• Comments from Mr. Tom Barclay, Assistant Superintendent of Montgomery Township Schools,  from the September, October, and November 2007 OHES newsletters:


    At the primary level, it seems to me to be a

    better process to refrain from labeling and putting

    children into “boxes.” Young children defy such

    classifications. Primary level teachers need to be

    expert “child watchers.” They need to frequently

    assess and reassess their young scholars, to be

    certain that they are challenging them when they

    need the challenge and supporting them when they

    need the support.


    The needs of the enrichment students and other students with

    particular needs, are being met through the

    process of differentiation of instruction in which

    what they produce, how they learn, or what they

    learn is being changed by the teachers, based on

    the student’s readiness, interest, and learning style.

    In most cases, the students in the class will be

    working on the same concepts, but at several

    different levels and through different processes.

    Be sure to ask the teachers at conferences about

    the processes they are using to engage all of their

    students at their teachable levels.


    I wanted to conclude my discussion of the idea of

    differentiation that I began two months ago. At this level,

    as I stated back in the September newsletter, the children

    are each progressing at their own rate, as they should. They

    have periods of great progress, followed by plateaus in

    progress. As you know, in addition to their learning

    “school stuff,” children are growing physically, maturing

    emotionally, developing the capacity to think abstractly, and

    are beginning to leave the egocentric phase of their lives

    and move toward a social interdependence. All of this takes

    energy and time. Like a tree, you cannot see it grow, but,

    after many years, the evidence of its growth is plain for all

    to see. Children are like this. Each one grows at his or her

    unique rate, in different sequence, with different intensity.

    This is why our approach toward meeting individual

    needs, differentiation, works best. As I stated last month,

    instruction is planned for and is based on readiness (your

    child’s preparation and disposition to take on new learning),

    interest (what excites and engages your child), and learning

    profile (how your child is “wired” for learning). In order

    for teachers to meet individual needs, they alter the process

    (how your child will learn, e.g. visually, auditorially, through

    movement, etc.). They might alter the product (what your

    child produces as evidence of learning, e.g. story,

    presentation, poster, quiz, etc.). Finally, and not as

    commonly, they might alter the content, (what is taught).

    The content presented to your child is governed by state

    standards and local curriculum. Whether your child is

    advanced, on target, or not yet there, the content is and

    should be similar, if not the same. So, what is changed?

    One important change is the level of abstraction. A simple

    example might be moving from literal (right there)

    comprehension to inferential comprehension, requiring

    your child to make connections or to call upon their own

    experience to make judgments. Another change might be

    complexity. For example, adding two or three digits,

    instead of one, or using facts flexibly. Very often, parents

    have expressed the desire to have their child advance

    vertically through the curriculum, in other words, to skip a

    grade or to do the work of the 2nd grade in kindergarten. At

    the primary level, we are building a strong foundation for all

    future learning and building upon what you began when

    your child was newly born. It is essential, then, that we not

    hurry our way through the years. Rather, it is critical that

    we make certain the foundation of all literacy, numeracy,

    problem-solving processes, inquiry processes and social

    skills is profoundly established. Nor should we be

    inundating your child with voluminous papers and endless

    homework. The foundation is built, little by little. I

    encourage you to speak with your child’s teacher about the

    differentiation s/he has been planning for your child.