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Teaching in a Multiage Classroom

This is a series of modules about planning for a multi-age classroom. In other words, how to differentiate instruction. It was designed for schools in Africa that are essentially one room school houses. Yet we can benefit from this information and adapt it to US schools. Every teacher is teaching in a one room school house because every classroom has students on a multitude of levels, not just a single level.
Dyslexia and Neuroscience (information in a pdf) A Good Paper on Differentiated Instruction for Reading ESL

Dyslexia

Reading music for the learning disabled

Universal Design for Learning

Rethinking the Use of Text in a Classroom

Advanced Readers

The Tyranny of the Normal

Managing Multiple Reading Levels in the Classroom


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Teaching in a Multiage Classroom









Dyslexia and Neuroscience



A good paper on differentiated instruction for reading

A good summary of research-based elements of reading and also this white paper contains information about comprehensive web-based reading programs that can help with the teaching of reading.



ESL

Dyslexia

This is a pdf that has a good model for assessment and dealing with dyslexia.


Reading Music for Learning Disabled

Universal Design for Learning

http://worldowiki.wikispaces.com/Universal+design+for+learning+resources
UDL is a way of thinking about how we provide resources to students, including literacy resources. There is a link to a book builder web-based program that allows you to create books that support the reading process by allowing the reader to get hints while reading.

Rethinking the Use of Text in a Classroom

Modest Examples
For most of human history, people have struggled to get access to texts. Before Gutenberg invented the printing press, people hand-copied books and most people did not own a single book. After Gutenberg, books became a lot more accessible, however, it still took a significant amount of time and effort to produce a text, even in the twentieth century. It is for this reason that publishing companies had authors pull together information students needed to know and published that information en masse as a textbook. Publishing companies would publish a single math textbook for fifth grade students in several states, for example.
Now with the internet, our relationship with text has changed drastically, although it will take about a generation for this change to become completely apparent.
In a given classroom, all kids read the same text because that was where the information was. It was difficult to get multiple perspectives or multiple sources on a particular topic because that took research in a library and going through a bunch of books.
This procedure of having all kids read the same text is no longer necessary. We have at our fingertips twenty-four hours a day the greatest mass of knowledge in the history of human beings, greater than any library in the world. We also have the ability to manipulate that text into readable form. We can change the font size and color and change the background color to accommodate readers. We can break the text up into smaller, more manageable bits. We can turn the text into speech and create a sound file. Readers of text on a computer don't need to physically turn pages--that can be done with scrolling down with a mouse, a trackball, or adaptive equipment for people who don't have a lot of physical coordination or control.
On any given topic, with almost no effort, we can find texts in a range of readability from relative simple to relatively complex and we can find texts with fundamentally different perspectives.
Therefore, we really have no excuse for failing to provide students with texts that are appropriate for their reading level. And, as an added benefit, when each student comes to a discussion having read a different text, then part of the discussion can include them putting together the pieces they each have. This means that someone who read a simple text but one that contained a fact that no one else's text had can contribute on an equal footing as the person in the class who read the most complex text.
Additionally, the best procedure for using multiple texts would be to allow students to self-select the text they read for a particular lesson. Reading ability changes significantly from text to text, depending on the student's background knowledge, familiarity with the genre, and so forth. This means that students may choose different levels of texts, if they are available, depending on their interest and comfort level with the topic. Also, if the teacher simply provides a range of texts without making it explicit that the purpose is to accommodate reading levels, then students can choose what is comfortable for them without the stigma associated with being a poor reader and needing to read the "baby" texts.

Advanced Readers

Sometimes we get so focused on kids who are behind grade level that we forget about kids who are reading above grade level. Yet it is critical to challenge all students, in part because kids who coast through grade school often have a hard time at higher levels of education because they have never learned good work habits. Fortunately, with the web and good libraries, we can accommodate the needs of these readers. Nancie Atwell's reader/writer workshop style of teaching, which can be adapted even for earlier grades, is a good example of a program that can meet each student's needs because students work independently on reading and writing. In terms of reading for information, high-level readers can be given more advanced texts--look in the library or online for possible resources. For example, if everyone is reading about animals and pooling their knowledge in some ways, you can have struggling readers read simpler texts and advanced readers read harder texts. If everyone has different information in their texts, then everyone has something to contribute from their reading.

Doing Projects

One way of addressing the needs of all learners is to work on projects together that allow students to take different roles according to their comfort level. For example, when writing poetry, it often works well to have students work in groups because the students who are less strong can be part of a successful project and can learn from their stronger peers. Creative projects allow everyone to contribute in terms of ideas.


The Tyrrany of the Normal

One of the unfortunate side-effects of our current love affair with standardized testing is the privileging of a statistical understanding of "normal." It is assumed that across a norming sample for a test, there will be a range of responses and a scattergram of those responses will have be bell-shaped, reflecting the idea that most people do "average" on the test and there are a few people who create the tails of the bell curve--the abnormally good and the abnormally bad.

Good or bad, folks whose performance is on the tail instead of in the curve require "special education"--gifted education falls under the umbrella of "special education." The implication of this is that people who are "not normal" are an educational "problem" because their needs cannot be properly addressed by a classroom for "normal" students. The other unfortunate implication is that people in the "normal" group do not need special attention--they are part of the herd of learners who can benefit from the lessons designed for this group. That is not true, either. Every child deserves focus and every child has some area at some time where he or she needs special attention.

