Monday, March 28, 2011

Addressing Diverse Student Learning Needs- Free Webinar

Is anyone planning to "attend" this? I thought it would be worthwhile to put it out there. You can't beat FREE!

Addressing Diverse Student Learning Needs
Thursday, April 7, 4 p.m. EDT
Also available "on demand" any time 24 hours after the event.

Free registration is now open.
On account of both demographic changes and evolving school instructional policies, many teachers today face an increasingly wide range of student learning differences?be they academic, behavioral, physical, or cultural?in their classrooms. Even experienced teachers often do not feel fully prepared to meet the challenge of addressing such varied needs. The 2010 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, released this month, finds that 60 percent of K-12 educators say strengthening resources and programs to help students with diverse learning needs become college- and career-ready should be a top priority in education. The survey finds that math teachers, in particular, struggle with differentiating instruction to reach all learners.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Think Big, Start Small

I read an article on eHow.com that got me thinking about a couple of things related to planning for differentiated instruction. I’ve decided to write several blog articles related to this topic. I have included excerpts from the eHow article that sparked my thoughts.

When thinking about differentiating our instruction sometimes we get caught up with the all the "cool things" we can do with the students. I've done this more than once. What started as a very focused planning session about meeting various learner needs turned into an elaborate project that included a class store with “money”, bookkeepers, team leaders and a competition. The students loved it and were engaged, however, when it came time to assess the students’ learning I was hard pressed to identify the demonstrated standards and skills. I ended up using hours of precious class time on a project that was not focused on the skills and standards that my students needed to master.

This is why I feel so strongly about planning backwards and starting with the big picture (state standards). When designing lessons, whether they are differentiated or not, start with the question, “What do students need to demonstrate so I know that they have mastered the standard/skill?” Stray as little as possible from the answer to this question as you plan learning activities. How much time and energy should be spent on spelling, punctuation or pretty pictures, unless that is the objective of the lesson? There will be some details you add to the activity to make it more engaging. For instance, creating a real world experience will take a little extra time and there will be extraneous learning that takes place, but students will be very engaged.

Robert Marzano has said our education system would have to be K-22 in order to teach all of the state standards adequately. More and more education leaders agree that teachers must start teaching the “power standards”.  Daniel Venables, author of The Practice of Authentic PLCs (2011), recommends that teacher teams consider two criteria when determining which concepts or skills are worth teaching in depth.  Prominence- how often does is this concept or skill show up on the state standardized tests?
Vitality- “How vital is knowledge of this topic to later skills or coursework?” (Venables, 2011)
It is necessary to trim curriculum. Teachers should be making executive decisions about what they can realistically teach in depth. I would much rather know that my students have mastered 80 – 85% of the curriculum vs. being exposed to 100% of it.

Knowing what to differentiate and what not to differentiate can also be a difficult task. I like to keep my analysis simple. Using my instructional experience from previous years or the experience of others to make these decisions. If you have taught a particular lesson or unit and it was difficult for many students, this is a good place to differentiate. Likewise, if a lesson you have taught in the past was easy for many students then you want to differentiate your instruction for those students to give them a challenge. Include opportunities for all students to process content in multiple modalities in every lesson.  Most importantly, start small.

Excerpt from: "How to Implement Differentiated Instruction in the Classroom"
By Lynn Wolf, eHow Contributor

Balance learning goals, curriculum, and student needs.
1- Know the instructional goals and objectives for your content area, and allow these standards to guide the lesson planning process. Decide which units of learning align with which standards and group those units together. 


2- Use departmental or district curriculum to support, not lead, the learning process. Detailed curriculum provided by departments or school districts is sometimes more of an obstacle than a helpful tool, as teachers can get caught up in the desire to "fit it all in." Planning based solely on the required curriculum leaves out the personal learning needs of the student. Using state learning standards for the grade and subject area provides a broader base from which teachers can start their lesson planning process. 


