Sentence Frames to Guide Student Writers

Helping students build their writing repertoire and vocabulary acquisition requires teachers to model what good writers do. When my students are working on a short response or extended response, I offer graphic organizers and sentence frames to help my students write and revise their writing to meet learning targets.

Particularly for my ENL students who might not have the words or academic language just yet, providing these scaffolded strategies can help to develop students’ writing muscles and vocabulary necessary for academic writing.

Depending on the writing task, the graphic organizers are adapted to help fit the prompt. For example, wrote a short response to meet CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.9 – 
Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types.

The prompt stated: Choose a quote from Gandhi  that you feel best exemplifies the protagonist and his/her journey midway throughout the text.  Be sure to include two (2) or more textual details (direct quotes) to support your claim.

Students were given a bank with ten Gandhi quotes:

 “A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.”

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”

“An ounce of patience is worth more than a ton of preaching.”

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

“Without action, you aren’t going anywhere.”

“Continue to grow and evolve.”

“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”  
Providing students with a graphic organizer can help students tract their thinking, make connections, and outline their understanding. This graphic organizer helps direct students what to write about.

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For my ENL and ELL students who are developing academic language and vocabulary to  articulate their thinking about the text, offering sentence frames provides the necessary format and language needed to meet the learning target.

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What looks like Mad Libs can give students the confidence to show what they know and develop their written communication skills.

For more ideas for sentence frames and scaffolding student writing from other teachers, check out this blog post from Larry Ferlazzo.

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Teaching Digital Responsibility in the Age of Online Hate

Last week the New York Times published the article, On Instagram, 11,696 Examples of How Hate Thrives on Social Media (NYT 10.29.18) three days after the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. This article highlights social media companies attention to or lack there of “treatment of toxic language and hate speech” on their platforms. Interestingly, “Social media companies have said that identifying and removing hate speech and disinformation — or even defining what constitutes such content — is difficult.”

The past three weeks I have been dealing with my own ordeal of hate speech and false representation on Twitter. After five years and 40 twitter book chats with my students, three weeks ago I moderated a Twitter book chat and an ambiguous avatar joined the chat sending funny pictures and memes. When they did not identify themselves I blocked the account. That did not stop my students participating in the chat from seeing the stream of continuous  tweets from this person. If fact, the images and tweets escalated to spread hate speech, anti Semitic photographs and sexist and anti gay memes. The person’s tweets were directed at myself and a student of mine. I reported the tweets to Twitter and within a day the racist, antisemitic, homophobic, and sexist tweets were removed and the account was suspended. But that did not stop this person.

The next day a new account was created by this same person and they used my image as their Avatar. The name of the Twitter handle referenced a Nazi program, Nacht und Nebel (German for “Night and Fog”). This directive issued by Hitler targeted political activists and resistance “helpers” in World War II to be imprisoned or killed. The person sent tweets to me telling me to die and making derogatory statements. When I reported the tweets to Twitter my reports were denied telling me that this was not a threat. The tweets escalated over ten days and the person tweeted in binary code, hex64, and other code threats to me and students of mine. All the tweets were reported to Twitter but Twitter did not consider it a threat or hate speech written in code!

I contacted the FBI, I filed police reports, the DA was involved.

It took legal action to get the IP address which was connected to a residence in the town where I teach. This residence has a young person who is a student in my school, he is not a student in my class. The family is cooperating with the police and the school;  additionally, the family has agreed to get counseling for their son. Since the police approached the family my image has been removed and all the tweets have been taken down.

My principal sent the following message out to our community:

Dear Parents,

We at XXXXX Middle School pride ourselves as educators who not only attend to the academic needs of our students but who also focus on their social and emotional needs.  We share your challenge in teaching these young adolescents how to judiciously and ethically use contemporary technology as moral citizens of the school community and ultimately the world.

Dr. Haiken, Team 8R ELA teacher, has been using Twitter for the past six years. With the consent of parents, she and her students tweet about the books they read, creating a sort of twenty-first century book club.  Unfortunately, someone has used this account to insert horrible, racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks, some directed at one of our students.  We are investigating this and are making every possible effort to discover who the troll is.  The police and Twitter administrators have been notified.  A full investigation is being conducted and appropriate consequences will be implemented.

