Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Differentiation Dilemma

There's been a big push in my district in recent years towards Differentiated Instruction, and it's easy to see why. Aiming to the middle will meet the needs of 50% of the kids on a bell-shaped curve, but the upper and lower quartile needs (deserves?) something else.

My struggle this year has been in the how. I have a solid core group of 5 readers who are absolutely exceptional. Right now we're working on reading Pearl Buck's "The Big Wave", which is a challenging book with some pretty deep philosophical dilemmas. It's not a happy book, so far anyhow. The Asian tsunami is still fresh in the minds of a lot of my kids, and even if they're not sophisticated enough to understand what devestation on that scale really means they still know it was a bad, sad thing. Prior to "The Big Wave" we read the first two Magic Treehouse books, "Just the Two of Us" by Beverly Cleary, and "The Adventures of Captain Underpants."

Did I mention these kids are 1st graders?

Next I think I'm going to take them into the Ramona books, because they can handle it. Their comprehension (as measured by Accelerated Reader) is super. They write beautifully and make excellent connections while reading. Staying ahead of them is hard.

Then there's the bottom quartile. They're all boys, and reading just doesn't come easily for them. One of my critiques of the Houghton-Mifflin program that we use is that it moves so quickly from concept to concept. For the average-high kids this is OK; they pick up on things pretty easily. For the kids who struggle with reading, though, introducing SH, TH, CH, and WH IN THE SAME DAY was just ridiculous. These are the kids who need a week just to understand and work with the "sh" blend, and when they faced them all at one time it was way too much.

One of my little guys, more than all the others, has given up. What we do in reading is too much for him, and he knows it. The majority of the class will be plugging away, and he can't handle the basic worksheets without teacher or peer support.

He's a first grader. It's not an easy thing to see.

So, again, I'm differentiating. The little guy above is getting 30 minutes of extra help a day from my student teacher, plus 30 minutes of Title, plus 20 minutes in a small reading group with the rest of my laggards. He's making gains, God bless him, but when we do our end of year assessments I know what they're going to say about his reading, and about my teaching.

I've been running around this morning printing off materials for J, A, and T (who all read at a 4th grade level), Accelerated Math reports for J (he's learing the times table, and fractions), speaking with TR's parents about ways to accomodate his visual difficulties, choosing books for A and C so they can earn their AR certificate, shopping on-line for the next book for my upper reading group, helping my S.T. plan the low reading group, and trying to get 20 different kids to 20 different, distinct places--wherever that may be.

I also debate with myself where to put the resources. As an ethical question, do I owe the same experience to every child in the class? Is it OK to spend so much time on my high kids, trying to make sure they grow in their reading too, if I have kids in my class in danger of failing? Is it reasonable to tell the high kids to wander off and read a book of their choice while I work with the low kids more directly? Research says that a reader struggling at the end of 1st grade is likely to be struggling at the end of 3rd, 7th, and 12th grades too. Knowing that, what does one do?


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4:49 AM  

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