Thursday, June 13, 2013

Differentiated Instruction: Ability Grouping and Reading Intervention

Reading a book
Reading a book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Nori Rem

Ask a roomful of teachers how they feel about differentiated instruction and you will get a roomful of varying opinions.

Differentiated instruction is grouping students according to their academic abilities.

Once the groups are formed, teachers can then provide instruction to each group based on their academic needs.

Although this instructional model fades in and out of popularity, it does have its strengths and weaknesses.

Those in favor of differentiated instruction appreciate this model because it allows the teacher to provide more individualized instruction. In other words, teachers do not have to teach to the middle.

Teaching to the middle is a practice many say is destroying our education system, and denying bright students an appropriate education.

Differentiated instruction gives teachers the capability to tailor instruction, and adjust schedules to deliver more or less time to students as indicated by individual reading assessments.

In fact, the framework for the Reading First Initiative funded by the United States Department of Education was constructed on a three tiered reading model.

After each student was assessed to determine their reading ability they were placed in Tier 1 if they needed no additional reading instruction, Tier 2 if the student's assessment indicated weakness in one or two areas, and Tier 3 if the student showed significant weaknesses.

Students in Tiers 2 and 3 received additional small group reading intervention; based on scientifically based reading principles, in a group that was no larger than five students.

Once students were placed in a group, each student's progress was measured through progress monitoring every two weeks.

The progress monitoring was performed to ensure that students had achieved mastery in the areas being addressed in the small group intervention. Progress monitoring is generally the element of differentiated instruction that teachers dislike the most.

Why ... because it is very time consuming. However, after the provision of systematic, explicit instruction, it is the second most important component of differentiated instruction.

Without continuous monitoring of student's reading abilities, they could be receiving instruction in areas they have already mastered, or do not need. Ineffective instruction is never beneficial to any student.

Differentiated instruction that is systematic, explicit, and targeted to a student's needs is always beneficial.

Two other concerns that some educators voice regarding differentiated instruction are, one it requires more lesson planning and two classroom management during small group intervention.

One way the lesson planning issue can be resolved is to plan lessons as a grade level in order to create one cohesive lesson plan for the entire grade. That way teachers save time and draw on each other's strengths.

When lesson plans are developed by teachers who collaborate, students also benefit from each of the teacher's areas of expertise.

Finally, classroom management is critical when teachers are providing differentiated instruction. Therefore, it is important to establish a routine early in the school year that makes it clear that reading group time is sacred.

This can be accomplished by developing signals that let the teacher know when a student needs to be excused from class or if there is an emergency.

To avoid unnecessary interruptions, teachers should take a position in the classroom that allows for constant observation of the entire class.

It is also important to assign engaging lessons or activities, (with back-ups for those speedy students), so that each student in the classroom is involved in a meaningful and productive assignment.

Differentiated instruction can be challenging, but in the end we must consider whether it provides a benefit to students. The answer is yes, it most certainly does.

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