When teachers differentiate product, they assess the same concept or skill for each student at the end of a unit of study; however, teachers offer their students a variety of ways to demonstrate their knowledge (e.g., video, written report). When doing so, the teacher strives to:
Make the product assignment challenging but not so difficult or complex that the students are unable to complete it on their own.
Provide clear directions.
Create a task that reflects real-world application.
Teachers should also include visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (i.e., involving movement or hands-on activities) options as well as analytic, creative, and practical ones. They might also allow the students to complete the product alone or as a group. Although teachers typically allow students to choose the type of product they complete, they need to make clear that their students cannot always choose to complete the same type of product assignment. The table below highlights a few strategies for differentiating product. Click on each link to learn detailed information about implementing these strategies.
Bloom’s taxonomy identifies six levels of learning, from the most basic (i.e., recalling facts) to the most complex (i.e., evaluating information). For instance, when she creates a tiered assignment, the teacher often develops three levels of activities. For the lowest level, she might develop activities that assess students’ knowledge and comprehension; for the middle group, she might assess their ability to apply and analyze information; for the high group, she might require them to synthesize and evaluate the information. The tables below present the hierarchy of six levels of learning. For each level of learning, the table provides verbs teachers often use when designing product assignments or test questions.
Bloom’s Taxonomy (original*)
identify, list, arrange, define, describe, label, match, order
classify, summarize, predict, locate, discuss
compute, demonstrate, show, solve, write
compare, contrast, experiment, model, separate
arrange, combine, formulate, revise, propose
argue, defend, justify, appraise
*Published in 1956.
Bloom’s Taxonomy (revised**)
categorize, summarize, compare, explain, give examples, predict
perform lab test, solve a math problem, write an essay using correct grammar and punctuation
differentiate, draw conclusions, organize
determine, judge, critique, test
generate, plan, construct, design
**Drafted in 1999 in response to new evidence about students’ development and educational practices.
For Your Information
Differentiating product contrasts with how teachers in a traditional classroom typically assess their students’ knowledge—administering a written test at the end of a unit of study. Teachers in a traditional classroom often assume that a written test is an accurate indication of what their students have learned. However, issues such as a student’s ability to read and comprehend text sometimes interfere with accurately assessing what the student knows. Although they should continue to administer written tests, teachers should redesign or build their tests so that they are differentiated.
When they create written tests to use in a differentiated classroom, teachers should keep a number of factors in mind:
Using a variety of question types. In addition to using traditional question types (see table below), teachers should include nontraditional question types such as analogies, demonstrations, drawings, and real-world applications. This allows teachers to determine which students have mastered the content or skill. Different students perform better on certain types of question types than on others, so having a variety of question types maximizes the probability that each student will have the opportunity to demonstrate his or her knowledge. Teachers should also use a combination of forced-choice items (e.g., matching, multiple choice) and constructed response items (e.g., create a timeline, write a short essay).
Traditional Question Types
Considerations and Suggestions
Write in simple language and use as few words as possible.
Avoid negatives (e.g., Which of these is not an example of an insect?).
Make sure the construction of the stem or answers does not give the answer away (e.g., The stem ends with “an” and only one answer begins with a vowel).
Write the definitions on the left and list the words on the right so that students read a definition and then scan the list of words instead of vice versa.
Keep all matching items on the same page.
Include no more than eight items.
Note: This type of question is good for struggling readers because it requires minimal reading.
Sentence completions and fill-in-the-blanks
Provide answer blanks and adequate space for written responses.
Understand that students’ handwriting is often difficult to decipher.
Write sentences so that the blanks are near the end to minimize issues with reading comprehension.
Labeling diagrams, charts, and maps
Provide adequate space for the students to label.
Understand that students’ handwriting is often difficult to decipher.
Ordering items or events
Note: This type of question works well for literature, history, science, and math.
Short answers or essays
Grade only the content being tested and not the students’ writing skills (e.g., grammar, punctuation); an exception is the spelling of content area vocabulary.
Allow students to convey their knowledge in the most efficient manner (e.g., bulleted items, diagrams). Requiring them to write complete sentences may impede their ability to fully demonstrate their knowledge.
Teachers may want to avoid true/ false questions because they often involve the use of negatives, which are difficult for many students (e.g., Plants do not need sunlight to produce chlorophyll). Additionally, this test format is typically a difficult one for struggling readers and for students who experience test anxiety.
Provide a “T” and “F” for true/ false questions for the student to circle. This avoids the misinterpretation of a student’s illegible written T’s and F’s. It also prevents students with handwriting challenges from tiring during the tests when they are required to write out “true” and “false.”
Preteaching test-related vocabulary. Teachers should preteach unfamiliar words or phrases included in test items such as “compare” or “contrast.”
Making the format efficient for students. This allows students to demonstrate their knowledge without having to spend time and energy navigating the layout of the test.
Highlighting key words. When words such as four, most, least, and excluding are highlighted, students are less likely to forget the criteria while formulating their answers.
Making test items straightforward. The test items should assess the students’ knowledge of the content or skill. Items that include negatives or require overly complicated logic interfere with students’ ability to accurately demonstrate their knowledge.
Specifying the criteria for constructed response items. Items that require the students to formulate responses (e.g., essays, short answers) should specify the criteria (e.g., length of essay, number of examples).
Using authentic assessment. Test students in the same way they were taught. For example, if students have been working on the addition of two-digit numbers using only computation problems, the test should not include word problems.
Adapted in part from Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom, by R. Wormeli, 2006.
Teachers are sometimes concerned that if they allow their students to demonstrate their knowledge in ways other than written tests, these students will not be prepared to take standardized tests. Carol Ann Tomlinson discusses why this is not the case (time: 0:49).
Carol Ann Tomlinson, EdD Professor of Educational Leadership, Foundations, and Policy The University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA
Transcript: Carol Ann Tomlinson, EdD
A lot of times, teachers will feel like the standardized test is not going to be differentiated, so I can’t differentiate now because they won’t be prepared for that test. Teaching is not the test. The test is one moment in a time. You can give kids hints on how to take tests. They can take a couple of dry runs. But to teach them in ways that are ineffective for nine months before the test comes is not likely to benefit them much. What some research suggests to us is that kids do better on standardized tests when the teaching-learning process is a fit for them, even if the standardized test is not in their preferred way of learning. And probably the two reasons for that is that they learn more on the way to the test, and they also develop more confidence as a learner.