We individualize instruction in math, writing, and reading in many ways. One is built into our curricular design. We rarely use workbooks or worksheets to instruct or practice skills. Instead, we find ways to incorporate all subjects into the study of a particular topic. Done in this manner, each child is working at his or her own level when approaching a task. With a set of worksheets, all of the children would need to approach the activity using the exact same skills. For example, when we were working on our ice cream project one of our math activities involved sorting a collection of about 100 images of ice cream cones. Children who didn’t have much experience with this type of task tended to sort by a single, easily visible attribute such as number of scoops. Children who had many experiences sorting and had developed a greater understanding of the concept were guided in sorting by three or four attributes (color, # scoops, real/pretend, type of cone) using Venn diagram loops. The same is true for writing. When we wrote signs for the Road Rally, some children wrote using drawings, some with random letter strings, and some with invented spelling or using environmental print. We take care to know each students’ current strengths and areas of growth so that we can gently guide them further along the continuum. Our goal is to challenge each child at his or her level of need.
Another way we meet each child’s needs involves the method of instruction. Almost all direct instruction occurs in small groups of 2-4 students. By limiting our instruction to smaller groups, we can attend to each child’s misconceptions, ideas, and “ah-ha” moments. True learning comes from the connections one makes to the new information. When we work with just a few children at a time, we can personalize the instruction to make the most out of their prior knowledge.