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

Instructional Coaches: A Benefit to Schools

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In the early 1990s, there was a surge of instructional coaches in the area of literacy. From that point forward, Federal and State Initiatives have supported and encouraged schools across the country to implement support to colleagues through the use of coaches. Throughout the years, roles, titles, and job descriptions have morphed into what we have currently but the focus has remained comparatively similar to its inception: How can coaches support colleagues in pursuit of refining their practice to directly impact student achievement.

My current role allows me not only coach teachers in multiple districts, but also allows me the ability to work with and coach the coaches in the districts we serve. Because of these experiences, I believe there are 3 Ways Instructional Coaches Benefit Schools:

  1. Transfer – If you ask any educator to share the initiatives and focus areas in their building the list would be lengthy, filled with three-letter acronyms, and perhaps, attached to a SMART goal. While there are no shortages of initiatives to implement or professional learning for these initiatives, consistency in implementation and transfer into the classroom rarely happen at a systems level. In buildings with instructional coaches, I have witnessed a more systemic transfer of professional learning and initiative implementation into the classroom. Through one to one or small group coaching, educators attest to the support that coaches provide on a continuous cycle long after the initial learning is completed. Effective instructional coaches also use a variety of tools, checklist, or Innovation Configuration Maps to reflect and have conversations with colleagues on what implementation with fidelity may look like. Through these coaching cycles, support is personalized based on self-identified needs.
  2. Personalization – Instructional coaches play a support role to teachers instead of an evaluative role. Relationships and respect are forged and areas identified in which to focus efforts. Modeling and co-teaching, 2 effective strategies coaches use, are often sandwiched between a pre and post conversation. And just as every student in the classroom may have a different learning pathway to the same end goal, so to do teachers. Building Principals may be able to support staff growth on a macro level, individual growth at the micro level is achieved through utilizing instructional coaches. Personalized professional growth for every staff member at a consistent and continuous level is possible with a competent and supported instructional coach.
  3. Leadership – Finally, schools benefit when teachers have leadership roles. From helping to build consensus to identifying student and teacher needs with data, kids win in buildings with instructional coaches. Teachers are the ones doing the work in the classroom. Their actions directly impact students and it is essential to have their voices “at the table” when professional learning is planned or vision and goals are formed. Instructional coaches allow teachers to have a leadership role in buildings without having to be a principal or obtain an additional degree. It is through leadership opportunities like this that help schools retain good teachers and improve the pedagogy of all.

Instructional Coaches are continuing to support teachers and students through consistent, high-quality continuous improvement. Throughout the years we have witnessed educational trends, all in an effort to boost student achievement. Collegial support through coaching helps all schools which impacts the bottom-line, the students!

 

Resource: Denton, Carolyn A, & Hasbrouck, Jan. “A Description of Instructional Coaching and its Relationship to Consultation.” Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation. 2009.  

Everything You Wanted to Know About Formative Assessment But Were Afraid to Ask…

Recently Steven Anderson and I had an engaging discussion on the topic of Formative Assessment for ACER Education. Check out what we had to say.


Some of the highlights:

What Is Formative Assessment—As you can tell from our video, there are many ways to describe formative assessment. Simply put, Formative Assessment is taking a pause in learning to ensure students are where they need to be for a particular lesson. The best formative assessments are subtle, giving teachers an overall picture of how students are learning and adapting to their immediate needs. Think of it as a GPS for the teacher—knowing where students are in their learning and where you should head in your teaching.

Formative Assessment could also look like “check-in” questions at the end of a lesson or class, offering valuable information on which direction to head next. Formative Assessments should not be graded assessments. At the end of the day, the goal is to get a pulse on what students know and how effectively the teacher is teaching the material.

But Why Formative Assessment-From the ASCD Book Formative Assessment Strategies for Every Classroom: An ASCD Action Tool, 2nd Edition, Susan Brookhart explains that:

Formative Assessment refers to the ongoing process students and teachers engage in when they:
● Focus on learning goals.
● Take stock of where current work is in relation to the goal.
● Take action to move closer to the goal.

Students and teachers who are engaged in the Formative Assessment process are constantly examining how teaching and learning work as one If we look at Hattie’s Effect Size, or practices that best move student learning forward, Providing Feedback, Providing Formative Evaluation, and Self-Questioning had anywhere from a 0.64 to 0.68 effect size. What do these results show us? These studies show us that students and teachers who engage in the Formative Assessment process learn and retain more information compared to take-home homework.

