4 EdTech Ways to Differentiate in a Student-Centered Classroom

2018 Blog Post Images (2)Co-Written with my friend and business partner Steven Anderson

In all the work that Steven and I do with teachers across the US and beyond we see educators creating amazing learning environments for students. From the use of 1:1 technology to enabling students to learn authentically, these really are incredible times to teach and learn.

However, among all the flash and pageantry there is a struggle. Educators are looking for ways to personalize the learning environment for every student while trying to find ways to differentiate; it can become paralyzing. On the one hand, they have the traditional methods of accessing content and assessing what students have learned. On the other, they have rooms full of technology but aren’t yet taking full advantage of that that technology can do for each student.

Carol Ann Tomlinson said it best:

“At its most basic level, differentiation consists of the efforts of teachers to respond to variance among learners in the classroom. Whenever a teacher reaches out to an individual or small group to vary his or her teaching in order to create the best learning experience possible, that teacher is differentiating instruction.”

Differentiation isn’t just something that some students need or some teachers have to do, differentiation is responsive teaching and a part of every classroom. Each student comes to the classroom with a variety of past learning experiences, prior knowledge and individual learning needs and styles. Whether it is to help a student who struggles to understand basic content, a student who just needs a little push to go deeper or a student who far exceeds our expectations and needs the opportunity to go further, differentiation should be and must be a part of every classroom.

Differentiation comes in many varieties. Teachers can differentiate into four classroom components based on student readiness, interest, or learning profile:

  • Assessment – Understanding what students know and still need to learn
  • Content – What the student needs to learn or how the student will access the information
  • Process – Activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of or master the content
  • Products – culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, and extend what he or she has learned in a unit

(There is also some evidence that differentiation of the classroom environment, the design of the learning space, furniture used, etc can also help with differentiation. If you want to learn more learning space design check out the work of Bob Dillion.)

When we layer technology into these 4 components, the process of differentiation becomes less daunting and more accessible to each student. Here are 4 Edtech Ways To Differentiate In The Student-Centered Classroom:

1. Assessment-Sometimes is seen as a four-letter word in the world of education, assessment, if done correctly can provide a mountain of valuable information that can help teachers determine where students are in their learning and where the teacher needs to go in their teaching. Particularly, formative assessment is the driver of differentiation of assessment. Formative assessment acts as a GPS, providing valuable information both the teacher and the learner. It provides timely feedback to inform instruction and make an adjustment. When the assessment is used to adjust instruction it crosses over into the “formative assessment” realm. This crossover helps teachers and students to see it, not as a test, but more as a process.

Technology isn’t necessary to do any type of formative assessment. However, if we layer in the effective use of technology into formative assessment we can not only reach students where they are in their understanding but look at trends over time and respond accordingly to our teaching.

Some Of Our Favorites:

2. Content-When many teachers consider differentiation they look to content as the way to do it for most students, and rightly so. Content is the foundation of learning and skills are applied. Therefore, if we can provide a way for students to access that content at their level, we can better meet their learning needs. Each student is (and should be) held to high standards. But we know not every student is on the same path for their learning. Through the differentiation of content, we can level the playing field for each student.

Technology has made it much easier and frankly more possible to differentiate content in new and exciting ways. In some cases, students can be given the same content, however it is tailored to their individual needs either through raising or lowering the reading level, providing more visualizations or still meeting standards but providing content that is interesting and exciting for students.

Some Of Our Favorites:

3. Process-Differentiation of the processes by which students learn is another traditional way that teachers provide different learning paths for students. For many students, the instructional practices are outdated and do not meet their needs. If we want to create an environment where each student can find success no matter their learning profile than we have to look beyond traditional pedagogy and meet students where they are at and how they want to consume information.

Technology makes the differentiation process easier. Accessibility tools built into modern devices make it easier for us all to use those devices more effectively and efficiently. And many of those tools can benefit all students. In addition, the idea of gamifying learning is gaining steam to provide an environment that is familiar to students but also is fun, challenging and rich with varied learning opportunities.

Some Of Our Favorites:

4. Product-Ultimately, students need to demonstrate their holistic understanding of the content. Traditionally that is done through a summative project. However, this method is flawed when we produce a list of items that students must include, the specific font to use, the number of cited sources, etc. That isn’t a project, that is a recipe. And recipes don’t belong in the classroom. Students need freedom of choice in how they demonstrate their understanding. That doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. We can provide creativity, choice, and freedom within boundaries.

