“Some 70 percent of US middle and high school students require differentiated instruction, which is instruction that targets their individual strengths and weaknesses.” –Reading Next, page 8. This quote, from a study completed in 2004 by Catherine Snow and Gina Biancarosa , both researchers at Harvard University, illustrates the need to address the diversity of literacy skills among adolescent learners. The divide that we teachers see in the middle grades and middle school becomes apparent when school districts require all students to learn from textbooks and grade-level content literary anthologies that most students can’t read. Statistics from a study by the US Department of Education indicated that more than eight million American students have reading difficulties and are reading two or more years below grade level (2003). The data also shows that high school students in the bottom 25 percent of their class are 20 times more likely to drop out of school than excellent and proficient readers.
Right now, too many middle and high schools across the country place students on a curriculum where everyone reads the same text and completes the same assignments. It’s not working, and here are a few reasons. Little or no progress in reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is the nation’s report card, has been made since 1992. At this rate, the number of adults who do not have the education and literacy skills to work in the 21st century technology jobs will continue to increase. Add to the NAEP results and studies completed by Snow and Biancarosa and the US Department of State, the daily frustrations you and I experience trying to reach classes of diverse learners with one set of textbooks. , then the need to explore other methods of instruction becomes obvious. .
In any middle grade or middle school class there will be groups of students reading below, near, or above grade level, and you and I need to differentiate reading instruction to meet the unique needs of each student. This is the heart of differentiating teaching from reading. This is why teachers and researchers have begun looking closely at ways to help adolescents read and write for many different purposes. This is why we need to abandon one text for all students and bring multiple texts into our classrooms. The use of multiple texts allows each student to learn at her instructional level. In this way, each student can continue to improve and develop reading skills and stamina to prepare for the dramatic changes in the job market in this and the next century.
At this point, you might be wondering what exactly the differentiated read instruction is.
Differentiation is a way of teaching and not a pre-packaged syllabus or the same workbook for all students. When you differentiate reading instruction, you need to know your students so well that you can plan learning experiences that will improve students’ reading, thinking, memory, and writing skills. What follows are some key principles that form the basis for differentiating teaching from reading.
First: Continuous Formative Assessment invites you to continually identify student strengths, as well as areas of need, in order to match instruction and learning experiences to each student.
Second: The diverse students in your class have varying levels of skills and experience in reading, writing, thinking, speaking, and problem solving, which requires you to develop instruction that reaches all students.
Third: Work in pairs and small groups whose members change as students show you that they need to get back to teaching or are ready to move on.
Problem solving places the focus in differentiated classes on problems, topics, and concepts, allowing teachers to focus on big ideas using multiple or different texts instead of everyone reading a novel or textbook.
Ultimately, choice is at the heart of differentiation. In addition to required and required assignments, teachers offer their students options in reading and writing assignments related to a unit.
So, to differentiate teaching from reading, teachers need to think about the purpose of assessments: they are a way to gain insight into their students’ learning. When teachers know their students and are responsive to their strengths and needs, they can support and maximize learning and reach all readers.