Differentiated Literacy in Modern Schools

This is FREE sample
This text is free, available online and used for guidance and inspiration. Need a 100% unique paper? Order a custom essay.
  • Any subject
  • Within the deadline
  • Without paying in advance
Get custom essay

It can be said that as a result of recent educational reforms across schools today, teacher autonomy has been limited. As a result, teachers have had to succumb to whole-group reading instruction that often does not motivate or interest students. Little, McCoach, and Reis’ (2014) research study examined the effects on reading achievement, specifically fluency and comprehension, utilizing an instructional approach that interweaves student choice, differentiation, and independent reading. The question guiding their study includes, “To what degree can the regular reading curriculum be replaced by an independent and interest-based program (SEM-R) without adversely affecting scores on standardized assessments of reading fluency and reading comprehension?” (Little et al., 2014, p. 386).

Their study was conducted in forty-seven classrooms, sampling 2,150 students within grades six through eight with 50% being eligible for free or reduced lunch (Little et al., 2014). The findings of this study revealed that in the classrooms that replaced three hours per week of whole-group, or direct instruction with differentiated individual reading conferences and an increase in students independently reading a book of their choice, reading fluency and comprehension scores increased (Little et al., 2014). These findings were based off of a given pretest and posttest within the aforementioned reading categories.

This research is appropriate to address the identified need within my own school because currently teachers feel the provided curriculum leaves little room for individuality; thus, reducing students’ motivation and engagement. Utilizing the strategies suggested within Little, McCoach, and Reis’ (2014) article, my school can incorporate individual conferences during literacy time, while also increasing the time in which students self-select a book of their choice and engage in independent reading. The differentiation provided during the individual conferences would allow teachers to scaffold instruction to meet both advanced, proficient, and struggling learners’ needs.

Our current educational system has set reading expectations based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The switch to the CCSS has indeed shifted reading instruction and with it, there is an increase in students using text-based evidence to support their thinking. Robb’s (2014) article suggests that teachers need time and professional development in order to marry their methods of traditional reading instruction with that of the CCSS. Placing an emphasis on meeting students’ needs based on differentiation, Robb (2014) outlines three key principles that form the foundation of reading instruction that is differentiated.

These principles include: learner reading levels are diverse, formative assessment should guide instructional decisions in order to scaffold, reteach, and adjust, and finally, tiered instruction helps students’ progress (Robb, 2014, p. 15). Moreover, Robb (2014) also points to five differentiated best reading practices that can be incorporated within schools to meet the needs of individual readers, these include: use anchor texts for read aloud instruction, use formative assessments to inform teaching, amplify writing about reading, recognize that students independently reading is an accelerator, and acquire and select books at students’ instructional levels (p. 14).

The strategies suggested within the article are both applicable and practical for the identified need within my school. While teachers at our school typically rely on methods of using one book to instruct the whole; Robb (2014) warns of this practice by stating, “One-book-for-all can decelerate the achievement of students who can’t read and learn in English language arts and content classes. Instead of progressing, they slowly and steadily slide backwards” (p. 15). Teachers within my school can address this issue by choosing books that are at students’ individual levels, explicitly modeling during read alouds, conducting individual reading and writing conferences, and “chunking” texts coupled with “Stop to Think” discussions utilizing sticky notes (Robb, 2014).

Research within the field of literacy continues to support the need for differentiated learning for both high achievers and those who may be at-risk. Tobin and McInnes (2008) research supports differentiated instruction in addressing dynamic learning needs. Within the article, Accommodating differences: Variations in differentiated literacy instruction in grade 2/3 classrooms, Tobin and McInnes (2008) suggest teachers “provide additional scaffolding for struggling literacy learners by offering a menu of tiered work products, expert tutoring and additional supports” (p. 3).

Through the data collection method of utilizing qualitative research, Tobin and McInnes (2008) identified that the differentiated classrooms that were successful had three components: shared reading and writing instruction, literacy centers, and guided reading groups (p. 7). Flexible grouping and ongoing assessment were also accounted for within their study. In conjunction with the tiered assignments, teachers provided engaging literacy centers that were appropriate for the various student groups’ readiness for specific tasks (Tobin & McInnes, 2008).

While students engaged in the literacy centers, guided reading groups were formed and met with the teacher. The lessons followed a pattern of: the teacher listened to the students read aloud individually, students framed words with their fingers, the teacher encouraged phrasing and fluency, students manipulated words by means of a whiteboard, the teacher introduced a new book, students made predictions, vocabulary was discussed, and comprehension strategies ensued (Tobin & McInnes, 2008). Additionally, Tobin and McInnes (2008) argue that expert tutoring and additional supports be incorporated for reluctant readers and writers by anticipating their struggles during the choice independent activities and appropriately scaffolding instruction.

“A DI approach assumes difference at the outset and proactively sets out to assess, accommodate and celebrate difference in creative ways for the benefit of all learners” (Tobin & McInnes, 2008, p. 9). This research ties in with the identified need for differentiation during literacy instruction, seeing as teachers can incorporate these strategies within the preexisting curriculum in order to facilitate reading fluency and heightened comprehension. Students within a classroom that guides reading through a differentiated lens are more apt to engage in these authentic learning tasks as previously described; thus, creating an environment that is supportive of unique learning needs.

Correspondingly, a differentiated classroom that incorporates the multiple intelligences further heightens student-accountability and educational gains. This statement is reflective of Beam’s (2009) argument that multiple intelligences based on various learning styles should be incorporated into daily plans. The multiple intelligences, based on Howard Gardner’s model, allows for educators to “determine not only how various types of students think, but what they enjoy, how they prefer to gain instruction, and what they need to be successful” (Beam, 2009, p. 3). Gardner’s multiple intelligences include: visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, intrapersonal, interpersonal, linguistic, and logical-mathematical (Beam, 2009).

