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

Part 2: 5 Quick Wins to Support English Language Learners in the Classroom

2018 Blog Post Images (1)

This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and their partner Digital Promise. All ideas and thoughts are mine.

Data, when used in telling a school’s story, helps to paint an image in the minds of those receiving the message. From test scores to computer use, educators and administrators alike rely heavily on statistical information to help make decisions, target funding and share their school’s story with all stakeholders. While test scores or computer use may vary to the extreme ends of the spectrum, one thing that is on the rise for almost all schools is the number of English Learners (ELs) in the K-12 student population. In fact, according to US Department of Education, over 4,800,000 ELs were enrolled in schools between 2014-2015.

From interactive charts to maps, Our Nation’s English Learners offers a multitude of stories about the students we serve across the nation. Much of the information may come as no surprise to teachers in the trenches supporting English Learners in their classrooms, but what does plague the minds of many of these same educators is how best to support ELs and what best resources and learning opportunities are available to hone their own craft while their student population changes.

I have recently begun a series of posts on this matter and its intersection in literacy teaching. You can read my first post Here. This post offers how all teachers can model language learning by using these 5 techniques as well as an extension to your own learning through micro credentials offered by Digital Promise.

First, all teachers, no matter grade or content area, can apply simple techniques in the form of modeling and instruction to support students in the classroom, especially ELs.

5 Quick Wins to Model Language Learning in the Classroom

  1. Model. Speak clearly and calmly. Use a constant and predictable speech pattern while utilizing repetition and visuals of important words and phrases. This helps to cue students into recognizing cues while listening or viewing that is important to their academic discourse.

  2. Discuss. Unless a beginning language acquisition student, give all students opportunities to talk, read and write during teaching. Encourage participation through carefully selected groups, partnerships, scaffolding, etc. Language learning should involve active learning. The more students are thinking about ideas, wrestling with texts, and using each other to co-construct meaning the more powerful the understanding of the content and language.

  3. Vocabulary. All learning is partially done via words. If students do not understand the vocabulary they have problems accessing the material. In addition, ELs have to learn a new language on top of the content. Teachers should preview material and pull out vocabulary to focus on with all students. Choose words that are conceptual and topical, ones that appear frequently, or are essential for continued learning. (If you are looking for more vocabulary information check out my post here).

  4. Differentiate. Along with previewing material for vocabulary instruction, identify ways to differentiate material based on student needs, interests, and multiple learning styles. Consider difficult passages or concepts that may need to be anchored to an ELs previous background or experiences. Present material in multiple modes, audio, visual, multimedia, and provide access and choice to ELs based on needs and preference. Eliminate confusion by ELs by connecting the topics studied to content that is relevant and engaging.

  5. Support. Remember that every lesson is not only focused on content but also an opportunity to be a language lesson for ELs. Provide multiple opportunities to practice words and sentence structures or grammar usage. Encourage support from peers and other partnerships that can be fostered to help ensure success. Use the home language for difficult concepts or abstract topics but avoid constant translation by adults or other children who speak the EL’s home language.

While all teachers may not feel equipped to teach language to our growing EL population, there are many quick-wins that all educators can start doing immediately to model and promote language learning in their classroom.

Second, educators can continue their own professional learning through connecting with and learning from a variety of supports. Connecting through social media avenues, book studies with colleagues, and one of my favorites, the learning available through Digital Promise. Digital Promise has built an innovative system of micro-credentials to recognize educators for the skills they learn throughout their careers in order to craft powerful learning experiences for their students.

As student populations across the country continue to change, the more information, resources, and learning opportunities for educators will provide the best learning for our EL students. Educators need to continue to invest in their own training and understanding on how best to support all students. We can all be models of language learning each day in our classrooms!

 

Embrace Your Vulnerability; Write In Front of Your Students

Adobe Spark (20)

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 “How do we better instill an idea of risk-taking and struggle in students? How do we do a better job of encouraging their failures rather than punishing them? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?”

Teaching writing is tough. When I speak to colleagues, other educators, or reflect on my own training, how to explicitly teach students to write was something that was missed for many of us in the education world. In fact, I don’t remember learning how to teach writing until I started my graduate work. With the lack of training, what typically happens is one of three things: teaching writing is in the form of grammar, usage, and mechanics rules and memorization; or teaching writing is having the students write a holiday essay or a 10 page research paper; or finally, teaching writing is not done at all, rather it is assigned.

Now you may be wondering how this addresses the question posed above… The most important thing educators can do to teach their students how to write is to write in front of them. I can think of nothing more powerful, or more vulnerable, than when a teacher writes in front of their students.

  • Writing in front of students does more to move a young writer forward than any grammar worksheet assigned.
  • Writing in front of students promotes risk-taking by the class as they become a community of writers.
  • Writing in front of students demonstrates the struggles all writers face on how best to articulate their thoughts, ideas, and messages.
  • Writing in front of students helps to demystify the magical aura that surrounds a perfectly polished piece of text.
  • Writing in front of students invites the community to know you and your story which propels them to share their own.
  • Writing in front of students provides a window into your mind as you work through the process of writing.
  • Writing in front of students demonstrates that hardly any piece of writing is perfect the first time, even the teacher’s piece.
  • Writing in front of students illustrates writing success is found through practice, lots and lots of practice.
  • Writing in front of students releases the protection of the process and struggle to the students.
  • Writing in front of students provides a model of real writing by an important person in their life.
  • Writing in front of students builds relationships and fosters empathy.

If we want students to be risk-takers, persevere through the struggle, and find success in the process then we must model that as the adult in the classroom. If we, ourselves, are embarrassed or nervous to write in front of and share our writing with students then how can we expect the same from them. The best writing is personal. It moves the readers to have an emotional connection to the story and to get the student’s best writing we must be a model of this vulnerability. The first step in the teaching of writing is to be a writer yourself!

10 Instructional Strategies for the Differentiated Classroom

new-piktochart_23292676_dcdad183320c183ec16c0ade9edbc8a638b8f6ec (2)

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.

 

How to Create a Google My Maps Challenge

Social Media Challenge

During a session at ISTE17, Steven Anderson and I created an interactive, group challenge to kick it off. We had educators assemble into teams, pick a team name, and gave them a link to a Google My Maps. The link took the teams to a location where they learned about a social media platform, had a task to complete, submitted their answers, and then raced off to the next location.

It was engaging, collaborative, and a competition which helped to energize the educators on the last day of the conference. As promised, I created a template and step by step directions for all those wanting to recreate their own Google My Maps Challenge. I encourage you to use both resources and make a copy for yourself to use and share.

I was introduced to this concept at the Google Innovator Academy and fell in love with the idea of using this type of challenge with educators and students. I have created these types of interactive activities for many different learning objectives (cross-discipline literacy to learning Google Suite Tools). I also believe that modeling this activity provides other educators with inspiration to try something different in their own classroom and consider the use of technology to differentiate in the classroom meeting the needs of all students. 

Thanks to all that attending our session and loved this activity! Hope this post helps and reach out if you need more assistance! Steven and Shaelynn’s Session Resources found here: Snapping, Gramming, and Scoping Your Way to Engagement