23 Oct One Size Does Not Fit All: Differentiated Instruction
Early in my teaching career I found myself frustrated. Even when I prepared and taught what seemed like a well constructed lesson, there were always some students for whom the lesson just didn’t work. Sure, there was usually a core group of students who dove into the learning activity, participated in the class discussions, and completed work that showed evidence of learning. But there were also students who seemed disengaged and who struggled to achieve the mastery of content, concepts, and skills that I hoped they would. It was those students, hovering on the periphery of the classroom discourse who I really wanted to help join the others in the center of the learning.
What I learned, through study and teaching practice, was that my early teaching efforts were not as well constructed as I had thought. I was expecting all of students to do the same things at the same time in order to learn. But, if I really wanted to take responsibility for the learning and growth of all students in my classes I came to understand that I would need to adjust how I approached my preparation and implementation of teaching in order to better meet the diverse needs of students. I learned about Differentiated Instruction.
Differentiated Instruction is an approach to planning and implementing teaching that adjusts the content, process, and products of learning in response to and in anticipation of the diverse learning profiles, interests, and skill levels within a group of students. The idea is that once we put two students in a room we have two diverse learners who come to the learning with an array of differences between them. Differences like, what do they already know about the topic? What skills have they already developed? What experiences have they had with this sort of study before? What are their passions and interests? All of this will influence how each learner interacts with a given learning experience. It stands to reason, and is supported by many years of classroom experience, that those differences between learners directly impact the way they will learn.
Knowing that every group of students is diverse, leads to profound implications for the planning and implementation of teaching. We can say with confidence that no single learning activity will meet all students’ needs and that if we expect all students to do exactly the same things, then some students will learn more effectively and successfully than others, based on the match between an individual learner’s profile and the learning activity assigned. So, if we want all students to learn, we need to offer diverse instruction to match their diverse needs.
Exploring Differentiated Instruction pushes teachers to ask different questions when preparing lessons. Questions like “What do I know about my students as learners.” “Who will this lesson plan work for?” “Which student will need an adjustment to this plan?” And “what can I do to adjust the plan so that more students will be engaged in ways that meet their learning needs?” Asking these questions leads teachers to implement teaching strategies in which different students work on different things at the same time – Differentiated Instruction.
Many years later, here at Schechter Manhattan, I am very pleased that teachers are not just figuring this out, as I had to. Our faculty understand deeply the need for and the ways to implement Differentiated Instruction and the approach is integrated seamlessly throughout our school. Just this week I observed many examples of students working on varied activities in order to meet their learning needs. Here are just a few…
In kitah aleph I saw a literacy lesson in which students worked in three groups. The first group of students were working independently, completing a written exercise in which they put together syllables of words to spell them out. The second group was working with a teacher on a phonics lesson, practicing the difference between long and short “i” sounds. The third group worked with the other teacher using an ipad app to blend consonants. The teachers had assigned these students to groups to help each individual build reading skills (and some writing as well) in different ways based on their given learning needs.
In kitah heh I saw another lesson in which the class was divided in three groups. In this case the students had chosen which group they wanted to work in. All of the students were working on writing paragraphs, but each group was writing a different type of paragraph – a persuasive one, an example paragraph, or a process paragraph. Having been given a choice, the students followed their individual interests to find the right learning activity.
In the Middle School I observed a Jewish Studies class in which students had also been given a choice. Our Beit Midrash model affords students the opportunity to choose the Jewish Studies classes that they are most interested in and feel ready for. For example, the students I saw studying texts from throughout the Tanakh about the land of Israel had chosen that topic from among a variety of options. Their interest in the subject impacts their eagerness to engage the learning. At the same time, within the class I saw different students employing different processes to learn the material. All of the students were working in hevruta, learning pairs, to read and make meaning of the texts. Many students worked from Biblical texts in Hebrew along with guided study sheets in modern Hebrew. Other students had study sheets with English questions and a few had translations of the Tanakh available for reference. The differentiated materials that the students used in this class were provided carefully by the teacher, to make sure that each student can engage the study in a way that gives them access to the meaning of the text and also builds their Jewish text reading skills.
What I saw was that all of our students were deeply engaged. Having been provided instruction that addressed their diverse learning needs, the students were able to dive into the learning. Everyone appeared engaged. And each student appeared up to the learning that was in front of them.