Within the article, Beam (2009) notes that an effective practice of coming to know what types of learners are within a classroom involves the use of an interest inventory; in turn, teachers can create individualized learning profiles for students. Furthermore, this practice has an added benefit of allowing the students, themselves, to come to know their own learning styles. Beam (2009) warns of teachers being conscious of their own comfort levels when it comes to incorporating differentiated instruction. For example, teachers can begin to incorporate differentiation at the most basic level by: allowing choices when it comes to homework or independent reading materials, utilizing reading buddies, setting goals, flexibly grouping students, varying journal prompts, creating open ended activities, and varying instructional pacing (Beam, 2009, p. 7).

Moreover, the teachers who feel comfortable with implementing differentiation can springboard off of the aforementioned strategies by including tasks that require more preparation. According to Beam (2009) these teachers can begin to create, “tiered activities and labs, independent studies, multiple texts, alternative assignments, multiple-intelligence options, varying graphic organizers, tiered learning centers, choice boards, graduated rubrics, personal agendas, or stations developed by readiness, interest, or learning profile” (p. 7).

These specific examples are applicable and appropriate for the differentiated needs within my building. These strategies could easily be incorporated into a professional development session in which teachers could collaborate, especially across various content areas, to see how they could feasibly be incorporated into the curriculum. A major takeaway from Beam’s (2009) findings, reveals the need for our school to consider the child as a whole, and this begins with coming to know the modalities that best match the student’s preferred learning style.

Making informed teacher decisions under a differentiated model requires tailored instruction and an emphasis on various forms of assessment. In the article, Differentiated Instruction: Making Informed Teacher Decisions, Watts-Taffe et al. (2012) argue that differentiation is responsive and effective when educators are the ones who are making the decisions. Worse are the institutions that fail to address individual student needs within a literacy program, such as students’ strengths and their growth.

There are several ideas to glean from the findings of this article; namely, teachers should assess students regularly using formative assessments such as running records, grouping students flexibly, organizing the literacy block with small reading groups, matching texts to readers, and incorporating a gradual release of responsibility following explicit modeling by the teacher (Watts-Taffe et al., 2012, p. 309). There is also the incorporation of graphic organizers with performance criteria rubrics for older children within an intermediate classroom. While many teachers may note that a preexisting curriculum leaves little room for teacher autonomy or differentiation, Watts-Taffe et al. (2012) argues that a teacher can select readings and activities from the literacy curriculum that may be designed for later on in the year, but may be appropriate for some learners to access at the beginning of the school year.

Furthermore, Watts-Taffe et al. (2012) claim that literature anthologies found within most core curriculums offer scaffolded tasks, which may be appropriate for guided reading instruction when creating lessons for small group learning. In order to take action, Watts-Taffe et al. (2012) suggest following the subsequent steps in order for educators to begin analyzing their practice from a differentiated lens:

  1. Begin with selecting one strategy to incorporate (i.e. matching the student to their level of text).
  2. Think of current strategies that are already in place and modify these to allow for the gradual, systematic release of responsibility.
  3. Make a list of the forms of data that are currently being used to drive instruction.
  4. Ask yourself if more data is needed in conjunction with other professionals’ data to make informed decisions.
  5. Create an instructional schedule where the educator meets with each individual student or within a small group setting at least once per week.
  6. Develop a plan in which students’ cultural and linguistic differences are accounted for within the differentiated lesson.
  7. Make a plan to place differentiation at the top of the school’s next professional development meeting in order to further collaborate on this topic.

The findings as outlined in the aforementioned article are, in my opinion, the most practical in bringing about a shift in my school’s current literacy program. Professionals within my school should be educated on the current research that supports the need for differentiation. Additionally, by starting small, teachers and students alike, can become more familiar with the set routines established when differentiation is embedded within the current reading curriculum. As previously noted, my school lacks an instructional coach or a literacy team devoted to improving current literacy instruction.

With that being said, my plan for moving forward will be to speak with administration about forming a literacy team that is heterogeneous in nature and comprised of teachers, administrators, and specialists that collaborate frequently, share a common vision for our school, and support one another in its endeavors. In looking ahead, I would like to also create a professional development session for my colleagues outlining the findings of the research I have investigated and summarized. In the meantime, I will further analyze my own practice to see what modifications and adaptations I can put into place in order to reach the needs of my unique learners.


As Harn, Parisi, and Stoolmiller (2013) state, “To promote the effective and sustained implementation of effective interventions, researchers need to develop programs that can be adapted to match ever-changing school contexts and student populations” (p. 190). Accordingly, as a literacy team, my school must come to realize that various interventions and strategies will look and work differently based on the individual, yet diverse learning needs of our student population; respectively, there must be a “balance between adaptation and implementation with high fidelity” (Harn, Parisi, & Stoolmiller, 2013, p. 190). Within this application I have selected and summarized five research articles related to differentiated instruction and its potential impact on my school’s current literacy program. In moving forward, the outlined aforementioned evidence-based strategies will be utilized to bring about future change within my instructional setting and to better my own instructional practice as an educator.

Cite this paper

Differentiated Literacy in Modern Schools. (2021, Dec 26). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/differentiated-literacy-in-modern-schools/

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Peter is on the line!

Don't settle for a cookie-cutter essay. Receive a tailored piece that meets your specific needs and requirements.

Check it out