Context – Description of Content and Students
The differentiated lesson which is going to be analyzed in the paper was administered in the elementary classroom (Grade 3). The class was comprised of nine culturally and socially diverse students – five girls and four boys. One of the girls, Clair, is from the Afro-American cultural and ethnical background. It is possible to say that her level of linguistic and academic development is sufficient because she usually demonstrates the understanding of major concepts introduced in the class and her skills of critical thinking and analysis are developed appropriately to her age.
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Two boys, Martin and Albert, have the Hispanic cultural identity, and their current competence in the English language does not meet the age requirements. Most of the boys’ family members do not speak English well. As a result, the students lack the sufficient language support at home and in their habitual social non-schooling environment. Therefore, it is essential to design a special approach to the students’ learning process to make it more efficient.
In Grade 3, students are expected to show a broad set of competencies in English Language Arts, including reading, writing, speaking, and listening. While reading, children should demonstrate the understanding of texts, and be able to identify the key ideas, find logical connections between arguments, and distinguish own viewpoints on readings (Common Core State Standards [CCSS], 2016a).
In their writing, students are expected to show the skills of critical thinking and reasoning in order to support own claims, link phrases and develop adequate conclusions. (CCSS, 2016b). At this stage of development, students need to know how to do research, collect information on various topics, and refer to personal experiences to produce excellent narratives, give profound and conclusive answers, and succeed in discussions (CCSS, 2016c).
The conducted differentiated lesson included writing, reading, and speaking activities. The lesson’s objectives were the improvement of writing skills and reading performance, comprehension of text’s semantic context, and development of ability to discuss the subject matter. By the end of the lesson, the students were expected to know how to decode the informational text and develop their own point of view on the topic.
To address student population diversity, differentiated instructional components were provided to the learners from multicultural backgrounds. The differentiated challenges were meant to stimulate diverse students by different means considering their ability and level of development. In this way, by using specially designed materials and methods, the students were able to obtain an opportunity to achieve similar learning outcomes but in a slightly different way.
According to Watkins (2005), differentiation of learning activities serves as the basis for the creation of a friendly, inclusive, and open climate in the classroom. Therefore, multiple differentiated activities helped all students in the class to be more involved in the group activities and encouraged them for self-expression.
Pre-assessment and Lesson Planning
Pre-assessment of students’ academic experiences and learning abilities helps to identify individual learning styles and needs. Pre-assessment scores are essential to the design of a relevant instructional strategy and selection of individual learning instruments. There are many standardized tests for the assessment of learning aptitude for multiple student groups which may provide teachers with valid data.
However, their implementation requires compliance with a number of administrative norms and score interpretation rules which imply a high level of examiner’s expertise. To avoid test biases and accumulate credible information regarding students’ performance, the researchers in education suggest application of alternative assessment tools such as class observation, students’ self-reports, regular curricular-based assessment, language sampling, and narrative analysis (Hart, 2009).
It is possible to say that class observation is one of the major instruments of diagnostic assessment as it allows a teacher to acquire a profound understanding of the students’ personalities, behavioral characteristics, academic weaknesses, and strengths. Such pre-assessment tool as Self-Assessment Checklist can be implemented to both general and culturally diverse student populations while language sampling and narrative analysis can be especially efficient in assessing linguistically diverse students. Language samples and narratives can be collected through direct interactions with students or their written works.
It is observed that when language samples are accumulated in multiple contexts with different conversational partners, it becomes easier to distinguish between disordered and non-disordered ethnically diverse students (Hart, 2009).
The results of pre-assessment helped to detect the weak areas of performance among the whole-class population as well as culturally and linguistically diverse student group. The scores of Self-Assessment Reading Checklist revealed that the weakest area of performance at the whole-class level was discussion and writing about the concepts and ideas identified in the reading materials. The majority of students felt more comfortable in comprehension of vocabulary and textual constructs.
At the same time, two out of tree diverse students found it difficult to comprehend authors’ ideas, understand terms, and reflect on the texts’ arguments in writing. The language sampling and narrative analysis in the diverse population of students also revealed that the functional side of English language operation – grammar, syntax, use of words – was the most challenging for these students.
The pre-assessment scores largely affect the selection of differentiation instructional components and activities. The results assisted in the understanding of which areas of students’ language competence should be addressed during the lesson. In this way, the major differentiated activities targeted students’ ability to highlight the important concepts found in the informational text, discuss and reflect on ideas and opinions of their peers, and write a consistent short essay on the subject.
