Veteran teacher embraces new instructional method

Phoenix James reads a book that she wrote about earthquakes to second-graders.

Ask a roomful of teachers the most challenging part of their job and many will mention meeting the needs of every single child, especially when they come to school with wildly different ability levels, background knowledge, learning styles, and life experiences.

Stephanie Petty, fourth-grade teacher at Fairfax Elementary School, has been teaching in CH-UH for more than 20 years. She finally found a method of differentiation that truly works. After attending a break-out session at the district’s professional development day last November, Petty fully embraced the Grid Method, which, according to its website, “is a student-centered, competency-based system, created at the classroom level and designed to fit any teacher’s style, within any curriculum, in any classroom.”

Students monitor their own progress as they move from one level of knowledge to another, from the basic recall of information (Depth of Knowledge 1) to independent exploration (Depth of Knowledge 5). On any given day, a student may be learning a concept or completing an activity that is different from his or her classmates.

Petty partnered with Anthony Provenzale, gifted intervention specialist, to create two units using the method. The first unit was an English language arts (ELA)-focused five-week curriculum on tall tales. The second, which took about a month to complete, focused on natural disasters, combining ELA with science and social studies.

For the natural disaster unit, all students started at the first level, which required reading informational texts, watching educational videos, applying vocabulary, recalling information, answering questions, and creating a poster summarizing what they had learned. Once they finished each task with 80 percent mastery, they were able to move on to the next level. Depth of Knowledge 4 involved writing and illustrating a children’s book explaining natural disasters, and then reading it aloud to second-graders.

Students who move at a faster pace are able to continue to study the same topic as their classmates, but do so in a more in-depth and challenging manner.

 “This method gives students so many different options, so many opportunities to show what they know,” said Petty, who was recognized as Fairfax's Teacher of the Year this year. Many tasks are hands-on, and none are traditional worksheets. Students take ownership over their learning—and the pace of that learning—while the teacher spends more time as a facilitator, moving about the room, meeting one-on-one or in small groups to reinforce or clarify concepts. 

“This is a whole different way of teaching for me,” Petty said, admitting that it has been challenging. Having so many kids working on different skills and activities has been a major shift from traditional teacher-centered instruction, and one that requires a lot of flexibility and the extra help of classroom volunteers, or Provenzale.

Petty feels it’s worth it, however, noting, “They are so engaged. And the students and I both get instant feedback on how well they understand things thanks to short mini-lessons and assessments.”

Petty said she couldn't have done it without the help of Provenzale, who had learned the Grid Method the year before, and spent time with Petty to create their grids. “This isn't just for gifted classrooms,” he said. “It’s a good teaching method for everyone.” And, according to Petty, the students “absolutely love it!” 

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, is a former teacher and a freelance journalist under contract with the CH-UH City School District. A longer version of this story appeared at

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 10:07 AM, 06.28.2019