Differentiated Instructional Unit:

Virginia Vastag (Spring 2011)

Unit Topic:

Classification of Living Things:

Students will be learning that scientists need to classify information in order to be able to find and share information. Students will be learning the classification groups used for living things including plants and animals.

Classroom Description:

Fifth Grade General Education Class:

This unit is intended to be used with three classes of self-contained, 5th grade, general education students at a private Catholic school. The school has approximately 800 students and 70 employees on the faculty and staff. Each of the fifth grade classes is comprised of 25 students of varying ability levels, socioeconomic backgrounds, and races. The students rotate between teachers and classrooms for science, social studies, and reading. The remaining subjects are taught in the homerooms by the homeroom teachers. Standardized tests show that the median performance for this particular student population is near the 70 percentile when compared with peers nationwide.

Among the 75 students for which this unit is intended, 10 have IEPs (Individualized Education Plans). All of the IEPs are for students who have either been diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Three of the IEPs are for girls, and the other 7 IEPs are for boys. In addition to a diagnosis of ADHD, one of the male students has also been diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome, dysgraphia, and anxiety. Another male student with ADHD has also been diagnosed with dysgraphia and learning disabilities related to reading, language processing, and struggles with short and long-term memory. Any interventions, accommodations, and modifications used with these students are created and implemented by the general education teachers.

In addition to the students with IEPs who require differentiation, there are several students who are either functioning above grade level or significantly below grade level. Some students come from highly motivated families that provide many outside learning experiences for their children. Other students come from situations that have left them with less prior knowledge and fewer learning scientific experiences due to financial struggles or language and cultural barriers.

Original Textbook Curriculum for Unit:

Hard Copy Submitted

Differentiated Lesson Plans with Accommodations, Modifications, and Assistive Technology:

Lesson One

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Lesson Two

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Lesson Three

Lesson Four

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Lesson Five

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Lesson Six

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Lesson Seven

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Final Assessments

Rationale Section:

The original curriculum upon which this unit is based is the Harcourt Science Fifth Grade Series, Unit A, Chapter 2. The reasons why modifications are needed include the fact that students can easily become bored by the monotony of using standard textbooks. Textbooks are also limiting in the information that they provide, and do not address the learning needs and interests of all students.

The changes made to this unit were designed to make the lessons more engaging and accessible to all students regardless of their learning styles or needs. Accommodations and modifications were planned to address the specific needs of the intended student population.

The unit begins with two investigation-based lessons before the students even open their textbooks. These lessons are designed to assess prior knowledge and engage students in a deeper thought process about the importance of the unit topic. The teacher can use information gathered in the first couple lessons to direct individual students towards their greatest potential success. Rather than using a pre-test, the introductory lessons of this unit allow a teacher to assess prior knowledge while also providing meaning, purpose, and application to the unit. Having the teacher help students realize the value of the information they are about to learn is important in developing authentic learning.

Since the target group’s IEPs are for students with ADD or ADHD, many of the lessons rely on using teacher proximity, hands-on investigations, and multiple modes of presentation to provide a greater likelihood that all students will be able to maintain interest and attention. There are standard textbook lessons, powerpoint presentations, experiments, computer research projects, and games to provide variety and novelty to each day’s activities. There is also a combination of whole class, group, and individual tasks to allow for different levels of independence.

The use of inquiry-based lessons throughout the unit also increases the engagement level and the likelihood that meaningful learning connections will be made. Students are allowed and encouraged to be independent thinkers about the concepts being addressed. They are given opportunities to come up with their own solutions to problems. This has been proven to provide a more meaningful learning experience (Kremer, Walker, & Schlter, 2007).

Throughout the unit, students are also encouraged to reflect on what they are learning through the use of the “Entrance / Exit Tickets.” As a result, the students are involved in doing more than simple rote memorization or regurgitation of facts as may be common with direct instruction from the text. This strategy may be helpful to students who struggle with short term or long term memory challenges. The reflection will help them make more connections to prior knowledge and therefore increase their chances of remembering material and being able to apply concepts to various situations.

The accommodation of allowing students with dysgraphia to partner up with a writing buddy on certain assignments and/or use a computer or Alfa-Smart writing devise enables them to focus on the science content and information rather than focusing on trying to overcome their disability.
The use of mixed ability and interest level groupings of students allows children to use their strengths to their advantage. As mentioned in the lesson plans, students can be assigned roles that the teacher knows will compliment their personal learning styles.

Since there are concerns and student needs beyond those represented in the IEPs, this unit also seeks to engage students of multiple intelligences. There are activities that involve movement, visuals, auditory processing, and reading written information in the textbooks and other informational sources. The variety is intended to allow a greater number of students to feel included and successful.

Students are also given the opportunity to make decisions about their own learning in this unit. For example, students are given an “assessment menu” which works in a similar way as a “lesson menu.” Students are able to make a decision about what project they would like to do as one of their summative assessments. Students like being given choices, and it enables them to pick something for which they feel confident in their ability to be successful.

Finally the assessments are designed to provide more than one way of showing acquisition of key concepts. Throughout the unit there is a variety of assessment types used. At the conclusion of the chapter, there is a standard test for which accommodations such as pull-out testing can be used. The final assessments also include a performance based project for those who do not do well on written tests. The variety in assessments also differentiates the unit to meet more students’ needs.


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