ISEC 2005

Inclusive and Supportive Education Congress
International Special Education Conference
Inclusion: Celebrating Diversity?

1st - 4th August 2005. Glasgow, Scotland

home
about the conference
programme
registration
accommodation
contact

Differentiating Instruction:
Lessons from a One Room Schoolhouse

Katharin A. Kelker, Ed.D. (Assistant Professor)
Mary Susan Fishbaugh, Ed.D. (Professor)

Montana-State University-Billings
1500 University Drive
Billings, Montana 59101-0298
United States

kkelker@msubillings.edu

 

            Across the United States, one-room schoolhouses have disappeared to the point that fewer than 400 are active today (Boss, 2000).   Although they are an endangered species, one-room schools may never be extinct, partly because they serve a need in areas too remote for long distance busing of students or too isolated for consolidation (Barker & Muse, 1986).   But today there may be an even better reason for holding on to the one-room schoolhouse model, not just for its convenience in rural, remote areas, but also because such schools are living laboratories for a style of teaching that encourages cross-age and peer tutoring, differentiated instruction, high student expectations, a positive school environment, parental involvement, and emphasis on time on task (Blount, 1992).   If these characteristics sound familiar, they should because in they are in close alignment with Lezotte’s first and second generation correlates of effective schools (1991) and Tomlinson’s principles of differentiated instruction (Tomlinson, 1996).  

Table 1:
Comparison of Characteristics of Effective Schools, Differentiated Instruction and Multi-Level Small Schools

            Conscientious teachers recognize it is not possible or legitimate to look at a classroom of students and pretend they are all alike, even though the students may be relatively the same age and in the same grade level (Siegel, & Shaughnessy, 1994).   Public school classrooms are diverse. That diversity includes some students with mild disabilities that interfere with learning (Winebrenner, 1996).   These disabilities affect students in virtually all subjects, but especially in reading and mathematics.   Other students are slow learners who have no disabilities, but who learn all subjects at a slower rate and require much repetition before acquiring new concepts.   Still another group of students comes to school with highly advanced skills and abilities and an eagerness to learn at a fast pace (Winebrenner, 1992).  

            Besides differences in abilities and pace of learning, another source of diversity is language and culture.   The number of students from diverse cultures and language backgrounds is predicted to increase to 24 million or 37% of the school-age population, by the 2010 (Venn, 2004).   Second-language learners obviously have different learning needs from children raised in the majority culture.   But even the second-language learners vary greatly among themselves—not only in their native tongues but also in their degree of experience with their native language and the sort of home support system that follows them to school (Ladson-Billings, 2001).   Second-language learners may also represent cultures that vary in significant ways.              

            In addition to differences in abilities and backgrounds, many students bring with them to school stresses from home that are too great for them to understand and bear.   Some students, of course, represent several of these realities— very bright students whose learning problems mask their extraordinary abilities, second-language learners whose families teeter on the brink of economic viability (Payne, 1998).
            Teachers also know that students learn in varied ways—some by listening, others visually, still others through hands on activities; some like to work alone, others in the company of peers; some learn quickly, others more slowly (Dunn, Beaudry & Klavas, 1989).   Teachers realize that individuals are intrigued or even inspired by different topics or issues, and that curiosity and inspiration are powerful catalysts for learning.   To teach well requires paying attention to this great variety of ways that students learn best.
            The dilemma for teachers is how to address this diversity while constrained by the limitations of time and resources.   A classroom teacher is only one person.   How can he or she meet the wide range of learning needs presented in contemporary classrooms?   This dilemma is heightened further by the pressures to respond to the requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation and the demands for adequate yearly progress for all students (Hunt & Marshall, 2005).

            Many school districts and individual teachers are responding to philosophical and practical demands to address student diversity by incorporating types of differentiated instruction as a teaching model (Kline, 1992).   Differentiated instruction is an umbrella term that denotes teaching that has the same learning goal for all students, but delivers instruction in a variety of ways so as to provide a closer match between student needs and teaching strategies.   According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, “whenever a teacher reaches out to an individual or small group to vary his or her teaching in order to create the best learning experience possible, that teacher is differentiating instruction (Tomlinson, 2004).”

