10 Instructional Strategies for the Differentiated Classroom

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In a Differentiated Classroom, teachers begin where students are, not from the front of the textbook. They recognize the strengths and areas of growth in each individual and use multiple instructional practices to meet student needs and boost them up a level. No student’s roadmap for learning is identical to anyone else’s and differentiating in Process, Product, & Content recognizes these differences.

Carol Ann Tomlinson is a leading expert in this field and I often draw upon her work to support literacy learning in the classroom and with teachers. Her methods and instructional practices are practical and applicable to any grade level or discipline. It is the teacher, not a set of curriculum materials, that makes the difference in the learner’s achievement. Teachers who differentiate shape what is learned, how it is learned and the learning environment based on the student.

The “How” in a Differentiated Classroom is often the area most educators find most challenging. Because of this need, I highlighted 10 Instructional Strategies (based off of Tomlinson’s work) that promote differentiation in the classroom. Just as all learners are different, so too are instructional practices and a classroom full of individuals may require the savvy teacher to employ multiple practices simultaneously.

 

7 Virtues of a Blended Learning Teacher

Adobe Spark (17)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 “To what extent is this a new model of learning in a digital age? Is blended learning becoming yet another overhyped myth?  What lessons learned can you share from your own school community?”

Blended learning is a disputed term among academics and one may find what it is NOT, rather than what it IS. In 2009, I entered the world of blended learning after the school I taught at implemented a 1 to 1 laptop initiative which placed computers in the hands of all students (grade 6-12) that they used in the classroom and brought home with them each night. Because of this experience and through conversations I have had with other educators in similar education ecosystems, I believe that blended learning is a combination of traditional teaching methods and digital ones, this in different languanges.

Educators who are sound in content and pedagogy are often high-impact blended learning teachers as well. Through reflection and conversation, blended learning teachers possess similar virtues:

Teacher Virtues:  

  1. Uninhibited Creativity in delivery and content of learning
  2. Sees Failure as Opportunities for Growth and gains achieved through perseverance
  3. Seeks out Opportunities for Improvement
  4. Reflective in Practice and on student achievement
  5. Student-centered and Relinquishes Control of elements in traditional teaching
  6. Sees Technological Differentiation as a Way to Meet All Students’ Needs
  7. Recognizes Multidimensional and Multimodal Learning as Relevant and Engaging

Teacher virtues in both a traditional or blended environment extend across both and most, are interchangeable in either environment. Technology or blended learning does not automatically make one better. In fact, through experience, it does quite the opposite, magnifying poor classroom management or lack of understanding of content or pedagogy. Effective blended teachers are always effective classroom teachers but the opposite may not be true. To be a high-impact blended teacher it takes creativity, understanding, resourcefulness, and reflection in a digital learning space.

10 Ways Parents Can Support Their Young Readers

Adobe Spark (15)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 When it comes to fostering a lifelong love of learning,  parents who support you in your role as a teacher are important;  so what are the Top 10 (or less)  things you want to tell all parents?

One of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child is to foster the love of reading. It is through books that young readers can travel to faraway places, develop empathy for someone different than themselves, or learn how to build the ultimate fort out of things they find in the garage. While most parents agree that reading is important in all areas of life, how to foster a love of reading and support their young readers remains a mystery.

Here are 10 Ways Parents Can Support Their Young Readers:

