Differentiating Reading Instruction

To successfully differentiate instruction, we need to see both the big picture and the components that complete it.

To support you in this process of putting it – and keeping it all together, the first three chapters in my book examine the big picture - what needs to be in place at the classroom and intervention level, and the typical issues that arise during the transition to differentiated instruction, in terms of organizing and managing the day-to-day reading program. These are applicable whether or not you work within a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework.

The next three chapters include a teacher toolkit of lesson sequences to target common areas of student difficulty, along with guided practice and independent activities for each component of reading: word-solving, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

The CD accompanying the book contains over 150 reproducible lesson sequences, interactive teaching tools such as picture-cued strategy-based charts, bookmarks, puppets and game cards, together with supporting independent practice tasks. Several examples are included here, as well as on the website page on Implementing Differentiated Literacy Centers.

Key points from the book and workshop training are summarized in the following five steps. A 35 page Study Guide designed to support Professional Learning Communities, school or district-wide in-services, and self-directed study can also be found on the CD.

Five Steps to Putting It All Together

1. Gather Assessment Data to Plan Instruction:

  • Chapter 2 describes how to compile the assessment information you need to plan efficiently and effectively for differentiated instruction. A number of forms for collecting data, monitoring student progress and planning intervention are included on the CD. It is here we answer questions such as the following:
    • Why is knowing the profile of a students as a reader and a learner important?
    • How can we create an intervention plan? What does it look like?
    • What can we do when a student is not meeting progress-monitoring goals?
    • How can we organize assessment data to facilitate collaboration and consistency within and across grade levels
  • Teachers construct a profile of each student student’s reading goal(s) by correlating information on how:
    • the student operates on text or their strategic actions – their profile as a reader
    • they go about learning within different social and physical contexts – their profile as a learner
  • Recording this data on the graphic organizers enables teachers to see the status of student learning at-a-glance.

2. Organize and Manage the Daily Program

While we are all aware of the need for differentiation and understand the rationale, it is the unanswered how (teaching practices), when (scheduling), and with what (materials) questions that all too often get in the way of effective implementation. Chapter 3 addresses these critical questions:

  • Organizing small groups for differentiated instruction, targeted and intensive intervention.
  • Implementing differentiated independent practice tasks for the ‘rest of the class’ alongside small-group instruction. This may include centers or stations and/or a Choice Board menu of tasks.
  • Choice Board Icons are found on the CD, with descriptions of suggested activities for each of the six icons in chapter 3. See the website page on Differentiated Literacy Centers for more examples.
  • Teaching practices that make grade-level texts accessible to low progress readers; inclusive teaching structures; incorporating all-student responses; using common visuals and language.
  • Increasing the minutes students are practicing reading skills with instructional and independent-level text

3. Differentiate Word-Solving Instruction
(Phonemic Awareness and Phonics)

  • Chapter 4 addresses all-important questions about planning and implementing effective word-solving instruction and provides a menu of lessons and guided practice activities that support transfer to independent reading and spelling.

Menu of Lessons and Practice Tasks:

  • Interactive teaching tools, such as strategy charts and other visuals support demonstrations, while student strategy bookmarks allow students to talk about their learning in a focused way.
  • Options for organizing students into word-solving groups are described along with sample schedules.
  • A set of 16 picture-cued, step-by-step independent practice task cards are provided on the CD to support the rotation of small group lessons and independent practice. In the example here, all students rotate through the teacher table on Monday, then complete the same task, but with their group’s [differentiated] word sort on Tuesday to Thursday.
  • Examples of lesson sequences explain how to target specific skills and strategies. Templates for these are also provided on the CD, so that they can be at your fingertips during lessons.

4. Differentiate Fluency Instruction

  • Chapter 5 provides lesson sequences, interactive tools and student practice tasks that address these aspects of fluency instruction:
  • Accuracy and rate reading high frequency words with irregular spellings
  • Appropriate phrasing – recognizing phrase boundaries and reading meaningful groups of words together
  • Appropriate expression – attending to intonation cues in the text to maintain the meaning and grammatical integrity of the passage

Menu of Lessons and Practice Tasks:

  • Resources to support teaching and student learning include lesson sequences, picture-cued strategy charts, student bookmarks and self-monitoring tools.
  • Multimodal guided and independent practice tasks activate multiple pathways to the brain and enhance learning (Picture-Story Word cards available at www.child-1st.com).

5. Differentiate Comprehension Instruction

  • In chapter 6 we examine common profiles of need, lesson sequences to address these, and multimodal learning tools for teaching vocabulary and comprehension strategies.

Menu of Lessons and Practice Tasks:

  • Visual and tactile memory aids include strategy charts, icons and bookmarks that represent the steps in applying each strategy.
  • Strategy icons provide an analogy for each strategy and make abstract concepts concrete for students. These are used in a number of ways, including think-alouds/think-alongs, where you and the students can touch or point to the skill/strategy that represents your thinking as you speak.
  • Game formats using picture cards that illustrate the concept engage and instruct.
  • Graphic organizers, strategy placemats and strategy booklets provide resources for both guided practice and independent application.
  • Role play cards can be made into popsicle stick puppets to engage students to think aloud about their own strategy use, just as you did in the demonstrations. Students take turns holding the puppets up as they describe their thinking during turn-and-talk discussions and groups sharing. For example, the Stop and Fix Role-Play cards represent the clarifying and visualizing strategies; the electrician and the builder represent the process of making connections.
  • You will also find chants and songs for each of the comprehension strategies to access a further pathway to the reading brain of our students.

With years of experience as a classroom teacher, special education resource teacher, reading specialist and literacy coach to guide her, Margo now enjoys her role as an educational consultant with school districts across the United States and Canada. Margo's books and training are designed to support teachers in developing highly effective, differentiated literacy programs.

Differentiating Reading Instruction for Student Success: Current Neuroscience and Reading Research in Action
Copyright 2007-2009 Margo Southall - Developed by GoLogo