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. Discover More – WebDesign499

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

HELP! Me Unpack the Standards: A Framework for Teacher & Student Clarity

Adobe Spark (16)In just about any classroom I enter I notice a “Learning Objective” or “I Can” statement located at the front of the room. Sometimes this statement consists of underlined words, is laminated on a beautifully bordered sentence strips, or is hurriedly written with a black expo in the designated corner on the whiteboard. The teacher states the learning target at the beginning of the lesson and students copy it down, word for word, into their notebook. But, when I ask the students what they are learning and why I am continually met with blank stares… The frustration in the teacher’s voice is evident during the coaching conversation following the class. They can’t seem to understand how or why the “I Can” statement that is clearly posted never transfers or remains with their students.

I have found two major reasons for this phenomenon, and both are fixable. First, the learning objective is typically “owned” by the teacher and not the student. The teacher determines it, the teacher writes it down, the teacher states it, and then the teacher begins the lesson. For an objective, target, or “I Can” statement to be student-centered and student-owned there must be a dialogue between the teacher and the students involving the What and the Why. What are we learning? What is our goal? Why is it important? And what does success look like?

Secondly, a student’s misunderstanding of  the learning and why it is important often occurs because of the teacher’s surface level understanding of the standards. When a teacher’s understanding of the standards (whether local, state, or national) remains at the surface-level kids suffer. To truly have a deep understanding of the standards, teachers must be given time and support to unpack them independently and collaboratively. This unpacking helps to bring clarity to teachers and positively impacts student achievement. The following template was adapted from Hattie, Fisher, & Frey and provides guidance on digging deeply into the standards.

Standard

 

 

Concepts (Nouns) Skills (Verbs)

 

 

 

Surface Skills & Knowledge Needed

 

 

 

 

Deep Skills & Knowledge Needed

 

 

 

 

Enduring Understanding(s) Assessment

 

 

 

 

Unpacking the standards brings clarity to teachers which directly impacts students. Not only can learning and targets be expressed at deep levels, but when discussed with the students, achievement is impacted. When students wrestle with the “what” and the “why” of the learning objective or “I Can” statement understanding moves past surface to deep. And what you will find is a well-articulated response when you ask students what they are learning and why.

Consider These 6 Areas When There is a Glitch in Reading Comprehension

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Direct instruction in literacy should not end in elementary school. Students of all ages need continual modeling and practice of reading comprehension skills. And while many elementary teachers use running records to inform instruction, at the intermediate grades, this type of assessment can be modified to meet the needs of our older readers.

At the end of the oral reading, students retell what they had just read summarizing, analyzing, and connecting to the text. This retelling is preferred over the typical question-answer assessment for older students. Retelling gives us a glimpse into the reader’s cognition and provides valuable insight as to what was grasped and what may have been lost.

During the reflection with the student following the retell, teachers can hone in on 6 areas to identify possible sources that contribute to the breakdown of comprehension.

6 Areas to Explore when Reading Comprehension Breaks Down

  1. Background Knowledge on the topic. Do I need more information on the topic in order to understand the text? Would rereading or talking about it help me understand new concepts presented by the author?
  2. Vocabulary. Were there lots of words I’ve never heard of or seen in this selection?
  3. Cultural Differences. Is this about a way of thinking or pattern of acting that is different from mine?
  4. Word-Recognition Skills. Can I figure out hard or unfamiliar words?
  5. Comfort with the task. Am I worried about doing well?
  6. Responses to environmental influences inside and outside of school. Am I confident I can be successful?

(Based on the work of Mary Shea)

When teachers and students reflect and identify areas that contribute to the breakdown of comprehension glitches can be addressed efficiently. Teachers instruction is targeted and students understanding of themselves as readers grow enhancing independence and comprehension.

Digital Portfolios with Bloomz

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As a high school English teacher in a technology-rich school, I realized the importance of digital portfolios to capture and showcase learning. Upon graduation, each one of my former students left with both a digital portfolio and a YouTube channel accessible across platforms and shareable via links .

Can you imagine how powerful a digital portfolio would be if students began capturing their learning as early as elementary school?

A digital portfolio, I believe, holds 2 main purposes:

First, it is a curation of learning and experiences students can use in reflection. Reflection provides cognitive insight into themselves as learners, as well as an account of their learning journey.

