Differentiated instruction began hundreds of years ago in one room school houses.
When students began to be divided into grade levels, differentiated instruction was no longer seen as necessary. However, when standardized testing started, it soon became apparent that even within a grade level, students learn at different levels and in different ways.
Research shows that differentiated instruction benefits advanced learners as well as below level learners. There are also fewer disciplinary problems in classrooms with differentiated instruction. Students like to feel successful and they like choice. Differentiated instruction provides both.
Difficulties with Differentiation
The problem is that differentiated instruction requires a lot more planning time. This is a problem for teachers who are already short on time.
First Solution – Vary the Learning Activity
Solutions to this problem can be found with reading response choice menus. With a choice menu, students read any text on their level and then choose a question or an activity from the choice menu to respond to. Choice menus are great for centers or early finishers.
Within the choice menu, activities can be included to accommodate different learning styles. For example, after reading a fiction text, one choice could be to write a new ending to the story. Another choice could be to write a letter to the protagonist. Another Choice could be to write a question to the protagonist or the antagonist, or to write a reader’s theater based on the story. The possibilities are endless!
Second Solution – Differentiated Texts
Another way to differentiate is by providing materials at different levels. This is difficult because it usually requires more work to find suitable materials written on different levels. However there are wonderful new resources that were not available just a few years ago.
Today, it’s possible to find texts that are the same story, but written on two different levels. This type of resource has many advantages.
You can provide the same story to every student in your class. No one has to feel left out. The similarities help you to differentiate seamlessly, and most of your students will never know the difference.
What Do Differentiated Texts Look Like?
These are some similarities to look for in the two different levels.
- Illustrations that are identical in both levels
- Vocabulary that is identical in both levels
- Questions that are identical in both levels
- Plot, characters, and setting that are identical in both levels
Because of these similarities, the differences between texts passages are undetectable to most students. The differences lie in sentence length and structure.
- Sentence structure should be simpler in the lower level text.
- Fewer complex sentences should be included.
- Sentences should be shorter.
The easier sentence structure makes the text accessible for below level students to read.
Differentiating During Guided Reading
Differentiated passages are perfect to use during guided reading. Your groups can be comprised of students reading on different levels. This makes planning for your groups much simpler. Simpler mean less planning time.
Here’s how to use differentiated passages In guided reading groups. Students read silently until they are instructed by the teacher to read aloud. The teacher takes this opportunity to do an informal running record, or she simply listens to the student read, making notes as to the student’s strengths and areas he needs to work on.
When that student has read a paragraph or two, the teacher asks a couple of comprehension questions about the text the student just read. The teacher makes notes about the student’s answers. Then, the student goes back to reading silently, and the teacher listens to the next student read aloud.
When not reading aloud or answering teacher questions, all other students in the guided reading group are reading silently. This is an excellent way to differentiate during guided reading.
Differentiating During Whole Group
Another way to use differentiated stories is in whole group. After a mini lesson on a particular skill and introduction of the passage, students break into groups to read the passage with a partner. While most of the students are reading with a partner, the teacher reads with a small group of students who need more support.
When everyone has finished reading, the teacher calls the class back together to discuss the passage. Everyone can join in the discussion because everyone has read the same story! No one feels left out. Everyone is motivated to continue digging deeper into the text because everyone feels successful.
Shared Reading Experiences
It is important for your entire class to have many shared reading experiences. When everyone in the class has read many of the same texts, you can revisit those texts to teach similarities across texts, such as themes that are recurrent in literature.
Of course, not all texts need to be shared with the entire class. It is also important for students to self select text in which they are uniquely interested.
You can get an entire years worth of differentiated passages in both fiction and nonfiction. The passages are written with themes that are appropriate for each month during the school year. Each month includes four fiction and four nonfiction texts. That’s a total of 72 passages, each written on two levels. The texts are identical except for sentence structure and length. Vocabulary is the same. Questions are the same.
Four poems are also included each month. An additional bonus is also included–four activities for learning stations for each month. That’s a total of 36 poems and 36 learning stations activities.
If you would like a free sample of these differentiated stories, you can grab a copy here. It is ready to be used with your class, including the text on two levels with questions and answer key.
A great tool to have in your teaching tool kit, this packet will provide you with differentiated passages regardless of the genre you are studying or the time of year.