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Differentiated Instruction: Making Informed Teacher Decisions

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Abstract

This article addresses approaches to differentiating instruction to meet the needs of students whose literacy needs, interests, and strengths vary widely. This article was designed to support classroom teachers who understand the importance of differentiating instruction, but are unsure of how best to design and implement differentiation within the parameters of the classroom. The article begins by defining differentiated instruction and discussing its importance, including the role of differentiation with respect to diversity and with respect to Response to Intervention (RTI). The remainder of the article describes in detail two examples of differentiated instruction in classroom contexts. Each example is followed by a discussion of the research and decision-making underlying the teacher's approach to differentiation. The article concludes with common characteristics of effective differentiation.
Differentiated Instruction: Making Informed Teacher
Decisions
Watts-Taffe, S., Laster, B., Broach, L., Marinak, B., Conner, C., & Walker-Dalhouse, D.
(2012, December/2013, January). Differentiated Instruction: Making Informed
Teacher
Decisions. The Reading Teacher, 66(4), 303-314.
DOI: 10.1002/TRTR.01126View
/save citation
Cited by: 8 articles
Abstract
This article addresses approaches to differentiating instruction to meet the needs of
students whose literacy needs, interests, and strengths vary widely. This article was
designed to support classroom teachers who understand the importance of
differentiating instruction, but are unsure of how best to design and implement
differentiation within the parameters of the classroom. The article begins by defining
differentiated instruction and discussing its importance, including the role of
differentiation with respect to diversity and with respect to Response to Intervention
(RTI). The remainder of the article describes in detail two examples of differentiated
instruction in classroom contexts. Each example is followed by a discussion of the
research and decision-making underlying the teacher's approach to differentiation. The
article concludes with common characteristics of effective differentiation.
Introduction
This article provides an inside look at two classrooms where focused assessment and
tailored instruction are key to differentiation.
In schools across the country, teachers and administrators grapple with the complexities
of differentiating instruction for students whose literacy needs, interests, and
strengths vary widely. Although the notion of differentiating instruction is not new, it has
become increasingly important in schools where large numbers of students are not
achieving the highest levels of literacy.
For example, Lincoln School District (pseudonym), a large, urban school system with
low districtwide reading scores, was mandated to establish a more comprehensive
vision for its reading program. District administrators selected a core reading program to
be used in all schools and allocated longer blocks of time for whole-class instruction,
−small-group differentiated instruction, and independent learning. In this district, and
others where students consistently score lower than do students in more affluent
school settings, the need for further differentiation is pitted against the realities of limited
teacher time and the need for more knowledge about how to differentiate instruction to
meet the variability in student needs.
The following comments, heard recently in schools, may sound familiar:
The basal
gives us models,
materials, and
methods to
differentiate
instruction for all
students; isn't that
enough?
I thought the
whole point of using
research-based
instructional
strategies was to be
more effective with
my students. I'm
unclear on what
more I should be
doing.
Meanwhile, administrators and professional development facilitators state: We know
that teachers and students need more direction than core reading programs can provide
to help students who struggle in reading. How can we support our teachers?
In this article, we address the concept of differentiation by investigating what it means,
the research base supporting it, what it can look like in both primary and intermediate-
grade classrooms, and the teacher decision making behind it. We begin by examining
the following questions: What does differentiation mean? Why is it important? What
does the extant research suggest about what works for differentiation?
What Is Differentiated Instruction?
Differentiated instruction allows all students to access the same classroom curriculum
by providing entry points, learning tasks, and outcomes tailored to students' learning
needs (Hall, Strangman, & Meyer, 2003). Differentiated instruction is not a single
strategy, but rather an approach to instruction that incorporates a variety of strategies.
In other words, differentiation is responsive instruction designed to meet unique
individual student needs. As Tomlinson (2001) stated, differentiating instruction can
occur by focusing on the process by which students learn, the products or
demonstrations of their learning, the environment in which they learn, or the
content they are learning.
In our view, differentiating the process by which students learn, the products or
demonstrations of their learning, the environment in which they learn, or the content
they are learning is not a mutually exclusive exercise. In fact, we suggest there is often
important reciprocity among Tomlinson's four differentiation dimensions during literacy
instruction.
For example, grouping students appropriately for reading instruction is a key component
of the learning environment; however, it can also create a process of literacy learning
that is social and collaborative. Furthermore, working with students in small groups is
often aligned with differentiated content or products of instruction. The same is true for
text selection. Students should always be reading texts worth reading. Hence,
differentiation of the environment, processes, or products could be the result of offering
appropriate text as the content of literacy instruction.
For example, when students engage with differentiated text, their literacy environment
may encourage greater risk taking, thereby causing the teacher to alter the processes
or products based on students' engagement. Therefore, given the dynamic nature of
literacy instruction, it is important to keep in mind that the four dimensions of
differentiation (Tomlinson, 2001) could, and indeed sometimes should, affect one other.
Pause and Ponder
One dimension
of differentiation is in-
depth knowledge of
the reading process
and the evidence base
for reading instruction.
What areas of reading
development do you
feel most comfortable
with and know the
most about? If you
were to begin
differentiating, where
would be a good place
to start?
How do you
allow students to
demonstrate their
knowledge? How
might you use your
knowledge of your
students' cultural and
linguistic differences to
plan and assess
differentiated
instruction that is
responsive to their
needs and builds upon
their backgrounds and
experiences?
What supports
your collaboration with
colleagues? What
inhibits your
collaboration with
colleagues? Think of
factors that are
“systemic” as well as
those that are specific
to you.
Many schools
use published reading
programs, core literacy
curricula, or other
materials to support
literacy learning. How
can the published
program and
differentiation coexist
to the maximum
benefit of your
students?
Why Is Differentiated Literacy Instruction
Important?
As research was conducted over the past decade about how children learn to read,
correlational evidence consistently showed that some types of instruction were more
effective for some students and less effective for others (Juel & Minden-Cupp, 2000).
More recently, school-based research studies have been conducted in which teachers
were randomly assigned to either differentiate reading instruction based on students'
reading and vocabulary skills or to provide more effective, but not differentiated,
instruction during their literacy block (Connor, 2011).
