By ROBERTA LENGER KANG
Differentiation can happen in many ways, with varying levels of complexity. Our Differentiating Like a STAR resource, designed to help educators consider entry points to differentiation, offers strategies in four categories: data, task, text, and grouping. Within each category, we outline three levels of instruction — the more stars included, the stronger the differentiation. By identifying pathways to expand differentiation, you can add depth and complexity to your lessons.
Differentiating instruction through text selection and literacy support is essential during a time of remote or blended learning. While learning remotely, students increasingly rely on learning through reading, rather than in-person lectures or teacher presentations. As students are exploring new content through texts, we can design multiple entry points to support engagement, content knowledge, and skill development.
We use texts to inform our instruction at three critical levels:
When teaching in person, we often differentiate for students based on their reading levels. We may be used to differentiating a text by using a common reading support like a vocabulary word bank, or guiding questions to build comprehension. More advanced forms of text differentiation include providing multiple texts on the same topic and allowing students to make a selection. This ensures that students will have access to the main content information at the reading level that is the best fit for them. When we’re providing the highest level of differentiation for students, we’re matching specific students with an “on-level” and a “stretch level” text to support their understanding of the content and stretch their reading level.
Whether we’re teaching in-person or remotely, our biggest challenge is finding meaningful texts at different levels. You may be interested in exploring websites like Scholastic, Newsela, or Readworks — each of which offer access to texts organized by subject, topic, and grade level. A strong practice would be to identify the following:
If students are struggling with the lowest leveled text, consider adding additional scaffoldings (like the word bank or anticipatory summaries).
We define "high-tech" as unlimited, individual access to an internet-connected device.
Provide vocabulary support: Consider linking to sites like vocabulary.com, where you can create class lists, group students, and customize vocabulary lists (or select from pre-made options). You can also use this option to create quizzes and other vocabulary-building games, which will provide a complement to any reading assignment.
Build student choice and autonomy by offering students a central text — for everyone to read — and then inviting students to contribute to a classroom library by finding two additional texts on the same topic. Going forward, students can select the texts they want to read based on those that have been identified for the class’ digital library.
Use a formative reading assessment to identify targeted texts that can be incorporated into instructional tasks. We can use a resource like Google Forms to develop a differentiated task for students, and embed a select passage from the text into the form itself, while asking questions related to comprehension. If students answer the questions incorrectly, they can be routed to a text that’s targeted for a lower grade level. If students submit a mix of correct and incorrect responses, they can be routed to a text that matches their grade level. If students answer all questions correctly, they can be routed to a higher level text.
Whether providing access to vocabulary instruction that’s parallel to the reading, or helping students discover texts at their own levels, differentiating by text level is a great way to ensure all students have a way to access the lesson.
We define "low-tech" as at least one hour of individual time on an internet-connected device.
Add hyperlinks to potentially difficult words embedded in a shared text. This type of vocabulary support makes it easy for students to view the definition of a word, without leaving the document they’re reading. If you’re preparing an assignment in Google Docs or Word, simply highlight the word you want to define and add a hyperlink to an online dictionary. Help students utilize this support by asking them to summarize key parts of the text or define some of the vocabulary terms in their own words. This option does not require that students spend more time online, and will allow them to complete the assignment on paper rather than on the computer if that’s a better fit, given their access to technology.
Offer student choice when posting an assignment to your online learning platform. Consider providing 2-3 texts as options and giving students a choice of which they’d like to read, or plan to strategically assign texts to students based on their reading levels. You can also invite students to read two out of the three texts, and offer additional points for reading multiple selections. Each interaction will help students absorb the content information, build their vocabulary, and challenge them to stretch to the next reading level. Teachers are sometimes cautious when doing this in person, as it can stigmatize students and highlight their level of academic performance. But in a remote learning setting, each task can become personalized, and this strategy can be implemented without these same concerns.
We define "no-tech" as less than one hour on an internet-connected device.
Add-on resources can accompany your lesson, and create scaffolds and supports for students as they read. For example, if a task includes a reading passage, comprehension questions, and a short response, you can create an add-on resource for vocabulary, which will provide definitions of words included in the passage. At a minimum, this word bank can help students make sense of the passage. For additional credit, we can ask students to create visual definitions of the vocabulary words, or define them in their own terms. Their work can be created using pen & paper, and then submitted by taking a simple photo.
Ask students to synthesize content in their own words: Similar to the low-tech option, this begins with offering multiple texts as part of your assignment, and inviting students to choose the text that’s the best fit for them. From there, we can ask students to share what they’ve learned by writing about the topic as if they’re passing on their knowledge to students who are at a lower grade level. For example, if I’m teaching middle schools students who are learning about the three branches of government, I can extend my students’ reading task by asking them to write an explanation of this topic for third graders. The translation of the information from an on-level text to students at a lower grade level will help students think critically about what they understand.
Whether we’re teaching in-person or online, differentiating texts for students’ reading levels is complicated. We want to use everything we know about our students to match them to the right text at the right time, and provide the best scaffolds that will help them to stretch without slipping.
TAGS: DIFFERENTIATION, LITERACY, REMOTE LEARNING, RESOURCES, ROBERTA LENGER KANG