3- Decide what standards lend themselves to effective differentiation. Trying to create differentiated lessons for all content standards can be counter-productive. Some standards -- like basic math operations, for example -- must simply be taught and mastered. Helping students develop math problem solving strategies, however, is a lesson that can be taught in a variety of ways. Teachers and students can work together to find the strategies that work best for each student, based on the student's learning style. Students can demonstrate their mastery of this skill in different ways, such as successfully completing a written assessment or creating an oral presentation on how to solve problems using his or her preferred method.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Video archive of your teaching

After posting my thoughts about the TED video, I continued to "process" these ideas. There are so many possibilities that I had to post about this again.

What if teachers recorded their mini-lessons and had them available to their students 24/7? It could be a great review for students who need a refresher or for students that were absent.
How about using them in centers? Ask students to improve on the teacher's lesson. Hmm. "How could your teacher explain this better?"
What could you do with mini-lesson recordings of several teachers on a grade level? This would open the boundaries of classrooms. It would allow for students to experience a variety of teaching styles.
What ideas can you add? Please join this conversation!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reinventing the way we "do" school

I love TED.com! I have to thank my husband for introducing me to this website and sharing great ideas with me.

So much of the school day is taken up by the delivery of content that not much time is left for the processing and mastery of skills and concepts. This was part of a discussion I had at an elementary school yesterday. Teachers voiced frustrations over the "amount" of content that is being added to the curriculum and with no more time in the school day teachers and students feel rushed. Learners need time to process new information before mastery can be achieved.

What does "processing time" look and sound like? It can look and sound different in every classroom, but it is vital to any successful learning environment. Students need to be discussing, debating, organizing, playing, evaluating, teaching, writing, creating, acting, collaborating and moving! This is hard to do with students when much of the time a teacher spends with his or her class is spent delivering content.

Watching this video, I had an Aha moment, because if you consider "flipping the traditional teaching script", teachers would have much more time with their students during the processing time. Teachers would have quality time to help students wrestle with important ideas. Students that need reinforcement of skills and concepts would have access to their teacher when they need it, instead of realizing they don't "get it" after school hours.

This is not meant to replace the teacher in the classroom, instead maximize what great teachers do best, making learning challenging and exciting.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What do you think?

Have you seen Bill Gates latest comments about good teachers? I think it is fascinating, some it of it I agree with, some of it I am not sure about.

Watch this video and tell me what you think.
Bill Gates- TED speech

1. Seniority pay. There is something to be said for experience, but shouldn't there be other factors that are considered?
2. Advanced degree "bumps". An advanced degree may not translate into higher test scores for students, but teachers who take the time and money to advance their own education are at least headed in the right direction. This is worth something, right?
3. Video taping teachers to determine effective teaching practices. Amen. Yes, this is what we should be doing, studying all sorts of teachers and figuring out what really works. The real trick after we figure out the "formula", will be to recreate this in all classrooms. Hmmm? Just because this works in one classroom, does that mean it will work anywhere? No, it won't. Teachers will need to be given an array of strategies and ideas that they can put in their toolkits to use when they determine appropriate. A solid understanding of their students and differentiated instruction will make these strategies useful.
4. Class size. I agree that great teachers who agree to take on extra students should get paid more. I also agree that I would rather have my child in a larger class with a great teacher than a smaller class with a mediocre teacher. However, there has to be a limit, even the best teacher in the world can't reach 40 kids in one class.

We are discussing the details of such an overwhelming issue. I hope these discussions continue and society doesn't bore of the minutia. All of this needs to be sorted out and it will take time, a lot of time.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

A few of my favorite quotes:

"With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street."Oh the Places You'll Go

"He meant what he said
And he said what he meant..."Horton Hatches the Egg


"A Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz, as you can plainly see!" Dr. Seuss's ABC


"I say, Hooray for the shapes we're in!" The Shape of ME and Other Stuff

What are your favorites?