I confess. For a number of years I taught whole class novels. The novels were engaging, current, and at grade level. They were carefully chosen to pair with our district social studies curriculum and our school grade level themes for each trimester. My grade level team partners, all smart, hard working folks, co-planned units together using all the pedagogical tools in our pretty decent tool boxes. We wrote grants and hoarded our Scholastic Book Club points to buy the books. Lots of our students read the books, did the writing about reading, participated in small group discussions, and grew as readers. But then there were kids like Jared, who never finished the book.
At first I thought the Jareds in my class just needed more time. I gave them more time. It didn’t matter. None of the Jarreds ever finished the book. No matter how much scaffolding that was provided, no matter how small the chunks of reading, the book was just too hard. The Jarred’s could not read at grade level and giving them grade level text did not make them grade level readers.
Shortly after this a local university chose our school as a satellite site for their Masters in Teaching Program and the professors provided our faculty with a lot of staff development on strategies they hoped their MAT students would see in our classrooms. Thanks to their instruction and books by Nancie Atwell and Bonnie Campbell Hill my students discovered independent reading lives and received differentiated instruction through book clubs and literature circles.
No more spending a month on one novel. Students planed, led, and evaluated their own book discussions, choosing to spend just two week on each book. Books at a variety of levels of difficulty were always available, groupings were flexible since they changed about every two weeks. I could see my most capable readers pushing themselves and each other. A teacher who worked with one of my Jarreds after he had gone on to junior high sought me out to tell me what a confident reader he had become. Jarred told her that he learned who he was as a reader and how to get better through book clubs in my classroom. The work my students did amazed and excited me.
Recently I was sharing about eBins, a resource for providing differentiated non-fiction materials at a variety of reading levels on the same topic, with a group of principals. Truthfully, I was feeling pretty pleased with what I had to offer. My strategy was low-cost and included information in written, visual, and audio format at a variety of reading levels. I was nailing CCSS 8.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
That’s when one if the principals raised her hand and politely asked, “What about Standard Ten?”
RL 8.10. By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of grades 6–8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
“Why are you creating a resource at a variety of reading levels when students are supposed to all be reading independently and proficiently at grade level?” she asked.
I stammered out a response and went on with the presentation. Here’s what I wish I had said.
“Not all my students arrive in the fall reading at grade level. It’s my responsibility to find help them discover who they are as readers and where they need to grow, whatever their September starting point. They need a toolbox of strategies to use when they encounter text that is too hard for them. They need the confidence to use those tools and plenty of practice. But along they way they need instruction at their own reading level.”
I confess. To get my students to Standard 10, I differentiate.
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