Modified classroom hones in on student needs

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

Although the methods and technologies of teaching have changed over the years, one thing remains the same: Individualized teaching works better. Working one-on-one with a student allows a teacher to focus in on the student’s specific strengths and weaknesses instead of using broad strokes to cover all students.

Unfortunately, under most normal circumstances, such personalized teaching is simply impossible. Class sizes are too big; students, too varied.

But Itawamba Attendance Center fourth grade teacher Tova Holder thinks she may have found some middle ground to stand on. She calls it the “intervention room,” a classroom shared among the school’s fourth grade teachers — 50 minutes a piece each day — designed to section students into smaller groups and allow their teachers to work with them on a more personalized basis.

Teachers began using the room about a month ago, and Holder said so far it’s proven to be a popular addition among her fellow teachers. She also said early results have been positive.

“We’ve already seen better answers and faster fluency from our kids on their reading tests. Even by as early as January, we’ll know how far we’ve come,” Holder said. “We’re hoping that by the end of the year, all of our students will be at the fifth grade level. That is our overall goal.”

The classroom is divided into separate sections, allowing students to break off into groups designated by performance level. These groups of students are scattered throughout three areas in the room: A computer station, at which they work with educational programs like “Study Island”; an area for working on various projects; and a large table near the center of the classroom, where they work one-on-one with their teacher.

Because entire classes are broken down into groups of varying performance levels, their teachers are able to give them more level-specific attention. For example, students who may be struggling in math are grouped together so that their teacher can really target their problem areas, whereas students who excel at English can have a short lesson tailored to them.

“Everybody’s getting a one-on-one meeting with his or her teacher, which is ideal,” Holder said, adding that challenging high-performers is just as important as aiding those who are struggling. For advanced groups, she said the goal is to usually take an existing assignment and modify it to either provide more challenge or to grant a different perspective of the material; for those having trouble, the object is to slowly cover their problem areas to ensure they have a firm grasp on the lesson.

Both groups are equally important, she said.

“We did not want to target just our lower performing kids all the time,” Holder said. “We have to sometimes; but with this room, we can do that for those kids without being singled out. “Being in this room together, working on the computers or projects, makes it so no student is labeled. Everyone has the same experience, they’re just working at the best levels for them.”

Holder said the idea for the “intervention room” came to her after she took a hard look at her students’ grades from last year.

“I had a huge discrepancy among my students,” Holder explained. “I needed a way to reach both my highest and lowest performing students.”

She said she began to research ways in which to give all ranges of her students the kind of immediate feedback normally provided by one-on-one instruction, but difficult to accommodate in a large classroom.

“I wanted to give immediate feedback on what my struggling students needed help on and challenge my higher-performing students. But, I couldn’t fit all of that into a day,” she said, adding that she felt she could provide all of her students with the kind of individual attention they needed if she could just have fewer students at a time for short periods of time.

And just like that, the light bulb flashed on.

“I think that every student deserves to have some one-on-one instruction,” Holder said, adding that she’s anxious to see some more concrete results by the end of the year.

“We expect to have at least one grade level of growth from each student,” she said. “Any time you can target a student’s exact skill level for 20 minutes a day, every day, you’re going to see some growth.

“I’m hoping this is a catalyst of change,” she added. “Ideally, every classroom would look like this.”

adam.armour@journalinc.com