Using Book Clubs to Differentiate Instruction

3. Differentiation – The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning.

3.1 Demonstrating Knowledge of Students – Teacher recognizes the value of understanding students’ skills, knowledge, and language proficiency and displays this knowledge for groups of students.

The third standard of the Internship Performance Criteria emphasizes the importance of differentiation. It is important for teachers to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each student so that instruction can be tailored to groups of students on a similar level or even individual students. Every student is at a different intellectual level and differentiation allows for better instruction geared to exactly what the student needs. If teachers simply teach the same content to all students, regardless of ability, interest, or cultural awareness, students may be left behind.

A few weeks ago during my internship, I used the Teachers College Reading Level tests to determine the current reading level for several student in my class. This assessment analyzes a students’ reading ability, including oral reading rate, fluency, and comprehension. My mentor and I have used this information in order to create four book club groups, each at a different reading level. Blair, Rupley, and Nichols (2007) assert that “effective teachers use assessment to select instructional strategies appropriate to the desired students’ learning outcomes in relation to the students’ existing reading capabilities” (p 434). These different book clubs allow us to differentiate our instruction for groups of students.

I am currently leading two of the four book clubs: one group is reading about Sojourner Truth and the other is reading about Elijah McCoy (Figure 1). Each time we meet, students bring their reading notebooks and texts with them and the group shares what they learned from the reading assignment. By examining each student’s notebook (Figure 2), I can quickly tell which students have read the assigned pages from the text and which ones haven’t. Most recently, the assignment included reading four pages of the text and taking notes. However, several students had only written notes from the first two pages and did not have enough class time to finish reading the assignment. I plan on using this knowledge to only assign up to two pages of independent reading and note-taking as opposed to four.

Figure 1 – Books for Differentiated Instruction in Book Clubs

Figure 2 – Sample Student Notebook for Book Club

Now that I have the awareness of the level of each student in each of the book clubs, I can better determine how big of a reading assignment to give them to complete before the next book club meeting. I have learned that dividing a classroom into groups of reading levels can be an effective way to differentiate reading instruction. I realize that some students in the class may be reading at a much higher level than others, so it is important for teachers to recognize and be aware of those differences so that we can appropriately challenge students to reach for the next level in their zone of proximal development. In the future, I hope to build on my growing differentiation skills and transfer my knowledge to other subject areas.


Blair, T. R., Rupley, W. H., Nichols, W. D. (2007). The effective teacher of reading: Considering the “what” and “how” of instruction. The Reading Teacher, Vol 60, 5, 432-438.


Professional Learning Networks

One of the biggest challenges facing today’s teachers is finding a support network of other dedicated educators who share research and ideas about teaching strategies, practices, and pedagogy. Having a strong, collaborative community is important for teachers to grow professionally. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2010), “half of teachers leave the profession within the first five years” (p 39). This is in part due to lack of support networks and the fact that many new teachers do not have technology skills or knowledge at their disposal.

As I considered these challenges, I wanted to determine how I could participate in an online learning community to grow my teaching practice and learn new teaching strategies. ISTE Standard 5 states that teachers should continuously improve their professional practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in their school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources.

The U.S. Department of Education (2010) discusses the practice of “connected teaching” in which “teachers engage in personal learning networks (PLNs) that support their own learning and their ability to serve their students well” (p 40). Teachers potentially have many resources to build their professional practice including parents, other teachers, PLNs, online courses, and other professional experts in the field. Online learning communities can help combat the traditional isolation that new teachers suffer from and instead enable them to collaborate with peers and improve student learning through resource and research sharing.

Connected Teaching (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).

The research article “’Together we are better’”: Professional learning networks for teachers” summarizes a study where over 700 Pre-K-12 teachers answered questions related to their professional/personal learning networks (PLNs) and how they felt the PLN activities affected their teaching and student learning. The article asserts that PLNs are the preferred option for collaboration and resource sharing for these survey participants because of the informal nature and the availability of diverse experience and teaching strategies. Almost all participants reported modifying their teaching practices because of their interactions with PLNs. PLNs consist of a variety of systems, including personal teacher colleagues and various online resources such as Twitter, Edmodo, Google+, LinkedIn, and Edutopia. PLNs can support affective, social, cognitive, and identity aspects of teacher growth (Trust, Krutka, & Carpenter, 2016). Respondents also described PLNs as having a positive impact on student learning (Trust et al., 2016).