Technology is truly transformational and students should be able to demonstrate understanding through a variety of transformational ways. This differentiation of product can look different for each student, however, at the heart are the same learning goals. Through the effective use of technology, students can do incredible things while still demonstrating what they know and how they know what they know.

Some Of Our Favorites

 

Want to learn more? You can grab a copy of our resources from our FETC 2018 Presentation or inquire about a workshop on EdTech Ways to DIfferentiate in the Classroom by contacting Steven, http://www.web20classroom.org/contact

6 Keys to Planning and Delivering Effective Professional Learning

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is If you were calling the shots how would you change ongoing professional development for teachers in your community?”

Five years ago I made the leap from the classroom to a consultant role and went from teaching kids to teaching adults. Currently, I support educators in the areas of literacy, technology, AIW, and project-based learning. Working with adult learners is both challenging and rewarding. At first, I was unsure if I was cut out for this new role but over the years I have come to embrace the challenges and celebrate the victories that transfer into wins for kids!

I will be the first to admit I still have room for growth and improvement as a staff developer, but I quickly learned there are major differences between pedagogy and andragogy (the art and science of adult learning). When working with adults I keep in mind 6 Keys to Effective Professional Learning when planning and delivering professional learning. Some of these ideas were introduced to me by Nancy Lockett, as well as through personal studies on my own.

6 Keys to Planning and Delivering Effective Professional Learning:

1. Respect – Establish and recognize the importance of verbal territory. With adult learners, it is essential to get them talking within the first 5 minutes so all voices are heard. It is also a great time to identify the vast knowledge and experience they bring to the learning by having them create a “Group Resume” with their combined years, areas of expertise, certificates, and passions. This could be done as a table and shared out as a large group. Taking time at the beginning of the day to do these activities sets a tone of I value You and, together, We have vast experience and knowledge.

2. Start with the why- Just as students in the classroom find relevance when they understand the Why, so too do adult learners. Right from the start, professional learning should include the Why with an answer to the question – What problem are we solving? Starting with the What, Why, and How satisfies the adult learners Need to Know. If you are unclear with the learning target and the Why, the educators will be too.

3. Opener vs IceBreaker – Openers, YES, IceBreakers, NO. A common mistake that facilitators of professional learning make is starting off the day with an irrelevant IceBreaker. Instead, try an Opener. An Opener should do three things. First, it needs to breaks preoccupation with all of the things that are weighing them down. Second, an opener should allow for networking. Third, an opener needs to have a training point. While there are many icebreakers out there to use, be sure to make sure you start with an opener instead. Get them talking about what you want them to be thinking about.

4. Inquiry-Based Professional Learning (ADA format) – When planning the bulk of the learning, I like to follow the ADA format, Activity, Discussion, Application. This format recognizes the importance of collegial collaboration and feedback. Through inquiry, adult learners construct their own knowledge; they Learn by Doing. Inquiry-Based Learning using the ADA format allows educators to Do, Talk, and Apply. It is through the conversations with colleagues and the personal reflection and application that the Why of the day is reinforced, as well as the personal application. It makes it relevant to them and their students!  

5. Progression of Learning – Before, during, and at the end of the professional learning it is essential to recognize and identify where individuals are in terms of the progressions of learning:

  • US – Unconsciously Skilled
  • CS – Consciously Skilled
  • CU – Consciously Unskilled
  • UU – Unconsciously Unskilled

This identification is important for both the staff developer and educator. The knowledge not only helps with differentiating the learning, but also provides the adult learner insight into their own beliefs, attitudes, and needs. Consciously Unskilled is the place where you lose most adult-learners when they realize that they have been doing it wrong.  

6. Closers – Finally, it is important to never shorten time at end of the day, always have a proper closing activity. The strategy that I like to use is Connect, Reflect, Direct.  Allow educators time to Connect to what they had learned throughout the day, Reflect on how it is applicable to them, their students, their instruction; and Direct on what their next steps are to achieve the goals they set forth from the reflection(either as a staff or individual).
Planning and delivering professional learning is both challenging and rewarding. It’s a chance to work with staff members on a common focus while differentiating to meet needs of all and personalizing to support individual growth. I am continually learning from others how best to develop my skills and hoped that I offered you things to consider. Please comment below with some of your favorite strategies or frameworks and check out this post Steven Anderson and I wrote about ways Connected Educators can continue to develop professionally. Enjoy the rest of your summer, August is just around the corner.

