The Flexible ELA Classroom
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The Flexible ELA Classroom

Practical Tools for Differentiated Instruction in Grades 4-8

Amber Chandler

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eBook - ePub

The Flexible ELA Classroom

Practical Tools for Differentiated Instruction in Grades 4-8

Amber Chandler

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À propos de ce livre

Find out how to differentiate your middle school ELA instruction so that all students can become better readers, writers, and critical thinkers. Author Amber Chandler invites you into her classroom and shows how you can adjust your lessons to suit different learning needs while still meeting state standards and keeping your students accountable. She provides a wide variety of helpful tools and strategies, ranging from easy options that you can try out immediately to deeper-integration ideas that will reshape your classroom as a flexible, personalized learning environment. Topics include:

  • Using choice boards and menus to teach vocabulary, reading, and presentation skills in fun and interactive ways;

  • Grouping students strategically to maximize learning outcomes and encourage collaboration;

  • Making vocabulary learning interesting and memorable with visual aids, tiered lists, and personalized word studies;

  • Designing your own Project Based Learning lessons to unleash your students' creativity;

  • Assessing students' progress without the use of one-size-fits-all testing;

  • And more!

Bonus: downloadable versions of some of the rubrics and handouts in this book are available on the Routledge website at Also, check out the book's website,, for additional articles and strategies.

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Options and Choice

The Heart of Differentiation

I first dipped my toe in the water of differentiation after seeing other teachers use choice boards. Choice boards are graphic organizers that offer students different options for activities to complete, therefore allowing students to have a say in their learning. These graphic organizers may be used in various ways—to front-load background knowledge, to formatively assess, or as the final assessment. Many contain nine boxes, like Tic-Tac-Toe boards, but there is a wide variety of possible formats. I was intrigued by choice boards because they seemed easy to implement—my biggest concern early on. It turns out that choice boards are an excellent entry point into differentiation because they are predictable for the teacher and engaging for students. Choice boards can be used for both fiction and non-fiction, and with a variety of standards. They can also be designed fairly simply (such as the nine-choice Tic-Tac-Toe board) or can be elaborately designed. Eventually you’ll leap almost instinctually from choice boards to menus for differentiation, since menus can be more complex and allow you to add more to the student experience. The best part about the choice board and menu strategies is that they stay relevant year after year, and they can be reimagined to meet the needs of each wave of students. In the next pages, we’ll look at how to implement these strategies, and I’ll offer plenty of examples.
Sneak Peek
This chapter shows 

  • why choice boards are a great tool for providing options
  • how to use choice boards to teach vocabulary and reading
  • how to use choice boards to incorporate Bloom’s taxonomy and 21st-century skills
  • why menus can be useful for differentiating instruction
  • how to use menus to teach novels, independent reading, and presentations

Choice Boards

Choice boards allow teachers to differentiate in three ways: content, process, and product. The content may be targeted to grade level, accelerated, remediated, or enriched. The process is able to take into account learning styles, Bloom’s taxonomy, multiple intelligences, 21st-century skills, and the individual talents and passions of your students. The product—the way students “show what they know”—is simply a delivery method to demonstrate what students learn. Choice boards allow students to express their learning in a variety of ways, and as a bonus, teachers aren’t grading the same cookie cutter answers, over and over.
There is no end to variety when it comes to choice boards. When creating a choice board you should be guided by the most important elements of the unit you are teaching, as well as the secondary skills you may want to reinforce. For example, you might create a choice board about a novel that has many options involving figurative language, a skill you have previously taught but want to spiral back into your curriculum. Teachers can create choice boards based on their priorities for their students, but the boards should be organized around themes. A teacher could create a board based on a combination of written/verbal/tactile/visual activities that addresses student ability and interest, coupled with the academic goals you have for your students.
Choice boards engage students in learning that is meaningful for them, while also meeting the requirements that you, the teacher, have set forth for them. This empowers students to make their own decisions and even learn to advocate for themselves. The choice boards aren’t the instruction; they are the method by which students demonstrate the learning that has occurred, while still offering them the learning experience of presenting. One of the first things you’ll notice is that using choice boards enhances instruction and learning because, when students set a purpose for their learning, their engagement increases.
Of course, there will always be some people—other teachers or parents—who believe that it isn’t fair to let one child complete a map while another writes an essay. However, it is crucial to understand that a wide variety of methods are acceptable to demonstrate a student’s knowledge. It is only necessary for them to do the same thing to demonstrate this knowledge if the activity is the assessment. This means that unless you are assessing a student’s ability to write an essay, an essay is only one of many ways to evaluate what the student has learned. This realization, above all else, changed most of my beliefs about teaching and learning. Here are some of the choice boards I’ve used for teaching vocabulary, as well as both fiction and non-fiction.

Vocabulary Choice Board

The first choice board I ever created myself was to review vocabulary, and I still use it now.
Figure 1.1 FMS Vocabulary Board
Figure 1.1
Some people use their school initials or their own. The appeal of the choice board for teaching vocabulary should be obvious. Drill and kill instruction can be very tedious for both teachers and students, not to mention only useful for the short term. Yet, it often feels like direct instruction is the only way to go—after all, the students don’t know the words. Other times, I feel like students will never develop vocabulary unless they are avid readers. And, what about those students with huge vocabulary deficits that are primarily a result of zip code? However, choice boards for vocabulary acquisition have made me more optimistic. Now, I approach it as “Word Study” and differentiate instead of looking for a miracle cure.
When I explored the research regarding vocabulary, I found it to be mountainous but also unclear on the success of any single method. The National Reading Panel (NRP) was tasked by Congress in 1997 to study the existing research on reading pedagogy. In 2000, the NRP published its report, yet refrained from recommending a single specific methodology. However, after comprehensive evaluation of hundreds of reading studies (that had been narrowed down from over 100,000), the NRP published these implications for instruction:
  1. Vocabulary should be taught both directly and indirectly.
  2. Repetition and multiple exposures to vocabulary items are important.
  3. Learning in rich contexts is valuable for vocabulary learning.
  4. Vocabulary tasks should be restructured when necessary.
  5. Vocabulary learning should entail active engagement in learning task.
  6. Computer technology can be used to help teach vocabulary.
  7. Vocabulary can be acquired through incidental learning.
  8. How vocabulary is assessed and evaluated can have differential effects on instruction.
  9. Dependence on a single vocabulary instruction method will not result in optimal learning.
Choice boards provide opportunities for multiple exposures to words, opportunities for active engagement, and direct and indirect vocabulary instruction, while incorporating variety and repetition. An additional benefit of this choice board is that students can exchange their tasks to study. I love the conversation that happens when a student is explaining his metacognitive process with another student and they create yet another access point to retrieve the words.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
Use common, grade-appropriate Greek or Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., precede, recede, secede).
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
Use the relationship between particular words to better understand each of the words.
Distinguish among the connotations (associations) of words with similar denotations (definitions) (e.g., bullheaded, willful, firm, persistent, resolute).

Understanding Characters Choice Board

This choice board takes character study beyond simple discussions centered on a list of character traits. One of the goals I ...

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