Differentiating Instruction in Kindergarten and Elementary Grades with Laura Robb
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Extended Episode on Differentiating Reading Instruction
Oh, this is a big topic and it is worth an extended episode of the ten minute teacher podcast. Dr. Laura Robb is such an expert and she was just pouring out her wisdom as it relates to teaching reading.
I couldn’t help it. This episode is a bit longer, but very important for teachers of kindergarten, really through middle school, about reading instruction and differentiation. I hope you enjoy it and look forward to hearing your feedback on social media.
Introduction of Laura Robb
Oh, I’m so excited today for us to talk with Laura Robb. With over 43 years of classroom instruction. The thing that impresses me the most about Laura is that she goes back into the classroom for three or four months every year.
She has written 25 books for teachers. It may even be more than that by now, Laura, but it’s a lot of books. And yes, we’re going to talk about differentiating instruction for reading. We’ll break it down by grade level. But first, Laura, thanks for coming on the show. And where do we start? Are there any prerequisites for differentiated instruction with reading that you advise for teachers?
Prerequisites for Differentiating Instruction with Reading: A Trust Relationship
Yes, I do. The first thing is I want teachers and this is an all year long thing. I want them to build trusting relationships with the children they teach. Because Vicki, if you don’t have trust in the kids, aren’t comfortable talking to you and sharing things with you, then the amount of progress and the amount of honesty you’re going to get from them will diminish unless you continue to build those relationships, hear them, be positive and gain their trust.
Prerequisite #2: Ongoing Formative Assessment
The other thing is ongoing formative assessment, which includes lots of careful observations, listening to discussion or partners working. It also in my mind includes conferring and then reading kids notebooks, what they write about their reading or other subjects in a notebook. When we put all those things together and we watch children every day, we learn about them. And what we learn about them informs our instructional decisions and the moves we make.
So I might have three children who need more help with using vocabulary and finding context clues in the text for building vocabulary. What were the other class? Maybe less of the classes doing independent reading. I might take 5 minutes and work, do a little intervention, a little scaffolding, and see if I need to do even more than just that one five minute meeting with the child.
So it’s ongoing. It’s all day long, all week long. And you can’t have a rigid program or a scripted program because children aren’t scripted. They’re all unique. They all come to us with different needs, with different background experiences. And that’s the joy of teaching, is to know that as you get to know every child, you’re going to be able to find ways to move them forward.
So that’s one of the keys to differentiation.
Relate to Educate!
So my listeners will know exactly what I’m going to say. I always say you have to relate to educate. It talks about you have to start with that relationship because that every the beauty in the artwork of teaching the masterpiece of teaching is that relationship, isn’t it?
The Art of Teaching
It is. And I’m so happy you use the word art, because the art of teaching includes authenticity, giving kids authentic experiences, being able to be creative as a teacher, using your creative thinking, thinking out of the box for what a child might need, and also giving them an aesthetic experience. It’s that the texts that we share with them should touch their minds and their hearts.
The Heart of Reading
And it’s the heart that really opens them up to reading.
It does. I absolutely love that. So that is those are our prerequisites to differentiate. We have to understand that students are different. We have to understand, you know, who they are, getting to know them through their through their writing and having this authentic relations. That’s awesome. So how do you break it down by grade level? I think you said you want us to start out in kindergarten, so let’s start lower and move on up.
Kindergarten Reading Differentiation
Okay. Well, first, I’m a big believer that play is one of the best ways for children and adults to learn. We have given up our play, but I want I want to bring it back to all grade levels, but especially in kindergarten. So I want there to be a lot of play, a lot of role play. And I also want the teacher to read aloud many, many times during the day and read two or three books, and then as kids, would you like to hear again?
Because we know that every week, every day, the children hear more, they learn more, and they see more in the illustrations. There has been a big push to have reading works in kindergarten. I am only in favor of organizing children into a group or working with one child. If you tell me that one child who comes in is already reading well, because they’ve they’ve learned early on or they have everything that they need to be ready to learn how to read.
One of the Worst Things We Can Do in Kindergarten
I think one of the worst things we do is we develop a program. This is what everyone will do so that in the kindergarten class you have some children who really can read. So why should they be doing phonics and phonemic awareness drills when they need to be reading books and talking about them? And by the same token, if the children are not ready for some aspects of phonics, then we have to go back to reverse and read.
