This is part of Geneviève DeBose’s Getting Better Together work. Geneviève and all the Teaching Channel Laureates are going public with their practice and seeking support in getting better from colleagues and the Tch community.
What happens when a group of educators collaborate to meet the diverse needs of their students? A lot of reflection, dialogue, sharing, and learning!
In November I kicked off my Getting Better Together focus of meeting the needs of diverse learners. My team and I made a number of shifts to our process and practice and I’ve shared ten of them below. As I thought through everything we’ve done, I found that our work seems to fall into three main categories — Data and Information, People Power, and Curriculum and Assignments.
DATA & INFORMATION
Tip 1: Meet as a team to closely read and learn from every student’s IEP.
This may sound like an obvious step, but I had never sat down with my grade-level team to go through each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). A team member who was more familiar with IEPs and our students guided us through the process, and each educator who worked directly with that student completed an IEP At-a-Glance sheet to use in our own practice. We discussed annual goals, suggested modifications, and strategies that have been successful with each student in the past.
Tip 2: Make a “cheat sheet” that shows students’ IEP and/or ELL classifications and modifications.
One of my colleagues and I created a one-page, color coded “cheat sheet” that lists every student with special needs, and every student who is an English language learner in the 7th grade. For us, that’s about 30 students. Across the top (x-axis) are a series of modifications, such as:
- Graphic organizers
- Audio and/or visual aids
- Guided or Cloze Notes
- Chunked Text
- Scaffolding/Break Down Into Chunks
- Word Banks
- Sentence Starters
- Small Groups
Down the side (y-axis) are the three classes students are in. In the middle are all of our students’ names in the respective spaces, based on the modifications that work best for them. At the bottom of the page, in a separate chart, are the students listed by their IEP and/or ELL classification.
This chart sits on my clipboard and I refer to it as I’m planning lessons, assessments, and groupings. It’s a helpful, one-stop tool for me to use to support my students and their learning.
Tip 3: Create a one-page spreadsheet of students’ reading levels.
It seems like there are a million ways to find out a student’s reading level. Our school relies on a number of resources like iReady, Fountas and Pinnel (F&P), and this year, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. One of my colleagues created a very simple spreadsheet that includes the following information for each student in each class:
- 6th grade ELA state test score
- F&P level at the end of 6th grade
- F&P level at the beginning of 7th grade
- iReady level for vocabulary
- iReady level of comprehension of literature
- iReady level of comprehension of informational texts
I loved her simple spreadsheet and created one for all of my reading classes. It helps me to differentiate texts and have conversations with students about their learning.
Tip 4: Train paraprofessionals in the room to conduct reading conferences with students.
In one of my classes, we are blessed to have four adults in the room — two teachers and two paraprofessionals. At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t supporting the paraprofessionals to serve as instructional support providers to multiple students in our class.
Two days a week, we have independent reading time where students get to enjoy a text of their choice at their independent reading level. I trained both of the paraprofessionals on how to conduct a reading conference and then split our students up into four groups, so that the four educators in the room were each responsible for conducting a reading conference with each student at least once a week. Conference notes are taken and kept in a binder accessible to all of us.
Tip 5: Share lesson plans with paraprofessionals ahead of time.
This sounds so simple, but I got the email address of each adult in the room in order to share lesson plans and an overview of the week with them. This way they know what’s planned, what the week’s goals are, and what their role is. I also print out a copy of the lesson plan for each of them so it’s accessible when they come to class.
Tip 6: Split the class into smaller groups, each facilitated by an adult in the room.
My co-teacher and I use parallel teaching often, but in the class where we have four adult educators, we now work to split our students into four groups for more targeted instruction. These groups may be structured where each of us is teaching the same thing to a smaller group of students. There can also be stations, where our students travel to a station that teaches or reviews a skill they’re struggling with. Many of our students have mentioned they enjoy being in a group with a lower student-to-teacher ratio.
Tip 7: Give each adult in the room a small group of students to monitor and support.
With more than one adult educator in the room, it’s helpful to split the class into groups and give each adult a small number of students to monitor and focus on. We use a simple tracking sheet where adult educators can check if students are on task, and record any conversations, areas of strength, or areas of concern about a particular student’s progress that day. In a 45-minute class with close to 30 students, it’s a quick way to ensure that our eyes, ears, and hearts are focused on, and with, every student in the room.
CURRICULUM & ASSIGNMENTS
Tip 8: Modify assignments to make them more accessible to every student.
We’ve talked as a 7th grade team about the easiest ways to modify assignments for our students. With so many students at different levels, it can feel nearly impossible to modify each and every assignment all of the time. While we often use the modification cheat sheet mentioned in Tip 2, I find myself using sentence starters, word banks, leveled texts, and cloze notes most frequently for my students who are English language learners and struggling readers. Resources like NewsELA.com and ReadWorks.org, support me in finding texts at varying levels. While modifying can feel overwhelming, the more frequently I use these tools, the more successful I feel as a teacher and my students feel as learners.
Tip 9: Survey students about their interests and use that feedback to guide curriculum.
Just before our current writing unit focused on editorials, and the reading unit focused on understanding informational texts, we surveyed students about topics they were most interested in learning about. Across the 7th grade, some of the most popular topics were social media, video games, YouTube, dating, music, and movies. We used these topics to guide our unit and the selection of texts. We also survey students anonymously every three weeks to get their general feedback about our class. We ask them the following five questions, and use that data to inform our instruction and to shift classroom norms and culture:
- What do you like about our class so far? Why?
- What could be better about our class? Why?
- Are you able to learn in this space? Why or why not?
- What feedback and ideas do you have for your teachers to improve our class?
- Is there anything else you want to share?
Tip 10: Create songs and chants to go along with the skills and content we’re learning.
I’ve always been a fan of music and chants in the classroom. I even brought my guitar into our classroom this year, even though we’ve only used it once. Working with students to create chants and songs about the skills and content we’re learning always seems to help ideas stick. This year, we created a simple chant to remember what the central idea of a text is. Getting middle schoolers to make a beat seems to be much easier than getting them to sing, but luckily we always have those brave few that lead the class in song and encourage their peers to join in.
To find the central idea, here’s what you do,
Think about what the text says to you,
Ask, what’s the message? What’s it mostly about?
That will help you figure it out!
With these shifts in our planning, instruction, and assessment, my team and I are curious to see if and how they help guide our students towards their goals. We’ll track this closely and in my next blog post I’ll let you know what we find.
When meeting the needs of your diverse learners, what’s worked best? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.
Geneviève is an educator, artist, and activist who has taught middle school for over a decade. She is a proud National Board Certified Teacher and U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow. Geneviève strongly believes that education is a tool for social justice and empowerment, and that learning experiences for children should be culturally relevant, student-centered, and interactive. She started her teaching career as a 1999 Teach for America corps member and currently serves as a commissioner on the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. Geneviève is a seventh grade English Language Arts teacher at Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists in New York City. Connect with Geneviève on Twitter: @GenevieveDeBose.