  1. Read Aloud – The single most important activity for building literacy experiences is reading aloud to kids of all ages. From birth to age 3, young children who are read to develop listening and verbal skills at a greater rate. They also start to associate reading with the pleasant sound of their parent’s voice, understand how books work, and begin to use early literacy skills in play. Students of all ages benefit from hearing books read aloud to them by building background knowledge, hearing good readers use the dimensions of fluency, as well as enriching their own vocabulary. (Inspired by Steven)
  2. Choice, not Chore – Another way parents can support their young readers is to present reading as a choice, not a chore. Encourage their literacy journey by giving them choice in what they read. Giving kids a choice in what they read not only improves their literacy skills but also increase engagement. When parents focus less on minutes read and more on providing book options in areas that interest their kids, everyone wins.  (Inspired by Mr. Vince)
  3. Find the Right Book – While not every book can be the one that hooks a lifelong reader, any one book can, so never give up. When a child loses interest in a book, has trouble reading for a sustained amount of time, or complains about a book it’s time to close the cover and find a new one. Children do not have to read every book they choose from beginning to end. In fact, children may abandon a book for a variety of reasons before finding one that captures their attention. The key for parents is to never give up. Continue to share books, articles, and magazines that may interest your child. Visit the library and find support in librarian who have a number of titles they can share based on interests, genres, or authors. Websites for finding books for kids: Biblionasium, Goodreads Kids List, What Should I Read Next, Common Sense Media Best Books for Kids, Children’s and Teens Choice Book Awards.  (Inspired by Helena)
  4. Fostering Curiosity – Another way parents can support their young readers is to demonstrate how questions can be answered through reading. Reading is both for pleasure and for learning. Ask questions, spark wonderings, and then turn to books and text as a way to find answers. This powerful process of answer-seeking not only demonstrates ways books can be used but also helps to make the thinking visible and hopefully transferable into their own life. Reading, writing, and thinking with their child promotes the recursive nature of the three.  (Inspired by Fran) 
  5. Model a Readerly Life – Parents, teachers, and peers influence a child’s life with parents and teachers having the most impact. When parents model a readerly life this transfers to their children. Making time to read each day with your child and talking about books models habits that readers do and in turn children mimic. Parents can model a readerly life by simply reading their own book at the same time their child is reading their book. When children see their parents valuing reading they understand the importance of a readerly life.  (Inspired by Amber)
  6. Make it Social – In school, reading is often times done in isolation. Minutes are tracked, tests are taken, and projects are done for an audience of one. As adults, when we turn the final page of a book that we can’t put down we immediately want to talk about it, interacting with others who may have read it, or sharing in hopes that someone else will be inspired to read. Parents can make reading social with their child in a variety of ways, ask questions and listen when a child finishes a book. Read a book together and use an interactive method (Dialogic Reading) of reading to encourage talking about a book. Parents can also make reading social by participating in book clubs with their children or sharing online interactions with other readers through websites such as  Goodreads (if a child is old enough have them create an account and start sharing). When parents think of a sharing good book as they would share and talk about a good movie, children shift from viewing reading as isolating to a social activity.
  7. Surround Children with Text – Good readers often recall being surrounded by text in the home. Parents should fill not only their child’s bedroom with books and other types of text but multiple areas in the home. Books on shelves, magazines on tables, poetry on the wall, and kindles on the sofas immerse students into an environment that promotes reading. Not all books need to be new or owned, garage sales are perfect for finding books and libraries help to keep new books in the home. When children have access to books and are surrounded by text they are more likely to pick it up and at least thumb through the text.
  8. Digital Text – Through digital text parents can also support young readers. Access to books, nonfiction, and poetry has never been easier than it is currently. While many parents are hesitant to use technology to provide access to reading material the thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t have to be either print books or digital, but instead it is both. There are many apps, websites, and resources that parents can use to foster a love of reading with their child. Epubs, audio texts, and interactive books can all have a place in the routines established. Check out Epic, Storynory,  Project Gutenberg, Newsela.
  9. Interest not Level – Another way that parents can support their young readers is by making reading joyful and engaging by keying in on your child’s interest rather than focusing on reading level. While it is important to decide if a book is developmentally appropriate for your child, as well as being accessible, limiting what your child reads because of their designated Lexile or reading level doesn’t take into account the picture of the whole child. Children who are interested in a topic or have experience and background knowledge are likely able to read and comprehend difficult text. Listening to music and discussing song lyrics from their favorite artist is another way to spark interest in reading by recognizing your child’s interests. Have a child who loves to write and read poetry? Introduce contemporary writers whose novels are written in verse helps to ignite your child’s love of reading. By starting with something children are familiar with and passionate about instead of their reading level helps children enjoy reading. (Inspired by Erin) 
  10. Community Connections – Finally, parents can support young readers by taking advantage of community connections. Visit libraries and partake in their free reading programs for kids (This year’s summer theme is Build a Better World). Make time to stop into the bookstore and explore the shelves. Build your own Little FreeLibrary and place it somewhere in your neighborhood to spread the joy of sharing books. Reach out to schools and retirement homes to inquire about opportunities for your child to read to or with adults. Reading is a priority across the nation, in communities, and schools; making those connections with your child makes it a priority in your home as well!

Reading is joyful, social, and a lifelong skill that every child needs throughout their life. Parents can play an active role in their child’s literacy development through a variety of ways. The possibilities are endless and the above 10 are ones that were inspired by friends, fellow educators, and my own learning in the area of literacy. Please comment below with additional ways parents can support their young readers. Did I miss any of your favorites?