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The activities of linguistically diverse students were individualized and scaffolded to facilitate their learning outcomes and increase independent practice. For example, the students were given vocabulary sheets comprising the terms included in the reading. They were also provided with guidelines for the analysis and sentence starters which they could use in writing and discussions.
The implementation of research-based instructional strategies supports the creation of positive, inclusive, and flexible environment in the classroom through the differentiation of learning activities and implementation of multiple principles and standards aimed to help the culturally diverse students to be more involved in the group activities and encourage them for taking risks and self-expression. For example, the researchers suggest to show appreciation to students’ native language through “spontaneous language use” and create the environment in which the use of both languages would be encouraged (Hart, 2009, p. 199).
A monolingual teacher may use some simple phrases of his/her students’ first language and, in this way, show respect to their cultural background and encourage learners’ independent practice and participation in class activities. The basic differentiated elements provided by the teacher included the use of simple English language structures, gestures, face expressions, visual elements (illustrations, charts, and graphs). These instructional components significantly facilitate understanding of subject content by diverse students and consequently help to solve more challenging tasks, such as evaluation, reflection, and reasoning.
During the lesson, the students were reading an informational text about social interaction with peers, learned to evaluate their significance and benefits, determine possible emotional implications of social relationships and their contribution to one’s sound personal development. In this way, the real-world context was included in the lesson. And it helped to create additional value for the students and stimulate their engagement in class activities.
According to the principles of differentiation, the curriculum should include the “respectful activities” and be accessible for every student in class (Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development [SSCEHD], 2008, p.3). It is observed that students are highly perceptive of lessons’ social and cultural contexts, and consideration of contextual situation may significantly improve the developmental outcomes (Hanke, 2014).
By addressing the topical social or cultural matters in class, a teacher increases students’ motivation for learning. The discussion of difficult subjects may be regarded as a major feature of responsive pedagogy according to which a teacher conveys knowledge regarding the existing negative social phenomena and contributes to the deconstruction of adverse stereotypes (SSCEHD, 2008). Through the discussion of complex social and cultural problems teachers diversify curriculum and maintain diverse students’ interest in education, and it is possible to say that students’ personal interests serve as main motivators for academic achievements.
Implementing Lesson, Analyzing Student Work, and Adjusting Instruction
Based on the results of pre-assessment, it was expected that the children will underperform in writing and in the use of grammatical structures because these domains of knowledge were evaluated as the most underdeveloped. In the first formative assessment, the students were asked to write two short essays, one sentence and a few sentences in length, in order to examine their writing skills, reasoning, and ability to keep text consistent. Summarization as a formative assessment tool helped to identify if the students follow the progress of lesson and manage to capture the major concepts found in the reading.
Assessment is considered an essential part of learning progress and knowledge control, and it serves as a mean of facilitating educational process and developing students’ awareness of the subject matter (Weurlander et al., 2012). Formative assessment sends a strong message to both students and teacher. In this way, the results of conducted summarization assisted the children in developing of understanding about what is perceived as knowledge in the particular learning context. At the same time, the teacher obtained an opportunity to arrange lesson activities in a way that helped to improve learning outcomes.
The assessment scores met the teacher’s expectations and revealed that students’ consistency of logic and reasoning in writing were mostly deficient. Only two works in the class could be assessed as excellent (the works belong to the students from the major group of the class population), and two summaries had low scores (one summary was written by a student from the culturally diverse group of English learners). According to the first formative assessment, Martin underperformed in every evaluated area of language competence. The works of two other diverse students, Clair and Albert, can be regarded as satisfactory, yet Clair demonstrated a better ability to rationalize and logically connect sentences by using introductory words and phrases.
Based on formative assessment scores, it was decided to implement a grouping strategy during execution of speaking and listening practices. It is observed, that grouping can significantly facilitate students’ participation in class activities and contribute to the creation of inclusive learning context (Hart, 2009). With this idea in mind, the students were divided into cooperative pairs and the team members supported each other during class discussion.
The students were given the roles of tutors and tutees, and they supervised each other’s performance, corrected mistakes, and provided reinforcement. The whole-class peer tutoring help to maintain students’ interest in lesson activities, increase their engagement in the learning process and foster social interaction of all students (Hart, 2009). Cooperative learning groups may be regarded as an efficient method of peer-mediated learning which supports the improvement of the performance of students whose English language skills are underdeveloped.
