Just Good Teaching!
Differentiating in Today's Diverse Classrooms
One of my favourite things about teaching in Hamilton, Ontario is the diverse makeup of my classes. I get to teach children from all sorts of backgrounds and religions. While this presents a challenge in trying to tap into all of their interests and schema, it adds to the richness of our learning environment.
This year, I taught a grade 2 class in a very culturally diverse school. We were Christians, Muslims, non-denominational, African-Canadians, Japanese-Canadians, new Canadians and those who would soon be returning to their home countries. With such a mix, it was imperative that I created an atmosphere of acceptance and safety. Books like "How Full Is Your Bucket", "Something Beautiful", "I Love My Hair", "Amazing Grace", "A to Zen" and "Don't Laugh At Me" really helped me to foster an environment of acceptance, compassion and even curiosity about each other's experiences.
One of the most important things I've learned after 17 years of teaching is that differentiation is not just for students on IEPs. It isn't only about meeting the needs of those few truly struggling students in my class, by modifying and accomodating. No, differentiating is about every student and doing all that I can to help each one to be successful. Really, differentiating is simply good teaching!
Here's a great article on the idea of "personalized instruction".
This seems a daunting task, and can feel impossible at times. I've learned the importance of getting to know my students as best I can, in as many ways as I can in order to meet this tall order to the best of my abilities. At the start of each year, I build a class profile. I gather data on my students using DRA, OWA and Leaps and Bounds. However, I also use tools like parent surveys and multiple intelligence quizzes to get to know my students outside of their academic abilities. The more I know my students, the better I can use that information to build programs that are more individualized. Knowing my students will allow me to offer them better choices, geared to their learning style and preferences. I love to use choice boards for this:
There are a tremendous number of books and all sorts of research and data now telling us that many boys are falling behind in literacy and in school in general. As teachers, we need to know the data, believe in what it illustrates and be ready to make changes so that our boys are not falling behind.
I have found a few simple strategies that have helped me in this area, such as building action into my lessons whenever possible and using/providing technology. Some helpful sites we can use in our balanced literacy programs are Tumblebooks, Into The Book, Reading Rockets, and our Ontario Educator's website where you can search for all kinds of activities. Some terrific sites that you do have to pay for, but which you can recommend to parents are Raz Kids and Reading Eggs .
My classroom library has been diversified over the years to attempt to meet the interests of my boys. Let me share some of their favourites:
This certainly isn't all of them, but these include some titles that both my students and my own 2 sons really love.
One thing I found interesting at a conference I recently attended, is that boys tend to enjoy books that have more active text than flowery, descriptive scenes. Leonard Sax, author of Boys Adrift, explained that boys who reject the Twilight series will read The Hunger Games because of the exciting action, suspense and sharp language of the text, even though both are essentially romance stories.
Check out the School Library Associations recommendations for 5-11 year olds!!
English Language Learners
Another group of students we need to consider when thinking about diversifying our practices are those who are learning English. Often, we are faced with students who may not speak or understand any English. Usually, our ELLs do have some English experience, but their grasp of the language can really vary.
I've also learned that these students in particular often need to feel safe in the classroom. They can't learn English without being willing to take risks and make mistakes. It's my job to help them feel secure. I need to tap into their experiences and schema whenever I can, encouraging them to share about their home country or their first language. I have found that many of my ELL students have been very bright and excel in Math, so this is a place I can celebrate them and really play up their strengths. I also need to make sure that my students see themselves in the texts I use in my lessons. Both my classroom library and my teaching material need to reflect the makeup of my student population. I must support language with visuals and have a word-rich classroom.