Using Menu’s for Differentiation

Differentiation is often thought of as leveling the content, but true differentiation involves options for the process and the product as well.  When students have choice in these options they become more invested in their learning which results in a better quality product.  Menu’s are an excellent strategy for providing students choice of their product.

The menu below is a great example of differentiation and was shared as part of a Tweet from TeachersToolkit.

3 Steps for Creating a Culture for Learning

Teachers tend to teach like they were taught.  That mold of teaching has been predominantly “I Do, Now you Do.”  Effective teachers incorporate an additional and pivotal step to learning, “I do, WE Do, and You do”.

Terry Heick at TeachThought has 0utlined the 3 steps for creating this culture.  

The article points encourages teachers to explore the gradual release model.

1. Show them

Model the “thinking habits, beliefs about self, and collaborative workflows that result in sustained critical learning.”

Demonstrate the think-alouds, reflective writing, metacognitive conversations, and other human practices and habits that lead to learning, and then reflect again on their impact. How they were successful. Where they fell short. What you might do next time.

2. Help them

The next step of the gradual release of responsibility model is to help students do what you showed them on their own. Put them in groups. Have them publish their thinking in a podcast. Give them soft cushions to land on when they fail. Offer strategies, coaching, and general support.

3. Let them

The final stage of promoting a culture of learning in your classroom is to simply get out of the way. Give them only just enough for them to take off on their own. A topic. A community. A project idea. An app. A problem worth solving.

Then let them show what they can do.

And if they just sit there like bumps on a log, go back to step #1.

You can find the full article here.


It’s Time To Plan For Struggling Students From The Beginning

This is a part of a post from Terry Heick from Teach Thought.  The article is very thought provoking and a great read.

An Overview Of How We Plan

If I begin curriculum planning by identifying “power standards,” designing big ideas and subsequent enduring understandings (using 40/40/40, among other local tools and initiatives/mandates), then deciding what forms of assessment will offer me the best evidence of those understandings (using 6 Facets of Understanding, again, among other tools), where does the differentiation-based-on-assessment-results occur?

Let’s say in an English-Language Arts classroom I design an assessment matrix or pattern of sorts where I would like for students to be able to explain the most significant difference between allegory and symbolism, then after a series of activities, 3 days later I’d like for them to apply what they’ve learned–e.g., use either allegory or symbolism to promote political propaganda based on audience and thesis.

After giving the assessment, 75% of the class is ready for the second assessment, but 25% are “stuck” back at assessment 1. Whether or not I’ve backward-planned with appropriately rigorous instruction, this is inevitable. So the remaining mountain for any classroom teacher once they’ve clarified what they want the students to know and how they can demonstrate that knowledge is what to do for those students who are not “demonstrating proficiency”–not “remediate struggling learners with additional homework/heterogeneous grouping, etc.”, but real, authentic instructional design that reflects the same intentional, best-practice planning the rest of our instructional planning does?

Schools and districts are scrambling to develop ways to react to this very predictable quantity of non-proficiency (remediation, RTI, etc.), but this can be a ham-fisted, sledgehammer approach where all “non-proficient students” are dealt with on the terms of that non-proficiency, often beyond the walls of their classroom, with other non-proficient peers, beyond the normal scope of school hours, etc., all requiring tremendous investment of time and energy on the parts of everyone–a noble response to struggling learners, but might there not be a way to use curriculum and instructional planning to plan for this in a more natural, we-expected-this sort of way?

I keep envisioning some sort of revision to how we plan–adding something to our mapping, unit design, or lesson creation that pre-emptively plans and accommodates for non-proficiency from the beginning, rather than assuming all students will meet all learning targets, and then offering a mediocre response when they don’t (not because we’re lazy, but because personalizing the learning of 30+ students in an outcomes-based learning environment with curriculum maps made by someone else is essentially impossible).

Literacy and CCSS: Removing the Stigma from the Struggle

As a rookie-teacher I remember the pain of introducing a topic/concept and watching students struggle with it.  Some innate force pressed me to prompt and cue students until I either gave them the answers or led the to door of it.  Ultimately, I found it much easier to give my students the answers instead of allowing them to explore the content and discover them.

The Common Core standards demand our students to struggle and for students to learn and grow from that struggle.

Ryan McCarty from the Teaching Channel has an excellent post on the importance of struggle in an ELA classroom.  In the article Mr. McCarty outlines how close reading allows teachers to allow the productive struggle, but still provide support for students in ELA.  He explains close reading as:

Close reading is an example of how students can struggle productively with complex texts. Though there are many approaches, close reading always requires multiple reads of a short, high-quality text, and ample opportunities for discussion.

3 Steps to Doing a Close Reading

1. What the text says: A typical sequence of close reading instruction begins with minimal pre-reading. Students do the first reading on their own to get a basic understanding of what the text says. They annotate what they think is important or what they find confusing in the text and then discuss with peers. It’s important that they should not expect to get everything the first time around.

2. How the text says it: Next, students read the text again, focusing on how the text says it; examining the author’s craft and structure to determine how the text works. This second reading may be accompanied by a teacher read aloud and think aloud targeting a related strategy. This is followed by a series of text-dependent questions.

3. What it all means: The third reading accompanies a discussion of what it all means. Students revisit the text to determine lessons or insights about the human condition, evaluate the arguments presented in the text, or make connections to other texts. Finally, they write a response, supported with textual evidence. This in-depth engagement with complex text as part of close reading will help students meet the CCSS.

The Full article can be found here.