In my previous article, I questioned the ability of existing resources to adequately meet the varying needs of learners in “gradeless” systems and felt they could not. That said, what would the ideal set of teaching resources look like? If I had the funds and manpower, I would create them as a unified set of materials spanning across all subject areas and grade levels, and I wouldn’t stop there – I would also differentiate and scaffold them so that teachers had the ready-made tools needed to effectively teach their classes. And how would I go about achieving this?
At Grade-Level Resources:
First, I’d start by mapping out the language and content for at-grade-level resources. When doing so, I wouldn’t look at each subject area as an island; instead, I would look at how they could interconnect language-wise and content-wise and I wouldn’t limit the process to mainstream subjects like math and science – specialist subjects such as Physical Education (PE) and Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) would be included as well. In this way, a unified package of resources could be developed, and not just across a single grade level but across all grade levels, thus ensuring both horizontal and vertical coherence. The only subject I would leave out at this point (to be dealt with later) would be Language Arts (LA). For now, LA would simply provide a reference point for language acquisition and ensure that the vocabulary used in the above-mentioned resources would match the students’ ability.
Scaffolding and Differentiating:
Once at-grade-level resources were mapped out, I would look at ways to scaffold them so that within each subject area, different levels of text and sets of questions could be developed to ensure that an entire class could focus on the same concept, but learners would have the ability to access the content and demonstrate their knowledge at their own level. Within each set of levelled resources, different learning styles would also be thought of and accommodated.
And finally, the LA resources would come last as the levelled sets of non-fiction and fiction readers and resources created would be based on the language and content being covered in all subject areas. In doing so, LA lessons would become the tie that binds all subjects together and serve to enhance student comprehension.
Taking the time to cross-link, scaffold and differentiate the teaching resources would ensure that a solid continuum without gaps or pockets exists and that regardless of grade level, subject area or ability, the proper tools would be made available for students to succeed. Now, it’s just a dream, but perhaps one day it will become a reality.
If you could design your own set of teacher resources, what would they look like? How would you go about creating them?
Many schools are moving away from traditional grading systems and going “gradeless,” such as in British Columbia, Canada, where they are currently using a four-point provincial proficiency scale that categorizes student progress using the following terms: Emerging, Developing, Proficient, and Extending. Theoretically speaking, there are benefits to moving in this direction; practically speaking, it seems that somewhere along the lines the thought of proper implementation and resources to support a “gradeless” system was missed and as a result student learning isn’t being adequately supported.
Though the above statement may seem bold, it’s a truth that needs to be addressed as the textbooks and materials currently used at schools were for the most part never developed to support “gradeless” systems; they were designed to support letter or percentage grade systems thus offering a standard set of textbooks or materials meant for all students in a classroom, regardless of ability. And for that purpose, they absolutely work. That said, when it comes to “gradeless” systems, where teachers are evaluating students based on their skill levels, these resources don’t work because it’s no longer about moving students through grade levels, it’s about moving students from “emerging” to a minimum of “proficient” in each strand of the curriculum. And if the end goal has shifted to allow students to progress through concepts at their own pace, then we need to design resources that are compatible with this goal. Instead of single textbooks and materials that cater to all students, we need differentiated and scaffolded resources that support the aim of “gradeless” systems.
Imagine for a minute the difference it would make in a “gradeless” system classroom if differing sets of resources were provided – one for “emerging” learners, one for “developing” learners, one for “proficient” learners and yet another for “extending” learners. Imagine a student who is demonstrating an emerging knowledge of a concept being able to work their way to a proficient level through ready-made scaffolded materials, and learners at the proficient levels being pushed to eventually demonstrate a more in-depth knowledge of the subject through differentiated materials. Imagine the impact that would make on student learning.
If this is truly the direction education is moving in as a whole – towards “gradeless” systems – then isn’t it time that the resources and materials being developed move in this direction as well? A thought I ponder for now.
I was recently in a classroom where grade 4 students were working on IXL.com as a means of practising and reviewing math skills. As I walked around the room, I observed that a number of students consistently only practiced numeracy skills where questions were numeric and didn’t involve word problems, and this got me thinking about why that was. Yes, in general, straight equations are easier to solve, but there must be something more to it. Upon speaking with students and delving further into the types of problems provided by IXL.com, I quickly realized why some students were shying away from attempting to solve them … it was due to the vocabulary used in the problems, and I am not talking math vocabulary, I am referring to vocabulary used in the context of the questions – chemical names such as phosphorous and sulfuric acid, country names such as Australia, etc. For students reading at or above grade level, these questions may not pose a problem; however, for students reading below grade level, it’s a completely different story.
The above highlights issues with IXL.com, but they are not the only company using vocabulary in their resources that students reading below grade level simply can’t decode and comprehend. In all fairness, some companies do offer differentiated/scaffolded resources for English Language Learners (ELL) students, but students reading below grade level are not quite in the same category, so they are often left to flounder in subject areas (other than Language Arts) where levelled reading material may not be provided. When it’s time for grading and report cards, these questions must be asked: Are those students falling below grade level in most or all subject areas because of their inability to read at grade level, and would their mastery of concepts be at grade level had the reading material and questions provided been accessible to them? Very possibly, yes.
At the moment, the only solution available to teachers would be to rewrite texts and questions themselves in order to provide necessary differentiated and/or scaffolded resources for learners in their classrooms – which theoretically speaking is an ideal solution, but practically speaking, teachers simply don’t have the time to rewrite and reword texts and questions in all subject areas. And so perhaps the responsibility should fall on the companies providing the resources to offer leveled texts and questions in subject areas they are providing materials for so that students can be evaluated fairly on what they know and understand vs what they are able to read and comprehend. Perhaps there are companies that have already taken that step, in which case, should this not simply become standard practice across the board?
Are you a teacher struggling to provide differentiated and/or scaffolded resources in your classroom? How have you been solving the issue? Alternatively, if you have found ready-made resources, where did you find them? We welcome your thoughts and insights!