Ways to Teach Students Who Are Functioning on Different Instructional Levels in the Same Grade

I posted the following comments on the “Get Schooled” blog of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on March 21, 2013:

“All students do not learn the grade level curriculum at the same RATE, or SPEED, of learning the material. These students can learn the curriculum but they must take LONGER than is the norm for most students to learn the required material. That will often be the case for every grade that these students are in. You cannot keep failing or retaining students over and over again. The instructionally wise answer is to advance these students into the next year in school, but place them in the correct instructional group in which they might learn. So, as an example, a 5th grade student, who is behind other 5th graders in reading, would be taught on 3rd, or 2nd, or 4th grade reading level, depending upon where he actually functioned. If that student were on grade level in math, then he would be taught on 5th grade level, with the majority of the 5th grade students. Students realistically vary in their instructional needs, even from one curriculum area to another area.

Let’s say that that student were reading on a 3rd grade level. Then, there are many ways to accommodate his individual needs. The student might go to the 4th grade hall and be taught in a below average group of 4th graders who are actually reading on 3rd grade level. Another option, would be that he remain in the 5th grade hall and two 5th grade teachers team teach so that one teacher would take all the students reading on grade level (5th grade level) for both of the teachers, and the other teacher would teach students from both classes who are reading on 3rd/4th grade level as well as those who are reading on 6th/7th grade level.  Either teacher might have the help of a paraprofessional or the help of a parent/senior/business volunteer who has had some rudimentary training in instruction and discipline.

Or, as you suggest, the teacher could be trained in how to handle two groups in reading within in her classroom, with one group reading on grade level or above, and the other group reading below 5th grade level. That teacher would not necessarily be trying to “catch up” the below grade level students, although some from the lower group may “catch up” with the faster group. What the teacher should be trying to do is to teach each group to their optimum mastery levels of their separate instructional objectives – knowing that the students will learn at different RATES. Mastery is the key, not “catching up.” Moreover, teachers should lead students to mastery as quickly as students can truly obtain mastery of the instructional objectives they are being taught. This continuous progress instructional design allows for teachers always to be instructing students where they are actually functioning, which will cut down on failure, discipline problems, and attendance problems. This design acknowledges that those students who will learn at a slower rate, or speed, will probably graduate from high school as older students than the norm, and having spent more years in school than the norm of 12 years. However, the key is that practically all students will be successful all along the continuum of their 12, 13 or 14 years in school because they all will have been properly instructed where they were actually functioning – at every point in time along the way.”


I posted the following comments on the “Get Schooled” blog of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on March 22, 2013:

“I have previously mentioned that of the approximately 150 Advanced Reading students I received who had registered for my course each quarter, any of those students whom I assessed to be misplaced because the curriculum would have been too difficult for those students to meet with success, I took steps to ensure that those misplaced students were switched to Personalized Reading. Later, those students could re-register for Advanced Reading after they had gained the reading skills necessary to complete Advanced Reading successfully. 

What I did not mention was that, after I had accounted for misplaced students and had had them transferred, I might still have had a handful of students who simply would not do the work and, in their cases, I would fail those students in Advanced Reading if they still would not do the work after I had counseled with them, and with their parents, about their failure to do the work. However, that number of students each quarter was less than 5 students of the 150 I taught, or about 3% of the total students I taught.

Had I left the misplaced students in my Advanced Reading class and failed them, I would have failed approximately 15% more of my students simply because the work would have been over their heads. But, I would not have felt right about having failed those particular students because I would have known that those students had been grossly misplaced. I would have also known that I had not done anything to get those students placed accurately, and I would have known that they had failed Advanced Reading simply because I had failed them. I could not have failed to have acted to get those students correctly placed. That is why I always started each quarter making certain that all of my Advanced Reading students were placed correctly, based on their standardized reading test scores, their in-house Nelson Reading Test scores, and their first weekly reading/vocabulary test scores in my Advanced Reading classes.

Moreover, one of the main reasons I led English teachers to test all grade levels on the Nelson Reading Test was so that all students’ reading test scores could be disseminated to all English, mathematics, social studies, and science teachers so that they, too, would be able to recognize which students were misplaced in their classes, and adjust accordingly.

