Core scripture: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
Message: Every child we teach is unique. I have some students that are right where they need to be. I have others who barely read at a 4th grade level—and I teach 7th graders. Others yet are so far advanced that they might be able to step in front of the class and teach it themselves. One of the biggest challenges I face is how to differentiate to each kid appropriately. How can I push the high ones even higher, challenge the ones right on par to strive for the next level, all while encouraging those struggling learners to do the best they can?
We do this through differentiation. There is no better way to show your students you care than to treat them like individuals, pushing each kid to their appropriate level. I am trying to do that right now through my literature circle unit. Each kid is assigned to a book that fits their reading level. I push my accelerated readers with the Giver. I cater to my mid-level kids by letting them read Tangerine or Stargirl. Finally, my low kids get to read My Louisiana Sky. These kids, grouped together by their MAP scores, are navigating their books piece by piece, chunk by chunk.
The Giver groups are thriving right now. Picture about 20 motivated, curious, knowledge-thirsting kids clumped together, all reading a high-level book, all participating in riveting weekly discussions. Some of these kids, the speed-readers, dominated the book in one weekend. Since these kiddos still need to be pushed, I created a list of 25 extension activities that they are welcome to challenge themselves with. Everything from poetry to cartoons to iMovies, these kids have a plethora of activities that cater to a variety of talents they might have. They want the challenge, and many are striving to reach it. My questions upon visiting these groups are always extremely high-level, stretching their brains and allowing productive debates.
My Stargirl and Tangerine groups are mostly right where they need to be. Some of these kids enjoy listening to the audiobooks I have shown them on YouTube. That way they can follow in their books and hear it being read aloud at the same time. I recorded my voice reading Stargirl aloud, impersonating all the characters. The kids love it. Are there a few behind in these groups. Sure. Nobody is perfect. But these kids know exactly what they need to do, and many are rising to the challenge of reading 20 to 25 pages per week. I praise their successes and encourage those shy ones to come out of their shells in the smaller group setting.
Finally, there are my low-level learners clumped in the My Louisiana Sky groups. Here I purposefully sprinkled some mid-level kids to help lead the groups. It challenges some of my mid-level kids to rise up and motivate others. When I visit these groups, my question style shifts a bit to knowledge-based questions. This provides easy opportunities for the struggling reader to feel successful. Almost all of these kids take advantage of the audiobook on YouTube, hearing the characters come to life through my different character voices. For my modified kiddos, I limit the questions they answer for our Friday discussions, hitting only the essentials.
So, there you have it. It isn’t perfect by any means, but it works for me. What about you? How do you differentiate? The days of creating the same cookie cutter lesson for everyone are over. Every child is different. Every class is different. The key is to show these kids how much you care for them by creating a lesson that fits all their needs. Allow for student choice. Group kids by ability. Provide extension activities. Have a project that students can get to the end result through a variety of intelligences. Romans 12:6 states, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” Your students will thrive if you allow this to happen.
Challenge: Think of a lesson you have coming up that you have always done the same way. What could you do differently to meet the needs to high, medium, and low learners?
Song application: “One Thing Remains” by Kristian Stanfill
And it’s higher than the mountains that I face
And it’s stronger than the power of the grave
And it’s constant in the trial and the change
This one thing, remains
This one thing, remains
Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me
Quote: “Educators should be champions of every student who enters the schoolhouse doors.” (unknown)
Prayer: Lord, I pray that you will help me plan my lessons appropriately to challenge each individual learner. Amen.