For more information about Edchat Interactive check out their website for archived webinars and upcoming web events.
For more information about Edchat Interactive check out their website for archived webinars and upcoming web events.
EdTechTeam hosts Google Summits around the world and this past weekend one was held in Manchester, CT. On their website, EdTechTeam boasts their summits are, “High-intensity, conference-style events focus on the latest in educational technology and emerging pedagogy.”
The morning began with a key note from Rushton Hurley, educator, founder and executive director of the educational nonprofit Next Vista for Learning, which houses a free library of hundreds of short videos by and for teachers and students. Hurley spoke about the fun and cool of getting better.
Hurley highlighted three elements of becoming better educators:
Think about your delivery to create engaging activities especially for students who need something a little different. Hurley states, “The good minutes we craft, that is what matters.”
3. Find the fun in teaching and learning. Create a classroom environment where dynamic learning and exploring are the norm. Find the cool in what you do and build off of it. Little things can allow for big improvement. Fun is about being excited about learning
I later attended a session with Hurley titled 4 Fun and powerful activities for starting the class strong. These four activities included:
2. Use an image to start active engagement. Show an image that might not directly connect to the discussion but students can begin to surmise a connection or theme.
4. Videos is a teaching tool. Rushton’s nonprofit, Next Vista for Learning, which houses a free library of hundreds of short videos by and for teachers and students is a great resource to share videos and inspire students to create videos.
On a side note, my current students in the media literacy class I teach each semester are creating videos to highlight problems in the world and they will be submitting their videos to Next Vista for feedback and distribution.
A third workshop I attended was on differentiation with Google Classroom presented by instructional technologist, Taneesha A. Thomas. In this session teachers set up a differentiated project and learned how to manage it using Google Classroom. This hands on session we put the knowledge we had about differentiation into action and learned other ways to use Google Classroom to create a more collaborative environment.
According to Edutopia differentiation:
Build lessons, develop teaching materials, and vary your approach so that all students, regardless of where they are starting from, can learn content effectively, according to their needs.
Here are a few Google tricks to individualize and differentiate in Google Classroom:
You can assign work to individual students – No two students work at exactly the same pace on every lesson. The ability to choose which students receive specific assignments is the basis for differentiation. Think about providing remediation lessons for students who need more practice or providing extension activities for students who have mastered content is another method for differentiation which can be easily handled in Classroom.
With Classroom, this process is streamlined to enable teachers to create leveled work and assign it to individuals or groups of students. Teachers simply have to create assignments and choose students to receive it. Students are unable to see which other students have the same or different assignments.
Cater to Learning Styles – It’s easy to cater to multiple learning styles with Classroom. When students submit work, they are offered options for uploading their creations. Included in those options are items such as attaching files, links, Docs, Slides, Sheets, or Drawings. The possibilities are only limited by teacher and student imaginations.
Google Classroom is designed to support differentiation for your students, making it easy to adjust which students get which assignments, provide a variety of learning resources with the assignment, and support student choice in the product they create to demonstrate what they have learned.
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.
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.”
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:
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.
To be successful learners, students need to be proficient readers. Our classrooms are filled with a broad spectrum of readers: some are advanced, some struggle, some are English language learners and others are reluctant readers. And there may be other types of readers you can identify in your classroom.
As a result, teaching is not “one size fits most.” We need a variety of approaches — and for a variety of mediums. Teachers must not only address functional literacy, which includes reading of visual, print and digital text, but also encourage students to be critical consumers of information and effectively communicate their thinking about these texts.
Technology has allowed teachers to diversify their teaching and provides leverage for all students to succeed. More important than the technology tools you use, however, is that you create meaningful classroom experiences to promote reading, critical thinking and digital literacy.
Here are four strategies and digital tools to curate personalized learning and reading experiences that expand student knowledge and promote critical thinking, digital citizenship and the literacy skills of proficient readers:
HyperDocs and playlists. Similar to a Google Doc, these digital documents allow you to pull together learning resources in one place. The document contains hyperlinks to all aspects of the inquiry unit — videos, slideshows, images and activities for students to complete and gain understanding. Students have multi-modal opportunities for learning, and there is less teacher lecturing at the front of the class.
HyperDocs allow students to work at their own pace and offer a road map for student learning. Depending on the HyperDoc the teacher makes, differentiated activities and technology-rich assignments can help students learn and show their understanding while completing the activities included on the HyperDoc. Teachers might have students complete only a certain number activities on the HyperDoc or require students to do them all.
