In my classroom, differentiation takes the form of a variety of on-going assessments, opportunities for student choice, activities tailored to learning styles, and modified individual or group instruction. I see myself as the facilitator, while students become problem solvers and learn to be critical thinkers. I model my reader's workshop on this approach, adapting instruction to readers' individual needs while setting high expectations for all students.
Setting Up a Reader's Workshop for Differentiated Learning
My reader’s workshop consists of a mini-lesson that focuses on a certain skill or strategy, such as cause and effect. Students are dismissed to their seats to continue their independent or buddy reading, while I conduct guided reading and check in on the literature circle groups. The mini-lesson skill is the focus of our reading throughout the reader’s workshop period while additional reading activities introduce and guide students through learning experiences that meet and challenge their needs.
Helping Students Own Their Learning
Students must learn to be active participants in their learning, but they must have a direction to follow. To encourage all students to be involved in planning their academic goals and growth, I have them review their MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) scores (we take these reading assessment tests three times a year). I use the scores to create reading groups and tailor workshop activities based on grade-level, but I also use them to help students chart their progress. Students receive a breakdown of their scores and examine their needed zone of learning: word analysis and vocabulary, interpretive comprehension, or literary response.
During their post-assessment conference with me, students record their area of focus on the Shooting for Success Worksheet (PDF) and choose three specific skills within that area to focus on during reading. Following the assigned reading, they have until the end of a set period to complete an Area of Focus Worksheet (PDF) tailored to their need (i.e., word analysis, etc.). Afterwards, we have a whole class discussion on the reading. Each student can contribute to the discussion, but the responses are geared towards his or her area of focus. Although everyone is reading the same material, students are focusing on the particular skills they need to strengthen, as recorded on their worksheet.
Providing Students With Options
To motivate students on their journey towards being better readers, I use a theme: Dive Into a Good Book. At the beginning of the year I show video clips of various high divers I recorded from the Olympics. (You could also use pictures downloaded from the Internet.) I carry the theme over with artwork on their monthly logs and bookmarks. Ultimately, all divers hit the water, but each person's actual dive towards the water can be very different. Similar to the diver, all the students are heading towards the goal of becoming a good reader, but they have the opportunity to do it at their own pace and by focusing on their area of need. They are also given the choice to do independent, buddy reading as a "Dynamic Duo," or participate in a literature circle.
- Literature circles meet on a regular basis to discuss the book they have chosen to read. I give them a selection of books to choose from that are at a Lexile level everyone in the class can read. It is based on area of interest and not reading level. For example, right now I have literature circles based on Andrew Clements books. I give a quick book talk on each book and then dismiss students to choose a literature circle to join if they are interested. The differentiation occurs in the products completed for the readings, such as. In Literature Circles, students take on different literary roles (PDF). They are able to share their ideas and are required to take responsibility for their completed work. They are responsible for bringing their assigned worksheet during our discussions. Each student work on a different worksheet based on their area of focus.
- A Dynamic Duo is a pair of students that choose to buddy read. They may read the book together, or separately, and meet on an assigned schedule. They must complete a Dynamic Duo Discussion sheet, which requires journaling and the sharing of their responses. Students choose books from the Dynamic Duo book bin. They are at a Lexile level everyone in the class can read. Students choose the books based on their interests.
- For the advanced and GATE students, I have them complete a Reader’s Workshop Contract (PDF). In addition to their reading assignments, students choose to research a topic of their choice related to their book.
Assessing Students' Learning
Not every child can demonstrate what has been learned in the same manner. By providing students with an option of assessments tailored to their strengths and interests, I receive an assessment product of higher quality. These are some of the options I offer students:
- Tic-Tac-Toe Board: When a student has completed a book (independently, in a literature circle, or with a buddy), one activity on the a Tic Tac Toe Board must be completed. They range from easy to hard (lay-up, free throw, 3-pointer). The activities also represent products that are geared towards students’ varied multiple intelligences. Students continue crossing off activities on the board after completing each new book. They must make a tic-tac-toe line before getting a new board
- Menu: Advanced and GATE students have a menu of items to choose from to demonstrate learning of their chosen objectives. Examples of activities include creating PowerPoints, illustrated story maps or time lines, or acting out a news report.
- Book Reports: Every few weeks, we focus on a different strategy, such as inferring or questioning. Students complete a graphic organizer of their choice demonstrating comprehension of the story elements and understanding of the current strategy. The book reports are kept in a bin that students can flip through to choose their report. Multiple copies of the books are provided so students can complete a report of their choice.
As an extension of reader’s workshop, students are required to do daily reading homework. Their written assignments are differentiated based on the level of the guided reading group and the focus of the strategy. Some of the assignments that have been effective for my students include:
- Roll a cube: Students roll the dice and the prompt that is rolled is the response the student must provide. An example might be, “Compare yourself to a main character using a Venn diagram.” Students can make their own cubes too.
- Bookmark: Students reflect on their reading and record it on their bookmark.
- Journal Topic: Students have a chart of response topics. Students choose their response prompt for that evening, record it in their homework journal, and share it with the group the next day. Examples are, “Describe the setting,” or “Create a new title for the chapter.” Once that prompt has been used, students cross it off and must respond to a different one for the following assignment.
- Thoughts for Thursday: Letters are due every Thursday. Students may choose their topic from a Letter Prompt Menu (PDF), they then share it with their guided reading group on Thursday.
- Deck of cards: Students have a small stack of cards with fun prompts that are specific to literary elements. Sometimes I will deal the cards and other times students choose their own prompts. The prompts are categorized according to different skills, such as cause and effect, story structure, or vocabulary development.
- Internet: For advanced or GATE students, their reading prompts at times are posted on the class website. It is related to a Scholastic news article they have to read online.
Resources for Differentiating in a Reader's Workshop
The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners by Carol Ann Tomlinson
This is an excellent book written by the guru of differentiation.
Your Classroom Library – New Ways to Give it more Teaching Power by Scholastic
I use this to mini-lesson ideas and for differentiation of completed book projects.
Keep the Rest of the Class Reading & Writing….While You Teach Small Groups by Scholastic
I use these rubrics for students to complete self-evaluations. It also has great ideas and websites for author studies, book reports, genre studies, and individual research project templates.
100 Awesome Writing Prompts to Use With Any Book! by Scholastic
I use these as the prompts for the deck of cards homework assignments.