Providing Choice and Differentiation Through Playlist Based Instruction

Have you been hearing teachers talk about the Playlists they are using in their classrooms? You may be thinking…. “Playlist? What is that?”. I wasn’t really sure either just a few months back but I was seeing it more and more so I was itching to find out what it was all about. Hailey Reinhardt (4th Grade Math Teacher at Leider Elementary in Cy-Fair ISD) was posting these so called playlists often so I reached out to find out more. She was so sweet and shared the one she was currently using. My team was so excited to dip our toes in  and explore more about Playlist Based Learning.

Here it is in a nutshell. When you hear playlist you probably think about a music playlist on your phone. Usually our music playlists center around a certain genre or topic.  We then choose which song we want to listen to first and move through the songs. “Hey Google. Play Christmas Music”

A Playlist is just this. It centers around the topics and content you are  covering in class while offering choice and differentiation for your students. Let’s be honest. The first day I tried a playlist it was a big ol’ mess. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so neither did my students. But let me tell you…. a couple months in and my little loves are ROCKSTARS with their playlists. Let’s dive into what a playlist is and its purpose. Then I’ll share some success I’ve seen with it over the past couple of months.

A playlist offers Students choice in the activities that they complete. It is also multi purposeful in that it also serves as a tracking tool which helps students learn to self manage their tasks and to prioritize. Many of my students are itching to know what we are doing in class the second they walk in. With a playlist up, they can see right away what we have planned for the day. There’s just something about being in the know that really sets the tone in the classroom. They are immediately engaged when they walk in and see a playlist on the board. They are eager to get started.

During my time using playlists I’ve made lots of tweaks. That’s the great thing about Playlists. You do you. Make them to fit the needs of your students.

Here are five examples of playlists I use in my classroom. I encourage you to open the Playlists and make a copy for yourself to edit! NEW! Click Here for access to ALL my playlists (Including Themed Playlists!).

Detailed Playlist:
This is my latest (and I think greatest) creation. What I love most about this Playlist is the space it provides to provide instructions. You’ll see in some of my other examples that there is no space for instructions. That works sometimes, but other times it’s necessary to add a little instruction in there. This playlist is very color coded and symbol based.

  • Students are split into 2 groups for my small group instructional purposes. These are designated by color. There’s a yellow group and a green group. If the yellow group is working with me on mastering a concept or learning something new then the green group is moving through the rest of the tasks and vice versa.
  • The two purple activities have a gold star to the left of them. These two tasks must be completed first.
  • The two orange activities have a “You Do You” Bitmoji next to them. (My kids just LOVE my bitmojis). Students choose which order to complete these tasks. I usually have anywhere between 2 and 5 choice activities depending on the the content and how many days we will be using the playlist.
  • The yellow activity has a “Done and Done” Bitmoji. When students have completed all of the other tasks then they have the opportunity to complete this task for a Blackout.

As students finish each activity, they simply click the cell under their name and next to that activity. They then click the paint bucket and choose a color to fill in their cell.

Success story: This model provided enough information for students to truly self manage. I taught two small groups with ZERO interruptions. What?! All students were 100% engaged in what they were doing.

Guest Teacher (Substitute) Playlist:
This is one of my favs! Back in October I took a day off to spend time with my sweet hubby who had just returned from a long trip to South America for work. The playlists have become a part of our classroom culture so I knew I had to figure out a way to use it while I wasn’t there. I created a Google Site for my substitute to access and had a link on there to the Playlist. The key future of this playlist is the shout out box. I’m a fan of everything Google. Especially it’s live updating. I “popped into class” several times throughout the day by typing a message onto the sheet using my phone while my husband and I browsed Lowes for some wood we needed for a project. Success Story:  When I returned to school the next morning, I was eager to read the note from the substitute. The first few sentences were all about how much the kids loved seeing my shout outs and how it really helped with classroom management. SCORE!

Independent Practice Playlist:
My kiddos are use to a lot of movement throughout class and the opportunity to experience a variety of different activities throughout the day. But sometimes, we have an independent practice that we’ve just got to sit down and complete. These practices are usually 10-12 questions, and using this playlist helps my sweet babies stay focused and on task while self managing their time. It also provides a little movement as they go and fill in their cell after every couple of questions. One time I didn’t put this up during an independent practice and my kids were like “Where’s our playlist?”. Success Story – a few months in and my little loves have improved so much in self-management that we’ve actually steered away from this model. “Independent Practice” is now just a task on a playlist of other activities. This was definitely useful in the beginning though.

Simplicity Playlist:
I started out using this playlist. I like the simplicity of it. The only downside with this one is that there’s not really a space for instructions. That’s what inspired me to create the Detailed Playlist. This one is great though when you don’t need a space to type instructions. Maybe you’re leaving instructions at the station or they are activities that the students are familiar with.

Partner Playlist: 
One day I was sitting there planning out a playlist that included some Google Slide activities that I had made. I wanted them to do this part with a partner, while completing a couple of other activities independently. So the Partner Playlist was born. Students work on their Yellow Independent activities and then move into the Green activities while they wait for their partner to finish. When both partners are finished with their Yellow activities, then they move to the Partner Blue activity. This activity is assigned in Google Classroom which allows me to assign different activities to different partnerships depending on their needs. The Green activities are activities that will continue throughout the week so that all students have the opportunity to explore them.  Success Story: No student was ever “sitting around” waiting on their partner. They were always engaged in an activity and eager to work with their partner. I was really impressed with how well my students followed this model with very minimal questions on our first try.

Extra Pointers

  • The color black is reserved for teacher use only. I use this color to “black out” activities or assignments individual students do not need to complete.
  • I will occasionally have an assignment that is “locked” until all other assignments are complete. For example, on the Simplicity example there is a yellow cell titled breakout. I place an x in these cells and they become unlocked the next day if all other assignments are complete.
  • I highly recommend taking a few minutes to show your students the undo arrow on Google Sheets. Occasionally they will accidently color in the wrong person’s cell and you will be thankful that they know how to fix it on their own.

Looking for more resources? Follow me on twitter @BohmVoyage and @MrsLaurenBohm for updates!

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