Differentiated choice boards. These can range from no-tech to high-tech and are another way to provide students with individualized learning by providing choices or options based on their readiness, interests and learning preferences (think multiple intelligences). As education author Carol Ann Tomlinson explains, differentiation is a way of “tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Differentiation can be based on content, process, products or the learning environment.”
Through differentiation and choice, you can provide alternative ways for students to learn and show what they know. Choice menu boards are a great way to do this and, once again, technology can help.
You can create choice activities for before, during and after reading to highlight reading strategies, content understanding and multiple intelligences. Whether in the form of a Bingo board or a Think-Tac-Toe, choice in the classroom empowers students, while at the same time adheres to learning goals. When students are able to select choices that most appeal to them and that they’re comfortable completing, they can master the activity and move on to more challenging activities.
Quest-based learning adventures (and gamification). This approach to learning connects game mechanics with content objectives to promote learning and deepen student understanding. Through gamification, you can transform literacy instruction into a game with creativity, collaboration and play while still meeting Common Core State Standards and ISTE Standards for Students.
Exactly how you bring games and game playing into the classroom is really a matter of thinking creatively and playfully about what you already do. For example, you could tie assignments to point values and badges that students could then use to unlock privileges, such as a homework pass or preferential seating.
As with choice menus, students would choose which assignments to complete and when, but with the aim of collecting as many points as possible or a “literacy champion” selection of badges. Alternately, you could organize an overarching mission in which assignments are like a sequence of game levels. Students would need to successfully complete each assignment in order to “rank up” to the next and eventually complete all the required material.
Digital reading platforms. Actively Learn and Newsela are just two platforms that offer accessible text that you can use to build comprehension and conversations in the classroom. Both are available free for teachers and students, or you can upgrade to the subscription-based pro versions. In both versions, teachers can embed quizzes, annotations and writing prompts with every reading. The pro edition adds such features as the ability to view individual student progress, track student progress against the Common Core State Standards, and for students and teachers to see each other’s article annotations.
Actively Learn allows teachers to upload their own material to the platform. Customizing assignments with a digital platform leads to more effective and independent instruction that targets students’ strengths and weaknesses by giving support to students who need it, while omitting it for those who don’t. You can use Actively Learn, Newsela and other reading platforms in a variety of ways to support diverse readers and build content knowledge with jigsaws, do nows and flipped learning.
The readers in our classrooms are individuals with unique needs and preferences. Technology allows teachers to offer learning experiences to support these diverse student learners. As Alabama Principal Danny Steele commented on Twitter, “It is good to know content. It is great to know pedagogy. It’s imperative to know the kids.”
Once teachers get to know their students, they can incorporate meaningful and thoughtful learning experiences for all learners.
We teach among a cacophony of learners. Students with diverse learning styles and abilities. Long gone are the one size fits all mentality of teaching. Teachers are called upon to meet the learning needs of ALL students and to differentiate to help all students succeed. Just as a growth mindset is a term that teachers have been reading, writing, and promoting among students, teachers also need to have a growth mindset when thinking about their students and learning. With the right tools, strategies, and scaffolds our students can all reach excellence.
Differentiation guru, Carol Ann Tomlinson calls it “Teaching Up — educational experiences that stimulate and stretch students” (ACSD, 2012). Tomlinson identifies seven principles of teaching up in a 2012 article for ACSD I have copied and posted below.
1. Accept that human differences are not only normal but also desirable. Each person has something of value to contribute to the group, and the group is diminished without that contribution. Teachers who teach up create a community of learners in which everyone works together to benefit both individuals and the group.
2. Develop a growth mind-set. Providing equity of access to excellence through teaching up has its roots in a teacher’s mind-set about the capacity of each learner to succeed (Dweck, 2007).
3. Work to understand students’ cultures, interests, needs, and perspectives. People are shaped by their backgrounds, and respecting students means respecting their backgrounds—including their race and culture. Teaching any student well means striving to understand how that student approaches learning and creating an environment that is respectful of and responsive to what each student brings to the classroom.
