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Chapter Six: Differentiating Content and Product

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

Eighty percent of students who are recommended for special education placement are below grade level in reading.

Sixty-three percent of African American fourth grade students are below grade level in reading.

Seventy-four million Americans read below the eighth grade level.

Eighty-five percent of juveniles coming before the courts are functionally illiterate.

Seventy percent of prison inmates are illiterate.

—Jawanza Kunjufu

In this chapter we will discuss the differentiation of content and product—two major pieces of the teaching and learning process. Our emphasis here is on content, because without quality and meaningful content, product does not matter. Content should lead to innovative and quality products that reflect understanding of the subject matter.

You may not think that you have much say about the content you teach in your classroom. After all, we live in an age of scrutiny in which we must teach to standards and prove that they have been taught. In this chapter, we will examine several ways that you can differentiate content to meet the unique needs of your students, yet still meet the expectations of standards. We will view content differentiation by looking at three key aspects of content in the classroom: relevance, rigor, and relationships, with our primary focus on relevance.

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5 Closing the Gaps at Tiers 2 and 3

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

As we discussed in chapter 4, when students are found to be at risk for academic or behavioral issues after universal screening, the classroom teacher will typically select and implement research-based instructional strategies to assist those students for those particular issues. When individual students fail to progress successfully within a given timeframe, the teacher (along with other advisors) may determine that the student needs supplemental interventions such as those offered at Tier 2. If the intervention at Tier 2 is successful, it is discontinued or phased out, and the student returns to Tier 1. If it is not successful, the student will progress to Tier 3 to receive more intense and individualized interventions. This chapter will discuss decision making and progress monitoring in Tiers 2 and 3, as well as critical issues in reading and mathematics interventions.

Before moving a student to Tier 2 or Tier 3, the teacher or team should ask the following questions to determine the efficacy of Tier 1 in the particular classroom:

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Chapter Three: Building Teacher Background Knowledge

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

Being student-centered also means connecting learning to students’ lives, using the student’s own culture, strengths (intelligences), interests, goals, and dreams as the beginning point for learning.

—Bonnie Benard

To begin the shift in beliefs and instructional practices necessary to differentiate instruction, we need to examine our own background knowledge and experience. This is especially true for the majority of us who are part of the dominant culture. The first step in our model is to build teachers’ background knowledge in order to expand the perspective provided by that culture. This is critical if we are to understand the needs of students from poverty and diverse cultures. As a way of examining our background knowledge as teachers, let’s look first at two competing value systems.

Well-documented studies have verified that two ways of thinking, or value systems—individualist and collectivist—have an impact on what teachers reward and punish in schools (Williams, 2003; Greenfield, 1994; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Our value system—collectivist or individualist—is grounded in our culture and determines how we view achievement and value social knowledge. These factors affect our relationships with parents and the community, our approach to classroom management and organization, and our approach to curriculum, instruction, and assessment—the key processes in education that define our work.

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Chapter Five: Differentiating Context

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

We are beginning to realize that a lot of these things which are supposed to be universal are actually culturally specific and without pathological consequences if they deviate from contemporary American norms.

—Robert A. LeVine

In this chapter, we explore strategies for creating culturally responsive classrooms for students of color and students living in poverty. Culturally responsive classrooms have two critical attributes: 1) the inclusion of students’ languages, cultures, and daily experiences into the academic and social context of school; and 2) explicit teaching of the dominant culture’s expectations, so that all children can fully participate (Zeichner, 2003). In some urban schools, alternative certification is being offered to permit community members to become teachers. To be culturally responsive, we have to build bridges between the culture of the school and the cultures of the home and community.

We also explore the characteristics of effective teachers in multicultural classrooms and look at research-based instructional strategies they can use that have a powerful impact on diverse learners. In addition, we provide examples for African American and Hispanic students, the two major minority groups in the United States.

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Chapter Four: Planning to Differentiate

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

You are now ready to plan to differentiate a lesson for your students. Our purpose here is not to describe how to plan a lesson for instruction, but on how to modify (or differentiate) a lesson plan to meet the needs of students from poverty and students of color. There are many ways in which teachers plan to differentiate for all students. What we want to focus on here are those specific planning considerations that are critical for students living in poverty and students of color. These are some of the considerations when planning to differentiate for diverse learners:

• Preteaching essential vocabulary

• Contextualizing the content and classroom for culture

• Modifying instructional strategies

• Determining grouping strategies

Let’s look at these planning tools in the context of a hypothetical classroom.

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