We are having discussions with our students about the deeper issues involved, and we need your help. As we partner to help our young people grow into empathetic, responsible adults, we need you to have follow-up conversations at home not only about social media but also about how we treat those who might be a little different from the mainstream. 

Bullies hide behind the anonymity of social media.  All children regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or beliefs deserve a safe and healthy environment in which to thrive and learn. Please help us deliver this message at home.

These events impacted by teaching and the educational environment. It saddens me that this person who has digital smarts chose to use them for evil and spread hate.  In the meanwhile, I think about what are the best ways to promote positive digital citizenship and responsibility so that my students make smart choices online and not become a victim or perpetrator of hate online.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal published a video:

Two educators talk about teaching students to think critically and keeping personal politics out of the classroom.

I concur with the two teachers in the video when they talk about teaching empathy and modeling positive (digital) behavior.

Digital Citizenship is an ongoing lesson that needs to be addressed every year with every student. Social media is not going away, and blocking websites in schools or telling students they cannot use phones is not a realistic solution. These events have helped me to look more closely at the role that social media plays in our lives and how I can promote positive digital behavior in my classroom so all of my students use their digital powers for good.

Below are five resources to teach digital responsibility and citizenship:

Wicked EdTech – Here you can find a video playlist on Digital Literacy

Google Applied Digital Skills  – Ready-to-use video lessons teach digital
skills that have immediate, real-life application.

Be Internet Awesome – Google’s Digital Safety Resources for the
classroom and home.

Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship – Empower your students to
make safe, smart, and ethical decisions online.

ISTE Digital Citizenship – Here you can find articles and resources connected to digital
citizenship in schools.

 

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“Mockingbird” Should Be Part of Larger Lesson

The following essay was written for School Library Journal. To read the post on the SLJ website, click here.

When PBS announced To Kill a Mockingbird was voted America’s “Best-Loved Novel” on The Great American Read, the selection was not met with universal celebration. Many believe Harper Lee’s classic novel to be problematic, if not outright racist. When teaching Mockingbird, we cannot and should not ignore those issues. Instead, we should use those elements as part of the lesson and build on it with connected historical sources and contemporary novels that explore the same themes from different perspectives.

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I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird in high school, and the more I read and reread it with my eighth grade students now, the closer I examine the story and craft that makes this book so memorable. In our current time, when race relations are so contentious, To Kill a Mockingbird brings to the forefront issues of race, gender, class, and speaking out when we see injustice. Throughout the novel, the perceptions of the young narrator Scout become keener as she examines these issues. Yet her observations also remain limited. She is a white, upper-middle class girl, and she can provide the audience with only that narrow insight into her small-town world.

In an article for the New York Times, author Roxane Gay recently wrote, “To Kill a Mockingbird is a book for which a great many people harbor reverence and nostalgia. I am not one of those people.…

“The black characters—Robinson and the family’s housekeeper, Calpurnia—are mostly there as figures onto which the white people around them can project various thoughts and feelings. They are narrative devices, not fully realized human beings,” she wrote.

This is true. Calpurnia and Tom are not developed characters, and we only see them from Scout’s perspective. Gay continued, “Perhaps I am ambivalent because I am black. I am not the target audience. I don’t need to read about a young white girl understanding the perniciousness of racism to actually understand the perniciousness of racism. I have ample firsthand experience.”

Gay’s essay is important. Teachers must offer multiple perspectives. Our reading and understanding of any text is shaped by our own knowledge and experiences. I teach in a school that is predominantly white and upper-middle class. Most of my students do not have experience with racism beyond what they read or see on film. Their lives are white-centric, and reading Mockingbird brings to the forefront a conversation about race, class, gender, and injustice.

Literature, as Grace Lin describes in her TED Talk Mirrors and Windows of Your Child’s Bookshelf (2016), “can show you the world and also show you a reflection of yourself.” We strive for our students to connect with books in a way they can see the potential and possibility for making the world a better place. Books not only are reflections of ourselves, as Lin points out, but they should also allow readers to see life from another perspective. Books should help readers build empathy and question injustice. They should create new opportunities that depict strength, adversity, and the responsibility to speak out against wrongdoing.

