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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Learning how to drive is an exhilarating experience, unless you're the parent sitting in the passenger seat. My son passed driver's ed, and he needs to clock hours driving with a parent -- that would be me. I plan those driving experiences based on his readiness, such as empty parking lots, neighborhood streets, light and heavy traffic, highway, and night driving. (The latter two may be more an issue of my comfort level.) With each planned experience, his confidence grows toward passing his driving exam.

In education, all students must be successful, yet for various reasons, classrooms everywhere fall short of this objective. Equally true is that teachers come to work every day with a lesson plan that is intended to foster learning by addressing Content, Process, and Product.

Teachers want students to succeed and follow lesson plans that are intended to help them achieve. So why are some learners not meeting learning expectations?

Lesson planning and instruction of content, process, and product are only half of the equation. The other part is how students respond through readiness, interests, and learning profiles. Effective differentiation and, by extension, student learning, must make the tasks and focus appealing to students. They must believe that the activities are achievable and make sense. Later blog posts will address interests and learning profiles. Readiness is our focus here.

What is Readiness?

Instruction should begin where the student's skill level currently exists. Think of a time when you felt frustrated about learning something. Maybe it was a technology tool or a college course. When others around you seem to "get it," you start to wonder if you don't belong. Of equal concern is being in a course that feels like a waste of time because there is little new to learn -- the course feels like purgatory.

Readiness uses formative assessments to find and evaluate the gaps between student understanding and learning targets at a lesson and unit level. The gap informs us of what each student needs to progress. Some learners will achieve at a pace that meets the artificial timelines established by the curriculum. Others will finish much sooner, and will need a different level of challenge to maintain their ongoing learning. A portion of the students will not meet the objectives in time unless additional scaffold supports are put in place. Readiness means ensuring that all learners are given complex work that is respectful of their current skill levels.

Readiness Strategies and Considerations

Teachers already have the tools to meet the readiness needs of all students. A cycle of formative assessment is critical. Tracking student progress on a daily basis informs us about who needs interventions for scaffolds or greater complexity. Some examples include:

  • Exit tickets
  • Two- to four-question quizzes
  • Journaling
  • Observational checklists
  • Student questions
  • Work product

For heterogeneous groups of students with diverse learning skills, collaboration helps develop understanding of content. These groupings succeed when the tasks enable students to bring forth their strengths, such as experience in the applied area (interests) and different ways of exploring the concepts via multiple intelligences (learning profiles). Here are examples for fostering dialogue that will allow all students to contribute in all content areas:

  1. Jigsaw Strategy:
  2. Learning Centers:
  3. Readers Workshop:
  4. RAFTs:
  5. Think Dots and Cubing:

Another strength of heterogeneous groups is addressing skill gaps that prohibit access to content. Some solutions for students include providing them with materials at different reading levels, or having peers read aloud material for those with lower reading levels. Such strategies enable all students to assist with application and critical thinking of content on an even playing field. During these group activities, teachers can pull out individual or small groups of students for strategic coaching in needed areas.

Tiering takes an activity developed for meeting the learning target, and creates different versions. One type addresses skill gaps with scaffolds, and another stretches students who have already mastered the learning outcomes (resources). Identifying student skill level through formative assessments is critical. The tiering strategy is efficient in ensuring that all students are working on leveled needs. Guided reading groups and guided math groups are typically organized by skill level so as to give students focused support. Many effective learning strategies can be tiered, including the ones listed above for heterogeneous grouping.

Now, Not Later

Some teachers raise time as a common concern to differentiate. Addressing readiness in lessons right now will save time in the long term. People feel valued when time is dedicated to meeting their needs and when they can see the effort going into their targeted support. Addressing readiness ensures that skill gaps are addressed and that frustration levels stay low. This reduces long-term concerns of students falling further and further behind. Ignoring student needs is not an option. When we absolutely know their specific readiness needs, we respond. It's why we teach.
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Differentiated Instruction
When it comes to how students learn, one size does NOT fit all.

Comments (3) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Marjan Glavac's picture

I really enjoyed using the exit tickets. It gave me great feedback on the teaching day. I also liked using the student questions. More of the resources I used can be found at my website: www.TheBusyEducator.com Hope it helps.

Jordan Davis's picture

This was very helpful to read as a current 6th grade special education inclusion/resource teacher. I'm working each day to make sure I can differentiate the content and remediation of skills each day is supported by my students as partners and working independently. I found the readiness steps especially helpful to show their learning in multiple ways throughout the learning process. I am trying to make sure my students have a way to identify and create their understanding of what they have learned even with having to reteach with more time. My students have benefited from creating their own math problems using numbers and a modeled example to practice creating and solving their own problems using one concept. I want to have my students especially in math complete a daily exit ticket of the concepts learned and have a place for them to write down any questions that they have for me to know. Also, I'm trying to think of more ways to use hands on learning and incorporate movement into my lessons to help them apply what they have learned again in more than one way. Even for my students that may need more help, I want to still give them opportunities to create their knowledge and present it in other ways than just solving them on a practice worksheet, quiz, or test.

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