These studies showed that from kindergarten through third grade, students made
greater gains in word reading and reading comprehension when their teachers
differentiated instruction, using small, flexible learning groups during a center or station
time, than did students whose teachers provided high-quality but primarily whole-class
instruction. In these studies, the heart of effective differentiated instruction was
understanding students' skill profiles and matching amounts and types of instruction to
each profile. Valid and reliable ongoing assessments of students' reading and
vocabulary skills were used to identify different student profiles, which changed over
time. This research also revealed the importance of using ongoing assessments and
truly understanding students' specific strengths and needs as they changed in response
to effective literacy instruction.
Differentiated instruction is also central to honoring diversity. In his review of research
on literacy and diversity, Tatum (2011) reported nine categories of diversity pertinent to
literacy educators, including gender, ethnicity, language, race, socioeconomic status,
and exceptionalities (physical, mental, emotional, intellectual), noting that “there are
many interactions that can exist within and across each of the categories, and each is
affected by dynamics of power and privilege” (p. 427). He stated that an important way
to honor the multiple ways in which students are diverse is to offer appropriately
differentiated instruction.
In his review, Tatum (2011) identified specific instructional recommendations, which
include making connections between instruction and students' experiences, fostering
student autonomy, making effective use of strategic grouping, and providing research-
based cognitive strategy instruction. A truly differentiated classroom is one in which
learners are understood to be constantly growing and changing as they participate in
various literacy events.
Furthermore, particular ways of learning are not privileged over others. Instead, it is
understood that children bring to school an array of valuable cultural and linguistic
experiences that may be similar or dissimilar to those of the teacher or other children in
the classroom (e.g., Terry & Connor, 2012). The idea that classrooms are fundamentally
diverse in a variety of ways, including experiences with and achievement in school-
based literacy, is in keeping with concepts underlying Response to Intervention (RTI),
which blurs the lines between traditional notions of “mainstream” or “general” instruction
versus “specialized” instruction.
Differentiation has drawn increasing attention since 2004, when reauthorization of the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) introduced RTI. RTI assumes that
literacy teachers differentiate as a matter of course, within both the context of the
general classroom (sometimes called Tier 1) and within the context of more specialized
and targeted instruction/intervention (sometimes called Tier 2 and Tier 3).
According to the Response to Intervention: Guiding Principles for
Educators (International Reading Association [IRA], 2010):
Students have different language and literacy needs so they may not respond similarly
to instruction, even when research-based practices are used. No single process or
program can address the broad and varied goals and needs of all students, especially
those from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
It further states: “The boundaries between differentiation and intervention are permeable
and not clear-cut. Instruction or intervention must be flexible enough to respond to
evidence from student performance and teaching interactions.”
In an RTI framework, providing differentiated and responsive instruction is an important
prerequisite to referring a child for special educational services. This is in direct contrast
to earlier models in which differentiation may have been viewed as a special
educational service to be provided only when children did not read as well as their
cognitive abilities predicted (e.g., IQ) and comparisons with peers suggested they
should. Thus students had to wait until their reading skills were seriously delayed before
they could receive services. Unfortunately, many never caught up. With RTI,
differentiated instruction can be provided to every student and, for some students, may
prevent the development of long-term reading difficulties (Mathes et al., 2005).
Because every child learns differently, and every child is different, the most effective
instruction is designed to fit each learner (Connor et al., 2011). When differentiation is
viewed in this way, the role of the teacher as an informed decision maker is paramount.
Although the sentiments conveyed by the quotes at the beginning of this article are not
uncommon, the reality is that effective differentiation is not found in a basal series or
even in a particular research-based instructional strategy. Rather, it is found in the
decisions teachers make based on their understanding of the reading process, in-depth
knowledge of their students, consideration of an array of effective instructional practices
supported by research, and ability to select models, materials, and methods to suit
particular students as they engage in particular literacy acts.
In the remainder of this article, we examine differentiated literacy instruction through
specific classroom examples. (Names of teachers and students are pseudonyms.) In
these two classrooms, one in Massachusetts and one in Pennsylvania, students with a
range of needs and a variety of cultural experiences are participating in appropriately
differentiated instruction. The first vignette explores differentiation using text selection
and flexible grouping. The second describes differentiation using a continuum of graphic
organizers to scaffold comprehension.
For each, we begin by presenting a snapshot of differentiation in action, then go behind
the scenes to examine the teacher thinking and decision making that led to the
examples shared, as well as the research that supports it. Finally, we present common
characteristics of effective differentiation and ideas to stimulate your own growth in this
area using the materials available in your classroom.
Differentiating Text Selection and Using
Flexible Grouping in a Primary-Grade Classroom
Ms. Cooper, a third-year teacher, discussed Puppy Mudge Makes a
Friend (Rylant, 2004) with four of her first-grade students. The children in this group,
including Yvonne and Kentaro, who are English learners, had typically struggled to
comprehend while reading simple beginning texts; now, in this group, they had the
opportunity to read a book at an appropriate level for them while receiving specific
comprehension instruction.
In this case, Ms. Cooper was teaching students how to engage with a text by calling
forth their own experiences in relation to the characters and events of the story.
Although generally useful for all students, this strategy would especially support Yvonne
and Kentaro as English learners by helping them to make connections between the text
and their own lives (Tatum, 2011).
Earlier that week, Ms. Cooper did a think-aloud while modeling the act of connecting
personal experiences with text. On this particular day, using carefully constructed, open-
ended questions, she encouraged a lively discussion. The questions she used to
prompt the students' connections to the text included: What did you think about this
story? Did any part make you smile or laugh? Did anything surprise you? Did the pets in
this story remind you of anything?
By using appropriately leveled material, the students easily read this particular text, thus
allowing more cognitive energy to be focused on making important connections as
evidenced in shared details from their own lives that were related to those of the
characters in the book.
“The dog in this book reminds me of my puppy,” offered Ned. “She sometimes jumps on
the furniture, too.”
“His name is Mudge,” added Brianna. “He plays hide-and-seek with the cat and he even
licked her.”
“My cat wouldn't let a dog do that. She would never play with a dog.” Yvonne said.
“That's interesting,” said Ms. Cooper. “Brianna noticed that, in the story, the cat was
playing with the dog and letting it lick her, but Yvonne said that her cat wouldn't do that.
What do you all think about that? How does Yvonne's piece of information about her cat
—her connection—help us understand what's going on in this story?”
