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Monday, January 31, 2011

Planning for Differentiation: Focus Student Planning

Students who are gifted.  Students whose native language is not English.  Learning through different modalities.  How can teachers accommodate all of the different learners in their classrooms?  Try focus student planning.  This very simple process will greatly enhance the engagement of all students.  The purpose of focus student planning is to increase the success of all students. 

Speaking of engagement.  First of all, we need to plan for active engagement of students as a foundation.  Students need to be busy working in groups, manipulating, speculating on how to solve a problem, researching answers and engaged in any type of action which sparks thinking. 

Plan for this active environment by selecting four to eight students who are representative of the learning continuum in your classes.  For elementary teachers, your learning continuum will mostlikely be confined to the students in your class.  Secondary teachers can think of the learning contiuum in individual classes or they can choose a selection of students from across their classes.  The student chosen should include learners who are gifted, typical students, and students who have academic challenges.  Depending upon your students, you may want to select one or two second langauge learners, a student with limited attention, or a student with behavior challenges.

Plan your unit or your lesson.  Think about the activities that you are going to do as well as other assignments.  Now, think about your focus students.  Will they be successful with your instructional plan?  If your answer is "yes".  You are all set.  Begin the instruction.  But, if you conclude that one student or more students will not be successful, then either restructure a segment of the assignement or try to identify an accommodation. 

For example, the students are reading a piece of literature.  One of the focus students you have chosen, will not be able to do the reading.  Look for ways to increase the success of this student.  Is it the reading that is the main purpose for the lesson?  Or, is the main purpose of the analysis of the text?  Look online for auido books.  Many of them are available for free and have an audio and interactive componenet.  Or, look for the book on CD at your local library.  If the reading component is not an option, then plan literature that is available in a video format. 

Right about now, you may be saying, "Okay, I have these five focus students covered.  What about the other thirty students?  The main concept of this planning process is that every class has similar learners.  If you can plan for success for a small group of students who represent the continuum of learners in your classes, you will be able to engage most of your students. 

You have reviewed your lesson and conclude that most of the students will not be successful.  It's back to the drawing board.  The lesson will need to be restructured.  I always recommend increasing active engagement, and change the instructional grouping. If the students are working in small groups, have them work with a partner.  If your plan is to do an introductory lecture, then plan to build background knowledge first by watching a video clip and having a discussion. 

A quick note:  when selecting your focus students, don't select the outliers as your focus students.  These students are exceptionally gifted or they may have moderate to severe cognitve challenges.  The students who are at opposite extremes of our learning contiuum, require accommodations or total modifications to be successful. 

Focus student planning works for increasing the success of students in your classes.  Try it.  Let me know what happens.

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