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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


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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Posted by on in Differentiated Instruction


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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Posted by on in Differentiated Instruction


“In teaching others, we teach ourselves.”   – Proverb

DeweyMeeting individual students’ needs is an often-elusive goal for American educators. For as long as I can remember, we’ve been learning about and promoting “differentiated instruction,” or providing different students with varied approaches to learning. Certainly a lofty goal, but our industrial-era school system was designed for groups, not individuals. Consider the classroom design of the typical schoolroom: rows of desks all pointed toward the front of the room. Group instruction is based on rigid and fixed schedules regulated by bells, mass movement of large groups of students, standardization of assessments and “batch” organization of students. That model served us well from the 1800’s through the 1900’s.

Times are changing. Scores of research reports inform us about more effective ways to facilitate learning, and the buzz around differentiation is growing. Educators and school systems are more interested in how to incorporate differentiation into their approach. The good news is that information on how to differentiate is all around us. Studies focusing on everything from neuroscience to instructional practices inform us of the need to change and the ability to do so.

Early in my career, I published an article that touched on the subject, sharing this story:

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Posted by on in Differentiated Instruction

I've been rethinking and reevaluating my role as a classroom teacher quite a bit lately, often by posing questions such as "Would I enjoy being a student in my own classroom?" or "Would I teach the same way if my own child was one of the students?" These questions, I must admit, allowed me to see my own classroom from a rather perspective unusual.

A couple of weeks ago, I got even a better question. It happened during a professional development meeting where  we were discussing a book on teaching grammar. In one of the chapters, the author posed this question: "What can I give my students that they cannot find on their own?" While the original question was asked in a different context, I immediately thought it would be a great question to ask about teaching in general. Certainly about my own!

"What can I give my students that they cannot find on their own?"

To a large extent, I feel that the answer is in what Will Richardson calls the "Age of Abundance". Honestly, with so much knowledge and information available to students 24/7/365 at their fingertips, what can I offer them that they would not be able to find online?

The answers I have come up with so far are - the guidance, vision, and practice that they won't easily find on the Internet, no matter what key words or phrases they use to search.

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