June 8, 2019 -- Ask a roomful of teachers the most challenging part of their job and many will mention how hard it is to reach every single child, especially when they come to school with wildly different ability levels, background knowledge, learning styles and life experiences.
Fairfax 4th grade teacher Stephanie Petty, who’s been teaching for more than 20 years, has finally found a method of differentiation that truly works for her class. After attending a break-out session at the district’s Professional Development day last fall, Ms. Petty has fully embraced the Grid Method, which, according to its website, “is a student-centered, competency-based system, created at the classroom level and designed to fit any teacher’s style, within any curriculum, in any classroom.”
What this means is that students are in charge of monitoring their own progress as they move from one level of knowledge to another, from the basic recall of information found at Depth of Knowledge (DOK) 1 to independent exploration found at DOK 5. It also means that on any given day, every student in a room may be at a different point, learning a different concept, or completing a different activity from the students around them.
This is not easy, but it is powerfully effective.
Ms. Petty partnered with Gifted Intervention Specialist Anthony Provenzale to create two units using the method. The first unit was an English Language Arts-focused five-week curriculum on tall tales and the second, which took about a month to complete, focused on natural disasters, combining ELA with both science and social studies.
For the natural disaster unit, all students started at Level 1 which required reading informational texts, watching educational videos, applying vocabulary, recalling information, answering questions and creating a poster summarizing what they had learned. As they finished each task with 80% mastery, students were able to move on to the next level. Level 4, in this case, involved writing and illustrating a children’s book explaining natural disasters and then reading aloud it to 2nd graders. This allowed students who moved at a faster pace to continue to study the same topic as their classmates but in a more in-depth manner.
“This method gives students so many different options, so many opportunities to show what they know,” said Ms. Petty. Many of the tasks are hands-on and none are traditional worksheets. Students take ownership over their learning—and over the pace of that learning—while the teacher spends more time as a facilitator, moving about the room, meeting one-on-one or in small groups to reinforce or clarify concepts.
“This is a whole different way of teaching for me,” Ms. Petty said, admitting that it has been challenging. Having so many kids working on different skills and activities has been a major shift from traditional teacher-centered instruction and one that requires a lot of flexibility and the extra help of classroom volunteers or Mr. Provenzale.
But Ms. Petty feels it’s worth it. “They are so engaged. And the students and I both get instant feedback on how well they understand things with short mini-lessons and assessments.”
She said she couldn't have done it without the help of Mr. Provenzale, who learned the Grid Method the year prior and would spend up to a month with Ms. Petty creating their grids. “This isn't just for gifted classrooms,” he said. “It’s a good teaching method for everyone.”
“The students absolutely love it,” said Ms. Petty. “They moan and groan when I tell them we’re going ‘off-grid’ for a day.”