“If they are playing together, then maybe they are good friends!” said Brianna.
“Good thinking, Brianna.” Turning to Kentaro, who had been quiet so far in the
discussion, Ms. Cooper asked, “What do you think about that, Kentaro? Do you have a
connection to this story?”
Kentaro shook his head.
Ms. Cooper continued, “Kentaro, what do you think about Mudge and the cat?”
Kentaro said softly, “The cat is nice. She is nice to the dog.”
From this snapshot of the group's discussion, the teacher gleaned a bit more
information about the students' strategy use and their understanding of the story. And
although Kentaro was initially reluctant to participate, he benefited by being grouped
strategically with only a few native English speakers in a less formal setting, which
allowed him to listen to one student at a time and to occasionally share his own ideas.
In future lessons, it is important for Ms. Cooper to continue to encourage Kentaro and
Yvonne to make connections to their own lives and to share their own experiences with
their peers. She will also need to provide more opportunities for practice and extensive
scaffolding so that all her students will be able to independently apply the strategy of
making connections to deepen their understanding of the text.
In other areas of the room, other students were engaged in a variety of literacy tasks
designed to meet their needs, too. Some worked in a small group with a reading
specialist who came into the classroom each morning for 45 minutes, whereas others
worked at various centers. Students who were not working with a teacher rotated
through a selection of literacy centers such as magnetic word building on white boards,
literature-response writing in a journal, leveled-book basket browsing, word-study
practice at the computer, and partner reading for fluency.
These centers had been created and organized by Ms. Cooper as an integral
component of her approach to differentiation, and they were carefully designed to
provide differentiated learning experiences for her students. Some students were
scheduled to visit a particular center several times during the week to increase their
opportunities for practice, whereas other students visited that particular center only once
or twice. At many stations, the activities themselves were varied to provide different
learning experiences; for example, students worked on different groups of words at the
magnetic word-building center or read texts of varying levels of difficulty with partners
for fluency practice.
Meanwhile, in the period of a week, Ms. Cooper aimed to meet with each of her small
groups three or four times, for 20-minute sessions. Setting up this schedule required a
little trial and error, but over time and with growing experience, she established a routine
that worked successfully and ensured that each child received effective small-group
targeted instruction and had opportunities to engage in worthwhile literacy activities that
met his or her own particular literacy needs. At any given moment, each child knew
exactly what to do and where to do it.
After determining her grouping strategy and the classroom structure necessary to
support it, Ms. Cooper carefully selected a number of texts that she thought were best
suited for each group of students. From that set of books, Yvonne, Kentaro, Brianna,
and Ned chose a book from the Puppy Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant. They were able
to read this book independently with 99% accuracy, yet they needed support to
understand it thoroughly. In other words, the book was easily decoded by the group,
and because of this, it was the perfect choice for a focus on comprehension strategy
instruction.
While they were learning to make connections with Puppy Mudge, a second small group
of first graders who read books of slightly more difficult text complexity were applying
the same comprehension strategy to the book they chose, Small Pig, by Arnold Lobel
(1989). Other groups, too, were reading books with appropriate levels of text difficulty
and learning to make connections to text to improve their comprehension. A third group,
comprising six children, could read more complicated texts, and they were making
connections while reading My Name Is Yoon, by Helen Recorvits (2003). Ms. Cooper
had paired the fourth group with the book Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman (1991),
which proved challenging enough for this group of particularly strong readers. By
expertly matching the texts to the readers, Ms. Cooper had differentiated the text
difficulty and specific content while providing the same intensive instruction on making
connections to improve comprehension—the instructional content—for all her students.
Ms. Cooper knew, too, that her students were individuals who learned at different rates;
therefore, she continuously evaluated her students' progress and considered their
changing interests to keep her groupings flexible. Yvonne, Kentaro, Brianna, and Ned
would not always read together in a small group. Ms. Cooper would carefully observe
and document their progress and be prepared to rearrange the small groups frequently
to match each child's changing strengths and needs. By keeping the groups flexible,
Ms. Cooper provided truly differentiated instruction.
The Research and Decision Making Behind Ms. Cooper's Differentiation
Ms. Cooper's classroom reflects the ways in which differentiation can simultaneously
focus on learning processes, products, environment, and content, and reflects the ways
in which these dimensions of differentiation often interact. In this classroom, four groups
of students were learning the same comprehension strategy (content)—making
connections to text—although Ms. Cooper differentiated the texts (another aspect of
content) with which they worked.
Ms. Cooper determined that small-group instruction was important and therefore
created an overall classroom learning environment to support this endeavor. In so
doing, she created differentiated learning centers that allowed students to work
independently on aspects of reading and writing tailored to their needs. The quality of
verbal interactions and scaffolding (learning process) within the small group would not
have been possible without Ms. Cooper's attention to other aspects of differentiation.
A further look at this example of Ms. Cooper's differentiation reveals several powerful
elements of her decision-making process. There are a number of studies that provide
evidence that Ms. Cooper's instructional strategies are likely to be effective. These
include studies on using assessment to guide instruction and the use of small flexible
learning groups (Connor et al., 2011; Elleman, Compton, Fuchs, Fuchs, & Bouton, 2011;
Mathes et al., 2005). Here, we focus on two of them: dynamic
assessment and evidence-based practice.
Dynamic Assessment
Ms. Cooper was a master at dynamic assessment; she focused her efforts on learning
as much as she could about each child—about how the child reads and learns, what
that child does well, and what he or she needs to learn next—to achieve the high level
of literacy expected of all students in her classroom.
Ms. Cooper learned as much as possible about her students and the ways that they
learn best. She achieved this by gathering data from district assessments, by observing
the children closely as they worked, and by asking them questions about their thinking
and their methods for decoding unfamiliar words and solving problems. She found that
one of the best ways to learn about her students was to conduct running records while
they read self-selected texts. She also examined the kinds of errors and miscues her
students were making and how they self-corrected (Clay, 2000). After checking for
accuracy and fluency in this manner, Ms. Cooper followed up with some careful
questioning to determine her students' comprehension and motivation while reading
particular passages.
After she gathered all these data about her students, Ms. Cooper analyzed them to find
patterns of learning strengths and needs. As she studied her records, combined with
more formal assessment results, she began to notice patterns about the way the
children were learning. After determining her students' reading levels, she was better
prepared to provide them with appropriate texts that they could read without struggling.
