Practical Strategies for Using Differentiation as an Intervention Strategy in the Reading Classroom
Differentiation in tier 1 core reading instruction is the key to students mastering the standards. To expect to see the same instructional organization in every classroom every day is not only impossible, but malpractice. Effective teachers know and plan for children who differ in their learning preferences, styles, and readiness levels. They feel empowered to match instruction to ways that students are most likely to learn. We are accountable to make sure children learn everything they need to know and do in only ten months of time. This is a mighty mandate, but doable.
While it might sound like I propose to match every student to individual lessons and materials that is not the case. Using the following 5 simple principals of differentiation, all students achieve more.
- Planning is a critical first activity.
- Know the standards! What do they have to know and be able to do (by when)? Teachers need to know the standards deeply. What is the evidence that a student has mastered this standard? Teachers need a strong foundation to really make a difference. Regie Routman, 2012 IRA Conference, Chicago, Il.
- Create a curriculum calendar. Does your district or campus have a curriculum calendar? If not create one in which the standards are horizontally aligned. Plan to (really) teach 2 key standards every 2-3 weeks. Teach for depth. While coverage may cover you, in the long run we are accountable for mastery, not coverage. Start with the end in mind and make a plan then work that plan!
- Assess the student--What does the student know, almost know, and need to know? While getting to really know a student’s strengths and areas for growth takes time and understanding, it will save many hours of wasted instructional time in which the student’s needs were not met.
- Plan to plan! Set aside time to collaborate and think deeply about how to pace instruction and how to engage and motivate your learners. Planning instruction should be at the heart of all data meetings and professional learning communities.
- Engage first, then label the learning with the standards! Create an unforgettable experience in which the students apply the standards to an authentic situation.
- Select a topic, issue, or idea that will be interesting to the student. How will the standards be applied using this topic, issue, or idea?
- Start with inquiring questions or involvement in a language experience related to the reading.
- Create an environment in your room to simulate the experience. Is the topic about a place? Simulate that place in the classroom.
- Go on a field trip (walking or virtual are free!) to build background for the topic, issue, or idea.
- Collect questions about the topic or issue and have students find the answers through interviews and research.
- Vary the ways students will read.
- Group 1:
- Reads alone-because they can and want to!
- Group 2:
- Reads with partners matched heterogenously.
- This group may consist of learners who need a little scaffolding from a slightly more proficient learner.
- Group 3:
- Reads with the teacher or listens to a recording and reads along.
- This group is reading well below grade level.
- Responding to text reading--No matter how the reading experience was completed, all readers should respond to the reading in ways that fit their processing styles.
- Discussions are for auditory learners. You know who they are in your class, because they talk all the time. Socratic seminar, literature circles, and book talks are critical for students who need to process by talking and listening to other’s ideas and interpretations. Podcasting is a great way for auditory learners to use technology to deepen comprehension.
- Writing a reading reflection before participating in a discussion is critical for those who need to process through a tactile experience. Don’t forget blogging as a technology tool.
- Drawing and diagramming are ways that visual processors can deepen understanding.
- Acting out through reader’s theater and using music to explain main ideas and inferences tap into the bodily-kinesthetic and musical learners processing styles.
- Extend the reading experience-Students need to go beyond the texts to really understand the topic, theme, or issue. Plan ways for students to work heterogeneously to share and build on what was learned. In my experience, children have many additional wonderings that lead them to further research and learning. The worst part of a good book is when I’m finished reading it! When I’ve really connected with characters, topics, or themes, I want to continue to live in the text moments. A good read takes me somewhere I have never been and gives me understandings and questions I’ve never had. As teachers, we must plan and deliver these moments for our learners. If we don’t, they may never have this experience.
Students who achieve more than is expected do so because of knowledgeable teachers, not programs, products, or mandates. High quality classroom instruction is the best intervention as student can receive!