Differentiation: Workshop Framework to Support All Students

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 3.55.32 PMA week after an invigorating ITEC conference, Matt Degner, a principal in Iowa City shared a blog post with me from a teacher implementing Genius Hour in his classroom. Matt and I have had many conversations about this topic, and while his teacher spoke about the various tasks students in his room may be working on; I realized, for many, constructing a framework that supports student-directed learning is difficult for many educators. Breaking the traditional model of a factory-like education system, where all students are expected to be in the same place and on the same content, is a daunting expectation.

Channeling my personal experiences with Genius Time, mixed with the instructional framework of Atwell’s Workshop Model Classroom and the refined learning from my experience at the Teacher’s College in New York this summer, it dawned on me that the Workshop framework would be ideal in this type of setting.

My Advice:

End Goal: A deep student understanding of a concept while honing skills necessary to tackle any project-based exploration. Through Genius Hour, or Passion-Based Learning, we want students to become experts in a particular area, obtaining a depth of knowledge that is transferable to multiple situations the concept is placed within.

Skills: For this area, the advice of my friend Cornelius Minor is a constant reminder! Identify the skills necessary to move all students forward. What does this type of exploration and eventual sharing of learning have in common no matter the student-chosen content?                                                        **********Teach the STUDENT, not the assignment!*****************                                      Example skills may include, developing a driving question that is unGoogleable, gathering reliable and relevant sources, or communication through writing.

Instruction: The beauty of the workshop framework is that it allows multiple student and teacher activities to be taking place in one class period. The 3 major type of instruction include:

  1. Whole Class Instruction – Identify a teaching point, decide on mode of delivery, model, practice and send them off to continue application. This should be streamlined to take 10-15 mins.
  2. Small Group Instruction – Identify a common need with a small group of students. Intentional learning with modeling, application, and follow-up is a basic template. Targeted instruction to enhance student application of skill identified. During small group instruction, it is an excellent time to leave specific “mentor texts” behind for continued reflection and application.
  3. One on One – During independent work time, teachers can confer with students about their progress, success and challenges, in order to collect formative assessment. This general pulse of the class allows future instruction that is targeted and relevant to the needs and end goal.

Share/Reflection: The workshop model also builds in the value of reflection and the sharing of work within the framework. Many times the learning is in the Process, not necessarily the end product. The sharing of their learning is not only valuable in Genius Hour, but in many other projects. A different audience than the traditional, lone teacher increases engagement and relevance and demonstrates the application of learning beyond the four walls.

The Workshop Framework is versatile to fit any content and time restraints. To orchestrate differentiation within the classroom, the focus must be clear and the ability to get many “plates” spinning at the same time an objective. The framework allows all students to progress simultaneously no matter where on the continuum they enter our room!

Digital News Sources for Students: A Companion to Investigative Journalism

Have I mentioned how much I love my job? This summer I had the opportunity to attend the Teacher’s College Summer Writing Institute in New York. Along with honing my craft, I had an opportunity to connect and converse with Cornelius Minor. (and although he compared our love of literacy and technology equaling a comparative job/education role, he is much, much smarter than I am and works at a Global level,,, but more about that in a later post)

Part of my duties this year include “coaching” (I use the term coaching loosely because I learn far more collaborating and reflecting with these 2 educators; Jen Paulsen and Megann Tresemer,  than I would solo) two 8th grade teachers that are implementing Lucy Calkins, Writing Workshop Units of Study. Currently, the students are writing as investigative journalists.

As the first sentence in this Unit of Study states, “Journalism is the literature of Democracy” (Mary Ehrenworth and Cornelius Minor). Investigative Journalism blends informative writing with narrative writing providing precise details and intentional narrative techniques. Students learn about the 5Ws found in Investigative Journalism (Who, What, When, Where, Why) refine skills in observations, details and craft, write their own pieces and push themselves to be better writers through the aide of mentor texts, instruction, and individual conferences with an expert teacher.