This information, combined with knowledge about the students' specific reading
behaviors, helped Ms. Cooper take the next step: selecting a grouping strategy.
Evidence-Based Practice
More and more evidence has pointed to the importance of balancing whole-class
instruction with small-group configurations (Wharton-McDonald, Pressley, &
Hampston, 1998). Therefore, Ms. Cooper preferred to keep her whole-class literacy
instruction to a minimum, using that time primarily for interactive read-alouds and brief
minilessons on targeted topics. This decision led Ms. Cooper to provide the bulk of the
instruction for her students individually or in small groups.
As she reviewed the data she had collected, she quickly noticed which students could
be grouped together because they read at similar levels and had similar learning needs
(e.g., comprehension). The students described earlier were decoding at a common level
of difficulty, and they all demonstrated a need to improve their comprehension. Ms.
Cooper decided to put these four students in a group for several days while she
provided them with texts at their reading level and offered the specific comprehension
strategy instruction (i.e., making connections) that she thought would help them best.
In fact, Ms. Cooper noticed that most children in her class would benefit from learning
how to make connections and improve their understanding of the text; therefore, the
rest of the students were similarly arranged, with four to six children in a group,
according to their reading levels. Although the groups were reading different material,
they all received instruction about how to make connections to improve comprehension.
Finally, Ms. Cooper knew these groups could not be stagnant: She rearranged the
children every few weeks according to their reading progress and their shifting literacy
needs and strengths.
Ideas to Apply
There are several ideas gleaned from Ms. Cooper that can be applied in other
classrooms.
Assess
students carefully
and regularly using
a variety of
formative
assessment tools,
then analyze
resulting data to
determine patterns
of need and group
students
accordingly. Ms.
Cooper
incorporated
running records into
her classroom
routine and blocked
off time weekly to
revisit grouping
configurations so as
to truly be flexible
and fluid in her
grouping
arrangements.
Decide on a
differentiation
strategy. Modify the
process, the
materials, the
environment, the
product, or a
combination of
these. Ms. Cooper
used grouping that
was flexible and
varied, plus a
variety of texts, to
offer a range of
environments for
learning and
materials that best
suited the
strengths, needs,
and interests of
groups of students.
Organize the
literacy block to
accommodate small
groups of children
learning together.
Ms. Cooper daily
provided specific
reading instruction
in these small
groups.
Match texts
to readers,
including text that is
part of the core
curriculum. Ms.
Cooper had several
ways of doing this.
At times she used
running record data
to form
homogeneous
groups for
instruction such as
in the scenario
described
previously. At other
times, she allowed
the children to
choose which texts
to read and asked
them to explain why
they chose their
books. This helped
engage these
young readers. And
whenever possible,
she used a
combination of
these approaches
by providing a
choice between two
similarly leveled
texts.
Use a
gradual release of
responsibility model
in teaching. The
conversation
among Yvonne,
Ned, Brianna, and
Kentaro was the
result of several
days of preparation,
during which Ms.
Cooper gradually
released
responsibility to her
students. Before the
discussion
described here, Ms.
Cooper did a think-
aloud, gave
examples, and
modeled how to
make connections
when the text was
implicit. After having
students connect
the ideas depicted
in the text to their
own experiences,
Ms. Cooper moved
them to making
connections with
other texts.
Differentiating Using a Continuum of Graphic
Organizers in an Intermediate Classroom
Mrs. Manley is in her 15th year of teaching in a fourth-grade classroom. Her students
represent a range of literacy achievement, including a group of four children receiving
reading intervention from a reading specialist and two students who receive gifted
services. In addition, there is one child with a moderate hearing loss and three students
with specific learning disabilities.
After reading two informational passages from Wild Babies by Seymour Simon (1998),
Mrs. Manley's fourth graders compared and contrasted emperor penguins and giraffes.
After discussing the passages and identifying attributes used to compare and contrast
two seemingly very different animals (e.g., where they live, number of babies, type of
birth, and protection of young), the children were asked to independently construct a
paragraph summarizing their similarities and differences. All her students constructed a
comparison–contrast paragraph, although they used different supports in the process.
In this case, Mrs. Manley provided a continuum of differentiated graphic organizers
based on variation in student needs. Text maps,pattern guides, retelling pyramids,
and question guides (Marinak & Gambrell, 2008) were used to provide increasing levels
of support.
Mrs. Manley selected graphic organizers for each student based on formative data
collected during previous writing workshops, including prompt-specific rubric scores
from a variety of brief constructed responses. These scores allowed Mrs. Manley to
identify the amount of language support needed to construct a summary, with lower
rubric scores indicating the need for a more intensive linguistic scaffold.
An example of a set of rubric scores for Andrew is found in Figure 1. The prompt asked
him to compare and contrast the brown bat and the California leaf-nosed bat. Andrew
had difficulty providing accurate text support details and appropriate signal words. As a
result of Andrew's performance on this prompt, Mrs. Manley provided him with a
question guide to scaffold comparing and contrasting the emperor penguin and giraffe.
Figure 1. Open in figure viewer
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Andrew's Performance on a Prompt-Specific Rubric
Some of Mrs. Manley's students were able to construct their compare/contrast
paragraph using a text map, which provides a visual representation of both the
important concept from the text and the informational text structure (Armbruster,
Anderson, & Ostertag, 1987; Duke & Pearson, 2002; Neufeld, 2005; Vacca &
Vacca, 1999). Mrs. Manley used a text map because it scaffolds comparing and
contrasting more deliberately than a Venn diagram, because it requires the identification
of the attributes that will be used to compare and contrast (Marinak, Moore, &
Henk, 1998).
For students who needed support beyond the text map, Mrs. Manley provided a pattern
guide. Figure 2 shows a pattern guide for emperor penguins and giraffes. Pattern
guides include several pieces of important information that have been
strategically selected to illustrate the structural pattern being taught. This pattern guide
provides one major idea, two attributes, a comparative supporting detail and a
contrasting supporting detail. This pattern guide is very similar to the text map
discussed previously. In fact, the text map uses the same organizational template, but
does not include the scaffolding effect of a sample idea, detail, and attribute written in
the appropriate text boxes.
