When opening their new K-9 school in the fall of 2010, Elizabeth Finch staff honoured its namesake by embracing her ideal that, "all students can learn and succeed." Relationships developed quickly and the discussions began about how they could best complement and collaborate with each other to meet the needs of all learners. It wasn't just about differentiating learning. It was about embracing the strategies the students already had, and building upon the routines and expectations already present. Collaboration was cross-divisional, so that Grade 1, 4 and 7 teachers could meet to observe each other's classrooms and share literacy strategies that helped students learn and succeed. The idea emerged quickly: If it works in Grade 1 and Grade 4, why not in Grade 7?
Small sets of novels were purchased, flexible reading groupings were formed and a truly inclusive learning environment was created. Strategies remained consistent with what was known and practiced at earlier levels; students were reading at their appropriate level and sharing their ideas in a smaller group setting. Each group was engaged in different sorts of reading activities based on their needs, while still participating in large whole class instruction and discussion. Addressing different learning styles and needs became easier. Student accountability was heightened in the group discussion model, and voices were now reclaimed. No longer could a student stay lost in the crowd, or hide among his or her peers. Small groups demanded engagement and provided the safety to share one's ideas.
The small grouping allowed the teacher to step back from, "leading," and instead embrace the role of, "coach." Students were empowered to learn, and apply in a conscious way, the tactics and strategies for improving their own literacy. This was the metacognition piece - students in their groups were able to explain what they were doing and more importantly, why they were doing it. Assessment happened daily as the, "teacher-coach," interacted with the group members, and students were guided in the self-assessment process, so that groupings continued to change as students' needs changed.