When reading Mockingbird, students can explore the issues with further reading, both historical and contemporary. From a historical point of view, supplemental readings about gender in the South during the 1930s can be paired with gender inequality today. Historians tell us that Lee based what happened to the novel’s Tom Robinson on The Scottsboro Trial and Emmett Till. To build background around Mockingbird, have students learn about Till as they study Reconstruction. The students can also read and discuss excerpts from Clarence Norris and Sybil D. Washington’s The Last of the Scottsboro Boys: An Autobiography. Susan Chenelle and Audrey Fisch’s Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird offers a collection of informational texts that support the novel, along with writing prompts and discussion questions.

In addition to primary documents and historical texts, there has been an explosion of contemporary young adult novels that address police brutality and the senseless shooting of young men and women of color, all of which parallel current news events and Mockingbird.

One of the first books I used as a parallel text was All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kieley. Since then, there has been an insurmountable collection of well-written texts with diverse voices. Books such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles, Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro, and The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater are excellent contemporary books that complement Lee’s masterpiece and immerse readers into issues of race, gender, and social justice. These books can be read aloud in class, used for independent reading during reading workshop, or used for comparative reading with selected passages.

Whether teaching literature or history, we cannot be limited by a single story. In her TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains that only showing one perspective impacts our understanding of others and ourselves. A single story is limiting and confining. Adichie states, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Regardless of your personal experience with To Kill a Mockingbird, consider the novel a catalyst for conversation about the elements of a great read—books that impact our lives, change our thinking, tug at our emotions, challenge our perceptions, and shape our history and identity. Lee’s Mockingbird shouldn’t be the one and only story that defines America, but it can play a key role as part of the larger narrative and spark much-needed discussion and exploration of issues, history, and complementary fiction.

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Pathways to the Standards #CECACASL18

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On Monday, October 22nd I attended and presented the CECA/CASL 2018 Annual Conference. There were more than 50 presentation from educators, authors, and administrators addressing topics that intersect literacy and technology.

One of the key strands of the conference was differentiation and ways to differentiate in a student centered classroom. By differentiation I mean including EVERY learner in the classroom (not just the ones who are struggling). The key is that there are multiple ways for students to demonstrate understanding and instruction needs to change when evidence of learning has not occurred.

Steven W. Anderson of web20classroom.org shared 10 great tools to help differentiate content, product, process, and assessment.

  1. Poll Everywhere is an online polling platform that does more than just have students respond to a survey or multiple choice question. With Poll Everywhere students can respond to an open ended question and even formative assessments where students can pin a location on a map or diagram.
  2. Padlet – Yes, the online sticky notes where students can respond to a question or post a response. Padlet let’s users respond in text, drawing and images, and even audio. I recently had students share book reviews on Padlet of nonfiction independent reading books.
  3. Quizizz is so much better than Kahoot because it is not a competition but an assessment tool similar to Kahoot that let’s students work at their own pace to show their understanding.
  4. Nearpod is an interactive slideshow creator with a quiz feature. Nearpod does so much more and the paid version even offers AR & VR components.
  5. Edpuzzle is great for sharing videos in class and then students can answer questions before, during, and after viewing of their learning.

Teaching is an art more than a mechanical exercise. Students vary as learners and not everyone’s road map is identical for learning. When we know our students we are able to better create learning opportunities that honor their strengths, abilities, and cultures.

6. When thinking about differentiating the process and student’s understanding Anderson spoke about Gamification (Oh, Yeah!!). He shared Breakoutedu, Classcraft, Class Badge, Mincraftedu, and Duolingo – many gamification tools that I blog about regularly.

7. Flipgrid is now free since Microsoft has acquired it and it can be used in so many ways for the classroom from students reflecting on their own learning and thinking to posting a book review or explaining how they solved a math problem.

8. Book Creator is one that I am going to invest more time and attention to this year. Book Creator allows users to create their own interactive ebooks.

9. Microsoft’s Sway lets you create visually appealing and multitiered presentations. You can record audio on the slides and it will even grab resources for you when creating a presentation about specific topics. This is one to check out if you are looking for more interesting Google Slide Decks or Prezis.

10. TextHelp is the makers of Fluency Tutor and Read Write, these two Chrome extensions offers assistive technology that supports literacy in different ways. Fluency Tutor allows students to record text passages to help build their reading fluency and comprehension whereas Read Write has a dozen different tools on its toolbar to support readers and writers.