Lastly, the students who remained in my classes were those who scored within a certain range, but some of my students were better equipped to handle the Advanced Reading curriculum than others. The following is one adjustment I made to accommodate my students’ reading variances. I taught 20 SAT words daily, or 100 SAT words weekly. The students were given a weekly vocabulary test. However, I starred (*) 10 of those 20 words daily and I told all the students that if they would learn those 10 words well daily, or 50 words each week, I would construct my weekly vocabulary tests so that they would be guaranteed to score as high as 91 on their weekly tests because I would choose only 3 words from the unstarred words. In order to score 94 – 100 on the weekly tests, the students would have to learn all 20 words daily, or 100 words weekly. Those who were quite advanced in their reading skills were challenged to learn 20 words daily because they wanted to increase their SAT scores significantly. On the other hand, those students in my Advanced Reading class who were lower in their reading skills than the top students (but not so low that they could not function in or pass my class) would try hard to learn 10 SAT words daily, or SAT 50 words per week. That was an easy way for me to adjust my instruction to accommodate the range of students’ verbal skills who remained in Advanced Reading. In addition, every three weeks all students took a comprehensive test based on their comprehension of the selections read and analyzed in class, analogies and sentence completion selections covered and analyzed in class, as well as vocabulary words retained in memory over a three week period of time.    

If trained to recognize the instructional variances of their students, teachers can make instructional adjustments easily enough, as I did, to accommodate the instructional needs and variances of all of their students – as well as see that those students who are misplaced are placed correctly.”


“It sounds as if your option is simply to fail the students who are behind in mainstream courses, and I do not think that that is a conscionable choice, especially when the teacher knows that most of those students would be failing because their present skills are not sufficient to pass the curriculm in his/her class. The teacher will adjust his/her instruction to accommodate all of his/her students, or he/she will attempt to talk with administrators and counselors to persuade them to create or design more realistic instructional options for the school.

The first step in persuading adminstrators to give more and better overall instructional options for the teachers and students in the school is to analyze the reading and math test scores of all students on their standardized tests so that the teacher, or teachers together, can intelligently know what they are dealing with in terms of the instructional placement and needs of all of the students in a given grade level, and so that they can intelligently communicate those instructional facts to adminstrators and counselors.”


Please read “Cyndie’s Story” from this blog to learn how a 5th grade science teacher used an effective grouping method tp accommodate students who were reading well below 5th grade reading level when they were in 5th grade:





On the same Atlanta Journal-Constitution blog, on March 15, 2013, I posted the following:

“I would recommend that 8th grade teachers be trained to be very sensitive to, and aware of, the precise instructional levels that their students are functioning on, individually, when they recommend their students for high school courses for their 9th grade classes. No student should be recommended for a high school course which is over his or her head academically. Perhaps more high school courses should be offered which address lower level academic needs of some students so that students do not need to be retained in eighth grade or in high school. Instead, students can advance in a continuous progress curriculum format, meeting the legitimate criteria for high school graduation in 5 or 6 years instead of only 4 years. Perhaps, too, more applied learning courses in high school, through job internships, could be offered for credit for some students in the earlier grades in high school.”


“In terms of the success rate for the entire school of 1800 students and 100 teachers, I had very good results in working with teachers to help their students’ reading skills improve so that they could be successful in their classes. That goal was a work-in-progress when I retired in 2000, and that goal had more years needed to see the 100% criteria for students graduating from high school that you were asking about, but I was working toward that goal when I retired. To that end, I had been named a “Wal-Mart Teacher-of-the-Year” for my efforts two years before I retired and I was awarded, by the Wal-Mart Foundation, a monetary stipend to further develop my program. The “Dual Textbook Program” that I developed with that stipend for incoming 9th graders was very successful and the school received a grant from the state of Georgia in the amount of $25,000. to expand my “Dual Textbook Program” in my high school the following year – the year after I retired. I was still trying to get teachers to see the value of teaching every student where he or she is functioning, at point in time, when I retired.”


On “Get Schooled,” March 21, 2013:

‘In a continuous progress instructional design, students would advance to their next year-in-school with their age peers, but they would be assigned to the specific instructional levels, in each area of the curriculum, on which they could function even if those instructional levels were below the levels held by the majority of their peers in the same grade/year in school. This is known as a ‘continuous progress’ instructional design. To envision this instructional design, consider that it is similar to advancing up a ladder, but this would be a ladder of the curriculum continuum from first grade through twelfth grade, with each student advancing up the ladder at his or her own individual pace for mastery of the curriculum to be achieved, irrespective of grade level demarcations.”

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4 Responses to Ways to Teach Students Who Are Functioning on Different Instructional Levels in the Same Grade

  1. Pingback: Educational Reform According to Mary Elizabeth | maryelizabethsings

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