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.

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

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.

5 Practices to Stop Using NOW!

@shfarnsworth (3).png

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

2

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.

screenshot-2017-02-24-at-1-53-48-pm

6 Practices that “Work” to Accelerate Student Learning

small-group-instruction-reading-and-writing-2

In education, we are often inundated with programs, curriculums, and frameworks that are “guaranteed to increase student learning”. Promises of a silver bullet that will fix all learning difficulties find their way to teachers and administrators alike. But as John Hattie points out in Visible Learning, it’s hard not to show growth or “evidence” for a program when the bar is set at zero.

As I began my study of Visible Learning for Literacy, much of the initial learning was not concentrated on what works in literacy, but what accelerates students’ learning in any classroom. Hattie identifies what works in education based on his research and a hinge point of .40 or greater. (The hinge point is any influence with an effect size of .40 or greater as having a positive impact on learning where acceleration extends beyond what a student can achieve in one year of simply attending school.)

Identifying high-impact influences and practices enhance an educator’s role as they reflect and evaluate their teaching by placing research and evidence in their hands. “What Works” in the classroom shifts from a buzzword to intentional practice that will accelerate learning. While Hattie identifies many influences above .40, I’ve narrowed the list down to 6 that apply to all educators.

6 Practices that “Work” to Accelerate Student Learning

  1. Teacher credibility (.90 effect size) Trust, competence, energy, enthusiasm, and consistency are among the top characteristics students consider when determining if their teacher is credible and if they are going to choose to learn from them.
  2. Teacher-Student Relationships (.72 effect size) Positive teacher-student relationships involve trust, fairness, open communication and maintenance to sustain and impact student learning.  
  3. Classroom Management (.52 effect size) Students understand expectations and are consistently held to those expectations. Promotes healthy relationships with teachers and peers.  
  4. Self-Reported Grades/Student Expectations (1.44 effect size) Students set their own goals, monitor their own achievement, and reflect upon their process of learning.
  5. Teacher Clarity (.75 effect size) Learning targets are clear and articulated with success criteria. Students should be able to answer: What am I learning today? Why am I learning this? How will I know that I learned it?
  6. Feedback (.75 effect size) Just-in-time feedback identifies where the student is at, what the expectation is, and actions they can take to close the gap.

Simply put, be genuine and clear, relationships matter, create a safe environment that nurtures independence, and feedback moves students not grades!