Differentiation Strategy: And, Or, Both?

Hello all! I am Haley from Owls and Lessons, Etc. and I'm sharing with you a simple but effective strategy that I've used in my 2nd and 4th grade classrooms over the years that is low prep, engaging, and allows student choice.  It's not a magic trick, but something that I came up with after a comment made by one of my students.
I was working with a student one day while teaching second grade, and he made the remark that our brains were a lot like computers...and for some reason, that comment took me back to high school computer programming.  I remember sitting in a cold computer lab, stuck on the coding for an 'if then' algorithm.  Frustrated to the point of punching the computer screen.  And my student was at that point in math...often.  When he mentioned that brains were a lot like computers, and then went on to talk about how he wished he could have a computer brain to do his math problems correctly, that 'if then' computer sequence popped into my brain.

What if I could trick my students into picking problems that they thought were easy, but at the same time, making them on varying levels of difficulty, but giving them a choice of problems to do?  This is where "And, Or, Both?" was born.  Other teachers somewhere else may have thought of an idea similar to this idea before me, but I want to share.

The basic premise is this:  I start off with two problems.  One is obviously easier than the other.  I currently teach 4th grade, and here are some examples of what I would give my students.  For multiplication, I would start with the "And" problem:  29 x 3.  The "Or" problem would be a little more challenging:  293 x 3.  I would then tell my students to decide whether to do the "And" problem or the "Or" problem.  Most everyone will go for the "And" problem because it is easier!  So students get the choice of the problem they feel more comfortable with.  The kicker is this:  Once we have done one set of "And" and "Or" problems, I'll announce that students can choose to do "Both" and solve both problems.  At first, my high achievers are the first to do both problems.  Once we start going through and checking together, then most every student will choose to do both.

Now, I don't always do the easiest problem under the "And" choice.  Sometimes both problems are as equally difficult or easy, just depending on where my students are.  But the students never know.  My class last year loved this and would beg to do And, Or, Both during math groups each day.

Can this strategy be used in other content areas?  Of course!  The prep may be a little more in other subject areas, but I have found that Math is the easiest to prep for.  Sometimes I'll even throw up two task cards and we'll do And, Or, Both with the cards.  This was great for Virginia Studies review prior to SOL testing!

Can this strategy be done on the fly?  Yes....and no.  In math, yes, it is easier to do on the fly, especially with computation.  It's a great time filler for the last few minutes before lunch or recess, or as a morning warm up in small group.  Pulling a set of task cards on the fly, yes, if you are familiar with the content.  I usually plan out which problems I want to use, especially if I use them during guided math.  Good practice is to be intentional with the problems you choose.  Click here for a planning sheet to help map out your problems, or to use as a display in class!

I hope this strategy is one you find helpful in your classroom!  Feel free to leave some feedback or other tricks you discover in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

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