Differentiate in the Math Classroom with Learner Agreements

The readiness levels of our students vary year to year, chapter to chapter, skill to skill. Learner agreements, also known as learning contracts, can help address the various readiness levels throughout a unit of study. Curricular resources and supplemental resources were used to craft this learner agreement. This learner agreement is not the instruction that takes place rather the independent work where students are asked to show proficiency of the standard. Click on the image below and take a look at the learner agreement that was created for fifth grade.

   Graphics by Anchor Me Designs
Learner agreements encourage students to be regulators of their own learning. Students need to be asking themselves...Am I getting this? Do I understand the skill enough to apply it to more complex tasks? Learner agreements provide those students who may be grasping a concept quickly with a more engaging task that they can work through more independently. Rather than wait through repetitious instruction that is at a pace that is not appropriate for their readiness levels, students can be exited out and begin a task that will help address their needs.

So how do learner agreements work? Preassessments can be given prior to a unit of study to get a pulse of where the students are reading to learn. Daily observations and formative assessments also can be used to guide student learning. Learner agreements take some planning and foresight. Standards need to be looked at, student readiness levels need to be considered, materials need to be gathered, and tasks need to be decided upon. It is only then that the learner agreement can be created. However, once created, they are a perfect way to differentiate learning on the spot.

The learner agreement can be viewed as a blueprint for learning. Tiering the tasks allows for multiple entry points for learning. After instruction and depending on the readiness level and the comfort level of each student, students can be assigned a differentiated task to complete. Those students who are more proficient at a particular skill may enter the learner agreement at the progressing level. If they encounter difficulties, they can advocate for themselves and go back to look at/do some of the learning-leveled tasks to ensure foundational understanding is established. Or if a student is demonstrating proficiency at the progressing level, s/he may bump up to the extending-leveled tasks. If students are struggling at the learning-leveled tasks, a small group can be formed with teacher support while other students work at their readiness levels as guided by the learner agreement.

It is important to keep movement through the leveled tasks fluid and based on where students are ready to learn at that moment in time. Keeping in mind the zone of proximal development for students, we do not want tasks to be too easy or too difficult. Some students face tasks that are already in their comfort zone and are not getting the challenge they need. Other students may face tasks where they simply are not developing the understanding necessary.  Tasks need to be "just right." For learning to take place, there needs to be a certain level of challenge. That challenge has to allow for the development of new learnings and skills.

Is this a strategy that might work with your students? What other ways do you differentiate for students in the math classroom?
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