Creating learning spaces like this takes immense care and intentionality on the part of teachers. It takes skilled professionals to plan and implement lessons that respond to and anticipate varied learning needs. And it takes time and practice for teachers to become skilled in Differentiated Instruction. At Schechter Manhattan we support, mentor and guide all of our faculty to ensure they can succeed at learning and applying this discipline. I am proud of the commitment and skill our teachers display to provide instruction that is differentiated to match the varied learning needs of our students. When it comes to teaching and learning, one size does not fit all.
This week we are featuring work by some of our students in Kitah Aleph, Kitah Gimel, Kitah Heh, and Kitah Zayin.
Kitah Aleph did free writing about a topic of their choosing.
I gat my Buk Bed LiK u moth ugo
my Dad gat it or me it is Bran
(I got my bunk bed like a month ago my Dad got it for me it is brown)
I LoVE BiRE BiRE is a BOY My grama gav it to me
(I love Barie Barie is a boy my grandma gave it to me)
kisos are GoBn FOMi the Siy
(Crystals are coming from the sky)
David and Goliath Daviid hits Goliath With a roc (David and Goliath David hits Goliath with a rock)
Kitah Gimel finished learning parshat va-yera, breshit perek 18, pesukim 1-10, the story of Avraham welcoming guests into his tent. They wrote a play about the story which they will perform for the Gan students.
Narrator: This is the story from sefer bereshet perek Vayeira. Avraham is resting under the trees at Mamre and he looks up to see 3 men coming toward him.
Avraham: Hello, welcome to my tent. (he bows) Let me wash your feet.
1st man: Ok, thank you.
Avraham: Can I give you some food and water?
2nd man: Yes please! We are very hungry
Narrator: Avraham quickly runs to his wife Sarah
Avraham: Sarah, take flour and prepare 3 loaves of bread.
Avraham: You, servant, come with me. Let’s go pick the finest cattle to serve my guests.
Servant: Would you like me to prepare this quickly?
Avraham: Yes please.
Narrator: They prepared everything for their guests quickly.
Avraham: Here is some milk, butter, and meat.
3rd man: Thank you so much. This is delicious.
Narrator: After the meal Avraham and his guests had a conversation and Sarah listened.
1st man: We will return next year and Sarah will have a baby.
Avraham: Yah right. How is that possible?
Sarah: (whispers) that’s crazy
Narrator: The End
Abby T., Simon M., Ari W., Talia R.S, Annabelle A., Ella B., Maya F., and Hannah F.
Kitah Heh wrote responses to our study of the Mayflower Compact (the first governing document of Plymouth Colony).
The Mayflower compact established leader so that they could have someone in charge. It was also an agreement that no one rose up against the government.
The Mayflower compact helped give the settlers guidelines. It also gave them rules to abide by until further laws were made. Otherwise it would have been complete mayhem and utter chaos.
I don’t think it would have been great to live without rules. The Mayflower Compact helped the Separatists and the ‘Strangers’ because there were rules set before they got off the ship. Having rules made things orderly and not chaotic and it put people in charge.
Kitah Zayin wrote about a book they read over the summer.
One of the books that I read over the summer was called Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I enjoyed this book because I already had some knowledge of the topic. In fifth grade, I studied immigration to the lower East side and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Uprising is a historical fiction book that takes place in the same time period and location. The author had a very distinct voice throughout the book. She used different perspectives in order to tell the same story. Since I studied this topic already, I knew a lot of the facts that are in the book. I had studied the numbers and statistics of the fire. However, I did not know much about the lives and the details of the people who were involved in the tragedy. This book taught me so much more than I already knew about the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, especially about the lives of the girls who worked there.
The book has three main characters who switch off telling the story from their own perspectives. Their names are Bella, Yetta and Jane. Bella and Yetta are immigrants and workers in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, while Jane was born in America into a very wealthy family. They all end up meeting and living together in a tenement apartment. Yetta spends countless cold and brutal days participating in a strike to get better working conditions in the factory. Bella works day and night at the factory to collect as much money as she can to send back to her family in Italy, only to find out that her family died just a week after she left for America. All of her money is stolen by the cruel family with whom she was living. Jane runs away from her family because she feels that she does not have enough freedom and her family treats her as though the purpose of her life is to marry. She wants to help the workers in the strike.
One of the most interesting discoveries that I made from reading this book was that the factory workers were not much older than I am. As I kept reading about the terrible and hard events that were happening to these girls, I felt that I knew so much more than I did before about this time. Instead of just knowing where they lived and worked, I knew about who they were and the details of their lives. I am now much more aware of how hard it was to be a young immigrant girl at that time. I would definitely recommend this book to girls my age or older. It is so powerful, sad, dramatic, and it is very hard to put down. I believe that if one would like to learn about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, they should definitely read Uprising.