Low-Tech Formative Assessment- Technology can make the collection of data related to Formative Assessment easier, but it’s not necessary. We’ve seen a variety of different low-tech ways to gauge student understanding. From dry erase boards where students can write the answer to a question, to sticky notes exercises that can act as an open-forum, Formative Assessment does not require a large investment to make a large impact.

Is There Hardware Designed For Formative Assessment? In fact, there is. Shaelynn and I are partnering with ACER Education to take a look at their new TravelMate Spin B118. It’s a dynamic, classroom-specific device that was built with Formative Assessment in mind. It comes with their ACER TeachSmart software that makes use of LED lights built into the lid of the device. This allows the teacher to ask Formative Assessment questions in the middle of a lesson and students can change their lights simply and easily. The lights could stand for anything—ABCD, Yes/No, I’ve got it/I don’t understand.

The TravelMate Spin B118 is also equipped with a digital pen and Windows Ink that allows users to sketch, map, annotate, and draw with the ease of a traditional pen and the magic of digital ink. The visual aspect of this tool is not only beneficial for teachers to model skills to students, but students are able to brainstorm, ideate, and prototype during the design process, making this an invaluable tool in the classroom.

Our Favorite Apps and Tools For Formative Assessment We’ve talked about how Formative Assessment can be done without tech. However, when we add that layer into our teaching and learning, we can do so much more. There are many (free!) apps and tools out there that achieve this.

Nearpod— Create lessons and sync them across devices in the classroom, with built-in tools for questioning, drawing, audio and video responses.
RecapApp— One of our favorite tools built for Formative Assessment. Available on any device, students can record their thoughts and feelings on any given lesson. There’s also a questions tool where feedback can be posted.
EdPuzzle— Add an interactive layer to YouTube videos. Teachers can build in short questions at various points in the video to ensure students are getting what they need out of it. This is also great for data collection and seeing how students’ progress over time.
Flipgrid— A very cool way to post video questions and gather responses. Videos can be shared so students can see where their peers are in their learning as well.
Padlet—A virtual board for multimodal sticky notes. Great for tickets out the door or reflection activities.

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6 Keys to Planning and Delivering Effective Professional Learning

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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 If you were calling the shots how would you change ongoing professional development for teachers in your community?”

Five years ago I made the leap from the classroom to a consultant role and went from teaching kids to teaching adults. Currently, I support educators in the areas of literacy, technology, AIW, and project-based learning. Working with adult learners is both challenging and rewarding. At first, I was unsure if I was cut out for this new role but over the years I have come to embrace the challenges and celebrate the victories that transfer into wins for kids!

I will be the first to admit I still have room for growth and improvement as a staff developer, but I quickly learned there are major differences between pedagogy and andragogy (the art and science of adult learning). When working with adults I keep in mind 6 Keys to Effective Professional Learning when planning and delivering professional learning. Some of these ideas were introduced to me by Nancy Lockett, as well as through personal studies on my own.

6 Keys to Planning and Delivering Effective Professional Learning:

1. Respect – Establish and recognize the importance of verbal territory. With adult learners, it is essential to get them talking within the first 5 minutes so all voices are heard. It is also a great time to identify the vast knowledge and experience they bring to the learning by having them create a “Group Resume” with their combined years, areas of expertise, certificates, and passions. This could be done as a table and shared out as a large group. Taking time at the beginning of the day to do these activities sets a tone of I value You and, together, We have vast experience and knowledge.

2. Start with the why- Just as students in the classroom find relevance when they understand the Why, so too do adult learners. Right from the start, professional learning should include the Why with an answer to the question – What problem are we solving? Starting with the What, Why, and How satisfies the adult learners Need to Know. If you are unclear with the learning target and the Why, the educators will be too.

3. Opener vs IceBreaker – Openers, YES, IceBreakers, NO. A common mistake that facilitators of professional learning make is starting off the day with an irrelevant IceBreaker. Instead, try an Opener. An Opener should do three things. First, it needs to breaks preoccupation with all of the things that are weighing them down. Second, an opener should allow for networking. Third, an opener needs to have a training point. While there are many icebreakers out there to use, be sure to make sure you start with an opener instead. Get them talking about what you want them to be thinking about.

