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Meeting Multiple Needs in the Classroom

The following are some suggested tips and strategies to use to meet the diverse needs of your learners:

1. Small Group and Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning is a relationship in a group of students that requires positive interdependence (a sense of sink or swim together), individual accountability (each of us has to contribute and learn), interpersonal skills (communication, trust, leadership, decision making, and conflict resolution), face-to-face interaction, and processing (reflecting on how well the team is functioning and how to function even better). The following are some basic guidelines for implementing cooperative groups.
  1. Establish heterogeneous groups<

  2. Designate group work areas

  3. Designate specific responsibilities to group members

  4. Provide clear directions, time constraints, rules, procedures

  5. Provide necessary materials

  6. Establish leader selection process

  7. Minimize exchanges of information between groups

  8. Watch for conflict

  9. Encourage and praise group support

2. Socratic Instruction

Another effective teaching strategy to use especially with older children is Socratic instruction (questioning). Socratic questioning fosters critical thinking, evaluation, and knowledge application in students and should be used as frequently as possible in assignments and class discussions.

Allow 'wait time' for thinking. Give students time to consider the question and their response before requesting them to answer.

Avoid yes-no questions. They lead nowhere and do not promote thinking nor discussion.

Be sure students have the needed background and resources to respond to the questions posed. It is unfair and detrimental to their progress to not accept their levels of knowledge and experience.

Open-ended and closed questions are useful. Open-ended questions promote critical thinking, while closed questions can focus attention.

Include clarifying questions, demands and statements. They are as valid as questions are. Students may need guidance as they sift through possible answers.

Use questions from all levels of thinking. Help students to develop higher levels of critical thinking as well as the typical knowledge and comprehension levels."

Excerpts from "Effective Teaching Strategies" by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

3. The Jigsaw Strategy

Using the Jigsaw strategy as part of a classroom activity involves the following steps:

Step 1: Identify a range of materials related to significant topics addressed in the lesson. Consider the students who will be involved in this exercise, and if necessary, try to identify selections of varying text difficulty and sophistication. For example, six different selections related to hurricanes can be collected for middle school students studying weather. A textbook excerpt might detail the atmospheric conditions that create hurricanes. An article might give an overview of some of the areas affected and economic consequences. An encyclopedia segment might provide a historical perspective of significant hurricanes. A short book chapter might describe precautionary measures that can be taken to prepare for hurricanes. A newspaper account could feature a personal narrative of experiences of a specific hurricane and the damages that resulted. And so on.

Step 2: Organize the class into cooperative groups of 4 to 6 people, with the group size corresponding to the number of selections to be assigned. Each group member receives the task of reading one of the targeted selections. Depending on the nature of the group, the teacher may allocate the specific readings to each person, or the group itself may decide who will tackle which selection.

Step 3: Next, students read their selections independently. If the materials are photocopied, encourage students to underline important information they will need to share with their group. "Sticky notes" are an option for materials that cannot be written upon. Students may also jot down notes, or follow a graphic note-taking outline provided by the teacher as a means for extracting important concepts from their passage.

Step 4: All of the students who read the same selections now meet together as a new group to compare notes and discuss concepts and information they feel are most important. This second group also creates a summary of key points, a concept map, a graphic outline, or highlighted notes which will then be photocopied and handed to members of the original group when each person goes back to present what should be learned from this particular material.

Step 5: The final piece to the Jigsaw activity involves a return meeting of the original group. During this time, individual group members share in turn the pertinent information related to each selection. The rest of the group is accountable for learning this new information, which will be assessed during the evaluation of this unit of study.

The Jigsaw strategy could be integrated into a number of classroom activities that are structured so that everyone does not have to read an entire work or even segments from the same work.

For example:
  • Students could read different sections of a history chapter and then share.

  • Students could read different short stories that follow a similar theme and then share.

  • Students could investigate different areas of emphasis within a topic of instruction, such as the impact of ozone depletion on plants, weather, bodies of water, incidence of skin cancer and so forth. In a history class, New Deal initiatives could be broken down into public relief, agricultural programs, public works projects, or industrial policies and then share.
Excerpts from "The Jigsaw Strategy: Students Put Pieces of Reading Together" by Doug Buehl, Middle High School Teacher

Read our article entitled "Teaching Strategies To Meet Multiple Needs".

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