4. Create a base of rigorous learning opportunities. Teachers who teach up help students form a conceptual understanding of the disciplines, connect what they learn to their own lives, address significant problems using essential knowledge and skills, collaborate with peers, examine varied perspectives, and create authentic products for meaningful audiences. These teachers develop classrooms that are literacy-rich and that incorporate a wide range of resources that attend to student interests and support student learning.
5. Understand that students come to the classroom with varied points of entry into a curriculum and move through it at different rates.
6. Create flexible classroom routines and procedures that attend to learner needs. Teachers who teach up realize that only classrooms that operate flexibly enough to make room for a range of student needs can effectively address the differences that are inevitable in any group of learners.
7. Be an analytical practitioner. Teachers who teach up consistently reflect on classroom procedures, practices, and pedagogies for evidence that they are working for each student—and modify them when they’re not. They are the students of their students.
What does “Teaching Up” look like and sound like in the classroom? What are the ways that teachers can scaffold and support the diverse learners in their classrooms?
My students are currently working on a new Dystopian Literature Quest. Students are reading different dystopian literature in reading and writing workshop and then have a “choose your own adventure” menu board of activities for students to show their understanding and thinking about their text. There are some required missions that all students are going to complete among the choices. You can check out the Dystopian Quest Here.
Thinking about my EL students and students with learning challenges, I have also made a modified quest board in which I have reduced the amount of work required and added additional scaffolds to help these students succeed in the quest. These modifications include links to graphic organizers, “I do, We do, You do” mini lesson opportunities and modeling, creating opportunities for students to collaborate, and making a variety of resources available to all students.
If we expect student success, we must define excellence for EVERY students to attain and support ALL our students to meet those objectives.
Classrooms of the digital age are interactive spaces where literate lives are groomed through the analysis and synthesis of content. Perspectives formed during collaborative conversations give rise to innovative ideas but not every teacher is ready to be part of the digital change. How can classroom environments become havens of active learning and schools encourage students to make wise technology choices to become independent learners with authentic voices?
As part of a round table session at National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference, I presented gamification ideas and strategies for engaged, active, student-centered classrooms where choice leads to increased voice.
Here are a few of the games and activities referenced in the slides that I have created for my students that correlate with units of study.
MidSummer Night’s Dream Symbolism Connect Four
Roll the Dice or Think Dots
Here is how this activity works, using a set of dice [or have task cards Think DOTs that have assignments on one side and colored dots that match a “dice” roll on the other side], students can “roll the dice” to see which activity or question they have to complete. You can use different cubes for different students depending on their readiness, interests and learning profiles. The example that I provided below is a for reading response questions for To Kill Mockingbird. There are two sets that are differentiated based on students level of understanding.
And for a random Dice Challenge
Enamored by fancy task cards seen on Pinterest, I decided to revise and consolidate activities for a unit on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream into task cards for my students to use in lieu of worksheets and one size fits all lessons.
What are task cards? Task cards are a set of cards with questions and activities on them that can be used for reinforcement of teaching concepts, assessment, and differentiated learning activities.
Task cards come in sets to target a specific skills, standards, or subject areas. Cards can focus on Bloom Taxonomy of questioning and tap into multiple intelligences. I designed a set specific to layers of close reading. Tasks addressed what the text says, what the text means, and what the text does. This required students to reread parts of a text multiple times with a different lens to hone in on their close reading skills.
Task cards can be completed individually, in small groups, for homework, in learning centers, and even in game-like activities. Students can write their responses to the task cards and compare answers. Task cards can be used in a “beat the clock game,” seeing who can answer the task the quickest.
KeslerScience.com describes two different activities to use task cards:
One activity, “Scoot” has students each start off with different cards to answer for a certain period of time, perhaps 2 to 3 minutes (depending on the questions or tasks and grade level of the students). Students answer the task card on their own. When the allotted time is up, the teacher says “Scoot!” All students move and answer another card that awaits them. (Another version of this is to let the students pass on the task cards to his or her seatmate once the time to answer is up.)
In “Back to Back Game” a pair of students will be given the same task card to answer. They either sit or stand with their backs against each other. The teacher reads the task aloud so the whole class has the chance to hear it. The students then answer it, either by personal whiteboards or hand signal and turn to each other to find out if they have same answers. Discussion will follow after that.
Task cards can be used as checks for understanding in the middle of a lesson to see if students have digested the material. For example, after reading through an Act in Shakespeare, students pull out the task cards to apply their reading and understanding. I always give my students four -six task cards and have them complete 3-4 of the tasks. This allows students to show what they know and I have data for what I need to cover or address moving forward. Task cards allow for student choice.