4. Inquiry-Based Professional Learning (ADA format) – When planning the bulk of the learning, I like to follow the ADA format, Activity, Discussion, Application. This format recognizes the importance of collegial collaboration and feedback. Through inquiry, adult learners construct their own knowledge; they Learn by Doing. Inquiry-Based Learning using the ADA format allows educators to Do, Talk, and Apply. It is through the conversations with colleagues and the personal reflection and application that the Why of the day is reinforced, as well as the personal application. It makes it relevant to them and their students!  

5. Progression of Learning – Before, during, and at the end of the professional learning it is essential to recognize and identify where individuals are in terms of the progressions of learning:

  • US – Unconsciously Skilled
  • CS – Consciously Skilled
  • CU – Consciously Unskilled
  • UU – Unconsciously Unskilled

This identification is important for both the staff developer and educator. The knowledge not only helps with differentiating the learning, but also provides the adult learner insight into their own beliefs, attitudes, and needs. Consciously Unskilled is the place where you lose most adult-learners when they realize that they have been doing it wrong.  

6. Closers – Finally, it is important to never shorten time at end of the day, always have a proper closing activity. The strategy that I like to use is Connect, Reflect, Direct.  Allow educators time to Connect to what they had learned throughout the day, Reflect on how it is applicable to them, their students, their instruction; and Direct on what their next steps are to achieve the goals they set forth from the reflection(either as a staff or individual).
Planning and delivering professional learning is both challenging and rewarding. It’s a chance to work with staff members on a common focus while differentiating to meet needs of all and personalizing to support individual growth. I am continually learning from others how best to develop my skills and hoped that I offered you things to consider. Please comment below with some of your favorite strategies or frameworks and check out this post Steven Anderson and I wrote about ways Connected Educators can continue to develop professionally. Enjoy the rest of your summer, August is just around the corner.

5 Videos to Cultivate Empathy in Students

 

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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 cultivate empathy in our students? What role do educators play in creating kind and compassionate students?”

 

Shortly after Christmas, a new student registered and was placed in my freshmen English class. He was quiet, spoke broken English, and wore the face of a person twice his age. Burim, along with his mother and sister, fled the war-torn Bosnia in search of a better place to live. One without bombs, death, and violence; and he, fortunately for all of us, ended up in small-town Iowa. His classmates had no insight into the life that Burim has called normal for the past fifteen years. They woke up in peaceful homes with food on the table before they left in their new car to travel the 5 miles to school. As a teacher, I struggled to find the best way for classroom relationships to form between the refugee and the midwestern students. I didn’t want them to have sympathy for Burim, feeling bad that he witnessed his brother killed before his eyes, avoiding bullets and bombs as he protected his mother at a young age; instead, I wanted the students to have empathy for our new classmate. I wanted them to feel WITH Burim.

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“I want students who are not only best in the world, but best FOR the world,” (Erin Olson). The average person spends around 15% of their life in school from grades K-12, that’s about 12 years of teachers, classrooms, learning, and tests. But school is far more than content, learning involves the development of the whole child and as teachers are charged with a hefty task when you consider the quote above. Not only are we charged with educating kids in the areas of literacy, math, and science; but also developing the EQ skills needed to create productive adults and compassionate citizens.

As a literacy teacher, I cultivated compassion in the classroom, for Burim and others, through reading and writing. Storytelling allows students to socially construct feelings and emotions that allow us to feel WITH a person (empathy) not just for a person (sympathy). Empathy and storytelling transport us to another person’s reality, allows us to understand their perspective, and recognize and communicate these emotions. There are endless lists of books for all ages that educators can use in the classroom to cultivate empathy (Great one from Common Sense found here). Technology also affords us a digital form of storytelling through images and video.

Media Literacy has provided new modes for students to construct an understanding of emotions and experiences from people far different from themselves. This ultra-connected age we are living in brings opportunity to foster empathy not only for those close to us but on a global level. Combining the elements of visual, audio, design, images and video are powerful ways for students to empathize with others. It sparks discussion and action. As educators, we can utilize media as a way cultivate the whole child and foster compassionate and empathetic citizens of the world!

 

5 Videos that Foster Empathy

 

 

 

 

 

(This one was created by former students of mine, moved by empathy, wanting to make a difference)

Finally, 16 interactive images which show the realities of children. (Click on the background of each photo)

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Cultivating empathy is part of an educator’s job. There is no test to measure progress or a set curriculum to determine what is taught. Instead, empathy is fostered through modeling, discussions, reading, writing, and creating. And like most things that aren’t measurable on a standardized test, empathy is more important in life and directly impacts the society in which we live!

I love when people share additional resources with me! Here are more videos to consider