Planning a Lesson: Addressing Differences in Developmental Levels

Russell Yates

May, 2000

In my intermediate multiage classroom diversity is embraced. Students in the class are from 7 to 11 years old and because of this, the range of developmental levels is broader than in most classrooms. Creating lessons that meet the needs of these students can be challenging. Lessons which lend themselves to this type of structure are those which have a central unifying concept with student activities that are either varied in what they ask of the students and/or allow for different levels of accomplishment in the final product or performance. Another factor that should be considered when planning for diverse developmental levels are that lessons lend themselves to what Piaget labeled "stage movement." For students to move from one developmental stage to another, the interrelated factors of maturation, experience, social interaction, and equilibration must come together in such a way as to support cognitive growth (Springston, Abdallah-Shahid, and Scott, 2000). Setting the stage for cognitive growth and movement from one developmental level to the next in the classroom means that the teacher uses instructional methods and media that allow for social interaction and for the gaining of experience from class peers. Additionally, the teacher sets up learning activities in such a way as to take advantage of student role models, having students learn from those that are slightly ahead of them in maturation and experience. It also means that the teacher supports a process of accommodation and assimilation, of equilibration, in learning activities. With a classroom that supports this type of instruction throughout the year, student maturation and developmental growth can accelerate.

To meet the needs of individual students, "educators must plan a developmentally appropriate curriculum that enhances their students' logical and conceptual growth" (On Purpose Associates, 1998). Developmentally appropriate practices are those instructional practices that support students who are in the same classroom but may be at different developmental levels. They include having active, hands-on learning experiences for students. They are not overly reliant on routine instructional techniques but rather include a variety of instructional strategies. Developmentally appropriate practices also strike a balance between teacher-directed and child-directed activities. Additionally they frequently are integrated with other curricular areas and can include the use of learning centers (Johnson and Fox, 1998).

Quoting Piaget from page 20 his book To Understand Is To Invent, Wanda Ginn emphasizes that the creative mind must be allowed the opportunity to discover and reconstruct knowledge. "and such conditions must be complied with if in the future individuals are to be formed who are capable of production and creativity and not simply repetition" (Ginn, 1995). This is an essential point when we consider supporting different developmental levels with learning activities. When the learning experiences are implemented in such a way as to help students learn through reconstruction and discovery, the learning experienced by the students of all the developmental levels present will be supported. This lesson allows for students to discover and reconstruct the meaning and emotion that is the foundation of poetry. By making some modifications to the lesson, The Art of Reading Poetry can support students who are at different developmental levels. The modifications I have made include:
Allowing for a wider range of choice when students select a poem to interpret and perform.
Direct student involvement in the creation of the rubric that will be used to evaluate their performance.
Having poems and performances modeled by children at various developmental levels throughout the lesson.

The following is a combination of the original lesson plan as it is available at and modifications I have made to support a developmentally diverse intermediate multiage classroom.

Lesson: The Art of Reading Poetry

Grade Level: Intermediate

Lesson Introduction: Poetry allows a writer to express his or her feelings about a person, place, event, or object. In order to read a poem aloud effectively, one must be able to interpret the poet's motive and feelings. In this lesson students go on the Internet to collect poems written by other young people, then practice expressing the feelings in the poems by reading them aloud. Students discover that the end of a line in poetry doesn't always call for a pause. The poet's thought is the important thing and punctuation is the clue.

Lesson Objective:

After an investigation of poetry using the Internet, students will be able to use punctuation clues to interpret a self-selected poem by accurately expressing the poet's feelings and thoughts while making an oral presentation of the poem.

Performance Outcome:

Students will orally recite a poem of their choosing, interpreting the thoughts and feelings evident in the poem through the use of verbal expression. Evaluation will be based on a student created rubric.

Learning Environment: Classroom Activities

Motivation Activity

Select a poem that's familiar to students such as Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out by Shel Silverstein.
Read the poem aloud without regard to expression or punctuation.
Read the poem again, this time with expression and with respect to the poem's particular cadences.

Ask students to give their impressions of the two readings.

Method: demonstration and discussion
Medium: text/verbal
Learning Environment: classroom

The methods for this portion of the lesson were selected because they allow for students to bring in their background knowledge, engage in higher-level thinking, and allow the teacher to informally do some "sizing-up assessment" (determining current student understanding). The medium is the most efficient to give the whole class a common experience.

Orientation Activity

Explain that students will learn how to express the meaning of poetry by reading some poems aloud.

