Independent WorkThis year, one of my goals is to work towards true differentiation of instruction. In the past, I’ve done some, but I want to focus on this strategy more fully. No matter how hard I work to be entertaining and engaging, I know that some students are not listening because they already know it and some are not listening because they aren’t ready to learn it. Differentiating instruction may be the key to help meet everyone’s needs in one room.
My two classes have a very different make up – one is my inclusion class with 7 special ed students and a number of other low readers. This class is co-taught with the special ed teacher. The other has no special ed students and is mainly students reading at grade level (or close to it). In addition, I have an intern working with me, so at times, there are three adults in the room.
I started out by looking at the students whose reading scores are above average in both fluency and comprehension. Luckily, our district screens all students 3 times a year, so that information was readily available to me. Once I had a list of 10 students, I checked their weekly test scores. We are using Reading Street, which uses a weekly reading test to assess whether students are learning the vocabulary and skills we are teaching. The tests are HARD! These 10 students consistently scored pretty high on these weekly tests. 85% was my standard and they reached it almost every week. With 6 weeks of test scores to look at, I felt pretty comfortable with my data.
At the beginning of class, I pulled these students (3 in one class and 7 in the other) together and explained my plan: they would take the weekly test as a pre-test at the beginning of the week. If they scored 85% on it, they could work on an independent project during the week. If not, they would stay with the class and learn the material. The hardest part of this is convincing them that it’s okay if they don’t score 85% on the pre-test. That simply means they still need to learn the material. Each of them eagerly agreed to try it (I made sure to explain that this is a trial project and we might not do it again if it doesn’t work well).
Of the 10, 5 scored 85% or better. Those five spent reading class working on a project of their choosing. I gave them a list of possible projects, with certain requirements: they had to include the Amazing Words we were studying that week, they had to use the focus area (this week it was the universe), they had to choose a project they could work on all week, etc.
As we moved through the week, there were a few blips. For instance, the students working on the individual projects felt funny working on something while we were up in front teaching. They also weren’t sure when they should pay attention and when they didn’t need to. I periodically started to ask them to put their work away, forgetting they were working individually. However, I think those are issues that will go away as we continue on.
Overall, I found the idea to be quite a success. The students were really excited to be part of this. It was clear they had been quite bored, listening to us go over skills and information they already knew.
On the other end of the spectrum, I have some students who are reading far enough below grade level that they struggle reading our textbook. During my special ed class, I co-teach with the special ed teacher, so he includes these students when he works with the special ed students. However, I have another student in the second class who is reading well below grade level. To help her, I have recorded the tests, etc on an ipod that she can listen to. I also recorded her spelling test so that she can have her own list of words at her level while the rest of the class takes theirs.
As we move forward, I anticipate bumps in the road I haven’t thought of. However, I’m seeing benefits already from doing this sort of differentiating in the classroom. Students look happier and are feeling more confident with their work. We’ll see how week 2 goes with it!