Tag Archives: differentiation

Assessment Speed Dating

Formative Assessment is a constantly occurring process, a verb, a series of events in action, not a single tool or a static noun. — from Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction (NCTE, 2013) 

Assessment is an integral part of instruction determining whether or not the goals of education are being met. It is used to measure the current knowledge that a student has. It is through assessment that teachers are continually asking:

“Am I teaching what I think I’m teaching?”

“Are students learning what they are suppose to be learning?”

A test, quiz, or assessment project is not just a grade to evaluate the students at the end of a unit but an ongoing evaluative tool for the teacher.  Teachers are engaged in assessment every minute that they are in the classroom. As teachers we are always observing, noting, and evaluating. There are three types of feedback and goal setting assessment tools that teachers need throughout a unit of inquiry:

Pre Assessment (Finding Out) – Pretests, inventories, KWL, checklists, observations, self-evaluations, questioning, mind mapping, anticipation guides

Pre Assessment allows student to demonstrate what they already know about what is being planned and what further instruction opportunities are needed or what requires reteaching or enhancement. Teachers can not just begin a lesson without taking a “temperature” of what the students know in the beginning.

Formative Assessment (Keeping Track and Checking Up) – Conferences, peer evaluations, observations, talkaround, questioning, exit cards, quiz, journal entry, self-evaluations

Formative assessment occurs concurrently with instruction and provides feedback to teachers and learners. Formative assessment can be formal and informal to frame meaningful performance goals.

Summative Assessment (Making Sure) – Unit Test, performance task, product and exhibition, demonstrations, portfolio review

Summative assessment shows what students have learned at the conclusion of an instructional unit and is evaluative.

For reliability and validity teachers should use a variety of assessments to provide enough helpful feedback to improve performance. Assessment should be used for guiding, self-reflection, instruction, nurturing, and used over multiple activities. In addition, students should be involved in daily or weekly evaluation of their progress. Rubrics and other scoring tools help evaluate understanding of content and skills that are used by both the teacher and the student for both specific tasks and long term progress. I never handout to students an assessment without also giving them the evaluation rubric at the same time so they know exactly what I am looking for when I evaluate their projects and assessments. Here are four criteria of quality feedback as defined by Grant Wiggins (1998): 

1. It must be timely.

2. It must be specific.

3. It must be understandable to the receiver.

4. It must allow the student to act on the feedback (refine, revise, practice, and retry).

It is easy to give tests and quizzes but in actuality, they are not always the most accurate evaluation tools. Teachers want to use a variety of assessments or data sources and teacher data mechanisms to help gain a more accurate picture of students knowledge and understanding.

To help my pre-service English teachers consider the various aspects of assessment, I created this Assessment Speed Dating Hyperdoc that walks teachers through various literacy based assessments in the English language Arts classroom and more.

The hyperdoc and speed dating template was inspired and adapted from Amanda Sandoval @historysandoval.

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Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) and Writing Instruction

I am currently participating in a study to understand more about Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) as a model for struggling writers. The goal is to teach the strategies that students need in order to write clearly and concisely. 

According to Graham, Harris, & McKeown, 2013, the SRSD approach consists of explicit teaching of:

  • general and specific writing strategies, such as:
    • using the right vocabulary,
    • being mindful of the intended reader,
    • creating interesting introductions and conclusions
  • the knowledge required to use these strategies;
  • ways to manage these strategies;
  • the writing process; and
  • one’s behaviour as a writer
    • self-regulation
    • self-instruction

Just like we teach students the habits of proficient readers, teachers need to articulate the habits of good writers. Writing researchers identified what good writers do: plan, monitor, evaluate, revise, and manage the writing process. These strategies should be taught explicitly for learners to apply them to a writing task. 

Elements of SRSD Instruction

Instructor modeling of strategies is essential to SRSD and must explicitly show learners how to create meaning. Graham and Harris (2005) describe a five-step process. By completing the following scaffolded instructional sequence, teachers can help learners gain confidence in the strategy and learn to use it automatically for more independent learning.

