Differentiation, multiple entry points, small group instruction, individualized instruction, IEP’d students—how do we incorporate all of this with a seemingly packed curriculum and many students to teach? Some days, we long for the average student. In fact, the notion of the average student would suggest that it would be ok to teach to the middle and then the students on either side would just cope. They would be able to find something. The problem is, they don’t.
We have a professional responsibility to teach to each student and we know that each student brings different skills to the task. With the case of students on an IEP, we have specifically told parents that we would be teaching something other than the grade level curriculum. While we have certain end goals in mind (for both IEP and non-IEP students), what we need to be thinking about is how we get there. That is where the curriculum document does NOT constrain us. We do have the professional freedom to design our classrooms and lessons so that multiple ways of attaining the end goal are possible: we can change the pace, the quantity of work, the number of opportunities to practice, the delivery of the material and, many times, the choice of topic.
The more constrained we are in the design of our lesson/activity, the less likely we are able to meet the learning needs of all students.
- A photocopied worksheet is very hard to differentiate—either you get it or you don’t. If you really get it, it is too easy. If you really don’t get it, it is too hard. There is only one entry point for most worksheets.
- Worksheets offer very little choice. Worksheets that offer lots of choice might as well be blank pieces of paper and we save on the photocopying.
- Assigning the same number of questions for all students to do is only good for some. If the student is struggling, s/he is already discouraged. If the student gets it, s/he is bored (and there is no research to say that over-practicing a concept makes you learn it better).
- A workshop environment with the teaching in minilessons is engaging for students and lets students determine their own entry level. Don’t forget, you are still the teacher, and can guide students up or down as required.
- Inquiry learning allows students to ask the questions about which they are interested. This provides a variety of entry points as students determine their own interests and questions. Students of all levels are more likely to be engaged if they are interested in the topic. Don’t forget you are still the teacher, and can veto questions or guide students in the direction that meets the curriculum expectations.
- You can create learning situations/problems/provocations that have different levels of difficulty. Rarely will students choose the inappropriate level. Don’t forget, you are still the teacher, and can help guide students in their choices.
- If most of our lessons are to the whole group, we are teaching to the middle. Try rethinking how you deliver information so that you minimalize whole group times and increase small group time. We say we don’t have time for small group instruction, and we don’t if we use it all on the whole group. There are some students who need more of your time and some who need less. Fair is not equal.
- The more you, the teacher, is involved in setting all the work tasks, the more you are constraining the learning of your students. The more open your tasks are, the more students will be able to enter into meaningful learning.
As you plan for term two, challenge yourself to try something new that you think might engage more students in learning. You might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but no one will die. And, don’t forget, you are still the teacher and if it isn’t working you can always change your mind.