Dear concerned 4th Grade Teacher,
I am trying to keep a positive attitude; however, like you, I have some concerns. I believe as educators, we cannot throw out researched best practices that are effective in our classrooms. If we do, there will be gaps in inferencing and higher level thinking. I, too, share your concerns about differentiated materials. My interpretation is that it is appropriate to differentiate independent practice, not classroom instructional materials as it robs students of the exposure to the text that they need to learn to navigate.
As we strive for inclusive classrooms, I understand your concern. Realistically, asking someone on a 2nd grade reading level to read a 6th grade book is unrealistic. Keep in mind that there is a difference between individualized and differentiated instruction. When you differentiate, you consider learning styles and provide choices. I have learned that students who struggle will navigate more challenging material when given the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding using preferred learning styles and when given choices. I think students are more invested in taking ownership for their learning. When you individualize, you tier lessons, and meet the students at their independent levels. I think we need to balance learning experiences in the classroom to encompass both pedagogical approaches. I believe we are being asked to stop spoon feeding students, which may result in learned helplessness. It is a throw-the-bird-out-of-the-nest approach to force them to fly--a holistic approach. If you have ever studied a second language, you understand how students who are immersed in the language pick it up faster than those who only speak the second language in the classroom. Again, I am cautious about limiting myself to one approach because all my students are not holistic learners.
There does need to be more focus on nonfiction literature and content area reading as most students, even our highest achievers, are a grade level or two lower in reading nonfiction as opposed to fiction. Most college and career reading is nonfiction. It is overwhelming; I agree. Take Care.
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