Differentiating Learning at Powhatan
by Evan Robb ’80
Students attending Powhatan School, like those around our country, have diverse strengths and needs. They bring with them diverse sets of experiences provided by their parents, but they also come with areas of interests in math and science or reading, writing, and history. When a school differentiates instruction in English language arts and content subjects, teachers develop curricula and learning practices to enhance students’ background knowledge, interests, strengths, and attends to improving their needs. An important goals of instructional reading is to have students choose books they can read, learn from, discuss, and write about. For example, Ann Robb has book clubs that invite students to select books to read in small groups—books that interest them and that they can read and comprehend independently. In Natalie Greenhalgh’s seventh grade class, students choose books for instructional reading around a theme such as justice and injustice or a genre, like memoir. Every student selects a different book and this brings multiple perspectives to their discussions and analyses of texts. Kelsi Bell organizes students into small, homogenous groups for instructional reading. Her students read and discuss books that stretch their thinking and they met reading challenges well because Kelsi supports each one. However, differentiation at Powhatan can and should move beyond the excellent work these teachers do. What follows are seven types of differentiation that meet students’ diverse needs.
Differentiated Teaching and Learning Practices That Work
These differentiated teaching and learning practices work in English language arts classes and in math, science, and history.
Station learning consists of four to six stations relating to a unit of study that offer differentiated practice to boost students’ understanding.
Choice boards re graphic organizers that invite students to choose different ways to learn about a topic or concept.
Guided learning groups are short term and ask teachers to organize students according to their needs and then provide learning that moves students forward with a concept or topic.
Collaborative projects relate to a unit of study and students work in teams to learn more about topics, ideas, and concepts related to their studies.
Blended learning is a mix of technology or e-learning with classroom instruction. Not only dos it increase student engagement, but what students do to learn can be tailored to their strengths and needs.
Student-led discussions offers students opportunities to create high order questions on a specific topic and then discuss their questions in small groups.
Project Based Learning (PBL) is a student-centered teaching method that asks students to investigate real world problems related to their studies. This type of learning includes inquiry, research, student choices, reflection and revision, and the four twenty-first century skills listed blow. PBL are long term projects that students work on using a part of class time over several weeks or months and create an informative presentation for their audience.
Such teaching and learning strategies offer all students opportunities to learn, improve, and engage in the four twenty-first century skills that are essential to students success as they continue their education and in the workplace: collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.