How will the teacher meet the needs of students at different levels?
As elementary teachers in the public schools, we have had more than 30 students in a class without another adult or assistant. In a first grade class, there would be students who did not know their letters or letter sounds. There would also be some students who were reading and comprehending at a fourth or fifth grade level. Thus, even if a class serves students at the same age, there are always a wide range of levels, learning styles, and personalities.
The advantage of our school is the small class size (a maximum of 12 students) and the experience of the teachers in providing differentiated instruction to individual students or small groups. We have studied, trained, and implemented models, such as Balanced Literacy and Teachers’ College, that focus on engaging students at their level, promoting inquiry and critical thinking, and encouraging positive peer interaction. We use consistent meaningful assessment (not standardized testing!), such as observation and evaluation of Socratic discussion, projects, and student reflection.
Through these assessments, we are able to gain a more comprehensive view of a child’s skill level and understanding in various areas. This allows us to develop personalized educational opportunities for each child. The opportunities may include independent learning activities, small groups with others working on similar skills, or a scaffolded learning option that groups students with complementing abilities. All of these experiences ensure that each child remains challenged and inspired as they progress and grow.