Second, a digital portfolio is a living artifact in which students can share their skills, passions, and understandings with a larger community or a potential employer. Having a positive digital footprint is essential for young people. Employers and colleges rely heavily on what they see and read online about potential employees or students, a digital portfolio could help in this area.

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In a few of my more recent posts, I shared an exciting school to home communication app called Bloomz. Recently Bloomz launched another option perfect for students to demonstrate understanding and to enhance digital portfolios –  Video.  This new feature allows teachers and students to share videos via  phone or other previously recorded videos from the library.
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Student Timeline

The addition to the new video feature, Bloomz allows students full capability of creating a multimodal digital portfolio utilizing the Student Timelines feature. The Student Timelines feature allows teachers and students to post to the class feed as well to individuals (parents). Teachers can edit, annotate, and review work that students submit to their timeline before it is posted. Photographs, texts, and now videos shared in a Student Timeline provide a real-time insight into learning and conceptual understanding.

As you can tell, I am a huge fan of this award-winning app. As both a parent and an educator, I love when digital resources are agile in capabilities and serve multiple functions. Every student should graduate with a positive digital presence. Bloomz makes this easy to do with Student Timelines!

Technology and Student-Centered Assessment

Formative and summative assessment are familiar terms to most students and educators. When used intentionally, both assessment types can be used to identify student needs and help educators design differentiated learning opportunities. Student-Centered Assessment, on the other hand, is a less familar term with many educators. Student-Centered Assessment can be used during the process of learning, at the end of units, or even extend across a student’s year. The three key components that all Student-Centered Assessments have in common are: identified standards and learning targets, they are best utilized during the learning process, but can be adapted to also serve a more summative need, and finally, they are designed to be used by the student! Below are three specific examples, along with technology tools that I find fit the desired intent.

  1. Self-Assessment – When used while the learning is taking place, self-assessment is an effective tool which places ownership in assessing and learning back into the hands of the student. Self-assessment promotes learning by having students reflect upon their strengths and weakness in their own work. When used during the process of learning instead of at the end of the learning, self-assessments generate areas that are personal to the students, a time to revise and rework their product, and the ability to measure their work to the learning targets, standards, and personal skills. Self-assessment can be in the form of rubrics, checklists, or evidenced in written or oral responses.                 Google Keep would be an excellent digital tool to support the use of checklists in self-assessment. Google Keep is simple to use, easy to share, and is customizable for use. Google Keep Options
  2. Peer-Assessment – Similar to Self-Assessment, Peer-Assessment is best done during the learning process. In fact, it makes no sense to have students use this tool after the product is completed. Peer-Assessment employs students giving feedback to each other that is specific and evidenced by specific examples that are aligned to the learning target. Many educators find this tool great in theory, but students struggle when applying. Scaffolding, modeling, and clear expectations are needed to not only help students find areas of focus in another peer’s work; but also, explicit instruction and practice of soft skills that address collaboration and communication? How does one effectively work with a peer in a collaborative setting. What type of feedback is most valuable? With these objectives in mind, along with the professional understanding that the student doing the fixing is the one doing the learning; utilizing something like the “Suggesting” setting in Google Docs provides a digital tool to support Self-Assessment. “Suggest Edits” instead of directly writing on the work, editing, or even commenting, shifts revision and reflection back to the author of the piece.                          Adding Suggestions to Google Doc
  3. Portfolios – Two types of Portfolios are commonly used in the educational setting. First, a portfolio can be used as a “Process Portfolio”. A process portfolio would be documentation of a students growth, from novice to master, typically based within a unit and have an identified group of standards or learning target. When used throughout the learning, process portfolios can act as a documentation of a student’s journey in learning. It can help them set goals, and serve as a visual to remind students where they began and how their understanding transformed during the unit. A second type of portfolio found in educational settings is that of a summative collection of their best work. While examples of student’s learning could be placed throughout the learning process, a summative portfolio demands the student to reflect on their work throughout the year, evaluate it against the determined standards or learning targets, and then justify the pieces they place within the portfolio as the ones demonstrating their best work. Summative portfoliosare best used organically, and travel and change with the student as they progress through grades.                                                                      Google Sites would be a versatile, digital tool for either type of portfolio. From embedding images, documents, and videos; to uploading mp3s of vocal solos or embedding multimodal creations, Google Sites have always been a perferred choice with my former students.                                       Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 12.18.47 AM

Resource Used: Students at the Center