Problem: How do you make differentiation work in 90 minute class periods?


Small group, guided lessons have always been one of my very favorite things about teaching.  Why?  It makes me feel like I am doing my job and doing it well.  The differentiated, small groups allow me to really focus on skills that students (as individuals) need.  I have taught for the last five years using some version of Daily 5 and the CAFE strategies.  But, with only 90 minutes for each class, it has been difficult to allow my students this luxury.

Problems I have come across…

  • The rotation and movement within the classroom is suffocating.
  • My students MUST read; authentic reading and read for long periods of time if they will ever have a chance to have a reading life.
  • If I truly use the Daily 5 schedule, the students only get 15 minutes of my attention.
  • There isn’t any time for whole group instruction– some would say that is just fine, but this is my opportunity to teach character traits, growth mindset concepts, and address some areas of concern for the whole group.
  • My classroom and school are revolving doors.  The rotation schedule and expectations are just too complex to teach to students that are walking in and out of the room/school throughout the year.

How I have Solved these Problems?

First of all, I am not sure if they are truly ‘Solved’, or if they are just bandaged at the moment.


In a previous post, I spoke about Independence and the NEED for my students to read; really read.  Giving my students 60 solid minutes to read, reread, listen to reading, or even read to someone has helped the movement of my classroom and the annoying 20 minute buzzer from going off.  The students are using their Close Notes reading papers to allow them the freedom of choice of strategy, but it also gives them guidance on what they should be doing.  Thank you Penny Kittle for showing me the way to a reading life.  Book Love

These notes can be found at

Daily 5 and CAFE  Face of a Reader    Daily 5 and CAFE strategies

After using this Close Reading Response strategy, the students really started to rely on their strategies from the FACE menu.  As a class, we made strategy cards during our whole group lesson that allowed the students to make the strategy their own.  While they work on their reading, they are using these strategies.  When students are meeting with me, they have the opportunity to clarify misunderstandings, and I get to notice whether or not they are using the strategy correctly and if it is even working for that student. Win! Win!

No Time!

Problem Solved!  This has given me time to sit with individuals throughout the class day.  We started the ‘appointments’ schedule this week, and I couldn’t be happier with my individual time with each student.  There is NO time limit on a student, there is no buzzer that tells me it is time to switch.  They look forward to meeting with JUST me, and they get the chance to be honest about their understanding.  There is no better barometer than when an individual student must answer your questions independently. For example, If I notice  a lot of students not able to accomplish the bulls eye strategy for theme, I know what whole group practice we will be going over the next day or before class ends that day.  Whole group instruction is truly built on what students truly need.  I am teaching smarter because of these appointments.  (more about this next post) Appointments

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Revolving Door

The Close Reading notes and Reading log lay out expectations for all students; students who just walk in from Missouri and students who have been here all year understand what is expected.  The appointments give me the freedom to focus on new students while keeping my appointments with my other students.  The ability to give students 60 minutes to read and reread allows me to pair students up or to have a ‘shadow’ buddy for the day or week to get students acclimated to expectations.

holiday 127

What I have discovered is students should be the innovators of your classroom.  They are the ones who should be telling you, the teacher, what THEY need.  I am so thrilled to have the mindset and the humility to admit that my students know what they need.  I believe that this classroom has become theirs, and I am just the facilitator.  After tweaking and changing, I have finally found something that has given me the opportunity to really TEACH!

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Reading Response Log

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