Texas Teaching Fanatic

A look inside a 4th grade classroom

Differentiated Instruction: Students Teaching Students

Our campus has been discussing differentiated instruction a lot lately. We are focusing on student needs and effective teaching strategies that help all students. There are multiple ways to look at this concept and it encompasses several ideas.

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In my classroom, one way I’ve found that reaches all students is to allow the students to teach each other, not just in small groups or within their table groups, but actually working out problems for the entire class and explaining how they reached their answers.

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This week we have been working on combinations. Some of these problems are very easy, and the kids catch on very quickly. Some, however, require some serious thinking skills to figure out all possible answers.

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This is where the “student teachers” come into play. I could stand up there and explain how to work these problems until I’m blue in the face and some kids would get it, but others will completely tune out. Put a student up there–automatic engagement for all involved.

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Not only are the students happy ecstatic to be called upon to help their peers, they extend their thinking and learning by explaining their strategies to others. It encourages them to work harder and think critically about their work. They are more likely to ask questions and seek help so that they may be called upon to teach others.

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At first I thought that the idea of differentiated instruction sounded like a lot more work on me (and it can be at times), but this simple technique actually saves my voice and allows the students to find theirs. 😉

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Cooperative Learning + Math = SUCCESS!

I had a not-so-pleasant day on Tuesday watching my students turn in their Math Benchmarks. Failing grade after failing grade made my heart sink. Here I thought my students were right on track, and the reality was–many of them needed lots of help. This test had many of the released questions from our state assessment last year (which is given at the end of April), so I shouldn’t expect them to rock it, but still…heartbreaking.

After crying about it with our instructional coach, I scoured the tests a little closer. As I was looking over the tests, I noticed that several of them were just guessing at answers, not showing any kind of work. This has never been ok in my class, but for some reason I had many students that just went through the test without thinking. Grrrrrr!

That afternoon we had a come to Jesus heart-to-heart talk about what each student’s job is. It is their responsibility as the learner to ask questions and ask for help when they need it….but it’s also my responsibility to find a way to reach them and instill some motivation to want to succeed.

So…I thought about this training I went to on Monday. It was for ELL’s (English Language Learners), but all the strategies they mentioned are good for ALL students. By Wednesday, we were trying them out!

One of the strategies was to have the students stand around the room in a circle at the end of class and use a sentence starter to identify something they learned that day. We were told that when students have to verbalize their thoughts and listen to themselves say it, the learning goes up. I gave them these sentence starters: I learned… I’m surprised that… and I will remember… As I listened to their responses, it made me feel that their learning was already increasing, even the very first time we tried it!

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Today I used another strategy called, “Stay and Stray,” where groups of students move around the room and talk. We did this with word problems from our math assessment that have them fits. Of course, some of my students were able to complete their test successfully, so here was already some knowledge of what to do. I put the students into groups, making sure that each group had an expert to start.

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I wrote word problems on chart paper and taped them around the room. Each group was to solve the problem on their paper together. Each student had their math journal in hand to take notes. It was their responsibility to really understand the strategy, because they would eventually be sharing out a strategy.

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However…the groups would constantly change. Before we started, I gave each student in the group a number. These numbers would determine who stayed at a poster and who would move on to the next group. If I called number 4, then all number 4s would stay at their poster, and the other group members would move on. Number 4 would then explain to their new group how they solved their problem.

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Then I called time again. This time, number 2 had to stay, and the rest of the group would move on. This meant that by now, the 2s were explaining a poster that they did not create! It also meant that they really had to pay attention to the previous presenter so that they knew how to teach it to he next group. And so on until each student had stayed at a group to present.

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What did this mean? ALL students were participating. ALL students were learning. ALL students were actively engaged. No more sitting on the sidelines, folks! The students were definitely accountable for their own learning!

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When we were finished with this activity, I asked them for feedback. They told me that it was fun, they enjoyed teaching other students, they enjoyed learning from other students, and they now understood how to solve problems like he ones we solved. Best of all, they wanted MORE! Big smiles followed this conversation–students and teacher alike!

Part of teaching is understanding that we aren’t perfect. Sometimes we just have to step back and think about what is in the best interests of the kids. Every time my students teach each other, they just seem to “get it.” As long as they have some guidance, they can take off with their learning…even when I’m not in the driver’s seat. What a great feeling!

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Multiplication with Manipulatives (and a life lesson)

About three weeks ago, my students began multiplication in math. I always enjoy watching as students use manipulatives to show their answers. What I love about math is that there are numerous ways to think of numbers and solve problems, but in the end we all get the same answer…most of the time, anyway! 😉

I took some pictures just to show how differently my students think. Some are very organized, while others are not. Some think in arrays, while some think in groups. I embrace that diversity!!

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I guess I like it so much because of an experience I had in college. On one of my tests, we were asked to draw a parallelogram. Well, I drew a square…and the teacher counted it wrong. As I sat and pondered my incorrect answer, I was unable to figure out why it was wrong. After class I approached my professor and asked the question. Her reply: “Because that’s not the way I taught it, and most people don’t know that a square is a parallelogram. I expected you to draw a rectangle.”

Now, anyone that knows me knows that I’m a fighter. I just couldn’t accept that answer. A few minutes later, I had to walk away with a 92. She wouldn’t budge!

Even though I could live with my 92 (because after all, an A is an A, right?), I will never forget that conversation and my teacher’s neglect to see that we are all individuals with our own unique knowledge. I was right, but because she didn’t expect that right answer, it was wrong.

I made a promise to myself that day that I would never be that way. Diversity–bring it on! 🙂

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