As a class, develop an initial draft of an evaluation rubric for the final performance.

Method: presentation and discussion
Medium: verbal/auditory, text
Learning Environment: classroom

The methods and medium for this portion of the lesson were selected for the same reason as above. In addition, including the students in the creation of the rubric allows students of different developmental levels the chance to ensure their own learning needs are met and that they can be successful with the final performance.

Information Activity

Have students explore these Web sites.
Kids' Poems

Web Choice--Site Developer's Favorite Poems
Positively Poetry

Be sure that students read the poetry written by other children at the Web sites.

Allow each student to browse the sites and select a poem he or she would like to present at a class poetry reading.

Have students print out their chosen poems.

Method: discovery
Medium: text/multimedia via computers and the Internet
Learning Environment: Internet access in either a computer lab or in the classroom with computers set up as a learning center.

Students are in the process of discovery during this section of the lesson because they are searching through poems to find one that they believe they can interpret successfully, discovering how different poets use a combination of punctuation and words to express thoughts and feelings. The discovery method was selected because of the inherent intrinsic motivation it engenders as well as allowing the opportunity for self-directed learning. In addition, discovery learning combined with the choice of poem to perform allows for students of differing developmental levels to be successful. The medium for this portion of the lesson was selected because it is also motivating for students to use as well as giving the students access to a number of student-written poems.

Application Activity

Allow time for students to practice reading their poems aloud.

Emphasize that a reader doesn't necessarily pause at the end of every line, but pauses where it makes sense to do so.
Stress that punctuation gives clues about where to pause.
Have students work in small groups so they can get instant feedback on the quality and accurateness of their readings (also an evaluation activity).

Invite students to organize a class poetry reading.

Allow students to plan when the reading should be and what guests, if any, should be invited, such as parents or students from other classes.
Have students create posters announcing the event and invitations to send or give to invited guests.
Ask students to copy their poems on white paper and mount them on colored construction paper, then add colorful border designs that match the mood of the chosen poem. Display these as a backdrop for the poetry performance.
Group poems by categories. Use the Kids' Poems web site as an example of one way to do this.


Method: cooperative learning (informal), presentation
Medium: graphics (student created), text
Learning Environment: classroom

These methods were selected because they allow students to learn from their classroom peers, incorporating the use of role models. This supports the stage movement idea stated above. The media of graphics and text support the methods through the creation of tangible records of student involvement with the poems that can be referred to and built upon by the students.

Evaluation Activities

As a class, revisit the evaluation rubric, working it into a final draft form.

Students perform their poems while being video taped (with or without a live audience).

Ask students to give their impressions of the poems read.

Let students critique one another as to delivery and expression of feeling when reading the poems aloud in the performance. These critiques should be kept private by using the medium of writing. Using "Two Stars and a Wish" works well for this. Students list two things they liked about the performance first (two stars) and then list one thing they believe the performer could have done better (a wish).

Encourage interested students to write poems of their own to send to a Web site that publishes kids' poems.

Method: discussion, presentation
Medium: video, verbal, text
Learning Environment: classroom and/or auditorium

As stated above, the discussion method used during the creation of the rubric also applies here when it is being refined in that it allows students of different developmental levels the chance to ensure that they can be successful with their performance. Additionally the presentation of the poems by the students was chosen because it allows students to continue learning from their peers. It is also essential to the assessment of the lesson. Using the medium of video by taping the poetry reading allows students to revisit their performance, supporting the idea of modeling across developmental levels. Using text (Two Stars and a Wish) allows the students to get peer feedback in a more private manner.

Bibliography & Resources:

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (2000). The Art of Reading Poetry (online). Available: (5/21/00).

Environmental Defense (1999). Kids' Poems (online). Available: (5/22/00).

Ginn, Wanda Y. (1995). Jean Piaget ­ Intellectual Development (online). Available: (5/21/00).

Johnson, Debra, and Fox, Cheryl L. (1998). Developmentally Appropriate Practices (online). Available: (5/21/00).

Markham, C. (1999). Web Choice--Site Developer's Favorite Poems (online). Available: (5/22/00).

On Purpose Associates (1998). How Do People Learn? Piaget's Development Theory (online). Available: (5/21/00).

Silverstein, Shel (1974). Where the Sidewalk Ends. New York: Harper and Row.

Springston, Timothy, Abdallah-Shahid, Jawairriya, and Scott. Denise . Stage Movement (online). Available: (5/21/00).

Vaughn, Kellie (1998). Positively Poetry (online). Available: (5/22/00).

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