As elementary school teachers, we are given students with a wide range of skills and abilities, and to be effective we must learn how to address the needs of each of these students. Some students will be below level, some at level, and others above level in whatever subject we are teaching, and it is imperative that we identify each child's strengths and weaknesses so that we can adapt our teaching style and modify our lessons to best serve the unique needs of each student. This can be a difficult feat, especially in large classes. Below are some ways that we as teachers can address the various skills and abilities present in the classroom.
- Understand that different students learn in different ways: Remember Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, and do your best to integrate as many different types of strategies to address as many learning methods as possible. For example, some students learn best through hands on activities and manipulation of objects (Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence). These students would benefit from various manipulatives such as counting blocks for addition or letter cards for spelling out words, or the use of centers. Others learn best through visualizing, drawing, or sketching things out (Visual/spatial Intelligence). These students could benefit from educational posters in the classroom, use of graphic organizers, or even being allowed to doodle during lessons, as this can actually help them absorb information being presented more effectively. Still other students work best by working with others (Interpersonal Intelligence). Group activities in which students work together to solve problems, reading groups, or the Jigsaw method would benefit these types of students.
- Modify assignments based on students skill levels: It seems obvious that a student who is one year below grade level should not expected to be complete an assignment designed for a student who is one year above grade level. Unfortunately, this happens regularly in many classrooms. In order to ensure that all students are receiving assignments that are appropriate for their ability, it is vital that teachers modify and individualize the work given to their students. For example, when giving a multiple choice test, you can reduce the number of answer options for certain students who are easily overwhelmed. When giving a reading assignment, you can use a highlighter to focus the students attention on important pieces of information needed to answer questions. Another option is to design unique assignments based upon student ability. For example, have assignment A for students below level, assignment B for students at level, and assignment C for students above level.
- Design and present high interest activities and assignments: Think about reading a newspaper. Do you read every single article, or do you look for headlines with a topic that is of personal interest to you? How about going to a bookstore. Do you walk in and blindly pick out a book without any idea of what it is about, or do you take your time and read the back of the book to make sure that it is something that interests you? The answer of course is that we want to read things that interest us, and what interests us may not interest someone else. If we as adults should not be expected to read things we find uninteresting or downright boring, why is it we expect our students to read passages or book that are not of interest to them? If we want our students to be enthusiastic about learning, we as teachers must take the time to develop lessons that our students will be excited about and that will hold their attention over a 30-60 minute period. This is important for all students, but especially important for students who are above or below grade level, as they can become more easily frustrated by typical, boring worksheets. By designing activities that they find interesting, they will be more likely to focus and work to their utmost ability.