Figure 2. Open in figure viewer
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Pattern Guide for Wild Babies by Seymour Simon
For students who needed more language support to construct their paragraph, Mrs.
Manley provided a retelling pyramid. A retelling pyramid (Pressley, 1989) scaffolds
students by providing additional text language support, as shown in Figure 3. The
prompts, written by Mrs. Manley and another teacher on the fourth-grade team, are a
combination of questions and statements. After completing the pyramid, students use
the rich linguistic scaffold to support discussion and paragraph writing.
Figure 3. Open in figure viewer
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Retelling Pyramid for Wild Babies
Finally, several of Mrs. Manley's students, including Andrew, required a more explicit
question–answer scaffold to compare and contrast the emperor penguin and giraffe. A
question guide offered significant linguistic structure by providing the question,
same/different choice, and the necessary signal words to create a sentence (Hall,
Sabey, & McClellan, 2005). As Mrs. Manley's students answered the questions, they
wrote full sentences that can be used to construct the summary paragraph. A sample
question guide for one of the attributes is found in Figure 4. The sentence under the
question matrix was written by the student after answering the guiding question. After
completing a question guide for the four attributes, sentences of compare and contrast
were discussed in pairs, written individually, and then shared with the whole class.
Figure 4. Open in figure viewer
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Compare and Contrast Question Guide for Wild Babies
Using a continuum of differentiated graphic organizers, all the students in Mrs. Manley's
class were able to discuss the similarities and differences between Emperor penguins
and giraffes and construct a summary paragraph using four important attributes from
the text.
The Research and Decision Making Behind Mrs. Manley's Differentiation
Mrs. Manley did not differentiate the product of instruction, which was a summary
paragraph including similarities and differences gleaned from an informational text. She
differentiated the process of instruction, which allowed students to get to the final
product in a variety of ways. Mrs. Manley's differentiation is marked by evidence-based
practice, ongoing assessment, and gradual release of responsibility, as was Ms.
Cooper's in the previous vignette. Additionally, her differentiation is characterized
by collaboration with colleagues and a focus on some of the key components of text
structure.
Collaboration With Colleagues
Mrs. Manley's school district incorporates a model of intentional practitioner
collaboration and job-embedded professional development. As a result, she and her
colleagues, including the school's reading specialist, have the time and space to work
collaboratively on a regular basis. Preceding the lesson described earlier, the
collaborative conversations among the teachers and specialists on the intermediate-
grade team had been focused on effective instruction using informational text.
Conversations with the reading specialist enhanced Mrs. Manley's understanding of the
importance of sharing a wide variety of informational text with her students, as well as
her understanding of the ways in which many students struggle to comprehend
nonfiction (Dymock, 1998; Williams et al., 2005). The group of educators listened as Ms.
Manley described the range of needs of her students, and together they came up with
the arrangement of the continuum of organizers used to graphically represent text
ranging from affording students minimal support to providing a more explicit and
sequenced scaffold. As a team, they have become much more adept and efficient in
reviewing formative data and helping each other to provide each student with the
graphic organizer that is the best match for his or her needs.
Focus on Text Structures
Mrs. Manley selected her graphic organizers based on her understanding of the
importance of teaching informational text structures (Williams et al., 2005; Williams,
Stafford, Lauer, Hall, & Pollini, 2009). Consistent with her state's standards and the
Common Core Standards (2010), she chose to focus on the four most frequently used
structures in elementary informational text (i.e., enumeration, time order, compare and
contrast, cause and effect) (Neufeld, 2005; Richgels et al., 1987) and used graphic
organizers to support student learning of these structures. Specifically, the preceding
example illustrates differentiation for one of these structures—compare and contrast.
Ideas to Apply
The following ideas from Mrs. Manley can be applied in other classrooms.
Clearly
define the outcome
students should
accomplish. In this
case, Mrs. Manley's
outcome was the
construction of a
compare–contrast
paragraph.
Look
carefully at your
formative data to
determine each
student's strengths
and needs relative
to the desired
outcome. Mrs.
Manley used a
collection of rubric-
scored constructed
responses housed
in her students'
literacy portfolios to
guide her decision
making.
Carefully
describe the range
of student needs.
Mrs. Manley jotted
notes about each
student as she
reviewed their
portfolios. She paid
careful attention to
the scaffolds used
during previous
constructed
responding.
Consider the
array of
differentiation
strategies you might
use to scaffold your
students toward the
outcome. Mrs.
Manley collaborated
with her colleagues
to design the
continuum of
graphic organizers
used for writing.
Offer
differentiation that is
consistent with
individual student
needs. In other
words, Mrs. Manley
carefully matched
the graphic
organizer scaffold to
each student based
on her analysis of
need. The graphic
organizers were
discussed with
students individually
during
reading/writing
conferencing.
Common Characteristics of Effective Differentiation
We have shared examples of successful differentiation in two settings, along with a look
at the research and teacher decision making that enabled this success. As you think
about the ideas presented in relation to your own instruction, it may be useful to
consider some of the common characteristics of effective differentiation. In our
experience, successful differentiation is characterized by:
In-depth
knowledge of
students' literacy
needs—both
reading and oral
language—as well
as their strengths
and interests. This
includes valid,
reliable, and
instructionally
useful assessments
of all children, as
well as
assessments of
how children
respond to
instruction.
Methods to
monitor students'
progress so that
groupings and
instructional
strategies can be
modified as
students gain
important skills and
knowledge.
In-depth
knowledge of the
reading process
and
evidence/research-
based practices
associated with
instruction and
assessment. This
includes design and
appropriation of
materials, including
those from your
core literacy
curriculum, that can
accommodate the
varying learning
needs of individual
students and
gradually releasing
responsibility for
learning back to
students.
Use the core
literacy curriculum
more flexibly and
creatively than the
publisher
recommends. For
example, select
reading materials
from different parts
of the core—for
example, materials
designed for the
beginning of the
year may not be
challenging enough
for some students
and too difficult for
others; for them,
more time in basic
skills might be
warranted. The
anthologies
frequently offer text
that follows similar
themes but offer
different reading
challenges. These
can be useful for
differentiating
instruction when
using small groups.
Emphasis on
teaching
components of
strategic reading.