Moreover, the implementation of grouping strategy and teamwork was correlated with the real-life context included in the lesson and the subject of social interactions. It helped the students to obtain the opportunity to apply new knowledge in the classroom setting and get actual experience of social interactions with peers.
The second implemented formative assessment tool was self-assessment (metacognition). The students were asked to give their feedback on the material and the lesson as a whole by answering the questions written in the table. The scores revealed that several students’ understanding of the lesson’s purposes and goals was insufficient as they found it difficult to explain the general implications of the exercised practices. The results of formative students’ self-assessment conducted at the end of the class may help a teacher to correct the differentiated lesson planning, eliminate potential barriers to students’ understanding of lesson content, and cover the gaps in knowledge by including other activities and instructional practices in next lessons.
Post-Assessment, Data Analysis, and Project Reflection
The applied post-assessment method was the scored discussion. The in-group peer discussion was the last and the major activity performed in the class and the evaluation of students’ performance during the practice helped to summarize the learning outcomes. In comparison to pre-assessment and formative assessment results, post-assessment scores revealed a slight improvement in students’ performance (in both culturally diverse subgroup and major group of learners).
It is possible to say that the findings emphasize the significance of initial diagnostic assessments because they helped to make appropriate and immediate corrections in the instructional plan, and consequently led to the improvement of students’ summative scores. The post-assessment is essential to teachers’ evaluation of professional self-efficacy and adequacy of instructional decisions. In case post-assessment results make it clear that students underperformed during a lesson, an educator may use this information to correct lesson plans and implement new evidence-based strategies to achieve better academic outcomes.
The ongoing analysis of students’ performance helps to create appropriate learning contexts according to learners’ needs, interests, abilities, and level of development. Different stages of assessment – diagnostic, formative, and summative – help to follow the progress of students’ academic development and measure own professional competence. Therefore, implementation of various forms of assessment is a critical success factor.
For the further successful professional practice, it is important to implement culturally sensitive instructional strategies that will help to improve linguistically diverse students’ performance. The differentiation strategies (peer-mediated tutoring, grouping, spontaneous language use) applied during the lesson helped to develop a flexible class environment in which all students felt accepted. Different evidence-based strategies can provide substantial support for teachers in work with different types of students and in finding an individual approach to their education.
The literature review made it clear that while working with linguistically diverse learners, it is important to develop a bilingual class environment to encourage learners’ academic engagement (Hart, 2009). For example, monolingual educators can learn some simple phrases in the native language of their students and, in this way, they may significantly improve learning outcomes. Based on this, teachers should always be engaged in the process of self-development, self-education, and research.
Collaboration with colleagues is another form of self-development in the profession. The cooperation with other professionals is of significant importance for a teacher because it helps to take a look at teaching process from new perspectives. Knowledge shared by other teachers, particularly those who are more experienced, supports the professional growth. Hence, teachers’ collaboration increases individual and organizational efficiency which leads to the increase in students’ positive developmental outcomes.
The review of different professional standards and evaluation of theories in education helped to understand which aspects of professional performance represent a teacher as a competent specialist. Along with a profound content knowledge, a teacher needs to understand the developmental needs of diverse students to develop relevant and differentiated curriculum. First of all, a teacher should be respectful to all students, their cultural identities, and previous social backgrounds. Teachers can play a large role in the promotion of social change by performing according to high-standard ethical principles and human values and being responsible for the accomplishment of professional tasks in a liable manner.
It means that while working in a highly diverse student community, a teacher will always support equality by differentiating lessons and creating inclusive learning contexts. Diverse students should have equal access to educational practices aimed at the improvement of their language skills and knowledge development, and teachers need to raise own competence in order to meet these students’ needs and provide them with equal opportunities for academic self-realization.
Common Core State Standards. (2016a). Reading: Informational text, Grade 3. Web.
Common Core State Standards. (2016b). Writing, Grade 3. Web.
Common Core State Standards. (2016c). Speaking & listening, Grade 3. Web.
Hanke, V. (2014). Guided reading: Young pupils’ perspectives on classroom practice. Literacy, 48(3), 136-143. Web.
Hart, J. (2009). Strategies for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students With Special Needs. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 53(3), 197-208. Web.
Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. (2008). Culturally differentiated responsive instructional strategies. Web.
Watkins, D. E. (2005). Maximizing learning for students with special needs. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 41(4), 154-158. Web.