Teacher Reading is Important
I do a lot of reading to them. I’ll take two or three kids in each on and read to them to kind of rebuild that experience that maybe many of them missed at home. But we know the more stories children to hear and the more stories they talk about, the more they develop what’s needed to break the code and learn how to read.
How do you help parents understand how children are at different reading levels?
So, so I have a question as parents talk to you and you have some kids in kindergarten reading and some not. Do you have parents who say, well, you’re not being fair to my child because you’re not putting them in a reading group in that child is actually maybe not ready yet.
Right. Well, you can put them in a group, but you can do other things with them and you can tell the parents this is a pre reading. And I think we need to explain to the parents what the children need. That’s the worst thing we can do for their child is to put them in a situation where they will be frustrated and they won’t be successful.
Effective Parent-Teacher Communication
And at such a young age, it’s heartbreaking. So a lot of a lot of that has to do with parent-teacher communication. I’m really big on kindergarten teacher sending home a newsletter twice a month and in that newsletter celebrating some of the things they do in the class, but also inviting parents to do things with their children, knowing that they’re all not going to do it.
But I always look at the glass half full. If several parents do it, then I take that as a win. And you know, when parents get together, they start talking about things like that. And if they find out one group is doing it, know, this is like catching light cold and they’re going to want to do some of the things.
And so, you know, we want to include parents and honor them and respect what they know about their child. That’s very, very important.
Well, we partner with parents and partnership always works better. And mutual respect, it flows that respect flows both ways.
Open Invitations to Parents to Come in the Classroom
Right. And so I always invite parents to come in to the classroom. I always have an open policy and with the little ones, you know, parents who work so they can try to get them, how often come first thing in the morning. And so I’ll change the schedule to make sure that they see things that are important to them.
I think I’ve never met a parent that wants to push a child if it is really going to not benefit the child. And the other thing they need to know is that by the end of kindergarten, once they develop some ability to work with word families and sing songs and, you know, phonemic awareness and exposed to all kinds of literature, they’ll learn how to read very quickly.
I love that. Okay. So lots of great thoughts. And I also love the twice a month newsletter. So many great that so as we move up first second you know what changes.
1st Grade Reading Differentiation: Strategic Reading
Okay so in first grade, we’re starting to do some grouping of children and teaching them in small groups. Some people call it guided reading. I prefer to call it strategic reading because we’re teaching them some very high order strategies and how to apply them to text. We’re giving them strategies for…you know, one of my favorite things is analogous thinking.
So if you can say name, we should be able to say naming because the pattern is the same. And so when I work on words families, I’m working a lot on word patterns that are common in our language, which really helps children. And so we have groups that meet up three or four times a week for 15 to 20 minutes.
We’re using a text and we’re learning to do some major thinking with illustrations and photographs because the beginning texts are very sparse. They have either one word or a short sentence that is repeated, like, here’s the bike, here is the tricycle, you know, and it says on and on a theme. But it’s also important if we’re doing that kind of small group work, is to do a lot of reading, laughs with children, and introduce them to all kinds of picture books, to introduce them to poetry.
Poetry in 1st Grade Reading
And a lot of times I will put poems on a chart because they’re short, they’re accessible, funny. Kids love them and they can learn to read them very quickly. And I find that with poetry I can build the vocabulary so and so I have small groups, I have lots of read-a-louds We have up playing with poetry and I am a big believer in shared reading with oversize books..
Looking at Print
And so that I can I can show them all the ins and outs of looking at print. And so we call that the concepts of print, you know, that you indent for a paragraph.
Creating a Morning Message
So spaces between words are another way to build the concepts of print, but I think has kind of we’ve lost it is the morning message where on paper the children help you compose a message.
It could be about something that happened at school yesterday. It could be the weather if it’s raining outside and then and then you model also indenting for a paragraph, starting with a capital letter spaces between words and I show them how to use two fingers. And what happens when you get to the end, you have to start a new line.
And then the kids, we read it again and again and again, and we read it at the end of the day. And they add something. It’s kind of like a closing activity that brings the day, the full circle. But all around literacy, which which really makes a big difference.
Are there any common mistakes that happen in first grade?
