By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
One of the biggest challenges confronting teachers at schools with students coming from high levels of poverty is mobility, the frequency with which students move in and out or between schools.
“We have some children who have been in six schools in three years,” said Erin Bernardi, a counselor at Kennedy Elementary School. “In the transitions, lots of things get repeated and some things are missed completely.”
The result is classrooms become a mixed bag of below-level, on-level and gifted learners and teachers must adapt curriculums for each group. If that sounds like something teachers are doing already, it is – in a way.
“Probably 99 percent of teachers are using these skills already, but it’s a matter of doing it with intention,” Bernardi said.
To help pave the way, Bernardi and others in the Salem-Keizer School District are developing fresh approaches to curriculum that cater to the different types of learners, the process is called differentiation. It is hoped that the end result is a common assessment model for every child even if they absorb the material in different ways.
“Basically, it’s about providing teachers with tools and students with choices to create a sense of buy-in and motivation to keep learning,” Bernardi said.
One increasingly common method is developing RAFTs for each section of a given grade curriculum. RAFTs provide project options that allow different types of learners to demonstate they’ve acquired the knowledge the teacher is trying to get across (see graphic for a detailed sample RAFT).
The diversity of options also gives teachers an opportunity to expose aptitudes that might not be on display in a traditional “sage on a stage” teaching model.
“A student struggling in writing, may not be struggling in everything,” Bernardi said. “Providing students with the opportunity to take on different roles, different target audiences, different writing assignments and incorporating different technologies means they will have a chance to demonstrate the areas they’re excelling in.”
The role the student takes on in each choice is typically that of a teacher themselves informing a specific audience about all they’ve learned. When students teach someone else the material they’ve learned, retention is increased, Bernardi said.
Taken as an approach to filling in gaps with high-mobility students, differentiation is a win-win for students and teachers.
“If you have a plan to meet kids where they are, and you have materials to support that, the student is less likely to give up on learning and teachers are less likely to become frustrated by circumstances beyond their control,” Bernardi said.