images by Carol Tomlinson
I have recently joined a new gym- and I love it! It is not shiny, flashy, or overly exciting.
It is consistent, clear, and functional. It meets my fitness needs: pushes me to my limit, keeps my engaged, and is easy to follow.
Like any gym, the fitness level of the members is all over the place- yet we all show up for the same class, same instructors (2), and we all follow the same routine.
Me, I am in ok shape- but I have a long way to go to say I am in good shape. There are a few members that look like David. Yet, we all show up and we all get an awesome workout....
This got me thinking about how can these two non-teacher Ed instructors lead such a diverse group of participants. They are supporting all of us in meeting our fitness needs within the 45-60 minute class.
Different than classrooms, but this gym is still met with the task of differentiating the activities for all participants- people will stop showing up if they do not feel they are being targeted.
How do they do it?
How do they do it?
1. They create one consistent, clear, and easy-to-follow lesson. There are no hidden connections, they use a repetitive format, and they provide both verbal and visual (on screen) models for participants to follow.
2. They start with a short mini-lesson that demonstrates the tasks, some basic modifications, and it includes everyone. Since the mini-lesson is short, they use short sentences paired with a model. Words match actions.
3. They break us into small groups. We remain with our group as we go to each station (or activity). Not only do we have the visual model, but the instructors (again 2 of them) walk around and support us with modifications, if necessary, or tips to improve our technique.
How can I apply this insight in the classroom?
1. Be consistent & clear: Predictable is ok! Students are going to school to learn, not to have their mind blown in excitement. Create consistent expectations that weave through ALL your lessons, activities, and aspects of the teaching day. Keep them simple, keep them short, and constantly review them- to the point that students can recite them in their sleep! Students need to understand what is expected of them in the classroom- of course some people thrive on 'flying by the seat of their pants'. Spontaneous learning can still happen throughout the day with clear & consistent expectations. When our students understand what is expected of them, and that the expectations are consistent, it makes it easier to push our students out of their comfort zone...into their learning zone.
2. Focused mini-lessons: Keep whole class lessons short and sweet! It is challenging to have 20 plus students in your class, it is even more challenging when you consider planning a lesson that will support everyone....and meet the curriculum outcomes. So, do a mini-lesson that is laser focused on what you are learning: 'Today, we are learning about X. X is ....... . Here are some ways we will explore X.'. This is just a very simplified script- please use other strategies in introducing or exploring topics. The point of it is, you will not be able to target each student in a whole class lesson, so do not try. Introduce the topic, share a few ways that you are going to explore the topic in your groups, and then break up into groups. How you create your groups is up to you. Most of the time, I form groups based on levels, teaching approaches, or necessary supports.
3. Use small groups to reinforce learning: Group learning allows you to easily and effectively provide your students with different access points for learning. If you are to try to teach one lesson to all your learners, chances are you will be only reaching some of your students. The other students will be bored, confused, frustrated, or all of the three. Use your whole class instruction to review expectations, introduce the topic/materials/resources/demonstrate, and then outline the activity or the lesson. When you break your students up into their groups, you can then target each group and provide your students with the necessary supports. It might be that all your students grasp the concept in one day, but, often, you will have to return to the activity or lesson over a few days. You may keep the same activities for each group to work on while you are with another group teaching them explicitly OR you may have choices for each group so that there is variation in activity as you are working with another group. As you work with a group, it is still important that you take some time to walk around and check on your other groups- you want to make sure they are on task and that they are demonstrating an understanding of the topic. What I do, to give myself a chance to walk around while I am teaching a group, is provide the students with an example to work through on their own or I give them something to write about (that relates to the topic). I can then take a few minutes to check on groups and then return to my 'teaching' group. Another thing I do to support the groups that I am not working directly with is set up my work station intentionally. I pick a spot that allows me to have eyes on all groups and I look up frequently. This small gesture prompt is often enough for my students to remain (mostly) on task.
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