Common Mistakes in 1st Grade Reading Instruction
Yes, there are a lot of common mistakes children have trouble with. Sometimes a lot confuse letters or they reverse letters a lot. There are some kids who will read and they’re not thinking about it. What I just read, did it make sense? That is a really common mistake. So that’s one of the things we talk about when you read something and you look at the pictures, it should make sense.
Reading and Pictures
It shouldn’t be out in left field. And so that’s a question I begin to ask. So that makes sense. Can you tell me why? Because what I’m trying to do and I want teachers to do is to get them to internalize some of these questions that help them look at issues like that.
Thank you eSpark for Sponsoring this Extended Episode
Now, the show is not over. You have much more left to go to talk about differentiation of reading. But because this is an extended episode of The Ten Minute Teacher with Dr. Laura Robb, I wanted to take a moment to thank eSpark, the sponsor for this episode. eSpark is free for teachers and is a differentiation an intervention tool that helps teachers of kindergarten through grade five save time by providing ready to go standards based reading and math activities that students love.
I have written a full review of eSpark on my blog, so go to go https://go.eSpark.app/CoolCatTeacher and sign up today for eSpark. Now back to the show. Fantastic.
2nd and 3rd Grade – Differentiating Reading
Okay, let’s go to second grade or second and third however you want to group it.
Yeah, well, second and third off, again, it’s pretty much, you know, very similar strategic reading groups. And I want to talk about those for a minute. And the same goes for first grade. If you’re in a group, it doesn’t mean you’re in it for life. I want groups to be flexible and fluid. So if if a child has really learned to do a lot can really now decode with automaticity and recall text do some thinking with text, to code words that are new to them because they think they know the parts of words.
They have a good sense of awareness and they are using their phonics. I want you to think about where can I move that child into a different group?
The other thing we do is running records. Running records are an excellent way to monitor children’s ability to decode. I like them to retell because I think it’s important.
It’s not just saying the words. You know, the minute we can say a word, we are we have to teach, comprehend because that’s what reading is all about. It just can’t be saying.
The Problem with Nonsense Words
That’s what I’m pretty opposed to. Nonsense words because that will confuse a child. We need to give them real words that are in our language and then do practice with with real words.
So I, I want to minimize the confusion, but I also again bear that’s with that formative assessment. But you want to make sure that your formative assessment is hitting key areas. So if if if I have three different groups and one group is working on a visualizing and another group is working on inferring an assessment and compare and contrast.
And I have a child in the visualizing really can make mental pictures. When I look at the journal the pictures, the details of the child by the explanation are captured under the picture. To help me understand it better, I notice that the reading is very fluid and expressive and so I have a conference with that child. It’s not just like willy nilly.
One-on-one Meetings with Students
I want to get a one on one and what I’ll do is try out a book a little more challenging with a running record to see if what’s happening in the book there is is transferred to another level. And the other thing I’m going to work on is I want to I want to get a real clear picture of that visualizing and then I have to make a decision, am I going to move the child into the next learning to infer?
The Importance of Inferring
And that’s probably where I will go, because authors expect readers to infer and it’s a key strategy to compare and contrast, is a little more challenging. So I would make that move up and I would tell the child, you know, I’m moving you, but I want you to tell me if you’re comfortable. And that’s where the trust and the relationship comes in.
Trust As Students Progress
Because if they trust you and they’re comfortable talking to you and you’re positive with them, then they’re going to let you know. And positivity is so important to see.
What To Do When a Student Says He/She Hates Reading
When you get into third and fourth grade or second and third, you you get you start getting some behaviors that make teachers nervous where a child will say, “I hate reading.”
Well, you can’t make me read. And, you know, if you believe me, I feel that way, too. I feel like I will make you read. I will teach you to read, no. Wrong answer.
My answer is, I’m so glad you could share your feelings with me. Honestly. And I tell I and I tell the child. We’ll just keep working together.
And I want you to keep sharing your feelings and tell me what about we’re doing? Makes you hate it. What about what we’re doing? Makes you want to do anything but that? So you see those those words that a child sends to us, they’re telegraphing the message, I need help, but they don’t know what to ask for all the time.
And it’s our job to value our honesty about it. To be honest, I don’t want them to fake and tell me, Oh, I like this reading. This is like, well, you know, I need to know where they’re coming from really honestly. And it’s okay to be there because I tell you, the fact that they’re there tells me a lot about where they’ve been in the past, but they haven’t had enough success that they have to work very hard to read.
