Differentiated instruction helps all students reach potential
During a third-grade classroom writing lesson in the Roaring Fork School District, students use their creativity to write everything from a basic story to a descriptive multi-page narrative. Classroom learning in the RFSD is not about lecture-style instruction where all students follow the same structured, controlled lesson. Instead, students can be found working at their own levels to improve their individual skills. Guiding students to learn at their own potential is what educators call “differentiated instruction.” The tailored, individualized teaching practice has become the norm in RFSD classrooms in the past five years. Differentiating learning so all students are working on their own level is one way – along with cooperative learning, sheltered instruction, high expectations and positive relationships with students – that teachers are working to reach all learners of diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
“By crafting my teaching where I’m tailoring my instruction to make sure everybody’s needs are being met, each child is working to their full potential, wherever that may be,” explained Crystal River Elementary third-grade teacher Alysha Findley. “When kids are working at their own level, they feel successful and want to do their best.”Differentiated instruction is an approach that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms and accommodates the different ways that students learn, explained CRES PEAK teacher Marie Voss-Patterson, who leads classes for fellow RFSD instructors on this art of teaching.Eighth-year teacher Findley uses differentiated learning in all subject areas. She starts with a basic lesson theme that all students need to learn, and then allows her students to work at various levels within that topic. In math class, for example, a lesson in rounding might find some kids rounding to the nearest 10 while others find the nearest 100. In science, some students might be learning the scientific theory and conducting a group experiment while others work on an independent project for the science fair.During reading time, students are allowed the flexibility to choose a book that interests them from many bins of books on various reading levels. Some third-graders are working to master basic story books while others have moved ahead to chapter books.
“If I was using one book for my whole class, I clearly would not be meeting the needs of two-thirds of my students,” Findley explained.”In differentiated instruction, students are grouped and regrouped all day long depending on their needs and strengths,” noted RFSD Superintendent Judy Haptonstall. “Differentiated teaching also is used in English Language Learner pull-out classes where students are mastering language skills at various levels.”In Findley’s classroom, the attentive teacher moves around talking with individual students or small groups to give pointers and draw out ideas. She takes detailed notes on student progress and notices areas where all her students need help during follow-up group lessons.
“By using a differentiated approach in my classroom,” Findley said, “I am able to provide more detailed and useful information to the parents and the students about their learning progress.”For RFSD questions, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 384-6000. Sign up to receive a weekly e-mail from the district superintendent by logging on to http://www.rfsd.org then clicking on “Subscribe to eNews.” Suzie Romig is RFSD public information officer.
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