One of my colleagues shared an article that discusses three popular PLNs created for educators: Edmodo, Classroom 2.0, and The Educator’s PLN. These PLNs can provide instant access to information, support, advice, feedback, and collaboration opportunities (Trust, 2012). Classroom 2.0 is a pay-for-service that allows individuals to create their own web site that contains a networking space including chat rooms, discussion boards, profile pages for members, interest groups and many other tools. Classroom 2.0 also has a wiki, Twitter feed, Facebook page, and Diigo account for sharing bookmarked web sites. Educator’s PLN is similar to Classroom 2.0, but it is more member-focused. Edmodo is a large social networking site similar to Facebook. Members have profile pages and can participate in online conferences, join subject communities, share resources, ask questions, and solicit ideas.

Classroom 2.0 (Trust, 2012).

Trust et al. (2016) assert that PLNs offer teachers emotional support, flexibility for adapting their learning experiences, and opportunities for engagement, participation, and even a community that extend beyond the walls of schools. This vast array of online professional learning networks can be a great solution for growing my professional practice and learning how to be a better teacher.


Trust, T. (2012). “Professional Learning Networks Designed for Teacher Learning.” Journal of Digital Learning in Teaching Education, 28, 4, 133-138.

Trust, T., Krutka, D. G., Carpenter, J. P. (2016). “Together we are better”: Professional learning networks for teachers.” Computers & Education, 102, 15-34.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2010). Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology. Washington, D.C.

Digital Citizenship Infographic

Digital Citizenship is an important topic for students to begin to understand at an early age. Early elementary school is an ideal time to begin talking about how students can use digital resources responsibly and safely. According to Ribble (2010), Digital Citizenship is more than just a teaching tool; it is a way to prepare students and technology users for a society full of technology. Digital Citizenship is defined as the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use. Being a good digital citizen means that we respect, educate, and protect others (Ribble, 2010). ISTE Standard 4 states that teachers should advocate, model, and teach safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information and technology, as well as promote and model digital etiquette and responsible social interactions related to the use of technology and information (ISTE, 2017).

I created the infographic below using Piktochart and felt that elementary students would greatly benefit from a simple, yet information-filled poster that talks about digital communication, etiquette, and health, safety, and ways to deal with cyberbullying. Communication options have expanded rapidly in the past few decades, with people now communicating online via email, blogs, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to name a few. Ribble (2017) asserts that many users have not be taught how to make appropriate decisions when faced with so many digital communication options. Young children and teenagers are easily overwhelmed with so much access to instant communication.

Students also need to learn how to conduct themselves online, so I listed a few etiquette tips on my infographic. Often people act differently online than they do in person and it is difficult to tell when someone is being funny or serious. Treating others with respect and caring is just as important online as it is in the real world.

Finally, students should be aware of all the health risks associated with internet addiction and ways to use digital tools in a healthy and productive way. Parents should also be mindful of the amount of time their children are spending in front of screens and make sure they take frequent breaks and watch for signs of addiction. Cyberbullying is a related safety topic that has become a real problem the past decade. My infographic details a few tips for how my students can address when they feel they are being bullied online. The more our students know, the easier it will be for them to recognize cyberbullying and feel comfortable talking to a trusted adult about the issue.

As an elementary teacher, it will be my responsibility to teach my students about these digital citizenship topics and make sure they know how to become good digital citizens.

Piktochart Infographic


Ribble, M. (2010). Raising a digital child. Away Magazine.

Ribble, M. (2017). Digital citizenship: Using technology appropriately [website]. Retrieved from

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). 2017. ISTE Standards for Teachers [website]. Retrieved from