[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Summer 1982 pp6,7]
[Emmett Betts: see Anthology, Bulletins.]

Differentiated Instruction: The Teacher,

by Emmett Albert Betts, Ph.D., LL.D.*

* Winter Haven, Fl.

In learning situations, the teacher is the key to the success of the pupils - to solid achievement. But the teacher's professional competence is achieved via teachers of teachers (i.e., the professors) who provide demonstrations, laboratories, and a thorough grounding in those disciplines basic to effective reading instruction. These basic disciplines include:
1. Phonemics as one facet of word perception

2. Orthography as another facet of word perception dealing with idiosyncracies of spelling (e.g., many, to-too-two, look-moon), function words (e.g., and usually pronounced /ən/, /an/, /n/, or /ad/ in a phrase)

3. Cognition (comprehension) as a crucial facet of word perception, critical reading, creative reading, or assimilative reading-all imperatives for understanding motivation

4. Perceptual processes as imperatives for fluent reading - e.g., types of perceptual learning required for dealing with the vagaries of spelling, factors in perception (e.g., learner discovery of NEED, feedback between speech and written language)

5. Motivation as the keystone to zestful and fruitful learning; e.g., capturing pupil concern on "what happens next" versus the arid, unproductive demand, "John, read the next sentence."

6. Differentiation of instruction - provision for differences in needs, interests, achievement, and motivations among learners in a group - as the basis for all effective instruction. For example, estimating achievement levels (e.g., independent or instructional reading levels) during each directed reading/study activity. Providing readable materials that capture the motivation of each learner via group (reading level, need, or special interest group) and individualized guidance
The above are only some of the imperatives for developing teacher competence. It is a big order which is defaulted in too many teacher-education institutions.

Informal Inventories.

Teachers and others who have evaluated individualize reading programs have emphasized again and again: teachers using an individualized reading plan must have a thorough knowledge of how to estimate reading levels and of how to teach the skills of reading.

For either a group or an individualized plan, successful teachers are experienced in the use of informal inventories of word perception (survey and diagnostic) and informal inventories of reading achievement. They know that it is essential to estimate each pupil's independent reading level. These teachers also have access to information on the readability, or reader level, of books and other materials used for instruction. When this information is not available, they estimate the readability, often with the help of key pupils of known reading achievement.

How expert a teacher needs to be in identifying needed learnings, and teaching pupils those learnings depends upon how far she departs from the use of basic readers, study books, and special skill charts. Some teachers, for instance, follow closely the sequential development of word-perception skills and thinking abilities in a carefully made basic reader series. These teachers, therefore, have access to systematic guidance on when and how to teach a "skill." However, teachers who rule out the use of basic reader material assume tremendous responsibilities for systematic "skill" development.

Equally important, successful teachers, using a group and/or individualized plan, know how to inventory pupil interests and other facets of motivation and how to guide him to a higher level of maturity. These teachers take a step in the right direction when they have "the pupil reading material in which he is interested." But they take an important next step when they extend and raise his interest achievement.

Since individualized reading is a plan for nurturing individual differences in the classroom rather than a reading method, it is not an easy "out" for the teacher.

The Teacher.

In any type of reading program, the teacher is the key to the success of the pupils. The teacher uses textbooks and other materials effectively or misuses them. The teacher makes the child comfortable in his reading by getting him in contact with the right material. The teacher assesses pupil interests, begins with his interests, and helps him to mature in those interests. The teacher guides the pupil in his systematic, gradual learning of word-perception skills so that he becomes independent in their automatic use. And the teacher guides the pupil step-by-step in learning how to think in a reading situation. To discharge her responsibilities, the teacher gives years of her life to study not only methods of teaching but also those disciplines-phonetics, semantics, child development, etc. - so necessary for scholarship to support her methods.

Keys to Success.

Success with either a group or an individualized plan depends upon the achievement of the pupils - their attitudes toward reading in both home and school, their efficiency in using skills, their ability to shift from light to depth reading as the occasion demands, and so on. What are the keys to success? These keys to the doors of the child's mind are many and varied, beginning with the teacher and parents:
1. The professional competence of the teacher in establishing rapport with her pupils, organizing the class for effective learning, and teaching skills

2. Parent-teacher rapport based on an understanding of their child's needs and of the teacher's plans and goals for meeting these specific needs

3. An adequate supply of books and instructional materials to serve the interests and needs of each individual in the class

4. Provision of time and guidance so that the pupil may have broad reading experiences in different types of reading materials

5. Opportunities for pupil self-evaluation

6. Learning conditions which permit the pupil to operate at his own level of achievement and to pace his own progress by his own, unique pattern of development

7. Teacher awareness of the idiosyncracies of the American English spelling system; e.g., the spellings which hinder word-perception, as come, done, laugh, said, again, move.

8. Teacher competence in systematically teaching the pupil to shift his word-perception set from category skills (e.g., sat-hat, pet-get) to cue skills (e.g., ind-find, look-cook, all-tall) to probability skills (e.g., moon-look, they-say)

9. Teacher competence in capturing learner motivation (not motivating the learner?) via pupil purposes for the first silent reading or the oral or silent re-reading of a selection, pupil identification of his word-perception needs in a legitimate reading situation, pupil awareness of success with specific learnings.

The Plan.

Often it is said that grouping is THE plan for meeting individual needs. Or, that individualized reading is THE plan that offers the final answer. Any plan developed in another teacher's classroom or in another school or school system may or may not be the answer at a given time. Since the 1920's, teachers have the choice of regimented, group, or individualized reading instruction. While teachers in the 1860's apparently had only one choice, today's teachers have three major choices, the first one - regimentation - being completely out of tune with the facts about individual differences. Undoubtedly, THE plan has not yet been developed, because new facts about individual differences in learning, group dynamics, motivation, word-perception, thinking, and related factors, are being reported by the researchers. Furthermore, the creativeness of teachers shows no signs of exhaustion or even slowing down. (Witness the superb articles, written by classroom teachers, appearing in magazines for teachers.)

Teacher-Principal Approach.

Right now more than 100 variant patterns of group and/or individualized plans are being used. Hence, it behooves each teacher to understand the basic principles of learning and to try out different plans that she can use with her class under prevailing conditions. Of course, a highly competent teacher can improve on the "prevailing conditions," or the status quo, by means of carefully planned strategy with the principal, supervisor, and parents. Since there are individual differences in competence and personality among teachers as well as among pupils, each teacher is to be encouraged to "experiment," or to "try on for size" a plan and to change the plan if necessary after careful evaluation of it.

In short, a wise administrator encourages teachers to:
1. Do something constructive about individual differences in all areas of the curriculum.

2. Use self-selection as the basis for trying different plans, in successive years if necessary.

3. Be creative in the use of sound methods and procedures.

4. Search for new ideas in professional books, magazines, teacher's guide books, and in the classrooms of other teachers.

5. Share ideas with other teachers by active participation in group meetings of teachers and through magazines for parents and teachers.

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