The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning.
According to Larry Ainsworth, author of Rigorous Curriculum Design (2010), “Differentiation strategies are those additional supports that educators use during all high-quality lessons to modify or adjust instruction for students who need a different approach in order to understand (page185)”. Differentiating students learning through assessment and lesson plan adjustment will help improve the student’s learning outcome. In order to do this a teacher must know:
- The student previous learning achievements.
- Special learning needs (IEP, Sped, ELL).
- How to choose the best assessment for each student.
- How to implant any differentiation that is needed for students.
Going into this academic school year I knew that I would need to be pro-active in assessing my students academic ability. My class is a split 4th / 5 grad class. I have eleven students with the following learning dynamics:
- Korean student – bumped from the 3rd grade into the 5th
- Swiss student – performs at a 5th grade level in all subjects except math.
- American student – homeschooled from the 1 -4th After assessments it has been determined that she is performing at a 4th grade level and may have dyslexia. She will be tested this winter. Extra ELA support is given.
- British student – performing at a 5th grade level. No support needed.
- 4 American students – Two are performing at the 4th grade level. No extra support is needed. The third American student was previously homeschooled and is performing at a 5th grade level in reading and writing. Extra support is given in providing her with higher academic learning tasks. The 4th American student is performing below average in most subjects but is being given extra support as needed.
- Danish student – Fluent in English/performing at a 4th grade level.
- Finish student – Fluent in English/performing at a 4th grade level.
- French student – ELL/Sped performing at a 3rd grade level. Intervention and support is given.
I need to give an overwhelming amount of scaffolding and assessments in order to differentiate my students learning. In the beginning of the year, after giving my students assessments in math, spelling, reading, and writing, I identified which students would need the most support in order to have a great amount of learning success throughout the year.
With out a doubt I give group support to my seven ESL students. I use the differentiation strategies suggested in Rigorous Curriculum Design (2010) to help support and differentiate their learning. Some examples include, flexible grouping, sufficient “think time”, ongoing compression checks, use of visual aids, accessing prior knowledge, and connection to primary language and culture (page 196). Five out of the seven students have passed their English fluency test and do not have to go to ESL class, so I make sure to provide more comprehension checks each day throughout all subjects.
Example Student #1
5th grader performing at a 4th grade level with possible dyslexia.
I have placed my 5th grade student in a spelling group that is designed to target specific spelling needs, most of the group are 4th graders, except for her and the Korean 5th grade student, however, this spelling group better supports her spelling needs. Furthermore, I have given her parents suggestions in how to help her with reading fluency and comprehe
nsion. Each week she is given a passage to read at home with her parents. She reads the same passage each day and at the end of the week I assess her progress. In writing, I have her work on the assignment and at the same pace with the whole class, but I do give her extra time to complete writing assignments, as I know she needs it in order to do her best. At the end of the first quarter and after many assessments and conversations with her parents, we decided to move her into 4th grade math. She was failing 5th grade math and her confidence was very low. Since she has been in 4th grade math I have seen a drastic improvement in math understanding as well as a boost in confidence. I continue to monitor and assess her academic growth and continue to differentiate her learning.
Example Student #2
4th grade special education student
My 4th grade student is 11 years old. He has been diagnosed with ADHD as well as a speech impediment, visual impairment and a cognitive learning disorder. While he is still undergoing other testing I have worked very hard to meet his unique needs. The first quarter I met with my principal to help set up a differentiated program for this student. Unfortunately we do not have a special education department, so it is left to the teachers to help support special ed. Students. Math and ELL he is pulled out and given one on one lesson’s with the ELL specialist. Reading and writing I modify my lessons for him according to each learning target. Most of the time I use the same learning target and instruction for him, however, during reading he is given a different story (one that matches his reading level) and a different assessments (usually this is a verbal assessment as he has difficulty writing). During writing I modify the assignments by using more direct one on one instruction as well as outlined visual support. In spelling I give him an extra three days to work on spelling activities that also help improve his penmanship and grammar.
I must admit, it is more time and effort to differentiate students learning, but the outcome is so encouraging. My students are diligent and motivated. While I have discovered many different ways to support my students through trial and error, I have also found it helpful to research online resources that are available to teachers in order to gain better understanding on ways to differentiate learning. The following website may be helpful:
It is my desire to see my students learn and grow in an environment that supports their learning ability. Therefore, I will continue using differentiating strategies to help my students obtain confidence and academic achievement.
Ainsworth, L. (2010). Rigorous Curriculum Design. Colorado: Lead Learn Press.
Pressley, M. & McCormick, C.B. (2007). Child and Adolescent Development for Educators. New York, NY: Guilford Press.