Special thanks to the following who all contributed to this post in thoughts and words:

Steven Anderson

Amber Teamann

Erin Olson

Fran McVeigh

Helena Brothwell

Mr. Vince  

3 Essentials for Success in a Blended [Literacy] Classroom

Adobe Spark (13) (1)This post is sponsored by ThinkCERCA, an online platform designed to empower teachers to personalize literacy instruction across disciplines.

The use of digital learning spaces has exploded in use in classrooms nearly everywhere. Through Learning Management Systems (LMS) many educators are moving to put content online and extend learning beyond the four walls and beyond the school day. This Blended Learning approach is both beneficial but its definition can be tough to nail down. Blended Learning is different than merely integrating technology into the classroom. It provides all learners the ability and opportunity to contribute both openly and differently than they would in a traditional classroom. Simply putting a lecture online and calling it blended learning doesn’t cut it. Students need opportunities for collaborating with peers, creating new ideas, and formatively assessing their knowledge, all taking place in the digital environment.

When done correctly, any classroom can benefit from the blended approach, literacy classrooms especially. Literacy learning is unique in that there are both concrete and abstract concepts that work well in face-to-face teaching and in the digital space. We believe there are 3 essentials for success in any blended literacy classroom.

 

  1. Maximizing Physical and Digital Space – In a blended literacy classroom, success is partly attributed to identifying the “best” practices in both the traditional classroom and a digital space and blending them together. Whole class literacy instruction is best-done face to face. From the modeling of the teaching point to the scaffolding of the active engagement, a physical space in which students can gather and learn is preferred. Co-constructing anchor charts and a quick formative assessment during the active engagement provides educators timely information in which to inform instruction. On the other hand, enrichments for learning, differentiated content, and substantive conversations to construct knowledge may be best in a digital space in which the teacher can support student needs on a larger scale and students can personalize learning anytime and anyplace.  When one considers student needs in both a physical and digital space the list looks similar:

 

Instructional Practices Physical Space Digital Space
Whole Class Purpose: Gathering area to learn and share as a whole class, direct instruction

What it Looks Like: A carpet or rug, open area to accommodate students, transition or movement of bodies/tables for older students

Purpose: Shared digital space by all classmates and teacher(s)

What it Looks Like: A forum or class-stream where everyone can view, post, and comment. A repository of accessible resources, information, and tools that students can utilize during learning.

Independent Purpose: Student area to work, learn, and create on their own
What it Looks Like: A desk, table or flexible furniture from Ivy and Wilde, storage space(see selfstorageprices.org.uk), materials
Purpose: Student area to work, learn, and create independently
What it Looks Like: Individual student logins, profile page or virtual “locker” to store materials, information, creations
Small Group Purpose: Area designated to work as a small group of peers or a teacher working with a small group
What it Looks Like: A table; grouping of desks, chairs, or pillows; flexible for student needs and task intent
Purpose: Area designated to work as a small group of peers or a teacher working with a small group
What it Looks Like: A breakout room, group room, or other “digital space” language that designated a spot for students to work together. It may also include a way to assign and share resources peer to group or teacher to group
One on One Purpose: Area designated for partner work, peer conferencing, or teacher to student conferring
What it Looks Like: Conferring table, flexible seating, teacher moves to student
Purpose: Similar to small group with the addition of private peer to peer feedback, teacher to student feedback, messaging
What it Looks Like: Space used can be similar to a small group. Ability to target and differentiate messages and feedback to an individual or privately. Private assessment and gradebook
  1.  Fostering Collaboration and Communication – Although most of our students do not know the world without the internet, collaboration and communication in a digital space does not come naturally to them. In a blended literacy classroom, students are sharing their writing, participating in literature circles, creating multimedia projects in small groups, and providing feedback to each other. A blended environment asks educators to not only support student learning in content areas, it also requires special consideration on how best to grow and support students in a healthy and safe reading and writing community. These skills are often overlooked but essential for success in a blended literacy classroom. To do so, we must foster digital communication and collaboration skills that will impact not only their current learning but their digital footprint as well. One of the best ways is to co-create and establish norms for the blended literacy classroom. Digital space expectations would include communication, collaboration, sharing, messaging, appropriate use, etc. Here are a few to get you started:
  • Communicate effectively when in a digital space.
    • ALL CAPS = Shouting
    • Know your peers/partner/audience, is text lingo appropriate?
    • 3 before Me – have 3 other people read before you publish
  • Recognize all voices in group and peer to peer spaces.
  • Be careful when using jokes or humor online, it is hard to convey meaning through text alone.
  • When providing feedback to peers address them by name, use the PQP Strategy (Praise, Question, Polish), be specific, and sign your name at the end.  
  • During a class discussion on the forum: Be Engaged, Be Active, Be Reflective

