|Handling different ability levels in the classroom was a challenge for me in my first student teaching placement. One girl was a grade level behind in math, and though there was an IEP for her the associate teacher did not immediately make me aware of this, and he seemed to do his “own thing” with her. I found that this girl was literally an afterthought in math class. After the teacher taught the lesson and students had practice time, only then would the teacher consult with the girl and get her going on her own level appropriate work.
I do not fault the associate teacher at all. In fact, I ended up doing the same thing even though in my head I knew it wasn’t the best way. I wasn’t sure how to teach 22 students one lesson, and then teach one girl another in the same period.
As I mentioned above, the solution in part to this solution should be increased differentiation. In regards to math class, I always gave time in the middle of the class for students to solve a few problems on their own in small groups, after which we regrouped and talked about their answers. During this time the girl who was behind would follow along as best she could, patiently waiting until the end of class to receive her lesson and work. I think in the future this differentiated time could be used more efficiently to help the girl; or if there happened to be other students needing individualized attention this time while other students are solving problems would be effective. More than just utilizing class time effectively is being prepared to utilize it correctly. Before class I as teacher should be prepared with problems and quick lessons to help those students needing extra attention. It should never be done on the fly – having material prepared for that certain girl would have been much more helpful instead of just hoping she would get something out of the other students’ lessons.
Finally the teacher has to be careful not to single out the students who need this extra attention. Preparation helps, because you do not want to “punish” these students by keeping them after class or in during lunch, so having work ready when the other students have time to do theirs is crucial.
Teaching different abilities all comes down to how one runs their classroom. If the teacher is the “guide on the side” and has time for students to explore new concepts during every lesson then it is this “exploration” that different abilities have time to explore the concepts at their own level. The teacher has to be prepared for this and have a range of activities ready for that lesson to cater to all needs.