The school year is in full-swing and I’m doing my best to manage the 100+ middle schoolers I see each day. I haven’t taught this many students since my time as a 9th grade English teacher, so I forgot how tough it can be. Perhaps I erased those memories on purpose (as I stare at piles of papers in my “to grade” pile and sigh.)
This year, I’m taking a new approach with novels and using the EL Education module units. More on these units later, but let’s just say they are rigorous (yay!), yet move at a snail’s pace, especially since I have students for a grand total of 55 minutes each day.
Early on, I realized that I had a plethora of academic levels in each class. Every administrator, PD facilitator and the like enjoy throwing around the “differentiation” buzz word when it comes to real issues in the classroom. For instance, all of my classes are reading novels that are grade-level text. However, many are having difficulty with basic recall. Some struggle with fluency while others are not used to the stamina of reading independently.
I realized that something had to be done to make the curriculum accessible to most students. So I decided to create centers.
How I did it:
- First, I grouped students by levels based on the content. For example, in 7th grade, students are making inferences about characters, locating evidence and explaining how the inference supports a guiding question. This is some hard stuff for most students! So I paired students with peers who were mainly at the some level of thinking with this concept. I have groups who need a great deal of my assistance and then I have groups who need me to push their thinking further. This is differentiation that is meeting all students’ needs, especially those who need a challenge.
- I created the stations. With the help of my awesome Special Education push-in teacher, we created (and modified!) stations so that students could work independently while one group is working with the teacher. The stations we came up with are: vocabulary (with words from the class novel), writing, silent reading, grammar, small group.
- Writing: Students keep writing folders and complete a self-guided brainstorming packet. When they are finished, they let me know so I can look over their work and give them feedback. Then, they compose a draft on Google Docs. I read it and give more comments. Eventually, the student decides when their draft is ready to be submitted as a final copy. They can turn in as many drafts as they wish and receive feedback (obviously, there is a due date though!) I am hoping this encourages students to work at their own pace and make thoughtful revisions. Stay tuned…
- Grammar: I use NoRedInk as a place where students can practice grammar. I give a mini-lesson during the week so that students have notes to use as a reference. I use the free version on this website, although the paid version offers more options.
- Silent Reading: Students read in my library and complete a reading log.
- Vocabulary: Students have a list of words to define from the class novel. They look up the definition, part of speech and write a meaningful sentence. From the work students did this week, I already know that I have to do a mini-lesson on meaningful sentences!
- Small Group: This is where I work with students on the module lessons. I’ve noticed that students who are usually off-task and disruptive during whole-class lessons are more engaged during small group. I’m hoping this will help many of my students understand concepts that are usually quite challenging.
Overall, I like the centers and I think students do as well. Obviously, it takes some planning to set up and you have to remind students of center norms, as some will try to “chill” at the centers. My advice: Be sure you are holding them accountable for their work (or, lack of work). While I’m with my small group, I’m still watching each group like the teacher hawk that I am. The groups work best with about 4-5 students in each, although I have some groups with 6 students.
How do you meet the needs of your students? Tell me in the comments!