The key is choice when thinking about differentiating in your classroom. Choose technology platforms that allow students the opportunity to create new products and new knowledge. Remember, it is not technology for technology’s sake, but about creating a learning environment where there is “equity of access to excellence.”

 

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Driven to Do Something

I recently went to a special screening of National Geographic’s Science Fair. Filmmakers follow nine high school students from around the globe as they compete at an international science fair. Facing off against 1,700 of the smartest teens from 78 countries, only one will be named Best in Fair.

The film, from Fusion and Muck Media and directed by the DuPont Award-winning and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaking team Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, offers a front seat to the victories, defeats and motivations of an incredible group of young men and women who are on a path to change their lives, and the world, through science.

Long before the director, Christina Costantini was an investigative journalist, she describes herself as “a science fair nerd.” As a freshman in high school, she placed fourth and it changed her life forever. Her knowledge and experience participating in science fairs brings depth and an inside look at the young people who compete in science fairs. There is no one type of student who represents these passionate teens and this documentary follows nine individual students chasing a dream.

After the film there was a Q&A with high school science teacher and documentary subject Dr. Serena McCalla. Dr. McCalla, one of the student mentors featured in Science Fair, is a research teacher from Long Island. Known for her demanding, in-your-face style, she transformed her team of young students from Jericho High School—most of whom speak English as a second language—into one of the best science fair teams in the world. In an ultra-competitive setting where it is remarkable for any high school to have one or two students qualify for Intel ISEF, Dr. McCalla had nine. Dr. McCalla is capped at ten participants at ISEF and this year her goal is to bring all ten students to the competition. Her program consists of 60-120 tenth through twelfth graders. She told the audience that this international competition that has been described as “the Olympics of Science Fairs,” is 50% Science and 50% Sell. For the past ten years she has been the research director she has sent more than 70 students to Intel and has built a network and community among all her students who get back together annual to share insights, help each other with jobs, research, and make connections. She dedicates her life to the young people she works with and nurtures their interests. She notes that one day, one of her students will win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Competing in a science fair is not just a resume builder or a ticket to an Ivy League College, but a passion for the students presented in the documentary. At the beginning of filming, the directors were following 60 students and over the course of the year and in the documentary highlight nine. In order to qualify for Intel, ISEF, students need to compete and win in state and local affiliate fairs. Not only does one have to have a project that impacts the world or a global problem in some way, you also need to be able to articulate the project and your passion in a graphically pleasing way. Your display boards are an extension of yourself and must sell your research and data before the judges even interview you. Then, if you are a finalist, you spend hours being interviewed by all different scientists and researchers who are judging 1,700 projects.

What is going to make your stand out? Your presentation, your data, and how well you are able to communicate your passion to the judges. Intel ISEF finalists compete on average $4 million in awards and prizes and are judged on their creative ability and scientific thought, as well as the thoroughness, skill, and clarity shown in their projects.

The Gordon E. Moore Award is the $75,000 top award of the Intel ISEF is provided to the top Best in Category project.

Jack Andraka, American inventor, scientist, and cancer researcher won The Gordon E. Moore Award as a Freshman in High School in 2012. He is known for his award-winning work on a potential method for possibly detecting the early stages of pancreatic and other cancers, which he performed while he was a high school student.  His memoir, Breakthrough describes he curiosity as a little kid and what led him into the sciences – with few basement explosions along the way. Jack is interviewed throughout the documentary Science Fair, offering insight and reflection on the process of getting and winning at Intel ISEF.

This documentary challenges all assumptions about science nerds. Science Fair is a must see for educators whether you teach science or not. The students presented in the film are determined, intelligent, and show ingenuity. To see the passion that the teachers and students have is inspiring to all and an ode to curiosity.

 

 

 

 

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All these Wonders: Teaching Storytelling with The Moth

Today I had the privilege of attending a storytelling workshop presented by NCTE and The Moth, at Penguin Random House Books in New York City. The Moth Radio Hour, produced by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media and presented by PRX, highlights personal narratives and storytelling of ordinary people. In addition to listening to the Moth Radio Hour, there is a Podcast and published collections of the stories told.

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Today’s workshop, lead by The Moth Education Program, provides a framework for eliciting stories and personal narrative with students. There was a lot of talking and interacting before we even started to write. The first hour was spent meeting people and developing possible seed ideas where stories might be hiding. The first introduction required participants to complete the sentence, “I’m the kind of person who . . .”