5 Practices to Stop Using NOW!

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I can’t think of one educator I have met throughout the years that has not had the best interests of kids in the forefront of their mind. Teaching is more than a job, it’s a passion, and teachers put in countless hours refining their craft. I, too, spend much time between the pages of research on best practices in literacy, supporting educators, and administrators who are involved in making decisions for their districts. In a recent post, I shared classroom practices that boost student achievement based off of the work from Hattie, Fisher, & Frey. In this post, I plan to use the same references and share 5 practices that are commonplace but hold no statistical data to support their impact on achievement. In fact, many of these practices actually hurt kids more than help them and should be stopped!

Stop These 5 Practices Now!

  1. Ability Grouping – A common practice that has no evidence to support use is ability grouping. When students are grouped and one teacher gets the lowest performing students, another gets the gifted students, and so on, there is no positive impact on student achievement (even with the highest group the effect size is minimal). In fact, ability grouping tracks students and limits their potential. Ability grouping also continues to place low expectations on the students who struggle keeping them at a disadvantage and increasing the gap. It also affects self-esteem and socially isolates kids. ***Ability grouping is NOT Needs-based instruction with flexible grouping. This flexible and often short grouping of students is valuable and supports student-centered teaching.
  2. Matching Learning Styles with Instruction – Another common practice that has no evidence to support it is matching your instruction to a perceived learning style of a student. While it is important to note that everyone has preferences on how they access and exchange information based on content, surroundings, etc. it is also important to understand that these preferences can and should change. To match one’s instruction based on learning style of a student is limiting and labels students. Acknowledge that there are learning differences and focus efforts on multiple practices that ensure all students learning at high levels.  
  3. Test Prep – The problem with teaching to the test is that it is usually done in isolation and has insufficient research to prove positive effect size on student learning. Taking time to teach students the format of the test is short and appropriate, isolating and teaching test-taking skills is a waste of time and energy. Instead, weave the skills necessary to think critically, comprehend and construct knowledge, and make a claim with sufficient evidence within the units you teach. Embed these essential skills as part of every lesson, project, or inquiry so that when the test is in front of them students are actually being tested on what they were taught instead of teaching to the test.    
  4. Homework – Hattie’s research supports the current debate on homework that has been popping up on multiple platforms. Homework has little to no effect on student achievement. Elementary students who were assigned homework showed the smallest effect size with a steady increase in effect size in middle school and high school. When students are emerging readers, writers, and learners as they are in elementary school, homework that is assigned as more practice on a skill they are just starting to learn often ends with frustration and struggle. Furthermore, in the upper grades, more homework is often not the answer for raising student achievement. “ Do not ask them (students) to create a school at home where many students need adult expertise; while nearly all parents want to help their students, some do not know how. Many parents can be poor teachers of schoolwork!” (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie).
  5. Retention  – Finally, grade-level retention is often based on poor literacy skills. Hattie found in his meta-analyses is that not only does this practice have no evidence to support it, the effect size is actually showing us that it is having the reverse effect and is harming kids. Retention often involves a student repeating the grade with the same instruction, curriculum, and support – why would we expect a change in student learning? Retention is damaging to the whole child and often leads to labeling, low self-esteem, and little to no increase in student achievement. Instead, focus should be on instruction and the RTI process to meet all student needs. Teaching is the greatest job in the world. The opportunity to impact a young life makes the pressures and demands worthwhile. And while no educator sets out to harm a child’s learning by poor practice, it is every professional’s job to understand where to focus their energy and use practices that will positively affect the students in their classrooms!

7 Characteristics to Look For when Purchasing New Curriculum/Programs

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It’s that time of the year again when schools across the country are looking to purchase new curriculum and programs. Often times the big rocks that make things best for kids are masked by bells and whistles. Part of my role is helping educators determine which programs and curriculum are right for their staff and students. I believe that no one program or curriculum meets all standards or needs of all students, but there are definite factors that schools should consider before purchases are made.