And it’s tiring and exhausting and why would they like it?
Honesty About Learning Helps Us Teach
I love that I have a slide I use in some of my speeches and a note that student had written where I had said, You know, how do you feel about this particular subject? We were learning. And the student said, I’m scared. I don’t know if I can do it, but it will be okay because I know you love me and you’re a good teacher and it’s like.
Yes, and it’s okay. Yes. And it is. It’s and it’s the kids have to know it’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to have feelings. And, you know, if we want I’ve never had a class where everyone just said, I love reading. You know, it doesn’t happen, does it?
I mean, that’s a fantasy. Like we we have to take the child where that child is and not make them feel bad feeling. Because I have to tell you, the feelings will change. They just need to experience success.
3rd and 4th Grade Reading Differentiation
I love that. Okay. So as we move to the older grades, you went talk a third, third, fourth kind of, and then we hit fifth last because this is going to end up being an extended episode. And that is okay, Laura, because this is great.
Oh, okay. Well, yeah, in 3rd or 4th it’a the same it’s the same thing. Lots of read aloud. But at this point I print well even from the beginning. I like to read aloud some of them to be interactive, where the teacher stops and says, I’m going to cry. I’m going to cry if this character does make this choice. And so that you’re you’re teaching the child that a book brings out feelings inside of you said a very powerful.
Interactive Read Alouds
And then I’ll read a little more and I’ll stop and I’ll say, one person want to share how they feel now. And if nobody does, I go on, it’s okay. Because if nobody does, it tells me that they’re not ready to go public with their with sharing that way. But you can do that interactive and read aloud with apply to strategy.
What’s inspiring was visualizing Ruby through what I see when the author writes these words and then again stop. And sometimes it’s good to have a little pair-share so they get secure before you ask them to share. But if they don’t share and maybe it’s because I’ve been doing it so long, you know, as a young teacher, it’s hard, like you think you are doing wrong.
It is OK if Students Aren’t Ready Yet
What’s going on? It’s not that you’re doing something wrong. The kids are not there yet and it’s okay. That’s part of our job is to find out how we can bring them.
Well, that’s also part of honesty, saying I’m not ready to share that. I mean, you know.
Right. And it’s okay. Yes. You hit it right on the nose with respect to your in the term notes, when you respect them, even if it’s not the way they they know they’re supposed to feel or everyone has told them they’re supposed to feel, I don’t know what the right way of feeling is. Whatever the kids feel, that’s the right way.
And, you know, and in 3rd or 4th grade, what great lot of notebook writing, drawing characters, drawing which character at the beginning and what they’re like and drawing character at the end and what they’re like. Doing a little writing about it, trying to find what made that change was yet another character was an event that they had to work for. So we’re doing a lot of drawing, writing and sharing.
Teachers Should Have Notebooks Too
And I, I believe a lot in teachers notebooks. So I keep a notebook and I model the kind of response that I’m hoping they will get. So I will draw and write, or sometimes I just write, sometimes I just make a list, whatever it is that becomes a resource for them. And I write a lot of that in my books about teachers notebooks because they become a teaching tool and a resource.
You do it in front of them, but then when they’re ready to write, I can bring up a notebook page of mine and say, Remember when I wrote this and I took some notes? So I drew a little picture and I did the writing. And so I’m refreshing their mind about how do you think about books on paper?
And that that’s that really is a wonderful way to get inside of kids. As I use their notebooks, we talk about it during conferences and they tell me about it and I learned so much.
5th Grade Differentiation of Reading
That’s great. So let’s move on to fifth grade.
It’s okay. And, you know, it’s very much the same in fifth grade. I like to bring in choice sports so that if I’m working with a group, I have choice sports where they can choose something to do. But the something should not be a worksheet. It should be authentic reading, writing or watching a video that has something to do with literacy.
Maybe an excerpt of a poem might be a little play, but it’s fun video for five or 6 minutes that kids watch because that’s their medium. I’m very respectful of that, and sometimes you might want stations, even in younger grades to fifth graders like it because they can have choices and be independent. But again, this station should focus on reading and writing.
So you might have a poem in the station or you might have a picture book in a station that you want them to read a part and react to it. It should be authentic text and to relate to literacy.
The Problem with Worksheets
I don’t believe in worksheets. I use notebooks. When kids write in the worksheets, they never learn how to organize their ideas on the page.
