At Kavod Elementary, we believe that the child must be the center of all learning. What this means for us as educators is that we have to give up traditional instructional models such as lecturing and skill drilling. Instead, our teachers use the “workshop model” in order to make sure that each and every student is highly engaged and is working on materials appropriate to their specific proficiency level. Over the past decade, the workshop model has been documented as one of the most effective instructional models. For our students, this approach begins with the design of our classroom. You will not find desks in rows facing a blackboard! Instead, you will find a series of small tables with 4 to 6 students at each, and the teachers circulate throughout the room to work with students in these small groups and individually.
The workshop model is designed to access the range of ways that children learn and acquire knowledge—from listening to the teacher model a skill to hands-on learning opportunities. It is a rigorous and challenging, yet affirming, educational model that generally consists of the following components:
• Teacher leads a mini-lesson in which s/he models the skill or strategy that
is being taught.
• Students practice the skill or strategy together with the teacher.
• Students break out into groups that are formed based on similar needs as identified by teacher observation and assessment. The teacher works with each group in guided instruction addressing their needs.
• Students work independently or collaboratively on a project/assignment that allows them to employ and develop the particular skill or strategy.
• Students have an opportunity to share their work with the class and teacher and engage in class-wide discussion.
In traditional educational models, students are assessed at the end of units and their overall score or grade indicates their “skill level.” This big picture approach does not help the student or teacher to improve student learning. Instead, Kavod Elementary uses ongoing assessments to identify precisely how our students are performing. Think of it this way. In the past, at the end of a math unit on addition, “Johnny” scores a 60% on the test, indicating that he mastered 60% of the unit. “Johnny” is behind, but all we can tell him is to “work harder.” At Kavod Elementary, teachers review student work daily to identify what the challenges are for students as they work to master skills and strategies. During a workshop, the teacher may observe that “Johnny” is able to count to 20 and add single digit numbers with great mastery but has trouble adding double-digit numbers. The teacher can focus Johnny’s work on mastering the double-digit addition instead of repeating work in the area he has already mastered.
We call this approach “differentiated instruction” because the teacher provides different—targeted—instruction to each student based on the student’s skills and needs.