            Teachers can differentiate at least four classroom elements based on student readiness, interest, or learning profile:

            Determining what factors, and in what combination, make small, rural schools successful is a complex task.   No one factor is likely to account for all achievement gains.   The point is that very small schools are natural laboratories for teaching practices that may have to be created and nurtured in larger school settings.   In the United States, there is evidence that smaller learning communities are attracting interest and in some states charter schools and typical public elementary schools are experimenting with ways to create more intimate schools within schools (Gates Foundation, 2001).   Even in Montana where there is a moratorium on creating additional high school districts, there are two new elementary districts that are one-room schools, especially created in remote environments where new communities are being developed and parents are choosing to have very small schools for their children (OPI, 2004).

            On an international basis in many parts of the developing world, small rural schools continue to be the norm.   Rural school populations remain significant in most third world countries and the political base in those countries for active government attention exists (Sher, 1981).   Fuller (1986), however, reports that in the poorest developing countries the quality of primary education—which takes place in small schools—is eroding.  

            Small and rural schools are so diverse, especially when viewed internationally, that one can find evidence to support nearly any characterization.   Someone wishing to describe these institutions as ineffective, third-rate, or worse can find examples of schools that deserve such criticisms.   However, another person wanting to portray small rural schools as innovative, high-performance places can justify this more positive description (Sher, 1981).  

In any case small schools are not likely to disappear in the foreseeable future.  
Achievement averages alone do not begin to tell the story of what is happening in small rural schools in Montana and elsewhere in the world.   Potential research questions that may yield fruitful results and influence practice in elementary schools and K-8 schools in areas that are rural and not-so-rural include the following:

            Although one-room schoolhouses have become more and more scarce over the decades, the tradition of this type of schooling continues and thrives in Montana.   The success of these rural schools suggests that giving greater attention to the benefits students receive in these multi-grade classrooms and the strategies teachers employ demand serious study on behalf of the great variety of young children entrusted to public schools for their basic education.


References

Anderson, R.H., & Pavan, B. (1993).   Nongradedness:   Helping it happen.   Lancaster, PA:   Technomic.

Barker, B.; & Muse, I. (1986).   One-room schools of Nebraska, Montana, South Dakota, California, and Wyoming.   Research in Rural Education, 3 (3), 127-130.

Blount, H.P. (Fall 1992).   The one-room school:   Remembering and reinventing. Reading Improvement, 29 (3), 179-82.

Boss, S. (Winter 2000).   Big Sky legacy:   In Montana, small schools aren’t a new idea—They’re a way of life.   Northwest Education Magazine, 6 (2), 34-42.

Dunn, R., Beaudry, J., & Klavas, A. (1989).   Survey of research on learning styles.   Educational Leadership, 46(6), 50-58.

Connell, D.R. (1987).   The first 30 years were the fairest:   Notes from the kindergarten and ungraded primary (K-2).   Young Children, 42 (5), 30-68.

Daniel, T. C., & Terry, K.W. (1995).   Multiage classrooms by design:   Beyond the one-room school.   The Practicing Leadership Series.   Roadmaps to Success.

Fuller, R. (1986).   Is primary school quality eroding in the Third World?   Comparative Education Review, 30(4), 491-507.

Gaustad, J. (1995).   Implementing the multiage classroom.   ERIC Digest 97, 1-4.

Goodlad, J., & Anderson, R.H.   (1987). The Nongraded elementary school. Rev. Ed.   New York, NY:   Teachers College Press.

Gulliford, A. (1996).   America’s country schools, 3 rd Ed.   Boulder, CO:   University Press of Colorado.

Howley, C.E. (2001).   Understanding the circumstances of rural schooling:   The parameters of respectful research.   In:   Understanding Achievement in Science and Mathematics in Rural Schools.   Conference Proceedings (Lexington, Kentucky, May 21-23, 2001).