There was lots of oral drafting before we ever put pen to paper, and this might be a great entry way for the reluctant writer/student who is more willing to try adding to or subtracting from their stories than when they physically write a draft. As teacher Tara Zinger and moth curriculum partner states, “Hearing a laugh or a gasp from a peer can be just what a student needs to know they are on the right track, and that just doesn’t happen as easily with a more traditional writing process.”

Presenter and The Moth Storyteller, Micaela Blei shares five techniques of storytelling and what makes a story compelling?

Change – Change is what separated a story from an anecdote. From the beginning to the end of the story, you’re somehow a different person, even if in a small way.

Stakes – We like to define stakes as what you have to win or lose in the story. Or, alternatively, what MATTERED to you?

Themes – Choosing a theme can help a storyteller decide how to shape this particular story. Deciding what thread or theme you want to draw out for this particular 5-minute version can help you make critical choices of details that pertain.

Show Us vs. Tell – A story is most effective when you have at least one really vivid scene: with sensory details, action, dialogue, and inter thoughts/feelings.

Be Honest/Be Real – There’s no one right way to tell a story. Be yourself.

The Moth stories online and in the published books are great for studying author’s craft and the craft of storytelling. This helps to meet the standards for Craft and Structure:

CCSS ELA Literacy. RL. 11-12.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

CCSS ELA Literacy.RL.11-12.5 – Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

After analyzing the stories, students can use these same stories as models and mentors for their own personal narrative writing and storytelling. To get started, try out one of these Moth-style story prompts:

A time you did something you never thought you would do.

A time your relationship with someone your love changed – a little or a lot.

A time that you took a risk – or decided NOT to take the risk.

A time you tried to be something your weren’t.

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Infographics for Research Curation

Student using Piktochart to design an Infographic

Writing is a process. Ask most published writers and they will tell your about their methods to writing and revising. I have yet to meet a writer who sits down at their computer and is able to write an entire book, poem, article, screenplay – whatever, in one shot. Writing requires planning, research, writing, revising, rereading, and then writing some more. Staring at a blank page for many can be daunting, especially students. The challenge to take one’s notes and turn them into a written piece that expresses their ideas. Some might go immediately into generating their story and thinking. Outlines are useful writing tools in the prewriting stage.  

Infographics are another tool that can help students brainstorm or represent the information they have gathered. An infographic is a visual image that is used to represent data or information. When students create an infographic they have to synthesize the information they curated and make meaning for others in a visually appealing way. Using tech tools like Canva, Piktochart, or even Google Drawing, students design an infographic that visually communicates the main idea their research. Whereas Google Drawing, students are starting with a blank page, Canva and Piktochart have templates students can choose from to add data and graphs to personalize with their research and information.  Having students visually represent their data in an infographic requires students to choose words and images purposefully in order to communicate an idea, prove their thinking, and possibly persuade their viewers.

Like an outline, an infographic strips down content to the main idea and supporting details. Creating infographics, students are required to evaluate, analyze and synthesize their research and present their information is a way that stands out and is easy to read. Looking at different examples of infographics and the ways that information is presented, color, format, structure, and  the balance between image and text are elements for students to keep in mind when creating their own infographic.

Students are tapping into the Common Core Standards when creating their own infographic because they are “Translating quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.7). Additionally, students are “Making strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations” (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5 ).

Before students create their own infographic, it is helpful to look at examples of data visualization to determine the best way to present their own data and research. Similar to different writing formats, students might be consider whether they will present and write about a compare and contrast, cause and effect, to inform or persuade. In addition to Knowledge Constructors, students are also Empowered Learners (ISTE Standards for Students 1C), when creating infographics because they are  using technology to demonstrate their learning.

 

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Guest Blog Post: Differentiated Instruction by Livia Bran

Students (like all people actually) have this paradoxical characteristic: they’re all the same; except when they’re not.

They function the same from a physical point of view, they dress annoyingly the same (even when — or especially when — there’s no compulsory school uniform) they all have to learn almost the same things in school and they all use their brains to do that. But when you take a closer look, you notice how different they are. No two students are actually the same.

Students come to school from different cultures, they may speak different languages, they have different academic backgrounds and have been shaped by different learning experiences. They come with different learning needs, learning preferences, and different expectations of what learning at school should be like. All these aspects, and even more, make up the individuality in each of them.

