Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What Good Teachers Do… Part III

Good teachers differentiate.

I’ve learned that over the course of my subbing career.  I am in classrooms all the time with students who need a little more help than others, or students who are a little more advanced than the rest.  Sometimes, something as simple as completing an assignment can become stressful when you have 4 kids finished in a few minutes and looking for something to do, most others nearly done, and another handful who don’t even know how to begin.  Those situations really taught me the importance of differentiating lesson plans.

Another great thing about differentiation is that it gives ample opportunities to give choice to your students.

Just last week, I had a fifth grade class with a teacher who did a great job with this.  While we were checking over the homework in the morning, the school librarian (librarians rock, btw!) stopped by to drop off some class sets of books for the students.

“Yay!  The books are here!” The kids were kind of excited to get their books, which is just about the best thing ever.

Too bad the lesson plan didn’t mention anything about starting the books or introducing them, because those are my favorite kinds of lessons to lead.  The regular teacher will get that privilege when they return.  But one thing the teacher did do is offer the students a choice about which book they were going to read.  They could pick between Hatchet or Island of the Blue Dolphins.

They had already been introduced to the books a little, and their teacher was assigning them writing prompts and activities for their chosen book.  They were apparently going to study the books simultaneously through a differentiated reader’s workshop and booktalks (I suppose they’ll be talking a lot about nature in both stories).   I gathered all this from talking to students and looking at their literature packets, which they already had.

I like the idea of differentiated workshops, and I’ve even read something about them, but I don’t recall actually seeing them used thus far in classes.  If I could do it t least occasionally in my own classroom, I would.  I wonder how easy districts make it to allow students to choose novels for a novel study.  I’m not sure if one of the two books offered is easier for certain students to read, but that’s one of the great assets of differentiating for students.  It looked to me that the students reading Hatchet would be doing a little bit more advanced analysis and making more difficult products for their book.  Overall, everyone seemed to get a real kick out of choosing “their” books instead of just having them assigned.

Getting all this planning together must take a lot more work, but students appreciate it, and I’m sure it makes things easier for the teacher in the long run.

If I could sit in on those booktalks, I would!


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