Dare to Care

create, communicate, collaborate, and think critically

19/Mar/2017
by Denise Krebs
9 Comments

Differentiation Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Do Jigsaw Puzzles

“Aunt Josephine? When we go to the store for puzzles, can we not get jigsaw puzzles?” I pleaded.

Wisely, she left my question unanswered and said, “We’ll see what they have when we get there.”

My seven-year-old self fretted the whole rest of the day and all the way to the dime store in town. My 10-year-old sister and I were staying for a week at Aunt Josephine’s farm.

Why we would continue to keep going back year after year when we got so homesick, I don’t know, but we persisted in the coming years. A lot of it was fun- -spending time with the baby animals, riding on the tractor and in the back of the hay wagon- -but the dark and noisy nights scared us. Farm animal noises.

Anyway, one of the things Aunt Josephine loved was jigsaw puzzles. She and my sister were enjoying putting together a difficult puzzle. I don’t know how many pieces- -maybe 500, 200, or possibly even less. I don’t remember, but the number of pieces was daunting to me! I did not enjoy helping, and it probably made me more homesick and lonely watching them do the puzzle together.

When my aunt told me she would buy a puzzle for me that I would like, I got excited, but remained skeptical. I couldn’t imagine there was such a thing, so I worried.

That evening, as she promised, she took us into town and right to the toy section.

And there, when I saw it, I jumped for joy: a cardboard puzzle in a tray, with guides to line up the 15 pieces. A puzzle that rocked a picture of a sweet kitten in a basket. My heart soared! Now that’s a puzzle. That’s the kind of puzzle I love.

“Oh good,” I said. “They have good puzzles here–not jigsaw puzzles.”

My aunt showed me the label: 15-piece jigsaw puzzle. “I guess you will be able to get a jigsaw puzzle, after all,” she said, with a smile. Then she bought me two different kitten puzzles.


I was reminded of that story this morning as I made a verb game for my students–some of whom are advanced grade five readers, as good as many native English speaking grade 5 students I’ve known. On the other hand, some of them are still learning basic English vocabulary. All of them study half of their day in Arabic subjects.

Differentiation. We can all play the games, all do the work, all learn the strategies. We sometimes need to do it at a different level, and that’s OK.

Purpose: practicing with verb forms. #differentiation #cy365 #t365project

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06/Mar/2015
by Denise Krebs
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The Ultimate in Differentiation: Genius Hour

I’m excited that I got up early this morning for the #geniushour chat. It used to be at a convenient time when I lived in North America. Now I’m living in the Middle East, and so I have to get up by 5:00 a.m. on a Friday, which is a weekend day here. Not so bad because I became re-inspired and re-ignited in a topic I am passionate about.

That topic is handing the reigns over to my students. Allowing them to learn and make and choose how to show their learning. It’s not always easy to give choices when we are mandated to test and cover so much material. However, when students are entrusted with learning–real learning, not just to pass a test learning–they are empowered and motivated. It makes every moment of school better!

This morning I actually was the moderator for the #geniushour chat because I wanted to ask questions about differentiating genius hour for students with special needs or English language learners. My questions were timely because months ago I signed up to lead a session on genius hour: “Genius Hour: Productive, Creative, and Empowered Students.” That session is tomorrow at the ELT Conference here in Bahrain, “Differentiation That Makes a Difference.

Here are the questions we asked and answered at this morning’s chat…

Q1 – Do you differentiate during #geniushour? How?
Q2 – What are some of the most common reasons you need to differentiate #geniushour?
Q3 – How do you help your ELL students? Do you need to differentiate for them?
Q4 – How do you adapt #geniushour for students with IEPs? Any tips to share?
Q5 – Why do you think #geniushour is great for all learners?
Q6 – Any general #geniushour successes that you want to share? Tips and links to share?

I was excited to hear the answers from such a variety of teachers. Many shared that the nature of genius hour is already differentiated. Pure differentiation. Others had suggestions for how they differentiate. Here are a selection of the tweets they shared:

 (Click here to go to the archive of all the Tweets.)

After this morning, I tend to agree with the pure differentiation crowd.  Students decide what they will learn and how. The term differentiation is usually paired with instruction, but really it’s always about learning.

Students will learn in the right conditions. According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, we can help create the right conditions when we take into account the student characteristics of readiness, interest, and learning profile, which includes these four facets of learning profile: gender, culture, learning style, and intelligence preference.¹ Teachers can differentiate the curriculum when they make adjustments on content, process and products.²

In genius hour we hand over power to the students. They choose what they are ready for. They choose what they are interested in. They choose based on their learning profile. They choose the content they want to learn. They choose the process to use to get to that end. They choose the product to show their learning. Throughout, the teacher is available for scaffolding, guiding, helping, leading as needed. Primarily, it’s about the learning, not the knowledge the teacher is imparting.

In my current work as an English teacher in a foreign country, though, I am learning that genius hour looks a little different here. (Or is it the fact that I moved from junior high to kindergarten.) According to most of my friends this morning at the Twitter chat, it seems that the very nature of genius hour is differentiation at its best.

Do you agree? Is it already differentiated or are their special things you do for ELL students? What if they are all ELL students, like mine?

If you have something to share, will you please add one or more tips for using genius hour with English language learners to this Linoit? (I’ll share your comments with the participants at the conference.)


¹”Faculty Conversation: Carol Tomlinson on Differentiation.” University of Virginia. Curry School of Education, 15 Feb. 2011. Web. 06 Mar. 2015. <http://curry.virginia.edu/articles/carole-tomlinson-on-differentiation>.

²Allan, Susan D. “Chapter 1. Understanding Differentiated Instruction: Building a Foundation for Leadership.” Leadership for Differentiating Schools & Classrooms. By Carol A. Tomlinson. ASCD, 2000. web. 06 Mar. 2015.  <http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/100216/chapters/Understanding-Differentiated-Instruction@-Building-a-Foundation-for-Leadership.aspx>

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