September 2019
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Differentiated Instruction Works at HMS

One cluster of students is building electric circuits. At another table, a group reads text while others complete worksheets. Another small group is huddled around the teacher, reporting on their progress in the current lesson. The activity in the Huston Middle School science classrooms may look chaotic on the surface, but in reality, it is a well-planned teaching method designed to address the individual needs of students through differentiated instruction.

HMS science teachers Bob Campbell and Shaun Reddick have dubbed their instructional approach “IEPs for All.” An IEP, or Individualized Education Plan, describes the program and special services a student requires to be successful. IEPs are typically used for special needs students, but as the title of the program suggests, the concept can be expanded to help all learners.

“IEPs for All” benefits all students by giving teachers a way to assess students’ needs more quickly, on an individual basis. The teachers may present one or two lectures on each chapter, but the bulk of the learning is done as students work through a checklist that might include vocabulary, reading, worksheets, taking notes from a Power Point presentation, or completing a lab.
“If I’m lecturing all the time, a child could be staring out the window, completely lost. Now, I can walk around the room and spend 5 or 10 minutes with an individual student who is struggling. Students who need help can get it immediately,” Mr. Reddick says.

“Our classrooms are a little noisy because there’s a variety of assessments and activities going on,” says Mr. Campbell, who also uses a similar instructional approach in teaching his high school Environmental Science classes. “We have to do different things to help different kids.”
Mr. Campbell and Mr. Reddick have seen firsthand how this teaching method has helped their students. “Some students do not do well on written tests, but do very well on hands-on, lab-based tests,” Mr. Campbell says. “This approach gives us options to help each student be successful.”

It also enables students to keep up with class work even if they miss the class. “In the past, if a student was absent, he or she would be missing out on something,” Mr. Reddick says. “Now, everything is available to the students 24 hours a day. A lot of what we do is online so that students can have access to the coursework and complete it even when they’re not in school.”

In November, Mr. Campbell and Mr. Reddick presented their ideas on “IEPs for All” at the Pennsylvania Science Teachers Association Conference in Hershey. They made a similar presentation last year at the National Science Teachers Association Conference.

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