  1. Discuss It. Develop and activate background knowledge. Discuss when and how learners might use a strategy to accomplish specific writing tasks and goals. Talk about the benefits of becoming a more proficient and flexible writer. Address any negative self-talk or negative beliefs the learner holds, and ask the learner for a commitment to try to learn and use the strategy. Discuss how the learner should track progress to document the use and impact of the strategy.
  2. Model It. Model the strategy using think-alouds, self-talk, and self-instruction as you walk through the steps. Discuss afterwards how it might be made more effective and efficient for each individual, and have learners customize the strategy with personal self-statements. Ask students to set specific writing goals. Model the strategy more than once with various sample texts; for example, use a graphic organizer to demonstrate how to comprehend various texts of a similar genre (persuasive arguments or editorials). The Modeling stage is a key component for students. When students can read strong and poorly written writing and discuss it they are able to name and identify elements of good writing. Similarly, when teachers demonstrate writing and think aloud throughout the process, students are able to monitor their own thinking and improve their own writing.
  3. Make It Your Own. Strategies are composed of multiple steps, similar to a checklist. When steps are captured in a mnemonic or acrostic sentence, they are easier to remember. Paraphrasing or re-naming the steps in a mnemonic or creating a new mnemonic is fine, provided that the learner is able to remember the steps that the names represent. Customizing the checklist or mnemonic helps learners make it their own.
  4. Support It. Use the strategy as often as possible, in as many ways as possible. Instructors and other students can be supports, offering direct assistance, prompts, constructive feedback, and encouragement. When you introduce a new type of application (a new genre or writing frame, for example), it may be appropriate to model the strategy again. Learners can rely on charts and checklists too, as they learn the strategy and make it their own, but all of this should fade as learners become familiar enough with the strategy to set their goals, monitor their use of the strategy, and use self-statements independently.
  5. Independent Performance. Learners come to use the strategy independently across a variety of tasks. For example, learners may begin to draw graphic organizers without being prompted as a means to help them comprehend and plan.

Strategies like Acronyms are also helpful for students to remember the steps of the writing process and can act as a guide or checklist for students to write well. For example, the POW+TREE strategy helps writers approach an essay-writing task and check their work as they become more independent (Harris, Graham, Mason, & Friedlander, 2008).

POW, represents and emphasizes the importance of the planning process: 

Pick my idea and pay attention to prompt 

Organize

Write and say more

The TREE acronym is a memory and visualization tool that helps writers structure their essays: the Topic sentence is like the trunk of the tree that supports the whole argument; Reasons (at least three) are like the roots of the argument; Explain is a reminder to tell more about each reason; and finally, Ending is like the earth that wraps up the whole argument. Think sheets or graphic organizers shaped like stylized trees that learners write in as they brainstorm and plan can prompt the internalization of this strategy.

References

Graham, S. (2006). Strategy instruction and the teaching of writing: A metaanalysis. In C. A. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (pp. 187–207). New York: Guilford Press.

Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (2005). Writing better: Effective strategies for teaching students with learning difficulties. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education. Available at http://www.all4ed.org/files/WritingNext.pdf.

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Contemporary Dystopian Fiction Playlist

Instructional Playlists are individualized digital (hyperlinked) lessons and assignments for students to follow. Whereas a hyperdoc could be one lesson or inquiry unit, a playlist provides students directions for an entire unit. Students can work through these hyperdocs and play lists at their own pace. The teacher might provide dates to help students keep pace and not leave the assignments until the last day. Additionally, since every student gets a copy of the playlist on Google Classroom, the playlist can be individualized to support the diverse learners in your classroom.

This contemporary dystopian playlist is a three week unit that is driven by students reading and book club discussions. Playlists are perfect for blended learning classrooms. Playlists are like full lessons that involve combinations of whole group learning, online learning, face to face opportunities, online learning with individual collaboration and small group learning. When you enter my 8th grade ELA classroom students spend the first ten minutes of class time reading their contemporary dystopian text and then responding in their Reader’s Notebook. On Reading Workshop days students get longer reading time in the classroom. If we expect students to read we need to give them the time to read in our own classes. For this unit, since it is only three weeks we are focusing in on the setting of the dystopian society and characterization. Students will learn about the Hero’s Journey and types of dystopian controls. Students will have multiple opportunities to work in their book clubs to share their thinking about their reading and learn from one another.

If you are new to creating playlists and hyperdocs, note that packaging is key. Think about aesthetics and the visual effect of the playlist. Make sure the organization is simple, clear, and accessible to diverse learners. Provide opportunities for student collaboration and inquiry based learning. Try new approaches to student learning. So what are you waiting for? Try out a playlist with your next unit and let me know how it goes.

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Multigenre Projects

In my book New Realms for Writing (ISTE, 2019) I introduce a multi genre project my students create based on a World War II topic, research, and historical fiction.

