Question: Many teachers in elementary schools want to separate their students among the grade level and have one teacher teach low, med, high, etc.  I have a new team teacher coming to my 4th grade team next year that has been doing this practice in his old school.  He says it is successful but one of the factors they have that we don’t and most likely never will, is a weekly grade level meeting built into the school day each Wednesday that all members attend.  This takes place during their specials time. I’m sure this time allows for discussion among teachers but probably is still not enough time for every teacher to share about every student.

I will tell you up front that I am against this but I am willing to change my thinking if research says that it is good for kids.  The reason I don’t think it is a best practice is because in the elementary school, we should be teaching the whole child.  Our reading/writing should be together and the lessons we are teaching should transfer to our other content areas.  I don’t know how a teacher can fully support a student if they don’t observe and instruct them during reading.  I haven’t really read anything that leans toward this practice but was thinking the other day that you go to many schools, know the latest research and are an expert in this field.

If you have a few minutes to let me know your thoughts about this practice, and whether I need to adjust my thinking.

THANK YOU for your time!

Answer:  It’s funny that you ask this question…I’m working with a group of teachers this week on differentiated instruction – this very topic!

I’m giving you my opinion here, based upon experience and our clients’ scores:I don’t recommend putting kids in leveled groups for the whole reading block – it’s too close to tracking and that placement ends up being  a “life sentence” for most kids, when it’s done this way…they never get out!

Also, I get worried that the teacher will teach to the lowest rather than bring all of the strugglers up – –  I’ve seen this repeatedly.  Somehow we lose perspective on the benchmark-type instruction and kids end up growing, but not catching up. Differentiated instruction is ALL about catching up and closing the gap.  If we’re not doing that, then we’re not differentiating.

I also see that teachers who teach the Benchmark and Advanced kids have the illusion of differentiated instruction, thinking they’re “extending” learning much more than they actually are.  It takes great skill and tons and tons of collaboration for this grouping to be successful during the core instruction.

With that said, grouping according to skill need is totally appropriate (and oftentimes essential to meeting all of the grouping needs/skill gap needs) within a grade level.  For 30-45 minutes a day outside of the core reading instruction, kids can be grouped and pulled to skill gap-alike groups where they are taught in isolation to fill the skill gaps.  AND you can track the data really finely and see what’s working/what’s not really quickly and make tweaks accordingly.  This still take a lot of collaboration and communication, but because teachers typically use supplemental materials that we can create a pacing plan for, we are able to track what’s been taught more easily.  It does allow for more instructional minutes when you share kids this way.