Today, after the weekly observation and reflective conversation, Megann and I were discussing the types of news sources current day students and adults read regularly. While we both acknowledge the role and preference of traditional print sources in many people’s lives. Megann and Jen work in a middle school which implemented a 1 to 1 educational environment this year, meaning that they gave every student a Chromebook to use in school and bring home with them every night. (So, with my 6 years experience of teaching in a 1 to 1 setting I was a perfect fit for this district).

Our conversation spurred a retrieval of digital  “News Sources” I have collected throughout the years providing a starting place for Megann and hopefully an addition to your own collection.

1. Newsela – A nonfiction site that is updated daily for with real-world news and differentiated by reading level. Students can become part of the global conversation!

2. Flocabulary Week In Rap – Fostering a love of learning in a mode that students love! Videos and Hip Hop keep students informed.

3. Kicker – Getting up to speed quickly and easily with the current happenings of the world. Accessibility for all readers on top stories!

4. 10 X 10 – Shared to me by my friend Erin Olson, 10X10 appeals to the visual learner. It is described as “an interactive exploration of the words and pictures that define the time.”

5. New York Times Learning Network Blog – A place for students and teachers to read, write, collaborate and share based off of the content in the New York Times!

Finally, don’t forget to collect and share student writing examples as well. Megann directed me to the high school’s online News Source called Tiger Hi-Line, a perfect, local example to inspire her middle schools students!

I am Not a Reading Teacher

“Gatekeepers of Information” a term often associated with overzealous technology directors who overblock websites denying students and teachers access to information.

I want to offer a different lens on the “Gatekeeper” label to include educators who claim no responsibility in the teaching of literacy strategies because they are not the “reading teacher.” When one takes this stance, students are denied skills, strategies, and opportunities to understand content specific rhetoric. The teacher, once again, becomes the “gatekeeper” of information; the lone expert in the class able to decode foreign concepts or understand information as if by magic. This logic only strengthens the dependency of the student on the teacher, contradicting the goal of education; to move all students towards independence.

Take, for instance, the following example of a typical 8th grade science test question:



The annotations I provide highlight areas that a science teacher could model as literacy skills. The goal of literacy across discipline areas is not to have all teachers require students read Huck Finn, but to teach students the necessary skills needed to read, write, and think like a “scientist” or “mathematician”, etc.

Most educators enter the profession with an open heart and a passion for teaching. They often find teaching students how to read and write a daunting task. They do not know where to start, how to assess, or lack confidence in their own skills. With this in mind, I offer the following advice.

5 Simple Starts to Tackle Content-Specific Literacy

1. Vocabulary – Identify common words that are specific to content areas, terms that are needed to build a foundation.

2. Structure/Format – Recognize the format a text uses is important to understand the type of reading required. Headings, Bold Faced Words, Glossary, Pictures or Diagrams; all of these things provide information for the savvy reader.

3. Organization – Content specific rhetoric often has repetition in organization. Cause/Effect, Chronological, General to Specific; identifying how the author organizes a text will help students locate needed information.

4. Mentor Texts – This term often confuses many educators because of the formal tone, but simply stated, a mentor text is any piece that provides a solid example that students try to mimic in their own writing. All teachers should have a collection of mentor texts (including their own writing) that students can dissect, study, and keep as a reference.

5. Model your thinking – Finally, as the expert in the room, modeling your thinking aloud makes clear strategies used to uncover the meaning of the text or question. This consistent modeling, paired with gradual release, will increase a student’s own learning strategies and provide needed practice which eventually leads to independence


Best of luck! Literacy Rocks!

Advice That Hurts…

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As I prepare to begin my second year as a consultant for a state organization, a conversation I had with an administrator many months ago weighs heavily on my mind. Actually, one sentence he stated specifically.

“If you want to make any sort of impact on education you need to get back into a building, not work as a consultant.”

