Since I have a co-teaching classroom, making appropriate modifications for students is a necessity. Emphasis on the appropriate, though. Just because you can differentiate for students doesn’t always mean you should. You know your students best so decide what gives them the support they must have while balancing it with the stretch they need in order to grow.
Don’t Kill the Hope!
A five-paragraph essay is a very demanding task for students in 4th grade. However, with the right instruction, time, and persistent effort most students can achieve this skill. What to do about those that such a task is not (at this time) realistic? It is possible to ask too much of some kids. When teachers do that, we run the real risk of having kids just give up and not want to put forth any effort at all. Let’s be real – if I truly feel like I’m being asked to do the impossible, what motivation do I have to even try? None, if we’re honest. As one memorable speaker once told me, “Don’t kill the hope!” Unfortunately, I think there are times when we do that to a few of our students. So before it escalates to the “give up” stage, here’s a differentiation tip you might want to try with your struggling writers.
Reduce the Amount of Writing
When differentiating the writing task, instead of changing the prompt or writing genre, try reducing the amount of writing you ask of students. Let’s go back to the graphic organizer we’ve been using in our opinion writing unit. As you can see from the image below, I’ve highlighted just those sections that I ask students to complete when I’m modifying the assignment’s length. The sections left blank they can skip altogether.
A Solid Paragraph
Once they have finished a modified graphic organizer, students can piece those sentences together and write a solid opinion paragraph. It should still have a hook to interest the reader, a clearly stated topic sentence, one strong reason with several supporting details, and of course a conclusion. The photo below shows how one student (0n another writing assignment) was able to do just that. We went back afterward and highlighted each section of his paragraph so he could see how all of it fit together.
My end-goal for students who receive this type of modification is not for them to stay at this level of writing, however. When and if it’s possible, I always try to increase the amount of writing until (hopefully) they are able to successfully write a five-paragraph essay. Sometimes that doesn’t always happen while they’re students in my 4th grade. That progression may come the next year or two. As long as a student hasn’t quit writing, though, I think this is a legitimate instructional strategy and one worth considering. Happy teaching!