Differentiation is
used to support all
students in the
acquisition of the
highest levels of
literacy.
Development
of “systems” or
routines to support
differentiation. This
includes developing
classroom routines
and systems that
allow children to
work in small peer
groups and
independently while
the teacher
provides targeted
instruction to a
small group of
students.
Although there are many ways to differentiate instruction, the needs, interests, and
strengths of students within specific instructional −contexts guide decisions about how
best to −differentiate at a given point in time. We hope the examples of differentiation
examined in this article serve as a catalyst both for classroom teachers, who are called
upon to make informed decisions about differentiation in their daily work with students,
and for literacy coaches, professional development facilitators, and administrators, who
are called upon to support classroom teachers in this critical endeavor.
Take Action!
1. Select one
intriguing idea
discussed in this article
to try out with some of
your students. It may
be Ms. Cooper's idea
of adjusting the level of
text to support learning
of a specific strategy or
the idea of using a
continuum of learning
guides to support the
same key concept, as
Mrs. Manley
demonstrated.
2. Think of a
specific skill or strategy
you are currently
teaching and analyze
your instruction for
elements of the
gradual release of
responsibility. In what
ways do you begin to
meet your students
where they are and
then gradually, and
systematically, release
your responsibility
while increasing their
responsibility so that
they become
independent and
strategic in their use of
that skill or strategy?
Depending on the
specific skill or strategy
you are teaching
(especially if it is a
strategy), this process
may take weeks or
months and may
require coordinating
efforts with other
instructional staff (e.g.,
reading specialist,
paraprofessional) or
classroom volunteers.
How can you harness
all resources to
continually use a
gradual release of
responsibility model in
your teaching?
3. Make a list of
the types of data you
typically use to make
instructional decisions.
How much of these
data are classroom
based and provide
you with a direction for
your instruction (as
opposed to simply
indicating a need for
further or different
instruction)? What
types of data do you
need to make better
instructional decisions
for your students? How
can you, or you and
other instructional
professionals working
together,
efficiently gather those
data on a regular
basis?
4. Take the time
to design an
instructional schedule
that allows you to visit
with each of your
students one on one,
or in small groups, at
least once each week.
If this is too daunting,
begin by aiming for
once every two weeks.
What elements of the
school day can you
manipulate to make
this time available?
How can you adjust
the structure of your
classroom to support
this valuable time?
5. Develop a plan
to use in evaluating
the extent to which
students' cultural and
linguistic differences
are integrated in your
plans for differentiated
instruction. To what
extent might grade-
level differences and
classroom
demographics
influence the
development of such a
plan?
6. Put the topic of
differentiation on the
next agenda of your
professional learning
community or team
planning meeting. As a
start, ask everyone to
read this article and
come prepared to talk
about what it means
for instruction in your
school. Then make a
plan to support further
collaboration in this
area.
Biographies
Susan Watts-Taffe is an
associate professor at the
University of Cincinnati, Ohio,
USA; e-mail susan.watts-
taffe@uc.edu.
B.P. (Barbara) Laster is
director of the graduate reading
programs at Towson University,
Maryland, USA; e-
mail blaster@towson.edu.
Laura Broach is a literacy
specialist at Lexington Public
Schools, Massachusetts, USA; e-
mail laurabroach@gmail.com.
Barbara A. Marinak is an
associate professor at Mount St.
Mary's University, Emmitsburg,
Maryland, USA; e-
mail barbara.marinak@gmail.com
.
Carol McDonald
Connor is a professor of
psychology and director of the
Early Learning Research Initiative
Center and senior learning
scientist at the Learning Sciences
Institute at Arizona State
University, Tempe, USA; e-
mail Carol.Connor@asu.edu.
Doris Walker-Dalhouse is
an associate professor at
Marquette University, Milwaukee,
Wisconsin, USA; e-
mail doris.walker-
dalhouse@marquette.edu.
... Flanders, the context of the current study, ratified UN Article 24 on inclusive education in 2009 (Groenez et al., 2018). In inclusive classrooms, students may be different in a variety of ways based on their cultural, linguistic or social backgrounds, abilities, needs and interests (Watts-Taffe et al., 2012). Hence, meeting the needs of a diverse student population requires teachers to provide learning experiences that recognise and utilise these differences (Watts-Taffe et al., 2012). ...
... In inclusive classrooms, students may be different in a variety of ways based on their cultural, linguistic or social backgrounds, abilities, needs and interests (Watts-Taffe et al., 2012). Hence, meeting the needs of a diverse student population requires teachers to provide learning experiences that recognise and utilise these differences (Watts-Taffe et al., 2012). An expedient approach to design instruction fitting diverse classrooms is differentiated instruction (DI) (Gheyssens, 2020;Gríful-Freixenet, 2020;Kyriakides et al., 2009;Vogt & Rogalla, 2009). ...
... Tomlinson et al. (2003) define DI as an approach in which teachers proactively modify curricula, teaching methods, learning activities, resources, and student products to address diverse needs and maximise the learning opportunities for each student in the classroom. Hence, DI is not based on a particular instructional strategy but on teachers' ability to select those methods, from an array of effective instructional strategies, that maximally engage a specific student group (Gheyssens, 2020;Watts-Taffe et al., 2012). Studies with both primary and secondary teachers in the US and Flanders show that for the design of DI, teachers' perceptions about learners are an important guiding factor (Bondie et al., 2019;Gheyssens, Coubergs, et al., 2020). ...
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To ensure inclusion and equity in education, both teacher beliefs and practice are cited as influential. However, the connection between beliefs on student diversity and inclusive practice is often more complex than straightforward. Professional vision is theorised to be important in aligning beliefs with practice. Hence, this study investigates whether teachers’ professional vision of differentiated instruction (DI) mediates between teachers’ beliefs about teaching diverse learners and teachers’ practice of DI, and is unique in investigating these constructs in concert with each other. Data are part of the Potential-project and were collected in a sample of secondary education teachers (N = 461) in Flemish schools (N = 23). Survey data measuring teachers’ beliefs (i.e. growth mindset, professional beliefs about diversity and about differentiating the curriculum) and teachers’ self-reported DI practice were combined with video-based comparative judgement data measuring teachers’ professional vision of DI. Multilevel models show that both teachers with a more expert professional vision and less expert professional vision implement DI. For a more expert professional vision, beliefs about teaching diverse learners explain the association. For a less expert professional vision, teachers’ reflective and experimental practice explains the relationship. Results suggest that aspects of teachers’ competence are related in more complex ways than linear theoretical frameworks propose. Implications for teacher training and professionalisation are discussed.
