Sycamore Valley Academy is committed to student-responsive teaching and giving all students opportunities to grow. Research suggests that effective differentiation:
1. Is proactive rather than reactive. Teachers plan multiple routes for students to succeed rather than adapting one-size-fits-all lesson plans when it becomes evident the lessons are not working.
2. Uses small, flexible learning groups for instruction. Teachers plan to meet with various groupings of students based on a variety of needs throughout a learning cycle.
3. Uses a variety of materials to address learner needs, including materials at a range of reading levels and materials that address various learning modalities.
4. Uses flexible pacing to address learner variance. In these classrooms, teachers do not assume that a good day is one in which every student begins and ends a task at the same time.
5. Is knowledge-centered. Lessons are based on the teacher’s clear understanding of what is essential in the study unit, and the teacher helps each student build his or her own demonstrations of understanding and skill, encompassing the essentials.
6. Is learner-centered. Teachers systematically study learner traits to understand what each student brings to the task, what each student needs to succeed with the task, and what the student needs to support his or her success. (Tomlinson, 2005)
In addition to instructional unit/lesson planning to ensure instruction is responsive to student ability, in order to facilitate a degree of personalization for all pupils, our schools begin each year by planning "individual learning plans" for each student. In these ILP's, teachers set goals for students in academic subject areas as well as goals for social/emotional growth. Progress toward these ILP goals is reported every trimester in progress reports and discussed at parent-teacher conferences. New ILP's are developed annually while the student attends SVA.
The Academies makes differentiation of curriculum a priority, and integrates this objective into the structure of the school. SVA staff utilize the benefits of the multi-age classrooms, thematic units, and the project-based learning periods in our weekly schedule to target students' learning objectives to their skill levels. In addition to these, teachers are trained in the use of Sandra Kaplan’s concepts of “depth and complexity” to take full advantage of every learning opportunity. Student progress is monitored on Progressive Standards Mastery Charts, a system tailored to each individual student to ensure access to challenge and learning objectives that may lie outside their age/grade standards.