Overview of Dr Kathie Nunley's
Dr. Kathie F. Nunley (c) 2014
must teach to an overwhelming variety of students. Any high school
class may have students who cannot read past a second grade level.
These students are sitting alongside others trying to prepare for
next year's Advanced Placement class. There may be as many as five
different native languages spoken and each student at a different
level of English proficiency. Several special education students
are likely to be mainstreamed into the class. There are visual learners,
auditory learners, tactile learners, and plain old reluctant learners.
Sprinkled in are students with attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity.
As a high school
biology teacher I am expected to take this eclectic collection of
human beings and teach them the curriculum laid out by the state.
At first glance this appeared an impossible task, but over the past
two decades I have designed and created a workable method to differentiate
my classroom. The result is a simple five step solution for differentiating
your classroom. I call it Layered Curriculum®.
Take the mystery out of your lesson plan by handing it to the students
in advance. My students receive a copy of the lesson objectives
(called the C layer, keep reading) and assignment options at the
beginning of each two week period. These unit sheets contain a variety
of assignment choices that are designed to meet specific core objectives.
Each assignment has a point value based on the complexity of knowledge
and time requirement.
Divide the unit sheet into three layers. Each layer will represent
a level or depth of study on the topic. The bottom layer is called
the C layer because students working strictly within this
layer can earn a grade no higher than a "C" on the unit. Students
are free to choose the assignments they want and in any order. Different
assignments are worth different amounts of points based on the complexity.
Students can choose any number of assignments for any combination
of points up to, but not passing a grade of a C.
represents a basic understanding of the topic and is structured
so that any student in the room can achieve this level of success.
The greater the diversity in the classroom, the greater the diversity
of assignments in the C layer.
In the first,
C layer, offer a variety of basic assignments to meet the needs
of every type of learner you may have. I make sure that I have enough
assignments so that even my nonreaders can achieve success. This
layer includes hands-on activities for the tactile learners, video
and art projects for the visual learners and optional lectures for
the auditory learners. Include textbook assignments for students
who prefer this traditional method of learning. Include at least
one assignment that must be done in any language except English.
It is really exciting to watch the interaction between the English-only
students and the English language learners when faced with having
the tables turned.
or poetry or history assignments which require cross-discipline
involvement. For example, I may ask them to write a poem describing
a conflict found in an amphibian's world. Students then must get
written feedback from their English teacher on their poem. In my
classroom, the C sections is the largest section on the unit assignment
sheet because I cover the bulk of my state core curriculum in this
layer. There needs to be approximately three times as many assignment
choices as required. (e.g.: if you expect them to complete 5 C layer
assignments, have 15 to choose from).
Create a second or B layer requiring more complex types of
thinking. This layer requires the students to manipulate or apply
the information they learned in the C layer. Here students carry
their newly learned basic knowledge a step further. Students "play"
with their new information in this layer. They build, design, use,
apply, problem solve, create, brain-storm, etc. Other B layer assignments
may include interdisciplinary studies, history fairs, application
of new words, creative displays of compare & contrast, etc. If you
need ideas, look back through the middle layers of your Bloom's
As my original
design was for high school biology, a "problem solving lab" is required
in this layer. I simply suggest problems such as "How fast does
a fish swim in miles per hour?"; "Do snails have a taste preference?";
"What is the volume of a frog's heart?"; "Which brand of mouthwash
is most effective in killing bacteria?". I usually list four or
five questions that pertain to the unit we are studying. The students
are always free to choose another question if they wish, with my
permission. I give no other information regarding the lab. They
must write their hypothesis and a detailed procedure. They need
to gather whatever materials they need, although I will help them
find materials after they have written their procedure. It is critical
not to give any information or help with procedural designs until
after they have written their own ideas. This may be very frustrating
at first to the students as they all want to ask the teacher how
they are to do the lab. I simply tell my students that I haven't
the slightest idea! You will be amazed at the creativity on the
part of your students when left to their own imaginations.