As stated in the book, “Why just box students into writing one genre per unit? There are limitations to teaching narrative, informative, argumentative writing in isolation. Each genre has its strengths and drawbacks. In fact, when we read essays and articles these genres are often blended together.  If teachers allow students to show their understanding and knowledge of a topic with a variety of genres there is choice and creativity. This goes beyond just allowing students to choose the genre or format to showcase their understanding, what if students could blend genres in one assignment to produce a multi-genre piece.  In this chapter I introduce  the concept of multi genre writing: the ability to write in more than one genre to present understanding and build new knowledge.”

Multigenre Projects are not new, educator and author, Tom Romano describes in, Blending Genres Blending Styles (2000),  “In short, multigenre projects entail a series of generic documents that are linked by a central premise, theme, or goal. They may forward an argument, trace a history, or offer multiple interpretations of a text or event. They are rigorous forms of writing, involving all of the elements of a traditional research paper: research and citation, coherence and organization, purpose and aim of discourse, audience awareness, and conventional appropriateness.”

As an end of the year project I wanted to create a multi genre project where my students were at the forefront. Since we just finished reading books and discussing themes of identity, I adapted a project I found online that focuses on our stories and identities. Students were to create multigenre project as a means of reflecting upon middle school and how that has shaped us into who we are today.

Here are the specifics: 

  • A title page with a creative title.
  • An introduction serving as a guide to readers.  This will introduce the event you’re reflecting upon and help us understand why this topic is important to you.  Likewise, it gives you an opportunity to explain how we should read your documents.  This should be ½ to 1 page long.
  • Three (3) separate documents from three (3) different genre categories:
    • The  Narrative Writing Category
    • The Persuasive Writing Category
    • The  Informational Writing Category
    • The Poetry Category
    • Visual Artistic Category

*You can add a fourth category and document for extra credit

  • An artist statement paragraph for each document at the end of your project answering the following questions in complete sentences:
    • What is the message of this document? 
    • Why did you pick this genre for this specific part of the story? 
    • How does this document show the larger theme of your story? 

At the end the year it is inspiring to see students write with gusto about topics related to friends, sports, uncertainty, grades, losing a loved one and procrastinating. One student even said to me that this was the best project they have worked on so far — that is something you do not hear often when it comes to a writing assignments.

As for the different writing examples within the genre categories, students had lots of choices.

As these final projects are turned in, I cannot wait to share some of the highlights.

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Scaffolding for Learner Success

Scaffolding is an instructional approach that provides the gradual release of responsibility (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) for students as they develop proficiency. Stemming from Lev Vygotsky (1962) scaffolding or “collaborative dialogue” between the learner and the teacher allows students to move along a continuum of progress, from needing teacher support to eventually needing no teacher support. In the process of releasing responsibility to students, teachers scaffold or support using language and teaching tools that promotes growth and development.

Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris (2019) suggest “the graduate release structure can be applied within a single lesson or across lessons. The purpose of the gradual release of responsibility model is to increase the learning that students transfer to independent practice, thus developing more skilled and agentive readers and writers.”  

There are three (3) steps in the gradual release of responsibility:

1 – The teacher models

2 – Students practice with others

3 – Students practice independently

In an effort to help teachers understand types of scaffolds and ways to utilize them for student academic support, I have created this gallery walk to explore. Each door provides a different type of scaffold with examples utilized with my middle school students. Three of the scaffolds include Screencasts, How-To Sheets, and Learning Centers.


A  screencast is a great way for students to learn new topics or listen to a review. Using the tool, screencastify,  plan and script an instructional screencast for teaching writing (writing an introduction, body, or counterclaim, etc). For a how-to video, click here.  This approach can address the needs of visual/auditory learners. Here are a few examples of ones created for 8th grade students on essay writing.

A teacher made how-to sheet can be a powerful tool for building student responsibility for learning. Simple, step-by-step directions for accomplishing a skill can enable students to move forward independently. The how-to sheet should focus on learning a specific skill to address the needs of visual learners. Check out this sample.

A teacher-made learning center can be used to re-teach or move beyond a certain skill. Learning centers guide students to grapple with core concepts and skills. Learning centers can address your kinesthetic learners.