 

  1. Accessible Texts and Materials – Finally, recognizing the capability of differentiating content based on student needs in a blended literacy classroom is an essential component for success. With the access to information and support from platforms like ThinkCERCA, blended learning should not limit student choice to one particular text or resource. In fact, through collaboration with the librarian or media specialists, student choice in what they read should increase exponentially. A digital text that is linked to an LMS (Learning Management System) is not blended learning. Blended learning in a literacy classroom includes multiple texts and information that are high interest and available at all independent reading levels. The Common Core State Standards are end goals that are scaffolded and applicable to any content which is seen in the expert reader. Expert readers apply similar skills no matter what they are reading. These transferable strategies are what we intend to fill our students’ toolboxes with and are done so through text in which they can independently access. And just like the fluidity of student interests, so too is their independent reading level. It can change based on prior knowledge, motivation, or interest. When students have endless access to information and texts everyone wins. Fill your blended literacy space as you would a classroom library; full of books, informational texts, articles, media, and audio at all levels and interests!  

 

These 3 Essentials for Blended [Literacy] Learning help to maximize the digital space to support all young readers and writers. Intentional virtual spaces, scaffolding collaboration and communication, and surrounding students with high-interest, accessible texts promote literacy learning and help to raise student achievement that will last a lifetime.

 

Want to learn more? Check out the Administrator Guide to Personalizing Literacy Through Blended Learning from ThinkCERCA! There is also a great webinar on crafting Scalable Blended Literacy Programs worth a watch as well.

Shaelynn Farnsworth is a Digital Literacy Expert in the Iowa. You can follow her on Twitter @shfarnsworth
Steven W. Anderson is a Digital Teaching and Relationship Evangelist. You can follow him on Twitter @web20classroom.

Write. Create. Publish: 4 Student-Centered Writing Projects to do Before Summer Break

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At dinner, I was informed by my third and seventh grader that they had 23 days left of school. Wow – 23 days – the school year has flown by. As the weather turns warmer and classroom windows begin opening once again, it is important to maximize the small amount of time we have left with our students. Writing and sharing their voice with the classroom and globe will foster engagement, relevance, and practice with essential skills all students need.

Below are 4 of my favorite Student-Centered Writing Projects to do before Summer Break:

  1. Future MeScreenshot 2017-04-25 at 9.52.30 PMFutureMe.org is a free website that allows students to send an email to their future self. Users get to select the date it will be delivered, whether the letter is private or can be posted on a public forum, and can attach images to the email. Students will love seeing an email pop up in their inbox that they had forgotten they wrote. While content can be a variety of things or left entirely up to the student, here are a few questions that my students loved to write about: What are you most proud of from this year? What is one new thing you want to try this summer?  What are you going to miss the most from ___ grade? Who did you get to know better this year? What are your goals for next year?
  2. Curated Google SiteScreenshot 2017-04-25 at 10.11.40 PMAt the end of each year, create a memory website full of pictures, videos, and student work samples. When I did this in my classroom, I had students share their favorite pieces with me so I could collect and curate them in one spot. This reflection can be coupled with writing where students are  The new Google Sites is perfect for this type of project. Living in the cloud, Google Sites is accessible for everyone and it integrates easily with Google Drive making curation easy! No Google Sites, don’t worry, Padlet would work too!  
  3. Flipgridflipgrid_all_devicesCatch the# FlipgridFever and have students create a Grid of Gratitude for support staff or retirees. Flipgrid is a collaborative video discussion platform that lets users create and respond to each other via video. Use Flipgrid to thank support staff in the building or a beloved teacher before they retire. Creating short videos is engaging and meaningful to students and allows them to use a contemporary mode to share their thoughts.  
  4. 6 Word MemoirClass of 2012 6 Word MemoirsCredited to Ernest Hemingway for writing the first, 6 Word Memoirs is a favorite writing activity to use at the end of the year with students. Having students share who they are at this moment in time using only 6 words requires reflection, analysis, and succinct writing. Adding an image or video to the project reinforces the multi-modality that can be used to share their work with a public audience. As a teacher, they were always my favorite writing projects to read. Here is an example from my former classroom  Student Examples Check out Smith Magazine for more publishing and sharing opportunities for students!

Soon, students and teachers alike will be leaving the doors for the last time to begin summer break. Make these last days together impactful, encouraging growth in self, and fostering relationships. And please share! If you try any of these ideas, tweet and share a picture to #MakeLitREAL