Guest Educator

Offering Equal Challenges

by Helen Gallagher

This month’s Guest Educator, Helen Gallagher, is Director of Academic Affairs at Rosemont School of the Holy Child, an independent PreK-8 Catholic school. MetroKids invites educators to contribute articles that offer insights to other teachers and parents. Please send ideas to editor@metrokids.com

While there are many issues that separate academic cultures in independent and public schools, there is also one universal mission: how best to reach and guide students of different abilities and interests to achieve their fullest potential in the same classroom.

Even in a subject such as literature, where there is a broad spectrum of comprehension in virtually every grade, there are strategies that are effective, interesting and challenging for all students.

It is a given that small-group settings are particularly effective in meeting the needs of students with different learning styles and abilities. However, even within larger classrooms, where the student-teacher ratio exceeds 20 to 1, educators can employ some of the techniques in the examples that follow to help their students.

Students in English class may be assessed to determine their grasp of grammar concepts. This assessment may be given on grammar skills themselves or on skills that are incorporated into writing.

Students experiencing difficulty with the initial presentation of their topic can be instructed in a group and then given follow-up activities to discuss and complete to demonstrate understanding. Those still experiencing difficulty can meet individually with the teacher.

Students who have mastered the material can be given extension activities that apply the skill or use it with previously taught skills.

Learning groups change continually as students are pre-tested to gauge their knowledge on a certain topic. Students are often grouped according to interest levels or even randomly. Group members are ex-pected to contribute equally to an activity, project or topic. Students learn from each other and experience a feeling of collaborative success.

Students also may be given trade books of varying difficulty on a common theme. Questions concerning the theme are addressed in a literature circle. Responses are shared in student-guided sessions. This approach accommodates different reading levels and stimulates open-ended participation; students can be taught that every opinion counts.

At the lower school level, students can be provided with different instructional techniques, such as plays, modeling, writing, listening, and reinforcements, to accommodate divergent learning styles. While varying approaches within the classroom enhance achievement opportunities for the students, classroom differentiation also provides greater challenges for the teachers. Sufficient preparation time and organization skills are essential to address the needs of individual students. This personal attention re-quires strong teacher dedication and continual professional growth.

Meeting students in one-on-one conferences allows for updates on their progress and the opportunity to devise strategies to improve their classroom performance. High-achieving students also can be provided with opportunities for continuing research and more advanced reading.