What does scaffolding mean for teachers in a blended or online learning environment? Scaffolding can take several different forms. From breaking down larger assessments into subtasks to providing examples and encouraging reflection, the goal of scaffolding is to create opportunities for students to receive structured support and grow as learners. Providing examples, models, and checklists can be beneficial for all learners. Using graphic organizers to help break down assignments into smaller chunks allowing students the opportunity to reflect, question, and even reach out for help if they need it. Additionally, providing directions in written format, audio using an App like Mote: Voice Notes & Feedback for students to hear the directions or providing a screencast to review the directions as many times as needed and guides the students through the learning process.

Northern Illinois University’s Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center notes some additional ways students benefit from instructional scaffolding: 

  • Scaffolding challenges students through deep learning and discovery.
  • Scaffolding helps learners become better students.
  • Scaffolding increases the likelihood of student success. 
  • Scaffolding individualizes instruction.

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Choice Boards for Learning & Student Engagement

Choice Menus come in different styles:

Simple List Menu

Weighted List Menu

Think Tac Toe Menu

2-50-80 Menu

Game Show Menu

Themed Menu

Learning menu choice boards provide options for students. As teacher and author, AJ Juliani writes, “One of the basic tenets of differentiated instruction is that it allows a teacher to reach many students at different levels of understanding. By differentiating what we teach, and how we teach it, we are able to reach the entire classroom instead of the small group of students who are going to follow along with direct instruction. When we differentiate, we build the choices/options into our instruction, and conversely the learning process.”

Our goal as teachers  is to figure out how to teach the same content through a student-choice of instructional experiences. Our objective  is getting all students engaged and that means all students must have high attention and high commitment. One of the best and most manageable ways to do this is through choice boards and learning menus.

Here’s an example of what a “choice board” activity might look like: 

The “Get to Know You Think Tac Toe” choice board provides learning activities a variety of formats and experiences. Here, they have the choice to go with what works best for them as a learner.

Author and educator Caitlyn Tucker writes about organizing a choice board menu.

 “The classic 9 square model is ideal for a tic-tac-toe approach to a choice board that requires students to complete any three activities in a row across the board. Teachers can organize a choice board so that each column focuses on a particular skill or standard. Elementary teachers, who are teaching all subjects, may combine reading, math and vocabulary activities on a single board. On the other hand, a secondary teacher might design a board focused on one aspect of their curriculum, like reading or writing.

As teachers consider what types of activities to design, it’s important to keep differentiation in mind. Teachers can choose to differentiate by allowing students to decide:

  • what they will produce.
  • how they will engage with the information (learning modality).
  • which level of complexity they are ready for.
  • which activity appeals to their interests.

Caitlyn Tucker provides a template for a digital choice board using Google Documents on her blog. If you want to use this to design your own choice board, simply log into your Google account then go to “File” on this document and select “Make a copy.” It will automatically save to your Google Drive. When you design and share your choice board online you can include hyperlinks for students to visit and utilize educational digital apps and platforms. 

If you want to break out of the tic tac toe style choice board, you might consider these different styles:

2-5-8 Menu and Dinner Menu choice boards are presented in a list providing options for students to complete. For the 2-5-8 Choice Menu students choose to complete two activities that total 10 points. See the example below for an outside reading assignment.

Click on the image to see the document in Google Docs or make a copy for yourself

Check out this Dinner Menu example below. Students select three learning activities in each category to show their understanding and new knowledge.

Click on the image to see the document in Google Docs or make a copy for yourself

Choice Board Menus are great assessment tools, learning activities, and planning out a unit of study. A game show Choice Board or Bingo Board can be utilized over the course of many weeks for students to complete the entire board or a one time learning activity where students choose a single row or column. For example, The Rowdy Math Teacher created a nine week game show menu for students to complete one activity from each column and accumulate a target number of points each week. Notice the free choices at the bottom. This allows students additional choice and opportunities to demonstrate their own creativity in the selection of tasks that are of interest to them.

Choice Boards provide students with the power to choose “how” to learn a particular subject or concept. This freedom encourages them to be more responsible, accountable and independent in their learning. It also allows them to work on the activities at their own pace.

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Get to Know You Think Tac Toe

What are you doing the first week back to school to get to know your students? Whether you are in the classroom, teaching remotely, or in a hybrid plan, building community is key for student learning success.

This year my school is following a hybrid schedule with my students in the classroom twice a week and working three days remotely. Half of my students will be in the classroom on Mondays and Thursdays and the other half will be in the classroom Tuesdays and Fridays. One hundred percent of my classes will taught synchronous. This means the students who are working remotely home on Monday are required to log onto  my Google Meet during our class period and participate in the lesson. I am now planning lessons that provide differentiation not only in terms of product and process, but adapt activities and assignments for digitally and in person learning as well.