The worksheet does everything for them. And so if they’ve only done worksheet and I get someone in fourth and fifth grade, they’re all over the place. I just they don’t even know where to put their name, you know, and and that’s a skill. Have you organize your paper, which is why I do the teacher notebooks, because I’m showing them what, what, how I would organize that page.
But so we we want everything. We want choices. We want them to have voice in what they do. And we want it to focus always on authentic reading and writing. So the other piece that I didn’t mention, which is self differentiation, is classroom libraries. I am a huge believer in independent reading and volume in reading. We know the more kids read, the better readers they become.
And so I like classroom libraries. A start. A library is about 600 books. I want teachers to give themselves 4 to 6 years to go up to a thousand or 1200 books on a range of readability levels. Different genres teach children to modeling how to self-select a book, and so that to me is a form of differentiation because everyone is reading a different book of their choice that appeals to them.
I never tell a child what to read, and I can tell you that this has happened to me many times in fifth grade, where I’ll have a child and two or three days can’t find a book. So I will take three books and I’ll sit here and you know, I said, These are three books you might like and I’ll talk about them.
And I have to tell you, many of them put them all and you can’t get frosted over that. Yes, I cannot make them read pictures. It has to come in time when they see their peers doing a lot of independent reading and when it’s comfortable, you know, when they can sit on the floor, you know, you have to bring in pillows, make it.
Nobody said to me just straight to the desk and has a good time. You’re leaving bed in a comfortable chair, want kids to feel comfortable? But we also want them to know that you have time. You need to you need to come to this with my support. My encouragement… But I’m not going to judge you if you’re not starting with everybody else.
When Do You Let a Student Abandon a Book?
I have to ask this one question. I once heard that quote, Life’s too short to read a bad book. So, you know, I usually give myself 20 pages. And if I am just like, it’s not happening, I just say, no, you know, put it up, whatever you do, you give students kind of clues on when maybe a book isn’t working for them.
Because, you know, sometimes I think the problem is the book is just not right for the child. And they need they don’t feel like they can put it up and so they get stuck.
Right? Yeah. We talk a lot about having the right to abandon a book and and I if it’s a small but I’ll say try to read the first chapter before you abandon it. But if it’s so awful, come and see me as well. And I will. I will certainly support your wanting to do it. You have to watch out for the child that abandons everything.
Yeah, that’s rare.. It really is. But when I was growing up in school, you weren’t allowed to abandon your if you picked it. You read at my golly and you suffered through it. And I remember that feeling very well. So those are things that we talk about.
Interest Inventories for Book Selection
But you have a right to abandon the book and find one that you really care and so in all grades, I do interest inventories.
I want to find out what are they interested in, what do they like to do in their spare time? What do they do with their family? What do they do with their friends? And again, that’s building relationships. That’s part of getting to know who they are and letting them get to know who you are, too, with the same questions.
And so I’m you know, I’m finding bringing in books and I think they would really like and I also ask the kids to recommend books. So and I will purchase books that they recommend. Absolutely. It’s not my classroom library. It’s our class.
Okay. Well, thank you, Laura, for talking today about differentiating instruction with reading. We could go on we could go all the way through through eighth grade, can we? Or even probably past it. This has just been so very helpful, and I think it’ll be very useful for teachers to kind of see the big picture. And I just absolutely love it.
And also that you have the heart of a teacher because it does start with relationship.
Thank You eSpark – Episode Sponsor
Thank you, eSpark for sponsoring today’s extended episode. eSpark is a differentiation and intervention tool that helps teachers of kindergarten through grade five save time by providing a ready to go standards base reading and math activities that students love. eSpark is free for teachers.
Each Quest in eSpark includes a pre quiz, framing videos, instructional videos, practice activities, critical thinking challenges, a post quiz and optional student recording. I love it for activities to remain in the eSpark catalog. It must have a high in student engagement rating based on student chosen thumbs up or thumbs down, you can even import in WGA or star data to give students a more differentiated experience from the first log on.
Oh, and did I say it is free for teachers? So go to https://go.eSpark.app/CoolCatTeacher and sign up today for eSpark. You’ll be glad that you did. And as always, email me at [email protected] to let me know what you think about today’s sponsor or today’s show.
Thank you, e Spark for sponsoring this extended episode today.
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