Differentiated instruction is matching instruction to meet the different needs of learners in a given classroom. The first step in developing differentiated instruction is assessment. We must first discover the different individual needs of each student in the classroom in order to appropriately modify instruction. Every child in your classroom is an individual, with their own special talents, skills, abilities, and areas of weakness. Each student may also have their own style of learning, which makes the jobs of teachers quite difficult.
How are we to meet the needs of each of our students when they have different strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles? I am going to explore the possible solutions to this problem by investigating the use of running records to assess children’s strengths and weaknesses in reading and how we can use that information to differentiate instruction to best meet the needs of all students in the classroom. First we must discuss a running record. A running record is one method of assessing a child’s reading level by examining both accuracy and the types of errors made.
It is useful for teachers in several ways. First, it gives the teacher an indication of whether material currently being read is too easy or too difficult for the child. Secondly, it serves as an indicator of the areas where a child’s reading can improve–for example, if a child frequently makes word substitutions that begin with the same letter as the printed word, the teacher will know to focus on getting the child to look beyond the first letter of a word.
Running records may be done frequently or only occasionally to assess a child’s reading progress. There are a variety of forms of running records and teachers and schools can select one that is best suited for them. In my school and classroom we use the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project Running Record and Fountas & Pinnell Reading Levels. With this running record the teacher will have a one on one conference with the student and ask them to read a passage from a book on their independent reading level.
At the beginning of the year we use the students records from the previous year to determine their reading level and if that is not available we estimate and use trial and error until we find the right fit. The passage is provided by the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project for the student and for the teacher, with room for recording miscues, taking notes, and questions.
There are three factors to be considered when assessing a reader. These factors include accuracy and self-corrections, comprehension, and fluency. The oral reading of the passage allows us to judge the student’s accuracy and self-corrections as well as fluency. In order to judge comprehension, students are asked to retell the text and then answer comprehension questions. Students need to give a strong retelling and answer three of the four comprehension questions correctly in order to read independently at that level.
Students may use the text to help them retell and teachers should take note if the student needs this. This assessment includes two literal questions and two inferential questions. The student must answer at least one inferential question at these levels, because readers at higher levels must be able to make inferences in order to understand the texts. Guidelines to assess retelling and comprehension questions and suggestions are provided with the assessment. One purpose of this assessment is to tell us the independent reading level for our students.
If at the end of a running record, the student read the text with 96% accuracy, read with comprehension (strong retelling and at least three out of four correct answers to the questions), and read with fluency we know that this level is appropriate for their independent reading. If the student did not meet the criteria, we must repeat this process with the text from one level lower, and so on until we find the student’s independent reading level. If we find that the student read with fluency, comprehension, and 99-100% accuracy we will repeat the process with a higher-level text.
Another purpose of the running records is to show the teachers the strengths and weaknesses in reading of their students. With this assessment we can tell if the student has trouble with decoding words, fluency, literal comprehension, and/or inferential comprehension. Beyond the identification of areas of concern we can see the students process of reading, decoding, and making sense of what was read. For example, I may be able to make the judgment that my student uses the first letter of an unfamiliar word to guess how the word reads. I can also what type of thinker my student may be by ho they answer the questions.
Some students may have no problem with literal comprehension but are unable to think at an inferential level. All of these judgments and results from taking the running record lead to the modifying and differentiating of instruction. As teachers, our job does not end at assessment. What is the point of assessment if we don’t analyze and utilize the results? The results from the running records give us the ability to identify the different needs of our students and are to be used to match our instruction to meet those needs. This is how we develop differentiated instruction.
Differentiated instruction involves many elements. Teachers must respond to student needs and continuously evaluate learning and modify the curriculum. Differentiated instruction includes tiered lessons based on interests, readiness, and learning strategies and abilities and a range of skills built through experiences with the teaching and learning process. In order to differentiate instruction we must identify what the students need to know, understand, and be able to do and have ways to challenge students to take responsibility for themselves as learners.
To appropriately and efficiently facilitate differentiated instruction there needs to be a sense of community within the classroom. The students must respect each other’s learning needs and feel comfortable while practicing and honing their reading skills. As stated by Keck and Kinney, “Teachers who differentiate their instruction begin by developing a broad and thorough understanding of their students, all of whom enter the classrooms with varying interests, readiness levels, talents, and knowledge. ” It has been established that each student is an individual with various strengths and weaknesses.
By having a clear understanding of each of our students’ interests, abilities, and difficulties, we can group the students appropriately on the basis of those factors and address each group with the teaching strategy and skills that best match the groups needs. Teachers can use the information from the running records to create groups as well as reading partners matched by reading levels. Through the conduction of the running records, the teachers now have the information needed to appropriately differentiated instruction.
The data from the running records has provided us with the knowledge of the skills our students need to improve and sometimes gives us some understanding of our students’ thinking process (learning strategy). As mentioned above, we will group our students according to the skills they need to improve, such as phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, accumulating the text, making personal connections, infer & interpret, compare & contrast, envisioning, critiquing, making predictions, retelling, summarizing, developing theories about characters and using text evidence to support their thinking.
These skills cover a range of levels and most of the skills can be practiced and developed at each reading level. Differentiated reading instruction is implemented in my classroom during our Reading Workshop (a 90-minute block everyday). The period begins with the whole class gathering in the meeting area of the room and the teacher (making a link to the previous lesson if possible) introduces the skill we are going to be learning and applying to our independent reading today. The teacher models the skill, the class discusses what they noticed, and the students turn to their reading partners and try it for themselves.
While the students are doing this, the teacher observes several partners at work and interjects when further assistance is needed. The class will then have independent reading time to practice the skill and take notes on what they are doing and/or realizing on post-it notes or their readers notebook. This is when the teacher can devote time to small groups for differentiated instruction. One approach to small group conferencing is a Guided Reading lesson in which the teacher provides support (scaffolding) while students read a selected text at the appropriate reading level.
The teacher is to assist students with a variety of strategies to identify words and construct meaning from the passage. Instruction from the teacher is primarily supplied through questioning students and scaffolding more accurate responses when they make errors during reading. This is an excellent teaching strategy when focusing on skills revolving around the meaning of text and should be used with the children that needed to improve their comprehension skills based upon the running records. Another differentiated teaching strategy that can be implemented during small group conferencing is a Skill-Focused lesson.
Skill-focused lessons are teacher-planned lessons that provide the opportunity for more systematic and focused practice on a relatively small number of critical elements at a time. These lessons are helpful in insuring the mastery of elements like letter-sound knowledge, phonemic decoding strategies, contextual decoding strategies, critical vocabulary, or reading comprehension. These lessons usually involve some word work in order to build fluency and confidence in the application of these skills to reading words.
This teaching strategy focuses on building specific word analysis skills that were identified through the running records. Running records are useful and important assessment tools for identifying students’ levels and abilities and provide great insight for developing differentiated reading instruction. Running records supply us with the information we need to pin point each individuals’ areas of concern (skills that need improvement) and an understanding of how our students process information.
This enables educators to plan and modify their teaching to best match the needs of every student in the classroom. This is differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction is not the abolishment of whole-group instruction or individualized education plans for every student. This modified type of teaching is the incorporation of whole class direction and small group conferences that provides the training and practice of skills at a range of levels that matches your classroom. These strategies enable teachers the opportunities to effectively and efficiently guide the students to improve their abilities.
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