7 Characteristics to Look For when Purchasing New Curriculum/Programs

  1. Direction – Before making a purchase of new curriculum it is important to understand the mission and goals of the program. After an introduction to the program, educators should have a clear understanding of the direction the program intends to deliver as well as the means in which to arrive. Look for both a larger conceptual mission of the curriculum that reach both inside and outside of the school as well as smaller goals aligned with the mission.
  2. Standards – All teachers follow some sort of standards or guide in which to embed curriculum and write student learning targets. Whether you are using the Common Core State Standards or a different roadmap to guide instruction be sure that there is alignment between the two. I again want to reiterate that while no program or curriculum materials reach all Standards or student needs, there are definite discrepancies between the quality available from each company.
  3. Learning Cycles – Within each program or set of curriculum materials, there should be evidence of learning cycles. Look for assessment in both pre and post formats, objectives, steps, scaffolds, timelines, etc. When purchasing programs that are meant to meet the needs of students all of these factors come into play during instruction and learning.
  4. Resources – When identifying which programs or curriculum to purchase it is essential to consider the resources included (or not included) for successful implementation. Resources involve materials for both teachers and students, people and time, technology integration, and also alternatives. Having to create or find material, people, and time that was not expected at the initial time of purchase can be detrimental to any new program or curriculum.
  5. Professional Learning – Knowing what professional learning is available for programs and curriculum schools are considering purchasing helps plan for roll-out, implementation, as well as systemic change. Professional learning could come in a variety of forms from on-site training, manuals, digital resources, and communities. While purchasing high-quality materials is an investment in kids, a better investment is in the educators that are working with students. Do not neglect this area when making a purchase. What typically happens is spotty use and frustrated staff members.
  6. Student-Centered – When purchasing new curriculums or programs it is important to always keep the student at the center of your decision. Students should recognize themselves (backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, etc.) in the texts. Materials targeted to engage youth at appropriate ages. Subjects that are important and relevant to students. Does the material allow for choice in content or demonstration of understanding? Is there a variety of instructional styles designed to meet more than one “type” or student needs.
  7. Continuous Improvement – Finally, it is also important to identify resources within programs and curriculum that allow for interventions, spiral or scaffolded learning, enrichment activities, and multi-lingual support for our EL students. Do they value reflection and metacognition empowering students to own their learning?  Are there clear ways information and data collected informs instruction and supports educators enhance learning for ALL students in their classroom?

(Adapted from David W. Moore)

I also like to gauge the group whose charge it is to identify and select programs/curriculum to purchase. I use this form and share the results with the school leadership team so that all voices are heard. Feel free to make your own copy to use.

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Instructional Coach: Co-Teaching

In 2013, Iowa introduced the Teacher Leadership and Compensation System as a way to “empower our best teachers to lead the efforts in improving instruction to improve student achievement.” Many models created and adopted by Iowa Schools employ the use of instructional coaches. With a need for support in their new roles, I, along with many other Iowa educators, have had the pleasure to learn from Diane Sweeney and Leanna Harris, leading experts in Student-Centered Coaching and Jim Knight.

This past Monday, we gathered to hone coaching skills with Diane and Leanna. One activity Leanna had us collaboratively complete is a venn diagram comparing PLCs and Student-Centered Coaching. Fittingly, I was situated with Dave Versteeg, from Montezuma Schools; and two of his teacher leaders. Montezuma is a model PLC school, and their expertise offered great insight in this activity. Comparison of PLCs and Coaching Cycles (1)

Upon completing the exercise, Leanna stressed a point that resonated with the group. In summary, Leanna pointed out that one important way student-centered coaching differs from PLCs is the use of co-teaching. In fact, PLCs, with the absence of co-teaching, could be viewed as in a constant state of planning.

As a literacy coach, supporting reading and writing workshop teachers; this is an area I plan to focus on. And through a collaborative conversation with both Leanna and Diane, there are many variation to co-teaching. Three main ones I share include:

Modeling – A traditional type of co-teaching is modeling. An expert teacher models, demonstrates, or shows the partnering teacher how to instruct. Modeling is designed to span the whole class period where the partnering teacher is observing and noting instructional moves displayed by the expert teacher or instructional coach.

Micro-Modeling – Micro-modeling is a partnership in planning and delivery between the instructional coach and partnering teacher. During the planning session, each educator designates specific parts of the lesson they will deliver. For example, the instructional coach may deliver the minilesson during the writing workshop, demonstrating sound pedagogy in the specific area the partnering teacher designated. The partnering teacher may then agree to deliver the instruction for the small groups.

Tandem Teaching – Tandem teaching is a partnership where the coach and teacher work together in the classroom, almost “feeding” off of each other. This requires a trusting relationship, a true partnership in learning, and adept understanding of strengths and areas of focus each has in the classroom.

 

Frequently, I admit, I get stuck in the observation mode, while the learning and implementation comes from a true partnership. Co-teaching is an excellent example of an effective, student-centered coaching technique, resulting in classroom transfer. While tandem teaching is the ideal state of the coaching relationship; there are times and content areas that impede this endeavor. Instead, focusing on micro-modeling allows a coach to focus on instruction rather than content, supporting educators pedagogical growth.