Pyramid Teaching / Layered Learning / Flexible Grouping
Remember the one-room schoolhouse of the past? (Neither do I, but we've all heard or read
about it.) This was the little school-on-the-prairie where one teacher addressed the educational needs of students from
all grade levels (K-8; sometimes K-12). Well, in a way, we've come full circle. Although we do not usually have
so many grade levels in one classroom, we can almost be assured that we will have all manner of ability levels in one classroom.
It is not uncommon for one teacher to have within the confines of one room several different reading groups and math groups,
as well as students who just need instruction to be presented in a variety of ways (multi-modal, multi-sensory, Gardner's
8 Intelligences). There is currently a push to use what is called "Differentiated Instruction" to address the needs
of diverse learners in the classroom. A differentiated curriculum is merely a curriculum adapted to meet the needs of
Great. We know we need to accommodate diverse learners in the same classroom.
Just how do we go about it? One way to think about this is to think:
1. "Pyramid Teaching"
Visualize a pyramid. Now visualize that the pyramid is divided into
three sections, the top, the middle, and the bottom. The bottom, or the base, is the largest section, whereas the top
is the smallest section. The base represents the "big ideas" that you want everyone in the class to learn. The
middle represents the information you want most of the class to learn, and the top represents the material you want the top
students to learn.
For example, let's say you're putting together a lesson on Native Americans.
You could build your pyramid this way:
Base (the big ideas all students will learn):
There are many different groups of Native Americans.
Native Americans used the resources around them for food, clothing, and shelter.
Native Americans were the first people to live in North America.
Middle (most students will learn the above and this):
The Plains Indians hunted buffalo and lived in tepees.
The Southwest tribes lived in pueblos and crafted pottery and blankets.
The Northwest tribes fished, lived in plankhouses, and crafted totem poles.
Top (what the top students will learn all of the above,
The history of three selected tribes.
The names of famous Native Americans and their contributions to history
The impact Native American culture on current American society
Along with Pyramid Teaching, you could also think in terms of
2. "Layered Learning"
In Layered Learning, you usually have 3 levels (A, B, C) of activities that
students complete depending on where they stand (ability-wise) in the classroom. Students at each level are required
to complete a certain set of activities geared towards their particular abilities.
Level C activities will be simpler,
easier, and more hands-on than Level B. At this level basic knowledge and big ideas are the focus.
Level B activities take the big
ideas a little further. Students are required to apply or manipulate the basic knowledge.
Level A activities are more challenging
and complex than those of the other two levels. The students are required to analyze the knowledge.
At the beginning of the unit, the students get a checklist of activities
to fulfill and a rubric detailing what needs to be included in the finished activities. As you can see, the students
work more independently and need guidance in managing their time efficiently. Take a look at a sample unit.
3. Flexible Grouping
This is grouping students according to either
This constitutes the "learning environment". In math class, you may
have to think more in terms of readiness level. Those students that need to reinforce basic math skills may be in one
group, while those students who are fluent in those basic skills can work more on application of those skills through problem
solving. In language arts class, you may group students according to interest. Those students interested in adventure
stories may form one group, while those students interested in science fiction may form another. Each group is assigned
an appropriate story to read and to create a project illustrating it. In a Social Studies class studying the history
of Chicago, grouping may revolve around learning styles. Each group could choose their own unique way to present the
information they learned about early Chicago to the rest of the class.
Grouping is not permanent. Groups can be formed, amended, and disbanded
per day, per week, or per unit. A student could be in different groups per subject. That's why it's called flexible.
|Essential Question: How do I effectively and efficiently reach all students in
a heterogeneous environment|
| Adapt Lessons to Reach All Students|
|Differentiated Instruction: A Hotlist
of Web Sites|
|What are the specific characteristics and behaviors
of a particular group of students?|
|What methods would you use to enhance
|What does that look like in my classroom?|