Upon the completion of my graduate degree, I knew I wanted to pursue a different type of leadership role within the education field. I debated, and am still debating, if being a principal or superintendent is the right calling for me, but I knew it was time for me to take a new career path. As luck would have it, a position opened up that provided opportunity to blend my passions of literacy and technology while assisting districts with school improvement initiatives. As I explained to my son one day, my new role would allow me to have an impact on the education of many students across the state. I was proud of this opportunity.

That is, until I realized that some view my job as detached and uninspiring.

The one sentence mumbled in the middle of a conversation is something I think about weekly. And although I do not have a clear opinion yet, I reflect upon it often.


to be continued….

Educator Blog Meme

(I began this post many months ago, but as we all know, life gets busy. With summer here, I finally have time to revisit and complete!)

1403839512248Like attracts Like, and such is the case in the field of education. Passion, innovation, and a collaborative spirit drives many educators to continue their personal learning long after the work day is complete. Conferences, lectures and edcamps provide learning to hone craft and pedagogy while networking with colleagues about improving education for all students. It was at one of these edcamps that I met Aaron Becker and we became fast friends. This past August we reconnected at a beginning of the school year conference where Aaron encouraged me to share my story and start blogging again. So it is only fitting that he nominated me for the PLN Blogging Challenge.

Here are the rules I have been given:

1. Acknowledge the nomination blogger.
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4.  List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition.
5.  Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate and let all the bloggers know they been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

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Random Facts About Shaelynn

1. I was born in Nebraska, grew up in Colorado, and moved to Iowa before high school.

2. Soccer is my Sport. I was the only girl on the Mason City Varsity Co-ed team, captain of the Cedar Falls high school women’s team the first year the program began, and coached Wartburg College Women’s Soccer Team while a student at UNI.

3. I am claustrophobic.

4. I met my husband while in college, and during my first year of teaching he suffered through phone calls from my students asking him when he was going to propose.

5. My sister is my best friend!

6. Reggae is my music of choice. On a visit to Jamaica, I had the privilege to see Ziggy Marley in concert.

7. Sparked by a Twitter connection, I took the AP Literature class to Sweden to meet their virtual classmates face to face. For two of my students, this was also their first airplane ride.

8. My parents are high school sweethearts and model the meaning of “Family” daily!

9. Most of my most meaningful connections with educators/colleagues began on Twitter. Erin Olsen!

10. I am a secret gamer!

11. Finally, over the past three years I have lost over 70 pounds, obtained a Master’s Degree, and took a new job! Whewww…

Aaron’s Questions

1.  What was your favorite book to read as kid?..as an adult? As a child I was obsessed with Judy Blume! As an adult, my two favorite reads are Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, and The Stranger by Albert Camus.
2.  Who are two of your favorite athletes? Of course Mia Hamm ( American Soccer Player) and Lolo Jones!
3.  Your favorite teacher/coach in high school or college…why did they mean so much to you? My favorite teacher was Ms. DeMoss. She was my senior English teacher who instilled the love of literature in me and had high expectations for all students! 
4.  If you were to host a Super Bowl Party, what foods are you having? Wings, nacho dip, Dorritos, M&Ms, RockStar, and a veggie tray! 
5.  Where is a vacation place you went to as a kid or adult that would you recommend to others? Negril, Jamaica! I have been there multiple times and would recommend the white-sand beaches to anyone.
6.  What are two things on your bucket list that you just have to do yet? I want to travel to Greece (loved teaching Mythology) and I want to publish a book!

7.  What is a something you wished you had more training on in college prep for an education career? Looking back, I think I could have benefitted from more training on assessment!
8.  If you were to go back in time, who would you like to hang out with for a day? I would spend the day with my maternal grandfather. He died before I was born and I would love have a day to converse and create a memory that I could carry with me! 
9.  How do you like to spend your time when you aren’t in school? I enjoy spending time with my children and husband, time outdoors and reading!

10.  What is one of your favorite leadership quotes? “Our Power as individuals is multiplied when we gather together as families, teams, and communities with common goals”
11.  If you could change one thing in education, what would it be? I would ensure that every student who entered the doors of a school has meaningful relationships with adults and peers that foster a culture of belonging!