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All You Can Learn: Differentiated Instruction Inspires Young Writers

Cal Joy

Former High School Art and Science Teacher in Queensland, Australia.
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Cal Joy is Edutopia's Director of Web Development and resident pancake breakfast maker extraordinaire. She spent a weekend in LA to attend the 826 reading, and had this to report.

Baking a book takes time. 826LA intern Neekta Khorsand has worked with Los Angeles student, Brian Young and his forty-three fellow student authors on location at Dorsey High for several months. Their delicious creation is From the Couch to the Kitchen: A Book to Indulge In. 826ers believe in meeting students where they are academically, providing one-on-one attention, and understanding students' individual learning histories. Differentiated instruction focuses on each student, getting the right ingredients needed to nurture their skills. Approaching all learners the same academically doesn't work. 826 writing programs focus on where students are in their learning process. Using individually prepared instruction, 826LA takes a custom approach connecting each student's skill level to an appropriate assignment.

"Whenever you are, we're already then." Provocative statements are not the only creative challenges to greet you at 826LA (left); 826 stores boldly embrace unique themes. Enter the 826LA Time Travel Mart and you'll be warmly greeted by time travel expert Shannon Losorelli.

Credit: Cal Joy

The Time Travel Mart is stocked with essential items critical for young travelers (left); Proof is found in the pudding. 826 creates project learning programs where students publish all manner of finished products, newspapers, books, and films. Maren Levinson reviews a new title in the 826LA bookstore.

Credit: Cal Joy

All 826 centers cater to students, aged six to eighteen, with the goal of assisting students with their writing skills and helping teachers get their classes excited about creative writing. 826 provides in-school support for classroom teachers the current sister centers include Ann Arbor, Boston, Chicago, DC, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle. 826 National is the umbrella organization that coordinates and encourages groups to open their own 826 tutoring and mentorship centers.

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Luria Learning's picture
Luria Learning
3rd Grade Teacher and Founder of Luria Learning

I think it is so important that we reach each student where they are. One thing that I have started doing is video taping my mini-lessons. That way, instead of teaching the mini-lesson to the whole class, I can assign a lesson when the student is ready. After the student watches the video, we can talk about it an conference. This way my time is spent really talking with the student, not explaining the same skill and ideas over and over.

Here is one of my mini-lessons on creating more interesting sentences.

Karla Valenti's picture
Karla Valenti
Empowering parents to empower their children (

Storytelling is a tremendous way to empower children! It allows them engage their multiple intelligences and imagination at their own level and to use it to connect with others in a meaningful way. This simple exercise teaches children that they have the ability (regardless of how that ability compares to others) to impact others and the world around them. What's interesting about integrating differentiation into a storytelling setting is that it not only allows learners to embrace their differences as opportunities to develop unique and original content (shifting from viewing differentiation as a way of "remedying" subpar skills) but it allows for a collaborative learning experience insofar as the audience's feedback contributes to the development of the storyteller's skills (that is, it isn't simply a teacher or mentor giving guidance). This kind of collaborative experience is especially powerful in a virtual learning system.

Virtual storytelling is something in which I am particularly interested. I recently launched a virtual global art and storytelling initiative designed precisely to empower children through collaborative creativity. The project is called Rock Thoughts ( and essentially provides a virtual space where children can explore their creativity based on other's creative output and feedback. This dynamic generates a process where participants work to inspire each other to improve their individual skills.

What makes this concept powerful is that it puts the learning and development in the hands of the creators and it gives them a collaborative space in which to develop these skills. The effect is to inspire children to take ownership of their learning. Storytelling is a very valuable teaching tool and efforts to encourage it should most certainly be applauded. Thank you for writing this piece!

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