While it’s definitely easier to treat students the same in the classroom — after all, there is but one teacher to 30 students (more or less) — the best teachers are those who understand that students are not the same. And act accordingly, by differentiating instruction to better meet their learning needs.

The concept of differentiated instruction is nothing new. Great teachers have been doing it since teaching has been a profession. The problem with it is that it doesn’t fit perfectly in the standardized one-size-fits all education system we’re all too familiar with. Differentiated instruction is anything but one-size-fits-all.

Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction.

— Carol Ann Tomlinson

Carol Ann Tomlinson is a leader in the area of differentiated learning and Associate Professor of Educational Leadership, Foundations, and Policy at University of Virginia. Her research on the effectiveness of differentiation shows this method benefits a wide range of students, from those who are considered to be struggling to those who are considered high ability.

4 Classroom aspects to differentiate

The above definition of differentiated instruction offers enough clues on how to actually do it. There are four main aspects of a classroom that can be differentiated so that students receive a more personalized learning experience. Let’s explore them a little:

  1. Content — Or what is to be learned. Teachers should work within grade-level standards to provide students with different levels of complexity of a certain subject or lesson that match their different levels of readiness to learn it. For example, if you’re a Maths teacher and have to teach fractions, compile a series of fraction related problems for students to solve, from the most basic ones to the most advanced. Your goal is to move the students through to the advanced ones, but the grade-level standards should be met somewhere in the middle. That way, struggling students will have time to reach the medium-difficulty problems (thus checking the standard) while the more gifted students will not get bored during class as they continue to solve the more advanced ones.
  2. Process — Or how students acquire information. Teachers should adjust the strategies used to deliver the information students have to learn. Considering that every piece of information students might need is just a click or a tap away, holding lectures is not enough. Opt instead for a repertoire of teaching strategies; besides direct instruction, try inquiry-based learning, cooperative learning, flipping the classroom or information processing models. The point is to give students options in how they access information, how they learn it and respect their choices.
  3. Products — Or how students demonstrate learning. In a differentiated instruction setting student choice and student agency are a given. Based on their learning preferences and interests they should be able to choose how to prove their learning advancements. Some will thrive at creating a presentation on the subject, others will present it with flair, others will make a model, others will prefer to work alone and write a paper. As long as they meet the predefined success criteria, it shouldn’t matter in what way they choose to demonstrate learning.
  4. Learning environment — Or where and with whom students learn. The traditional classroom setting is starting to lose ground. An increasing number of schools seek and get funding to design flexible learning environments. Being able to arrange student desks in rows for a lecture but also to group them in two, four, five or more so students can work on collaborative projects, is the first step towards an active flexible classroom. Also, there needs to be smaller and quieter zones for those engaged in individual work. The classroom can and must provide a flexible learning environment that accommodates the needs of all students.

Yes, differentiated instruction means more work from the part of teachers, which we all know already have their plates full.

No, differentiated instruction is not a fad, a whim, or just another thing to be done. It affects student learning and student academic outcomes in a positive way. Take Carol Ann Tomlinson’s word for it.

Practical steps to differentiated instruction

Just as with any theoretical concept, the theory seems nice, but putting it into practice is a horse of a totally different color. So here are some practical steps on how to do it. They may come numbered but their order is not fixed.

Step 0: Understand the theoretical part. Read all you can about how the human brain learns, learning styles and multiple intelligences, and also about all types of assessment. If you are to differentiate instruction, you must first know how your students learn and how to best assess their learning.

Step 1: Assess your students. Assess them formally and keep in mind the grade-level standards. You also need to assess them so you can determine their ability level, learning preferences and their interests. Assessment is the basis of differentiated instruction.

Step 2: Develop a plan. Consider everything you know about your students and think about all the ways you can differentiate content, processes, products and the learning environment. Don’t forget to be realistic in your plan; if you can’t replace fixed desks with mobile ones, there’s only so much you can do in terms of differentiating the learning environment for example.

Step 3: Define the success criteria for learning in your differentiated instruction. Corroborate with state standards and seek support from fellow teachers. Involve your students in this process as well to establish a common goal and make it clear what they have to do to pass the class.

