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English Language Arts Blog

The home of Vocab Gal and other educational experts K–12 resources

May 31, 2022 ELA PD - Literacy, ELA K-5, ELA 6-8, ELA Resources - Assessment, ELA 9-12

Differentiating Instruction During Your ELA Block

Differentiating instruction is essential to meeting the needs of all the students in your ELA classroom but can be a challenge. How can teachers ensure that on-level students stay on track, provide targeted instruction for below-level students to address deficits, and accelerate learning for students who have already mastered skills? This article contains support and strategies to differentiate instruction for above-level students, below-level students, and English language learners.

differentiating-instruction-during-your-ela-block

The Importance of Differentiation

Differentiation is a process that teachers use to tailor and deliver instruction to meet the individual needs of students. Differentiating instruction acknowledges that students within a classroom learn at different paces and in different ways and maybe, at different levels when it comes to their skills and knowledge. The goal of differentiation is that all students can be successful at acquiring skills, meeting standards, and developing deep understanding despite these differences.

To learn more about differentiation, and what it looks like in an elementary ELA classroom, download the What Does Differentiation Look Like? Tip Sheet.

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Strategies for Differentiating Instruction

Teachers can use strategies to differentiate instruction for students who are below-level, above-level, and learning English within the same classroom to ensure that instructional needs are being met while exposing students to grade-level skills and content.

Differentiating Instruction for Below-Level Students

When below-level students receive undifferentiated grade-level instruction, they can experience frustration. But receiving lower-level instruction at a slower pace will prevent students from accessing the grade-level skills they need to succeed in their grade level and develop across the grades, continually setting them back in their academic careers! To meet these students’ needs, teachers can differentiate instruction and modify expectations of learning outcomes during whole-class instruction while providing targeted instruction to address deficits during small group instruction or intervention. In whole group instruction, all students are learning on level content together. Then, small group time can be used for more intensive targeted instruction for those students who need additional support or have skill gaps.

Teachers can use strategies to differentiate instruction for students who are below-level, above-level, and learning English within the same classroom to ensure that instructional needs are being met while exposing students to grade-level skills and content.

How can you determine below-level students’ skill needs and modify instruction accordingly? Strong assessments are tools that will help you figure out where below-level students need support. After assessing, revisit prior lessons (sometimes going back within the previous grade level) to determine an instructional starting point and adjust pacing depending on whether students show competence with the skills.

Differentiating Instruction for Above-Level Students

Students who are reading above level require acceleration and enrichment support. These supports can be used during whole group lessons to differentiate the instruction and practice, or during small group lessons. Add support during independent activities for students who need additional challenges in their practice. Small group time is important to support those students who have already mastered skills and to provide the opportunity to progress in their learning through acceleration. Assessments will support you in moving above-level students ahead in the scope and sequence of your program to provide instruction on more complex skills.

Differentiating Instruction for English Language Learners

English language learners may benefit from some of the intervention strategies for below-level students, but they also need specific support, particularly for early learners with sounding out letter sounds and words. There are many ways to support English language learners in literacy. When it comes to phonics, additional support should be provided to help students with articulation support (since some sounds do not transfer from various languages to English) when necessary, and with additional vocabulary work and support. When it comes to literacy development, students whose primary language is not English may need modifications or additional instructional support in breaking down skills, contexts, or text.

Assessments to Differentiate Instruction

Assessing students’ proficiency levels is a critical tool to help differentiate instruction. Gathering student data will guide teachers to set directions for future learning. Cumulative and comprehensive assessments help with goal setting for very targeted instruction. Utilize a combination of formative and summative assessments to continually gauge progress and differentiate and rely on the measures included in your literacy programs to help you!

Here’s a bonus differentiated assessment for teachers of vocabulary! Download and use the Differentiated Weekly Vocabulary Assessment Handout for vocabulary assessments in your ELA classroom.

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In Summary

Differentiating instruction during your ELA block is essential to support students in developing the skills they need to be successful readers and writers. Rely on assessments and these suggestions to differentiate instruction successfully for all the learners in your ELA classroom, whether below-level, above-level, or learning English.

 

 

 

 

References

Blevins, W. (in press). Choosing and using decodable texts: Practical tips and strategies for enhancing phonics instruction. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Blevins, W. (2020). Meaningful phonics and word study: Lesson fix ups for impactful teaching. New Rochelle, NY: Benchmark Education.

Blevins, W. (2019). Meeting the challenges of early literacy phonics instruction. Literacy Leadership Brief No. 9452. International Literacy Association.

Blevins, W. (2016). A fresh look at phonics: Common causes of failure and 7 ingredients for success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Blevins, W. (2017). Phonics from A to Z: A practical guide. 3rd Edition. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Gough, P. and Tunmer, W. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10.

Scarborough, H.S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook for research in early literacy (pp. 97–110). New York, NY: Guilford Press.