Techniques for Differentiation in Mixed-Grade Hebrew Classes
As a teacher in third and fourth grade mixed classes, I am conscious of the varied learning profiles of my students and how important it is to find ways to address their learning needs. At the beginning of the school year, I use a questionnaire based on Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences to determine the learning profile of each student (ow.ly/sP3630drlc8).
I meet with each student individually, checking letter and vowel recognition, listening to them reading a short passage and answering some comprehension questions. Based on the outcome of this assessment, along with learning profile information provided by the learning service team and knowledge based on performance in Hebrew in prior years, I create a folder for each student, organize relevant information and place kids in groups based on their level of basic reading/decoding and of comprehension.
My task then is to identify the best techniques to address the learners in my class. I set quarterly goals for students who struggle with reading and comprehension. The idea is to help them in small increments, to allow them to feel secure in class, and invite them to challenge themselves even though they might not always be successful. My ultimate goal for each child, and particularly with struggling students, is to celebrate their success. As small as the success may be, I serve as their cheerleader and help them recognize their progress.
At the end of each quarter, I review student folders, give them an additional reading challenge to see whether they have reached the quarter’s goals, and adjust goals for the next quarter. I provide feedback, sharing information with students to encourage them.
Here are some of the differentiation techniques I use to reach all students.
- Stations. Start class with a mini-lesson of 10-15 minutes, to prep students for work in stations. Stations include review of vocabulary, practicing reading fluency, reading comprehension and review of material. The stations allow the teacher to work with individual students or small groups and to reach students who need support.
- Drama. Present stories and Torah texts and have students create plays. Students learn the text and write their own plays.
- Visual arts. Use pictures, paintings, drawings as “Midrash Temunah” (picture midrash) to help students express their understanding.
- Games. Games engage students deeply, helping them to reach understanding and review what is learned in class. A game can be an actual game (memory game, treasure hunt) or technology game (TinyTap, Kahoot).
- Conversation. Many times, the focus in the classroom is around reading and writing, and speaking is lost. By encouraging oral activities, students are able to use their language. One popular game we use is the spelling game Sparkle; we added a tweak: at the end of the spelling, the students need to say a sentence using the word they spelled. Other games include riddles, describe scenes/pictures, create sentences based on given vocabulary.
As an educator who values differentiation, I believe it is important for students to provide feedback to their teacher. At the end of each unit, I ask students to indicate what they liked and thought was worthwhile, and what wasn’t as interesting or was too hard. Student feedback provides a deeper understanding through a student lens. It creates a system of “checks and balances,” where the teacher is guided to make changes and address the crucial needs of every student.