Task cards can also be used as exit slips, review sessions, and I love Amy Brown‘s idea to make a bingo board out of task cards. Students must complete 5 tasks in a row, column or diagonal to win.
Depending how you design them and use them, task cards can be engaging and an opportunity to help students master content material.
The beginning of fall means To Kill a Mockingbird in my 8th grade classroom and it is also the time to immerse students into the practice of close reading. The more and more students have opportunities to reread chunks of texts, the better their ability of peeling back the layers of a text. To Kill a Mockingbird is a wonderful (and complex) text to use for close reading of a story still relevant today and the beauty of Harper Lee’s craft of writing.
Early in the school year students need support with close reading. I have students chunk parts of the text and read it first for the basics or literal understanding. The second and third readings are reading with more purpose: language, craft, vocabulary, and mechanics. I want students to actively use the information from their readings to talk, share, write, illustrate, and or debate the theories and ideas they are formulating in their mind while reading.
To help students read and reread the text, I created three different learning stations this week. Each station had students practice towards mastery and gain more confidence with close reading. Students were to choose two of the stations to complete within a forty minute period. Each station was leveled based on students’ understanding of the text.
Station One – Level One – Literal Understanding of the text. I created a Bingo Board with twenty five questions about the plot in To Kill a Mockingbird. Students had 15 minutes to complete double bingo (or for additional points, complete the entire board for homework) with questions addressing Who, What, Where, When, and simple How questions.
Station Two – Level Two – Notice and Note Signposts in the Text. Students were to go back into the text and pull out examples of the six signposts from K. Beers & B. Probst’s Notice and Note. This text is one of the fundamentals in my teaching repertoire because it requires students to be engaged with and analytical of the text.
Station Three – Level Three – Text Dependent Questions How the Text Works, What Does the Author Mean, and Synthesis. These questions were the challenge questions for my students. Students who really were looking to grapple with the text and go back and do deep digging within the chapter chose this station. These questions might include:
I work with an amazing Math teacher who levels all his math work in the class. Students choose the math work based on their understanding of the math concepts taught in class. The basic work is labeled “Mustard” whereas the next level of work has a bit of a kick with a few challenge questions is labeled “Wasabi.” For those students who rock the math concepts and want a brain teaser, they select “Naga Jolokia,” — the world’s hottest pepper! I always model his class work when I am differentiating my lessons. Not only does the station work allow for differentiation, it also encourages student choice. Choice and practice get students closer to mastery with key ideas, concepts, and strategies.
Carol Ann Tomlinson (2000) defines differentiated instruction as “a teaching philosophy based on the premise that teachers should adapt instruction to student differences. Rather than marching students through the curriculum in a one size fits all mentality, teachers should modify their instruction to meet students’ varying readiness levels, learning preferences, and interests. Therefore, the teacher proactively plans a variety of ways to get at and express learning.”
Differentiated Instruction IS . . .
Differentiated instruction that is more qualitative than quantitative.
Differentiated instruction provides multiple approaches to content, process, and product.
Differentiated instruction is student centered.
Differentiated instruction is a blend of whole class, group, and individual instruction.
Differentiated instruction is organic.
Differentiated instruction IS NOT . . .
Just another way to provide homogenous instruction (you do flexible instruction instead)
Just modifying grading systems and reducing work loads
More work for the “good” students and less and different from the “poor” students
Teachers can differentiate through: Content, Process, Product, and Environment according to Students’ Readiness, Interests, Learning Profiles through a range of strategies such as multiple intelligences, jigsaws, graphic organizers, RAFTS, tiered assignments, leveled texts, think dots, numbered heads, cubing, learning centers.
The goals of a differentiated classroom are maximum growth and individual success.
When planning and created differentiated activities and assessments, focus on the learning outcomes. What learning do we want student to demonstrate? Offer students choices or choose their own creative ways to demonstrate their understanding and apply it in new situations.
I have written about and shared activities throughout this blog that I have created to differentiate from different versions of Roll the Dice activities where students select reading comprehension questions based on “I read it and I get it” or “I read it but I don’t get it.” I used learning stations often and offer choices on 75% of the assessments students complete in my classes. Differentiation should be the norm in classrooms today in order to help all students reach excellence.