... Other scholars (e.g., Nicolae, 2014;Santangelo & Tomlinson, 2012;Tobin & Tippett, 2013) also revealed that implementing DI can be very daunting for teachers. Its implementation in different countries, including Ethiopia, is infrequent, inconsistent, and incorrect due to various reasons (Goddard et al., 2010;Morrison-Thomas, 2016;Smit & Humpert, 2012;Tadesse, 2020;Watts-Taffe et al., 2012;Whitley et al., 2019). Accordingly, there is a need to find out what factors may affect teachers" execution of DI strategies in the Ethiopian schools. ...
... Congruent with this finding, authors (e.g., Goddard et al., 2010;Siam & Al-Natour, 2016) investigated that the lack of specialized training programs/ professional development to support teachers" practice of DI in schools was a major deterring factor affecting the application of DI. This finding is also consistent with the verdicts of some authorities in the area (e.g., Dee, 2010;Good, 2006;Santangelo & Tomlinson, 2012;Smit & Humpert, 2012;Watts-Taffe et al., 2012). Many of these authors showed that if teachers have not been trained in DI, they lack relevant strategies and knowledge to differentiate and meet the needs of all students, and often continue to use the same practices, rather than incorporating different strategies for DI. ...
... Also for other researchers, one of the unfavorable conditions for the practice of DI in reality was shortage of resources/accessible materials. Even though it is believed that the availability of material resource is an enabler for effective DI (Smit & Humpert, 2012), the lack of resources in schools still results in low differentiation of instruction for teachers (Al-Natour, 2016;Goddard et al., 2010;Good, 2006;Nicolae, 2014;Roberts & Inman, 2013;Rodriguez, 2012;Santangelo & Tomlinson, 2012;Smit & Humpert, 2012;Watts-Taffe et al., 2012). These authors noted that lack of sufficient resources or instructional materials is a major impending factor for the execution of DI in classroom teaching. ...
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The main purpose of this study was to investigate factors affecting the intervention fidelity of differentiated instruction (DI) in primary schools of Bahir Dar City Administration, Ethiopia. For this study, mixed methods approach with convergent parallel design was utilized and data were collected from 10 randomly selected full-cycle primary schools of Bahir Dar City Administration. Among the 10 general primary schools, fifty teachers (five from each school and one from every department) and 10 school principals were selected through simple random and comprehensive sampling techniques, respectively. Similarly, 10 students from grade eight, who could properly articulate and provide valuable information (e.g., student representatives and class monitors) were selected using purposive sampling technique. Data on factors affecting the execution of DI were collected through questionnaire, interview, focus group discussion, and observation. Data were analyzed using percentage, descriptions, and narrations. The main findings revealed that the majority of primary school teachers in Bahir Dar City Administration were not in a position to execute DI components due to a number of encumbering factors. The knowledge and training gaps of teachers on how to implement DI, scarce school resources and lack of conducive school environment, low motivation and commitment of teachers, inflexible curriculum structure, work overload, lack of committed and devoted school leadership, poor background knowledge of students, lack of parental support for the students" learning, weak staff collaboration or experience sharing, and large number of students" diversity in the classroom were among the investigated factors. In order to tackle those identified hampering factors for the execution of DI, contextualized, need-based and continuous on-the-job trainings should be provided for primary school teachers and school principals.
... It is far past the time for the mindset that everyone should be treated the same. A just and equitable classroom (which, we could argue, is impossible in the pandemic anyway) does not emerge from rigid, inflexible rules applied without context to every student (Sutton 2007;Watts-Taffe et al. 2012). This attitude only increases students' struggle to stay above water and compounds existing inequities. ...
... Product refers to how a student shows what he or she has learned (Tomlinson, 2005a). In differentiating product elements, students are allowed to select their own way of showing mastery of the content taught (Richards-Usher, 2013;Watts-Taffe et al., 2012). They argue that effective product differentiation offers learners clear and appropriate criteria for success; focuses on real-world relevance and application; promotes creative and critical thinking; and allows for varied modes of expression. ...
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Thesis
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本研究以Fisher與Frey(2008)所發展的GRR模式為基礎,納入Pearson與Gallagher(1983)對於責任分配觀點、Duck與Pearson(2002)提及的支持性環境、及Webb、Massey、Goggans與Flajole(2019)呼籲的開放觀點,從個案班級中所探尋而得之GRR模式融入於課堂學習活動的種種運作脈絡,整合、建立出一個在地化的GRR模式運作架構。 Based on the GRR model developed by Fisher and Frey (2008), this study incorporates Pearson and Gallagher (1983)'s views on the assignment of responsibility, the supportive environment mentioned by Duck and Pearson (2002), and the flexible views called for by Webb, Massey, goggans and flajole (2019), and integrates the GRR model explored from the case class into various operational contexts of classroom learning activities, integrating develop a localized GRR model instructional framework.