Weurlander, M., Söderberg, M., Scheja, M., Hult, H., & Wernerson, A. (2012). Exploring formative assessment as a tool for learning: Students’ experiences of different methods of formative assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(6), 747-760. Web.
Appendix A: Pre-Assessment Analysis Chart
Figure 1: The chart represents the reading checklist results for the whole-class (n=9) vs. culturally diverse students (n=3). The comparison of self-report ratings between different populations of students helps to identify the weakest areas of academic performance at the levels of the whole class and the culturally diverse group of English learners.
Figure 2: The chart demonstrates the results of diverse students’ language skills assessment in writing and conversation. Data makes it clear that video and audio content understanding is the strongest area of performance in the analyzed group while operation with language mechanics is the most challenging one.
Appendix B: 3 Samples of Student Work
Sample 1: Average Scores
What is friendship? (10-15 words)
It is when people have similar interests and spend a lot of time together.
What are the benefits of teamwork and collaboration? (30-50 words)
In teams people can make things together much better then alone. Teams make work faster. When people collaborate they handle everything easier and feel more happy about their work. Therefore collaboration is good.
Sample 2: Low Scores
What is friendship? (10-15 words)
Friendship is people like each other and have good time.
What are the benefits of teamwork and collaboration? (30-50 words)
In my opinion teams are benefits for every one who are in it. Collaboration have good effect on work, and it can help you.
Sample 3: High Scores
What is friendship? (10-15 words)
In my opinion, friendship happens between people who find a lot in common, and spend great time together.
What are the benefits of teamwork and collaboration? (30-50 words)
In my opinion, teamwork has many benefits. First of all, students can help and support each other in team. Collaboration helps students to show their best. Therefore, sometimes it can be better than working alone.
Appendix C: Formative Assessment & Analysis Chart
Figure 3: The scores reveal that grammar and syntax are among the strongest areas of students’ performance while attention to details and reasoning are the weakest ones.
Figure 4: The chart represents the scores of formative self-assessment (feedbacks) conducted at the end of the lesson. The table included four major questions aimed to capture if the students are aware of the learning progress and were able to comprehend the purposes and implications of the lesson. The scores reveal that some students (n=2) could not explain the general objectives of the activities. However, the feedbacks of the majority of the class population were positive.
Appendix D: Visual Representation of Data Collected
Figure 5: The chart demonstrates the academic progress of linguistically diverse group member (n=3). By the end of the class, the students demonstrated improvement in understanding of lesson content and ability to express reasonable claims on the topic.
Figure 6: The chart is devoted to comparison of whole-class (n=9) performance throughout different stages of assessment. The scores reveal the improvement in comprehension and evaluation of content.
Appendix E: Post-Assessment Analysis Chart
Figure 7: The chart represents the positive scores for students’ presentations during discussion. The criteria for evaluation were based on CCS requirements for 3 Grade students’ presentation of ideas, comprehension, and use of language skills.
Appendix F: Scaffolding and Differentiating Chart
Figure 8: Scaffolded and Differentiated Instructional Components.
|Whole-Class Activity||Differentiated components||Scaffolding|
|Reading||The class is reading an informational text about social interactions, their values, and benefits. The text is read aloud. The students are trying to identify the important parts in the text.||The teacher is reading aloud to students to support the delivery of content. The visual elements are used to ensure understanding.||The linguistically diverse students are provided with vocabulary sheets and leading questions in order to facilitate understanding and detection of significant ideas.|
|Writing||The students are writing a short essay in which they articulately express personal opinions.||The students are provided with the options to choose from several topics.||The students are provided with sentence starters which they can apply to increase the cohesiveness of their writing.|
|Speaking||Q&A activity: the students discuss the topic together, provide own arguments and counterarguments to peers’ viewpoints.||The teacher applies the principle of spontaneous language use and maintains bilingual classroom environment.||The students are using guidelines for discussion and analysis of peers’ arguments; they are allowed to use the alterations of both English and native language. The teacher is using prompts encouraging the students’ communication.|
Figure 8: The chart represents the major scaffolding and differentiation components included in the lesson. The introduced differentiation practices aim to create an appropriate environment in which the linguistically and culturally diverse students will feel accepted and included in group work. At the same time, the scaffolded activities have a purpose of supporting the diverse learners in the accomplishment of lesson objectives and increase their independence in fulfillment of suggested tasks.