Add a final layer called the A Layer which requires the most
complex thinking - critical thinking. Here students mix traditional
research with other things like values, morality and personal opinion.
Offer students several issues in the topic that are currently under
debate in the real world. Students must conduct a literature search
to find three recent studies on their topic and then write a critical
evaluation of that issue. The final product may take various forms
such as a letter of persuasion to a legislator on an environmental
issue or a two minute oral presentation arguing their position.
The final and most important step to Layered Curriculum is assessment
through an oral defense of the students' assignments. As students
finish an assignment they spend a couple of minutes, on a one-on-one
basis, discussing what they learned. Based on the prearranged objectives,
I ask several key questions and help clarify their ideas and verify
that the learning objectives have been met. This is a wonderful
way to meet face to face with every student and assure that they
are indeed learning. I often carry note cards with the objectives
on them to use during these discussions. The cards help students
understand that there is a criteria involved in assessing their
learning experience. This one-on-one formative assessment is invaluable
to student learning and success.
To manage the
classroom easily, you may want to set up various learning stations
in your room to free up your time for evaluation and facilitation.
One of my most successful ideas has been to record my lectures.
I can upload them for students to listen to on their own time, or
have them watch and listen at a computer station in the room. Since
lecture is an option, the students can listen to the lecture whichever
day they choose, or even outside of class ir they choose to do so.
Listening via a headset is wonderful for the attention deficit students
who may have a difficult time focusing on a live lecture. This helps
isolate them and the information. Physical props can be set out
at the table to assist points made in the lecture. Never again will
students have to get notes from a classmate because of an absence.
It is also wonderful to be able to record your lecture in the quiet
comfort of your home or empty classroom ahead of time, free from
any interruptions. The lectures can be either audio only or attached
to a visual presentation.
The video watching
area is set at desk level in an isolated corner for those students
watching a video. This can be streamed or set up via other media.
Headphones can be used here too to isolate the noise from the other
working students. Laying blankets on the floor in front of the monitor
gives a seating option for those students who seem allergic to the
traditional classroom chair.
be used whenever possible. Online or stand alone computer programs
make wonderful assignment options especially for the limited English
proficiency student because concepts are graphically represented.
If you have internet access in your room make sure to include a
variety of assignment options which utilize it. You may want to
integrate BYOD assignments too. So students can watch or interact
with programs on their own devices, or using the set-ups provided
in the room.
To save time
with oral reports and presentations, a video camera may be set up
in a storeroom or quiet area so that the students can record their
presentations for your later viewing. This is especially helpful
with students who are reluctant to speak before a large group. Or
they can record them with their smartphone and put them in a dropbox.
idea has been color coding each unit. I photocopy each unit on a
different color of paper. This makes it so easy for us to refer
to the "green sheet" or "orange sheet", etc. It also makes it much
easier for the students to find their assignment sheets in notebooks
filled with school papers. I have a file cabinet in my classroom
so that students may keep their unit sheets and work in progress
in the classroom. This is important for those students who lack
organizational skills. When a unit is due, the students turn in
their colored unit sheet and I record the points they have acquired.
At the end of the grading period they fill out a term summary showing
how many points they received on each unit and write down their
final term grade. They attach this summary sheet to the four colored
units we've completed and turn it in to me for their final grade.
There are no surprises. The students understand what it takes to
get a certain grade and they have all the control to obtain that
has been very successful in all types of classrooms subjects and
grade level.(See samples page). It requires
a bit of a shift in thinking though on both the part of the teacher
and the student. The grades are not based on the traditional percentage
of correct information remembered, but rather on the depth in which
a student pursues the study of a topic. A "C" grade denotes a basic
understanding of core concepts. A "B" grade indicates not only an
understanding of the material but a personal discovery through an
original lab or an application or manipulation of the material.
An "A" indicates that the students have mastered the concepts and
have included a critical analysis of current issues relating to
the subject matter.