One of the most critical responsibilities of any teacher is to recognize (and when necessary, seek out) the potential in each student. Though some may struggle or seem easily bored, it is important to remember that every child wants to learn. To promote achievement among all students, we must understand and respond to all the factors that play into readiness for a particular lesson, including cultural and linguistic background, learning style, personal interests, and learning disability or other exceptionality.
In response to the school’s December theme of Winter Holidays, I created a lesson for my fourth graders that represented some of my best practices in regards to sensitive and individualized differentiation that allows all students to access the content while remaining appropriately challenged. This lesson achieves Standard D indicators 1-3.
Referencing a variety of reliable texts, I wrote an eleven-paragraph informational text about the winter solstice and the modern holiday traditions that were inspired or influenced by ancient solstice celebrations. While composing the text I kept in mind the vocabulary level, reading level, and historical background knowledge of the class as a whole (most of the students are about one grade-level behind in their reading abilities and have had little education in European history), as well as their ethnic and religious backgrounds (all students in the class are Hispanic and/or African-American, and most are practicing Christians).
Because we had been teaching students to identify the main idea of passages and paragraphs, I decided to do a variation on the “jigsaw” lesson model in which each pair of students would be responsible for reading one paragraph of the text and sharing a one-sentence summary (or main idea) of that paragraph. Pairing the students and assigning them just the right paragraph to read was the most important part of planning this lesson. First I examined students’ recent performance on test questions focused on main idea. I also considered students’ individual vocabularies and reading comprehension skills. Then I paired the students whose strengths would complement each other during this exercise. I was also careful to pair students who would work well together. When they were done reading, the students shared the main ideas of their paragraphs and I wrote them in sequence on a chart paper. In the end, we had a student-generated summary of the text, which reinforced the concept of main idea.
For samples of the paragraphs and a description of how I chose the students for each one, please click on "Winter Solstice Lesson" to the left.