How important is differentiation in first grade? or in elementary school? my 7 year old son is bright, wihtout a doubt...has been reading well with great comprehension since he was 4 1/2. He attends a catholic school (all of our public schools at title one schools and not really an option) with 35 kids in the classroom...they do break up into groups of 10 for reading and math, but they absolutely refuse to differentiate. can this "hurt" a child's learning? what at the long term affects of this, if any? i work with him at home with more advanced books but what about the 6-7 hours a day he's in the classroom? thanks for any comments you might have!
Overall, the research shows that children do better with "gifted programs" (advanced, differentiated curriculcum). Perhaps, you could talk with your son's teacher to determine other learning opportunities for him in the classroom and, at the minimum, if she/he has any suggestions for supplementary teaching you can perform at home. If you haven't already, you should take a spin through the NAGC website. It is wonderful.
Each learner is different and deserves consideration of that by his/her teachers, and this is ESPECIALLY true for the primary grades. Most schools have "mixed-ability classrooms" like your son's first grade. Grouping for math and reading is a typical attempt by teachers to cope with the range of abilities present, but this practice falls short at addressing many children's instructional needs. One difficulty your son's teacher faces is the large class size he/she must deal with. It is, to me, nearly impossible for a 1st grade teacher of 35 to adequately differentiate. I do believe this situation shortchanges your son and probably many other students in this class. If you must keep your son in this school, you might see if anything could be done to get the class size down to a manageable 20 students. And you can urge the principal to arrange inservice for teachers based upon the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson of the University of Virginia, the guru of differentiation who has a knack for writing to a teacher audience and making this complex process doable. Michael Bentley, EdD
Every child should receive differentiation in their classroom, whether the child is below level, on level, or above level. As a teacher, I can tell you this is difficult but necessary. One challenge in this particular classroom is the incredible size. I would say the ideal size for a 1st grade classroom is no more than 15 students. Your child's teacher could implement small groups (4 kids) for literacy, math, and science, while the rest of the class is working at centers dealing with some of the many skills required in each of those subjects. During those small group times, each student should be met where he is in his abilities and built up from there, even if that means working above the current grade level expectations.
As far as hurting his education, or the long term effects, not challenging him could result in behavior problems down the road as he becomes increasingly bored in class, and/or negative feelings about school. This isn't certain, but is possible.