.
  3. Assigning homework to the class but letting the high achievers skip it. Not assigning a task is not a form of differentiated instruction.
  4. Letting advanced students have free time, play time or even leave class early. Again, lack of instruction activities does not count as a form of differentiated instruction.
  5. Having high achievers teach the low achievers.
    1. Wait didn’t I say peer tutoring is a form of differentiated instruction? I did and it is when the arrangement is reciprocal, both students are acting as the tutor for a topic and student for another topic.
    2. However, if there is not a give and take if only one student is providing aid to another student without it being reciprocated then it is not differentiated instruction.

Give me 5: Differentiated Instruction

  1. PEP: Personalized education plan book that contains individually leveled materials for either enrichment, practice or remediation
  2. Adaptive Interactive Lessons and Assessments: These activities measure how a student is doing and adjust to either easier or harder to put them right in their ZPD (zone of proximal development); challenging to do manually but lots of software is out there that uses this idea-especially in Math.
  3. Different sets of comprehension questions for readings or books that are leveled to the student’s reading comprehension abilities
  4. Coaching one-to-one for a student to help them with their individual challenges
  5. Peer tutoring groups, perhaps student A is strong in Math but weak in reading and student B is weak in Math but strong in reading, pairing them together they each have an opportunity to mentor the other, this can be pairings or small groups.


Now that I have given you 5 ways to accomplish differentiated instruction, tomorrow I will show you 5 ways that are not differentiated instruction.


Steever, S. (2015). Personal Education Plan (PEP) Books. In Best Practices for Elementary What Award-Winning Teachers Do (2015 ed.). New York, NY: First Skyhourse Publishing.

Curriculum Spotlight: Reading Rockets

Reading Rockets is a great resource for Differentiated Instruction information and mainstream reading instruction. They have pages on classroom strategies, a professional development course, articles about how to tackle specific challenges and the information of why these challenges arise, fluency, comprehension, content area literacy, dyslexia, ELL, Phonics…just to name a few.