When we are dealing with language, we have to realize that meaning is relative. there is no natural connection between the sounds we use to indicate the word "normal" and the concept we have in our minds as to what "normal" means. In fact, normal is defined relative to its opposite, abnormal, and vice versa. What this means is that we have a tendency to place more distance in our minds between "normal" and "abnormal" than really exists because of the structures of language. And the statistical concept of the bell curve reinforces this with its concepts of standard deviations.

In fact, the autism spectrum is called a spectrum because people who are identified as having some form of autism vary from highly verbal so-called "high functioning" people to people who do not use spoken language to communicate. And between "normal" and "autism" is a spectrum as well.

The other linguistic problem that the concept of normalicy leads to is the perennial problem of labeling. Once we label a group of characteristics of a person, that label becomes central to how we define that person, which means that we are missing so much about a person's identity, dreams, hopes, passions, and so forth. It's a kid with ADHD or a kid with an autism spectrum disorder.

Are these labels really helpful in the educational process? Is it really helpful to determine that a person is abnormal in one or more ways? I think we need to ask ourselves these questions.

I'm not saying we should throw out our toolbox. If we know that a student needs to move around a lot, then we create opportunities for that. If we notice reading struggles, then we use our tools to figure out where the problems are and teach that person in relation to what we figure out. If we notice someone who apparently has not learned some critical social skills, then we teach the skills that person needs in order to get along in the classroom. We can do everything we would do with the label, only we can get rid of the name-calling and focus on all the characteristics of a person, not just the ones that are a "problem."

Within the world of people who have been identified as "differently abled" or whatever, there is a strong movement towards valuing these unique characteristics that disabilities provide. Many people with autism do not want a cure because autistic characteristics are part of the personality. In fact, the ability to focus, the ability to acquire and maintain a deep interest in something, the ability to engage constructively with technology--all these things are an advantage and at the same time part of the autism package.

In his book, Moving Violations, John Hockenberry, a reporter who was in a car accident at age 19, makes it abundantly clear that he doesn't want a cure--being in a wheelchair has changed his life in ways that he values. He just would like other people not to be so weirdor screwed up about it. There are deaf people who do not want the cochlear implant. There are people who are upset that parents are making the choice to have genetic testing done on embryos and are getting rid of kids with Down syndrome.

One of the neat things about the internet is that a lot of people with disabilities have put up videos about their lives and this is a great way to begin to understand disabilities not from the outside (as we normally teach in teacher education programs) but from the inside--the ways in which being different has its advantages, the ways in which difference enhances life. I encourage you to explore these videos and to consider one question:

What would the classroom be like if we ditched the bell curve?

Managing Multiple Reading Levels in the Classroom


So, how would one teacher manage 25 students across perhaps eight grades of reading levels in a single classroom?

First, you need texts that meet the interests and reading levels of all those students. Fifteen years ago, this meant endless trips to the library. Now it means doing some intelligent searches on the web along with some trips to the library.

Individual reading: every student needs to have access to a range of texts that are within both his or her mastery and instructional levels of reading. This means every student needs to have some easy (for him or her) texts that the student can read fluently and some somewhat harder texts that require some effort from the student. It is also good to have texts at a levels higher than where the student is because these can become incentives. There are a lot of youngsters who worked real hard on reading so they could read Harry Potter books. The classroom library should have a range of fiction and non-fiction books for students to use; the school library should have a larger range; the public library resources should be used to fill in the gaps of the classroom and school library; and the web should be used both for spontaneous reading needs (a sudden interest in a topic that is in the news, for example) and reading needs that the various libraries cannot fulfill. Nancie Atwell's reading/writing workshop shows how teachers can manage students reading at different levels; she keeps a checklist with individual students and their reading progress from day to day. Individual conferences are an opportunity to assess how a student is doing with independent reading.

Group reading: adults have book clubs and this may be an appropriate way to manage reading groups in a classroom. It used to be that classrooms had reading groups according to ability and kids in the low group knew they were considered dumb and also were not likely to be transferred to a higher group. Just imagine: if you are in the low group, you are already behind. Even if you catch up to your grade level, kids in the higher group have moved forward and you still are behind. It would be better to have a collection of books where you have five to eight copies of each book and where you can place kids partly by interest in the book and partly by the book's level (keeping in mind that if a really strong reader expressed interest in the book, that reader's participation in the group would provide the students with an excellent peer model). If you have enough of these types of books, you can create book groups all during a school year with different arrays of kids and no kid will feel dumb. Group reading allows you to work in small groups with technical aspects of reading and also with comprehension not just at the surface level (who did what in the book) but also in a deeper way, relating the book to other books that have been read and also relating the book to one's experiences and knowledge.

Reading for learning: In addition to reading as a part of language arts and reading instruction, students need to have access to reading material that helps them to learn other parts of the school curriculum. In the past, these texts have been available in textbooks. Above we argue that giving every student a textbook is problematic because a single text about something is not appropriate for all readers in the classroom. We recommend finding a range of texts in the form of books from the library and web pages about something that is being studied and then having students choose what they want to read.

Techniques of reading: some students need direct instruction on specific reading skills, techniques, and knowledge. It would be a good idea to investigate computer programs that supply this kind of instruction because students often enjoy working on the computer, the computer does not get frustrated with a student that gets something wrong a lot, computers don't judge a student for what he or she doesn't know, a computer can provide the information and instruction in a systematic way, many programs have students practice with skill-based games that are engaging, and a computer can assess the student and help the student move through the instruction at his or her own pace.

Reading as performance: students need to have opportunities to read as a performance out loud. This can be a periodic poetry reading in which everyone reads a poem or it can be a reader's theater piece, or students can be encouraged to read to younger children, say in a kindergarten class.