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The purpose of this study was to examine sixth-grade students' awareness of four expository text structures (collection, comparison/contrast, causation, and problem/solution) and their recall of texts written in those structures. Three measures of awareness with different cognitive demands (use of organization in written recall, use of organization in composition, and response to interviews) were employed to provide a deeper probing of students' awareness than previous research had yielded. Two recall measures were used that have been found to be sensitive to differences in readers' awareness of text structure: subjects' recall of main ideas versus details, and their recall of normal passages versus scrambled passages. The three awareness tasks produced different profiles of sixth-grade students' text structure awareness. 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Afin d'obtenir un examen plus approfondi de la conscience des étudiants, on a évalué cette dernière à trois reprises à partir d'exigences cognitives différentes (organisation en situation de rappel écrit, organisation d'une composition et réponses aux entrevues). On a utilisé deux évaluations du rappel sensibles aux variations de la conscience de la structure du texte chez les différents lecteurs, soit le rappel des idées principales par opposition aux détails et le rappel des passages normaux par opposition aux passages non structurés. Les trois évaluations de la conscience de la structure du texte ont produit différents profils de la conscience des élèves de sixième année. L'exercice le plus utilisé dans les recherches portant sur la conscience de la structure (emploi d'une structure en situation de rappel écrit) s'est avéré le moins révélateur quant aux variations de la conscience pour les quatre structures de texte. On a pu constater un niveau de conscience trés élevé dans le cas de la structure de comparaison/opposition, et un niveau peu élevé dans le cas de la structure de causalité. Une comparaison entre la conscience et les capacités de rappel soutient l'hypothèse que les élèves conscients des structures s'avèrent plus susceptibles d'utiliser une stratégie de la structure en lecture que ne le sont les élèves dépourvus de cette conscience. Les élèves de sixième année démontrent une certaine connaissance de la structuration du texte et peuvent devenir de bons candidats pour l'enseignement du traitement stratégique de l'exposé. /// [Spanish] El propósito de este estudio fue examinar la percepción (alerta) de estudiantes de sexto grado a cuatro estructuras de texto expositorio (colección, comparación/contraste, causa y problema/solución) y su recuerdo de textos escritos en esas estructuras. Tres medidas de percepción con diferentes exigencias cognitivas (uso de organización en recuerdo escrito, uso de organización en composición y respuesta de entrevistas) fueron utilizadas para proporcionar una medida más profunda de la percepción de los estudiantes que la que habían rendido investigaciones previas. Dos medidas de recuerdo fueron usadas que han sido encontradas sensitivas a diferencias en la percepción de los lectores a la estructura de texto: el recuerdo de ideas principales por los sujetos versus su recuerdo de detalles, y su recuerdo de pasajes normales versus pasajes revueltos. Las tres tareas de percepción produjeron diferentes perfiles de la percepción a la estructura de textos de los estudiantes de sexto grado. La tarea más típicamente usada en los estudios de alerta a las estructuras (uso de estructura en recuerdo escrito) fue menos informativa acerca de diferencias en la percepción de las cuatro estructuras de texto. Los autores encontraron de manera consistente, un grado mayor de alerta en la estructura de comparación/contraste y un grado bajo de alerta en la estructura de causa. Una comparación entre la percepción y el desempeño en recuerdo apoya la hipótesis de que los estudiantes con una estructura de alerta es más probable que usen una estrategia estructural cuando leen que los estudiantes sin esta percepción. Los estudiantes de sexto grado tienen cierto conocimiento de estructura de texto y pueden ser candidatos promisorios para instrucción de como procesar texto expositorio de forma estratégica. /// [German] Der zweck dieser Studie bestand darin, die Erkenntnis von vier erläuternden Textstrukturen (Sammeln, Vergleich/Kontrast, Verursachung, und Problem/Lösung) bei Sechsklässlern zu untersuchen und ebenfalls deren Erinnerung von Texten, in diesen Strukturen enthalten. Drei Maß stäbe der Erkenntnis mit verschiedenen kognitiven Anforderungen (Sich-bedienen von Organisation in schriftlicher Erinnerung, Sich-bedienen von Organisation im Aufsatzschreiben, und Antworten bei Besprechungen) wurden angelegt, um eine ausgiebigere Prüfung von Schüler-Erkenntnis zu erhalten, als bisherige Forschungen hervorgebracht hatten. Es wurden zwei Maß stäbe benutzt für Erinnerung, bei denen man fand, daß sie sich auf die Unterschiede von Lesererkenntnis von Textstrukturen einstellten: die Prüflingserinnerung von Hauptideen Einzelheiten gegenüber, und auch deren Erinnerung von normalen Abschnitten solchen gegenüber, die durcheinander-geschüttelt wurden. Die drei Erkenntnisaufgaben produzierten verschiedene Durchschnitte der Textstruktur-Erkenntnis bei Sechsklässlern. Die Aufgabe, die typischerweise benutzt wurde bei den Strukturerkenntnis-Studien (Benutzung von Strukture bei schriftlicher Erinnerung), war am wenigsten informativ, was die Unter-schiede in Erkenntnis der vier Textstrukturen anbetrifft. Die Autoren fanden konsequent große Erkenntnis von Vergleich/Kontrast und niedrige Erkenntnis von Verursachungs-struktur. Ein Vergleich von Erkenntnis und Erinnerungsvermögen unterstützte die Hypothese, daß Schüler, die mehr strukturbewußt sind, während des Lesens eher eine strukturelle Strategie benutzen, als solche, die sich dessen nicht bewußt sind. Sechklässler haben einiges Textstrukturwissen und könnten daher vielversprechende Anwärter sein auf Unterichtetwerden in der strategischen Verarbeitung von erklärendem Text.
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Classroom observations and in-depth interviews were used to study 9 first-grade teachers from 4 districts who had been nominated by language-arts coordinators as outstanding (N = 5) or typical (N = 4) in their ability to help students develop literacy skills. Based on observational measures of student reading and writing achievement and student engagement, 3 groups of teachers emerged from the original 9. The following practices and beliefs distinguished the instruction of the 3 teachers (2 nominated as outstanding, I as typical) whose students demonstrated the highest levels on these measures: (a) coherent and thorough integration of skills with high-quality reading and writing experiences, (b) a high density of instruction (integration of multiple goals zn a single lesson), (c) extensive use of scaffolding, (d) encouragement of student self-regulation, (e) a thorough integration of reading and writing activities, (f) high expectations for all students, (g) masterful classroom management, and (h) an awareness of their practices and the goals underlying them. Teaching practices observed in 7 of the 9 classrooms are also discussed. The data reported here highlight the complexity of primary literacy instruction and support the conclusion that effective primary-level literacy instruction is a balanced integration of high-quality reading and writing experiences and explicit instruction of basic Literacy skills.
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Many reading comprehension strategies have been proposed, but only some have proven potent with elementary school children. Strategies that are supported by research evidence are discussed, and, thus, a fairly small set of strategies is recommended. The research on summarization, representational- and mnemonic-imagery, story-grammar, question-generation, question-answering, and prior-knowledge activation strategies is reviewed here. Effective teaching of these strategies is also discussed, with particular emphasis on direct explanation approaches to strategy instruction. Thorough teaching of a few effective reading strategies can be defended based on available research evidence; this approach can be incorporated into ongoing content-based instruction, with development of reading comprehension strategies occurring throughout the school day and across the curriculum.