One-size-fits-all reading instruction, much like one-size-fits-all clothing, is a myth. But when teachers vary their instructional strategies to meet their students’ diverse needs, interests, and abilities, they can ensure better learning outcomes.
“When I think of differentiated reading instruction, my go-to method is small-group targeted instruction,” says Monica Padgham, Acting Vice Principal of McCammon Elementary School in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. “By this, I mean teachers creating small groups for purposeful instruction in three areas of reading: fluency, comprehension, and word work.”
Differentiated Instruction in Practice
At Padgham’s school, teachers assess their students to determine what each child needs in their overall literacy development. They then sort students into small groups for targeted reading instruction.
“I’ve been at this for 20 years and believe this gives you the most bang for your buck,” she says. “If you teach only to the whole class, you’ll lose the kids who aren’t ready as well as the kids who already understand. It’s more effective to address what they need in small groups.”
While teachers are doing small-group guided reading instruction, the other students are typically working on choice boards, writing letters, reading, or doing word work.
The key to all of this, says Padgham, is to plan ahead of time. “Start with the whole class and assign the daily tasks. Make sure you keep track of the choices students make so that you can let their parents and caregivers know which things they like best, such as being read to or doing crossword puzzles.”
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