Step 4: Differentiate and monitor. Give a try to tired activities (remember the fraction problems?), learning contracts (find here an example) or choice boards.

Step 5: Assess your students again. A variety of assessment techniques can include digital portfolios, rubrics, performance-based assessment, knowledge mapping, and so on. Pick and choose the most appropriate way to do it for each student. And don’t ignore their feedback.

Step 6: Adjust the instruction. You’ll surely identify things that are not perfect and your students will do too. The same will happen to those that work. So keep what works and change what doesn’t.

Step 7 to 100: Rinse and repeat. You can replace 100 with absolutely any other number you want really. Either you start again from Step 4 or you go all the way back to Step 0, but keep differentiating your instruction. As you probably say to your students, practice makes perfect.

 

Differentiated instruction has no single formula for success. Each classroom is different and each teacher has a lot of choices. Differentiated instruction means that you have to meet the standards while providing students with personalized learning experiences and embrace change and flexibility while knowing when to stop or just turn. The ultimate goal of differentiated instruction is to create and nurture a learning environment that meets the learning needs of students and puts each of them on their own paths to success.

 
Livia Bran is Content Manager at CYPHER LEARNING, a company that specializes in learning management systems. Check out her other posts about EdTech for K-12 and Higher Ed on the NEO Blog or follow her on Twitter.

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Non Fiction Book Bingo: A Sidequest

NonFiction Bingo Image-2

Last week I shared the Citizen Journalism Quest my students are working on this fall. One of the requirements during this adventure quest is for students to choose a nonfiction book to read independently. Students will refer to their independent reading books for content knowledge as well as craft structure presented throughout the text. I have added a Reading Bingo for a Sidequest as part of the entire adventure quest.

In video games Sidequests come in a variety of forms, and completing sidequests generally brings reward to the player such as additional equipment or abilities, areas to explore, supplemental plot related details, or fun unlockables. Gamasutra breaks down some dos and don’t of designing side quests on their blog.

For the Non Fiction sidequest I created Bingo. Students have a choice to complete one row or column for 125 XP (Experience Points) or students might choose to complete the entire board for a total of 500 XP. This is the second sidequest offered throughout the Citizen Journalism adventure quest. The bingo tasks are short and require students to use technology and critical and creative thinking to complete. Some are simple and fun like take a selfie with your reading book or design a ten question quiz on Kahoot. Others tasks include creating a book trailer and writing a review on a class Padlet. In thinking about Universal Design for Learning, this sidequest offers flexibility in the ways students access material, engage with it and show what they know.

NonFiction Bingo Image

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Superhero Weapons, Narrative NonFiction, & Citizen Journalism Adventure Quest

I have turned an investigative journalism reading and writing unit with my eighth grade students into a unique citizen journalism adventure quest. Below are the elements of the quest broken down into ten journeys. Each journey/activity is based off a superhero weapon for students to build a toolbox of needed superpowers in deciphering truth and fiction.

Breaking News – In an age where the truth has been attacked, news is unreliable, and journalists are considered deceptive, WE NEED YOUR HELP. We are living in a “POST TRUTH” apocalypse and you must navigate the landscape to overcome the threat of fake news and apathy of knowledge. We must bring information to the forefront and STOP the desemination of disinformation. This map will guide you towards a truth, but you will choose the path that will get us back to a reliable and trustworthy free press and free society.  Here are some tools, lent by many Superheros to help you on this mission.

1 – Thor’s Mjoinir – Providing you with a tool to seek truth, what are the elements of Nonfiction that we must pay attention to? This lesson will provide you with background information to help you on your journey where landmines of information and disinformation look too much alike.  At basecamp we will spend today working together in basic training.

2 – Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth – How do you know if what you read online is true? At basecamp for basic training, we will concentrate on Good Thinking. Learn three modes of persuasion that date back to ancient times – Ethos, Pathos, Logos. Like Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth, these three rhetorical devices are your greatest weapons in our Post Truth Apocalypse to investigate truth.

3 – Green Lantern’s Power Ring – The Green Lantern’s ring isn’t just a snazzy accessory; it’s a weapon that can create more weapons! You will choose your own Narrative Nonfiction independent reading book to serve as a communication device and a force field of protection. Consider it a gift that keeps on giving, this will be a wealth of information as well as bring attention to the craft moves and modes of persuasion that our predecessors have embodied.