During the first week, your schedule might be a mix of teaching procedures and expectations as well as building a strong classroom community.  I have designed this “Get  to Know You Think Tac Toe” for students to choose three different assignments (Creating a tick tac toe win) about themselves and their reading lives, so I can learn more about them. What is key is that students have a choice and each activity highlights their voice and agency. Click on the image to make a copy and adapt for your classroom needs.

Get To Know You Think Tac Toe

Jerry Webster states in a blog post for ThoughtCo (2019), “Think-tac-toe is a strategy that harnesses the visual pattern of the tic-tac-toe game to broaden student understanding of instructional content, challenge students who already have some mastery of a subject, and provide a variety of means to assess student mastery in a way that is fun and unusual.” These assignments can be differentiated by product, choice, and theme. This is an alternative assignment that allows students to show what they know in creative and fun ways. It is up to you if you want to assign students to complete a single assignment listed in one box or invite them to try three assignments to score a “think-tac-toe.”

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Supporting Diverse Readers in Virtual Spaces and Remote Learning #EdTechTeam Virtual Summit

#EdTechTeam is hosting three Virtual Summits this spring. The first is Saturday, April 18, 2020. The objective of the Summits is to support teachers and district leaders as schools move to implement remote learning, improve practice, implement new tools, design better online learning experiences, and continue to build relationships with students and families.

The learning begins at 10 AM EST with a key note speaker, then participants can access  presentations throughout the four session times,  and at the conclusion, a demo slam. I will be presenting at 2 PM EST on Supporting Diverse Readers in Virtual Spaces and Remote Learning.” I have shared the slide deck below.

My goal as an English Language Arts teacher is to promote a rich literacy experience for ALL the learners in my classroom. Shifting to remote learning has allowed me to refine the reading units I create with my students and make texts accessible to all my students. All of the assignments provide scaffolds to help students reach higher levels of comprehension.

These scaffolds include

models

graphic organizers

frontload vocabulary

using lots of visuals

dividing texts into manageable chunks

It is important to remember when teaching and planning lessons that every students is unique and valuable. I don’t want students to fall off my radar and it is important that students have a voice and choice throughout their learning. Providing multiple pathways to learning will help all students reach excellence.

 

 

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Reading Tools to Support ALL Learners at #FETC20

This past week was FETC – The Future of Education Technology Conference in Miami, Florida.  FETC® is the leading independent K-12 conference focusing on education technology. This year’s key note speaker included author, Daniel Pink discussing “Leadership, Innovation, and the Surprising Truth of Human Motivation.” Miami Superintendent of Schools, Alberto M. Carvalho, opened up the conference and was the most inspiring at the conference telling attendees, “From the impossible to the inevitable, there is only belief, skill and will.”

There were more than 600 sessions for attendees addressing the latest ed tech and practical strategies to implement educational technology,  transform learning in and out of the classroom, and showcase the noteworthy ed tech tools . Plus, the Expo Hall provided additional content opportunities with Learning Sandboxes and a PitchFest— and that’s on top of the 400+ vendors with the latest ed tech solutions available. 

My presentation on Wednesday addressed Personalized Reading and shared digital tools and teaching strategies to support all the learners in our classroom. My slide deck from the presentation is below.

I also attended Monica Burns‘ session Reboot Reading Instruction with 10 Must-Try Tools. If you don’t already follow Monica on Twitter or Instagram, I recommend you add her to your PLN. In her session Monica shared some new tools that are worth checking out. Here are three that were new to me:

 

In my book, Personalized Reading,  I state, instructional needs for all readers include consistent reading practice, scaffolding, and opportunities to listen to, independently read, and analyze text. The no tech, low tech, and high technology tools I spoke about in my workshop offer supports and scaffolding for all types of readers.

Teachers can empower readers to use various technologies that will help them achieve
their personalized reading goals. Give students the opportunity to leverage
technology so they can be in control of their own learning is what Universal Design Learning is all about. Educators no longer need to be on top of students, coercing them to learn how to read. The idea of empowerment—giving students the technology, Fix It strategies, and choices that put them in control of the situation. You can empower ELLs, struggling readers and even reluctant readers to work on their weaknesses and hone in on their strengths, as well as to believe they can become more proficient readers.

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Edchat Interactive: Diverse Tools for Diverse Readers

For more information about Edchat Interactive check out their website for archived webinars and upcoming web events.

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