Howley, C.B. (2002).   Research about mathematics achievement in the rural circumstance (An ACCLAIM Working Paper).   Athens, OH:   The Appalachian Collaborative Center for Learning, Assessment, and Instruction in Mathematics, Research Initiative.

Howley, C., & Bickel, R. (Feb. 2000).   Small works:   School size, poverty and student achievement.   Arlington, VA:   Rural Community Trust.

Hunt, N., & Marshall, K. (2005).   Exceptional children and youth, 4 th Ed.   Boston,MA:   Houghton-Mifflin.

Jensen, E. (1998).   Teaching with the brain in mind.   Alexandria, VA:   Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Kline, L. (1995).   A baker’s dozen:   Effective instruction strategies.   In R. Cole (Ed.), Educating everybody’s children:   Diverse teaching strategies for diverse learners.   (pp. 21-43).   Alexandria, VA:   Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2001). Crossing over to Canaan: The journey of new teachers in diverse classrooms.   San Francisco:   Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Lezotte, L.W. (1991). Correlates of effective schools: The first and second generation.   Okemos, MI:   Effective Schools Products, Lt.

Lundsgaard, N., & Thomas, E. (Summer 2004).   The power of small.   Seattle WA:   Small Schools Project.

Miller, B.A. (1996).   A basic understanding of multiage grouping.   School Administrator, 53 (1), 12-17. (1999).   The multigrade classroom:   A resource handbook for small schools.   Portland, OR:   Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

Montana Office of Public Instruction.   School Directory Files.   Retrieved October 13, 2004.   http://www.opi.state.mt.us/

Muse, I.; Hite, S.; Randall, V; & Jensen, A. (Winter 1998).   One-teacher schools in America.   Teacher Educator 33 (3), 141-49.

Payne, R. K. (1998).   A framework for understanding poverty.   Highlands, TX:   RFT Publishing Co.

Puyear, D. Teaching strategies in one-teacher schools.   Retrieved October 13, 2004.   http://mrea-mt.org/

Redding, S. (Fall-Winter 1992).   Common experience.   School Community Journal, 2 (2), 43-51.

Sher, J. (Ed.).   (1981).   Rural education in urbanized nations:   Issues and innovations.   Boulder, CO:   Westview Press.

Siegel, J., & Shaughnessy, M.F. (1994).   Educating for understanding:   An interview with Howard Gardner.   Phi Delta Kappan 75(7), 563-566.

Tomlinson, C.A. (1996).   Differentiating instruction in mixed ability classrooms. [An ASCD professional inquiry kit]. Alexandria, VA:ASCD.

Tomlinson, C.A. (2001).   How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms.   Alexandria, VA:   Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C.A. (Nov. 6, 2002).   Proficiency is not enough.   Education Week Commentary, 36.

Tomlinson, C.A., & Eidson, CC. (2003).   Differentiation in practice:   A resource guide for differentiating curriculum.  Alexandria, VA:   Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Venn, J. (2004).   Assessing students with special needs, 3 rd E.   Upper Saddle River, NJ:   Pearson Prentice Hall.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978).   Mind in society:   The development of higher psychological processes.   Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wilgoren, J. (Aug. 6, 2000).   The one-room schoolhouse.   New York Times Education Life, 24-27, 36.

Winebrenner, S. (1992).   Teaching gifted kids in the regular classroom:   Strategies and techniques every teacher can use to meet the academic needs of the gifted and talented.   Minneapolis, MN:   Free Spirit.

Winebrenner, S. (1996).   Teaching kids with learning difficulties in the regular classroom: Strategies and techniques every teacher can use to challenge and motivate struggling students.   Minneapolis, MN:   Free Spirit.


home . about the conference . programme . registration . accommodation . contact

The University of Strathclyde Association of Directors of Education in Scotland NASEN Inclusive Technology Ltd Greater Glasgow & Clyde Valley Tourist Board Virtual Staff College