Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

To-with-By: A Three-Tiered Model for Differentiated Instruction

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

To-with-By: A Three-Tiered Model for Differentiated Instruction

Article excerpt

All teachers differentiate instruction; it's natural, it's intuitive; we couldn't survive without differentiating. However, we can become more conscious and intentional in the ways we think about our students and in the ways we plan our lessons so that differentiation helps even more students succeed, particularly those struggling with literacy. To do that, an equally intuitive framework for differentiation is in order; one that does not require extensive training or preparation but still creates a classroom infrastructure within which differentiation occurs.

Whether we approach DI from the point of view of differences in readiness, differences in ability, differences in interest, or differences in learning profile, it involves multiple or differentiated resources, a variety of instructional strategies, and a range of options for demonstrations of understanding. Carol Tomlinson (1999) discusses differentiated content, process, and product. This could be interpreted as differentiated curriculum, instruction, and assessment. In other words, we can differentiate the resources we use, the ways we ask students to interact with the content, and the ways we ask students to demonstrate their learning.

I have been a classroom teacher for over 30 years, at every level from grades one through twelve, and in multiple disciplines. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that I have to make that conscious and intentional effort to differentiate on a daily basis. Whether we are talking about using multiple resources, different instructional strategies, or more performance-based assessments, I try always to be conscious of the unique group of students with whom I am working. And I intentionally plan my lessons to not only target state and district standards but also the readiness, abilities, interests, and learning profiles of the students in that classroom (Campbell, 2009).

The basic formula I have used for many years is To-With-By: I teach something to my students, this is usually in the form of direct instruction; then I work with my students, this is essentially guided instruction; then I push them to work more independently or by themselves, this is self-directed learning. Such an approach is sometimes referred to as Teach-Practice-Apply or I doWe do-You do. Regardless of the moniker, the beauty of this approach to teaching is that the teacher can use differentiated strategies at all three stages. Moreover, it is scaffolded for all students to ensure a "gradual release of responsibility" (Bruner, 1983). In other words, the process itself is differentiated in that it works through three tiers or levels that challenge students at progressively higher levels, plus the learning strategies within each tier are also differentiated. (See Figure 1)

There are many strategies under the umbrella of differentiated instruction: tiered lessons, flexible grouping, anchor activities, learning centers, multimodal instruction, cooperative learning, project-based learning, and so forth. Using the To-With-By model, I can incorporate all of these strategies into my lessons. For example, multi-modal instruction can be used effectively in the to stage where I introduce a topic; cooperative learning works well in the with stage where students are practicing; and project-based learning is a natural fit for the by stage where students are applying the skills and knowledge they have learned. In the next three sections, I'll describe each of the three stages in more detail and then explain how the process can be used specifically in the context of literacy.

Direct instruction: To

Stage one, or tier one, is to. I call this my Main Lesson. I start out each day or each period with a lecture in which I teach something "to" my students. It might be anything from long vowels to the binomial theorem, photosynthesis to the Boston Tea Party. It usually takes 10 to 20 minutes and provides an overview or introduction to the basic skills or concepts with which we will be working. …

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