The Differentiation Equation: A Tool to Develop Independent Readers

Marie Aurea Garrido

Faced with the pressure to teach more rigorous texts to meet higher expectations, teachers often respond in one of two ways:

Classroom 1: The 8th graders in Ms. Jeffries's class are quietly reading the poem, "The Charge of the Light Brigade," and answering a set of questions that come from the textbook. The students, a mix of on-level and struggling readers, are having difficulty with the vocabulary and meaning behind the poem. Despite that, Ms. Jeffries is satisfied that 80 percent of the class has earned a 60 percent or higher score on the assignment.

Classroom 2: Ms. Andrews's 7th grade class of struggling students are in a circle, listening intently as she reads aloud an editorial about smartphone privacy issues that relates to the unit on privacy versus security and the U.S. Bill of Rights. The students follow along and listen as the teacher connects the concepts to the unit and defines key words for them. The exit slip at the end of class shows that all of the students can explain that day's class content.

In both classrooms, the teachers are having students read and respond to complex text, but neither instructional method is helping students become independent readers. Ms. Jeffries in Classroom 1 assigned her students complex text, but even though she knows that her students are struggling, she does not employ any strategy for vocabulary and comprehension to help them improve in these areas. This is what I call "under-scaffolding." Under-scaffolding occurs when teachers assign, rather than teach, demanding reading material. It is often given as independent work with a sink-or-swim philosophy. All students are going to have the same test, so I need to get them ready for that, these teachers rationalize.

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