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Posted by on in Differentiated Instruction

In the past, I’ve written several articles about the myths that prevents many teachers from using Differentiation as an integral part of how they meet learner needs.

They have resonated with educators who comment and share these articles with colleagues. I often hear how the articles empowered or gave teachers permission to do more. Best of all, most express finding affirmation for what they are already doing, which is one intention of these articles: Teachers do differentiate, whether unconsciously or with deliberation.

It’s time to change the focus from the myths to the truths. What are the realities for Differentiation?

There are many. Here is the first:

Differentiation starts with learners.

The standard language for Differentiation was introduced early on by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Susan Allan in books in 1999 and 2001. It’s a language that continues to work today, as I note in So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation.

Learner Relationship1

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Posted by on in Differentiated Instruction

Image result for chicago bulls

Defense wins games; rebounds wins championships.

As a sports fan and a former basketball coach I’ve seen this to be a truism. Take the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. Michael Jordan was the leader who could will a victory from games that should have been lost. While an offensive force, he and Scottie Pippen lead a team defense that when unleashed left opposing teams in tatters. Both would consistently win Defensive honors and 3 consecutive championships from 1991 to 1993. Their second 3-peat championships from 1996 to 1998, was again driven by defensive wizardry as Dennis Rodman joined Jordan and Pippen to become a three-headed monster. Rodman dominated the boards for rebounds.

Phil Jackson, coach of the Bulls, is the other critical factor to the Bulls’ Championship success, but also for 3 championships under him by the Los Angeles Lakers. Winning and losing is a game of adjustments. Phil Jackson is a master at making adjustments throughout a game that helps his teams win.

In classrooms, teachers make adjustments every day in each lesson. Each course and/or content lesson is like a game where effective teachers make adjustments based on the continuous flow of observational data from students' progress and/or struggles. A well planned unit includes lessons that prepares for students who succeed to easily and for those who will struggle. Anticipating how students will respond, as with athletic coaching, enables the teachers to plan scaffold supports and enrichment extensions so that all students are stretched. But as with any plan, once implemented, things can and will go awry.

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Posted by on in Differentiated Instruction

Teachers are superheros! 

When students struggle with a task (e.g. reading), understandably, they may become unmotivated to do that task. As expected, much of the time when students struggle to decode (turn words into sounds that they can understand), they do not read as much. This is a tragedy for two reasons- one, because there are several, well-documented ways to teach decoding. Second, students with the Specific Learning Disability, dyslexia, have average to above-average intelligence by definition (i.e. in order to obtain the diagnosis). However, if students limit their reading, then their background knowledge, vocabulary, and general comprehension can be impacted.

It is our jobs as teachers and educators to ensure that this worst case scenario– in which children with difficulty decoding don’t read, and therefore become less able to understand complex information– does not happen for our students. “When children beat their heads against a wall of failure for several years, they are often scarred for life” (Wolf & Stoodley, 2007). Therefore, first and foremost, students with dyslexia should receive direct, explicit instruction from a reading or learning specialist or special educator so they can learn to decode. Decoding intervention is one of the most studied and most successful interventions there is. An Orton-Gillingham based approach (which is a hierarchical, multi-sensory approach to reading instruction) helps students with dyslexia learn to read with astonishing success (it even changes the structure of their brain!).

 Dyslexia is not something people outgrow (which is positive considering all the benefits it has), but decoding struggles are absolutely something that students can be instructed beyond. Reading may always be effortful and slow for individuals with dyslexia, but it is an injustice if any student cannot properly decode words when there are evidence-based ways to instruct students in decoding.

How Technology Helps

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Posted by on in Differentiated Instruction

RIGOR

Do we all define rigor the same way?

With rigor being one of the biggest buzz words in education right now, teachers and administrators have to make sure we are all on the same page regarding what we believe it means.  Like many concepts in education, rigor is a word, heard often, but never really explained. It's an expectation, an outcome, a belief - one never normed or calibrated, just expected and understood.

Like with many concepts where meaning is assumed, there seems to be a miscommunication that few are willing to address; we just "assume" we are all talking about the same thing and go about our own definitions in our own spaces, sadly in isolation.

When we use big terms like "rigor" or "learning" or "mastery", seldom do we talk about what it actually looks like and how we can achieve it. "Engagement" seems to come up often when discussing any of the above as one of the measureable factors to ensure they are happening, but that too is extremely subjective.

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Tagged in: Learning Rigor Twitter

Posted by on in Differentiated Instruction

Hike

While visiting a high school in Michigan, I talked to students about their learning experiences. Understanding what they saw as valuable could have an important impact on how the teachers may strive to further elevate student voice in the school. One senior shared a perspective that I repeatedly heard from others. “I want more times when I get to say how I make products for projects. Not just do papers. Maybe videos or some other way to do the work.” Students want opportunities to forge their way for learning. How can we as educators share the reigns of instructional learning experiences?

 

A common practice used to engage students is to give them choices for how they can create products to demonstrate their learning. This is a good practice as some learners struggle when not given options. From a management perspective, choices jumpstart students into the tasks at hand. Yet choices do not equate to student voice.

 

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