Erin Murphy, 4th Grade, Heath Elementary School

“The Queen of Differentiation”

Heath Elementary School’s Erin Murphy has been hailed the Queen of Differentiation. She doesn’t just create a teaching plan for each lesson. She creates multiple plans meant to accommodate the multiple learning styles present in her classroom spending up to 70 hours a week planning and executing her lessons.

“Each student learns differently and we have to accommodate to that learning style to make sure they can reach their full potential,” explains Ms. Murphy. I am a strong believer in cooperative learning and think that students can learn just as much from one another as they can from me. So when we are doing class discussions or completing a challenging math problem, my higher learners might only be able to ask their peers guiding questions instead of telling every answer and solving each problem for their team.  When I am modeling the steps they can use to complete a question, I will often ask my students if anyone wants to share another way to solve this problem. The methods my students share often help other students better understand the concepts that are being taught.”

Learning in Ms. Murphy’s classroom doesn’t end when the students complete their assigned work. Her classroom contains an “I’m done, now what” buckets students go to based on a colored sticker present on their desk. Tasks in the buckets are content areas they can improve on. This may be challenging questions or research opportunities for students who have mastered their skills or manipulatives to help struggling students further gain a deeper understanding of the lesson taught in class. They may need to even have the steps written out for them or fewer problems to complete (to prevent getting overwhelmed and frustrated).

Ms. Murphy also inspires her students to be teachers. Her principle: “If they can teach it, they know it.” Students participate in cooperative learning through team huddles, think pair shares, and other group learning activities. Learning content is reviewed regularly throughout the school year to help students retain what they have learned. 

Instead of me being constantly at the board reviewing, the students will be picked (sometimes randomly) to explain how to answer a question. Their expectation is to explain every step they complete and tell why they are doing those steps. We play “puppeteer” games where the kids will be partnered up to explain the steps to complete a problem and their partner has to do each step their partner says. Most recently, we have been preparing for our standardized testing. After discussions in class to review our content, some students have been picked to write and teach a lesson during our flex time. They have picked the manipulatives they will use, written questions they want to ask, explained the purpose of the game, and written problems they want their students to be able to answer. They have truly amazed me with this task! Many have helped students find mistakes in their work and the reasons for those mistakes. They have even had their students write word problems once they have mastered the skill.

“I don’t know I consider myself a Queen of Differentiation. I just really want my students to find ways to be successful, challenged, and confident in their work.  Teaching is my passion. I love coming up with new ways to teach my content instead of looking at the plans from previous years. Whether it’s creating something on my own or finding ideas from other teachers, each year is a clean slate with a whole new group of kiddos so you have to have fresh new ideas. I also love watching the growth in my students and the confidence they build throughout the year. Most importantly, my students keep me teaching! I don’t have any children of my own so my students feel like family to me. Each year, they take a piece of my heart when they move on to the next grade level. That’s the most rewarding part: the relationships that are built. My students are very special to me and I hold dear the bond we build.”