Help wanted: differentiating math homework while implementing the Common Core

I hope I’m not the only one out there who is having trouble differentiating math homework during this Common Core transition period, especially when it comes to the content.

New content + closing gaps  + a wide range of student abilities = Yikes! I need to differentiate, but how?

Even if your middle school tracks math like mine does (in sixth grade we have five levels)  it is the at-grade level math class where student ability has the widest range. In my standard (at-grade level) classes I have students ranging from the 25 to the 90 percentile in MAP scores.

B.C. (before the Common Core)–It wasn’t perfect but I was handling it

In the past I daily differentiated homework by offering students a choice between two tiers of practice problems. Lower ability students chose A or B level worksheets (provided by the textbook publisher) and the rest chose B or C level worksheets. I admit, I did not offer the high ability students a choice; they were assigned the Level C problems.

Reviewing the homework the following class period was tricky. Students formed groups according to their assignment, discussed the problems, and checked their answers with the answer keys. But my classroom was far from perfect. If we reviewed any problems as a whole class I was certain to lose some students because that problem was not on their homework. Another related challenge: some groups took longer than others and I should have been prepared with extensions or additional practice for the groups who were waiting.

A.D. (during this Common Core transition)–Holey Moley

This year I’m not differentiating as well as I’d like. Our geometry unit was created late last year and over the summer so we were able to gather adequate resources to differentiate. But our other units are being crafted as we go. We’ve been busy pulling resources just to address the standards.

If you are familiar with the Common Core you know the emphasis is on the eight mathematical practices. Our textbook only supports the computational processes, not the deep levels of understanding. And from what I understand the textbook publishers have only been able to “align” (frankly I think that means rearrange) their current problems. It takes time to create rigorous tasks that address the practices, so we’re waiting for the publishers to truly offer a Common Core textbook with resources.

And those textbook differentiated worksheets? I use them but less often. I’d be fool to think I was truly differentiating to meet the Common Core. I’m just doing the best I can with what I’ve got.

I know this is a transition period. I hope when the dust settles I’ll be able to do a better job differentiating.


2 thoughts on “Help wanted: differentiating math homework while implementing the Common Core

  1. I don’t have any great ideas to share, but I share your frustration this year! I’m in NC, where we’ve switched to Common Core all at once, and it sounds like that’s the case for you as well. This business of companies with products “aligned” to CCSS really gets under my skin. Even after they’ve re-arranged topics, more often than not I find that their practice problems STILL don’t truly align with Common Core (e.g. Including problems that require operations with negative integers in their 6.EE materials), not to mention the issue of barely addressing the Standards for Mathematical Practice, if at all! This year has been an exhausting blur of trying to find and/or create lessons, tasks, and even practice problems that address the standards I’m trying to teach.

    Sadly, I think it will be YEARS before major publishers can offer materials that truly align with Common Core — and while it’s frustrating to not have the materials now, I’m also really looking forward to the day when you can trust that the words “Common Core-aligned” will really be true!

    1. Hi Alisan,

      I here you. What is equally or even more sad is the idea that our nation’s students are guinea pigs being subjected to a curriculum that has never been piloted. Additionally, it must have been designed by non-educators or else the assessment (standardized test) would have been designed first. Instead of using backwards design, they’ve designed it a** backwards.

      I’m also looking forward to the day when “Common Core-aligned” is truth in advertising. Perhaps the publishers can legitimately call it that, but we are conscientious consumers examining the list of ingredients, not just checking the label.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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