NonFiction Mentor Text: Booksnaps

You must send me artifacts of your thinking, observations and learning. It is not just what you read but how you critically consume the information. The information and craft moves in this book will guide you. Send me your weekly Booknaps of the Notice and Note Signposts and other key findings weekly so I can see your perspective.

OR

NonFiction Mentor Text: Thought Journal

You must send me artifacts of your thinking, observations and learning. It is not just what you read but how you critically consume the information. The information and craft moves in this book will guide you. Prepare a Thought Journal highlighting the Notice and Note Signposts and other key findings in your text weekly so I can see your perspective.

4 – Silver Surfer’s Board – The Silver Surfer’s board is one of the most unassuming weapons in the universe. It’s nearly indestructible, it can absorb energy or people (if needed), it can travel through time faster than the speed of light, and it’s mentally linked to the Surfer. Similarly, research is an unassuming weapon for your research, writing, and understanding of “truth.” As you embark on this part of the Journey – Metroid’s Open World – you will need gather Ethos, Pathos, and Logos for your nonfiction narrative topic. Then, choose which is the best path for you to display your knowledge and skill: Annotated Bibliography OR Infographic.

5 – The Helm of Nabu – On the surface, this helmet may look silly, but it’s much more. The helm embodied the spirit and powers of Nabu, a sorcerer and Lord of Order who had some serious control issues. With the helmet, the wearer gains enhanced intelligence, awareness, flight, dimensional manipulation, teleportation, telekinesis, the ability to see the past and future. Before we go any further, we must stop back at base camp to try out the Helm of Nabu to understand Nonfiction Text Structures and consider how one might structure their own Narrative NonFiction Essay.

6 – The Mother Box – This mystical supercomputer can transfer the energy of a being, work as a telepathic device, open boom tubes (teleportation portals), and sustain life.

You will write your own narrative nonfiction essay on a topic that is of interest to you. Include ethos, pathos, and logos to help bring to the forefront a truth that others have yet to see about your specific topic. Use your WitchBlade, Board, and Eye of Agamotto to make yourself and others more informed.

7 – Witchblade – This is another example of an accessory that’s more than meets the eye. The Witchblade looks like a simple piece of women’s jewelry, but it’s deadly. If you’re deemed as unworthy to wear it, it will dismember you. Yes, it has an attitude. If chosen, it bonds to its owner, giving her state-of-the-art armor, swords, daggers, shields and chains. Plus it has healing powers and can reanimate the dead. The opening Lede of your essay needs attitude and should be powerful to engage and inform your reader with valid and reliable ethos, pathos, and logos.

8 – Dr. Strange’s Eye of AgamottoThis artifact has a built in B.S. filter, which releases a light that sees through all lies, disguises and illusions. It can weaken the physical state of any evil being mystical or human, it can open portals, and most importantly it can explore an opponent’s mind to see their deepest and darkest thoughts. To defeat the boss of disinformation you must use the Eye of Agamotto to spread truth and accuracy. Like your Lede, the closing of your essay is a call to action, leaving your readers with a dearth of knowledge and understanding. 

9 – Blade’s Double Edge Sword – Like a double edged sword, peers editing and revision can have multiple benefits when used correctly. Blade’s  sword’s edge is covered in acid, and the handle is rigged with a security device (multiple spikes), which can shatter the hand of anyone who tries to steal it. Only Blade himself and a choice few are aware of the hidden button that can prevent the gruesome reaction. Find a peer in class who will give you feedback to help you make your essay one that stands out and quickly gets you to the last level.

10 – Batarangs Additional Sidequest – Batman is a gadget and weapon master, and one item he never leaves home without is his batarang. It’s a bat-shaped combination of a boomerang and a shuriken that he uses to fight crime. There are also different types of batarangs, including sonic, electrical and explosive versions. As a SIDEQUEST you will record your Mother Box for a creative informative podcast. Check out sample podcasts to hear the elements of this interactive and audio based essay.
Congratulations, you are now part of S.H.E.I.L.D. – Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division within Marvel Universe. You obviously have superpowers, so what is going to be your superhero name and powers you will use to continue to protect the world? Your next adventure quest awaits.

 

For Further Resources:

New York Times Learning Network “Evaluating Sources in a Post Truth World

Descriptions of Superhero Weapons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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