Ramblings. Musings. Required coursework.

Month: January 2017

Week Two Reflection

I introduced the Zeigarnik Effect to Mariah as she intervenes to prevent students from stalling to answer a question while waiting for her to provide it. Although she’s skeptical that it may not fully apply to math, she indicated she would look it up and possibly share it with her students.

I attempted to reframe Jim’s use of the “clichéd” (his terminology) term life-long learning. Particularly from the perspective of a history teacher, I believe much of what we provide for our students, beyond our content, are environments to practice the life skills they need to be successful adults. I asked him to consider teaching students things such as motive, bias, and critical review (again, history perspective) to move them towards becoming a more informed populace. As I said to him, I think this is much more exciting than teaching “just” content.

Although we weren’t able to converse about it, Jule’s blog really made me think about how educators are often asked to do more with less. Her blog gets to, what I think is, a more fundamental struggle of teaching. While we know there are optimal learning environments, or we hear of great new strategies, we aren’t always able to implement these. I like that she mentioned this as it’s not something we really talk about, but should be…particularly with new educators.

Kendra’s description of the Saxon curriculum sent me on a bit of a rabbit chase. Although part of my concern was based in my misreading of her initial post, I think the conversation brings up interesting questions relating to the efficacy of prescribed curricula when they may not support practices such as differentiation. That said, I hope Kendra realized that she differentiates more than she was aware (or as much as she can in the curriculum).

Chelsea and I discussed the importance of allowing students to struggle with unfamiliar content. After reading Chelsea’s blog (and her confusion relating to the question), I asked her to consider when she would intervene to assist her future students and when she would let them struggle. She made a great point — a student being able to determine if they are right or wrong is an integral part of the learning process. Incidentally, this was one of the topics in my post of which Cherie, Jim, and Gerald reiterated the importance. Our discussion determined that, when students have the information and skills they need to be successful, we need to allow them to struggle to learn resilience, perseverance, and how to overcome challenges.

Gerald and I did quite a bit of back and forth this week between our blogs. Beyond what is above, I encouraged him to think about a different way to frame our students’ rhetoric and remember that they, as digital natives with the power of Google at their fingertips for most of their lives, may not have been taught how to struggle.

The concept skills which our students might be “missing” was highlighted in his blog. His initial post encouraged me to consider the concept of differentiation aligned across a district wherein students were able to learn the skills from Kindergarten forward so that, by the time they tackle harder content, they are firmly aware of the learning process. In response, he expressed a firm belief that the process should start young and I reminded him that, even though that was ideal, we all need to remember that we’re part of the process (because sometimes, when I was frustrated by what my students didn’t know and should have learned, it was easy to forget.)

Week Two: Differentiation and Intervention in the Classroom

Differentiation fundamentally relies upon the principles of respect and trust and the belief that every individual is capable of learning, being challenged, and achieving success. While Tomlinson (2001) includes respect as a characteristic of effective learning communities in the differentiated learning environment, noting “mutual respect is a must” (p. 22), Hill-Sypnieski and Ferlazzo (2012) state that “the knowledge and trust we develop with individual students can make or break differentiation efforts.” They further note that the philosophy of differentiation embraces the belief that “all students can learn and be productive.” At its most basic level, then, differentiation speaks to the fundamental belief that each of us has value as both an individual and a learner. In this light, engaging with a community of learners appeals to a most basic desire to be accepted for our beliefs, differences, quirks, and similarities…and to accept others for the same.

Although McCarthy (2015) was speaking about our abilities to prepare content, processes, and learning activities when he said “every teacher already has the tools to differentiate in powerful ways for all learners,” when viewed through the definitions offered by Tomlinson (2001) and Hill-Sypnieski (2012), his words hint at a far greater point. As an individual who loves to learn, who craves variety and challenge, who knows both her strengths and weaknesses (to be fair, I’ll divulge neither), and who has survived learning environments (seemingly) designed to discourage students, I have the tools necessary to differentiate for my students. If I base my actions in the belief that each of my students, as individuals who have different backgrounds, interests, and abilities, deserve respect and a safe environment that allows them to reach their highest potential, differentiation will fall into place. I will strive to develop engaging content, I will work to ensure they have choice in process, and I will encourage them to think big in terms of product…because I believe in their value and their ability. While environment is the most intrinsically difficult aspect of differentiation to define (Smith and Throne, 2009), I believe it is the make-or-break factor for the success of differentiation and should guide all of our actions.

As to the question of intervention, I believe it depends on the situation.

To effectively implement differentiation, a teacher must put proper scaffolding in place to ensure students understand the process and, over time, achieve success when supports are slowly removed and learning becomes autonomous (Tomlinson, 2001; Wormeli, 2008). If students did not receive the proper scaffolding or instruction and are struggling in autonomous learning, intervention needs to occur. This does not mean the teacher flies to the rescue the second a student exhibits frustration at challenging content. Our students need to understand that an integral part of learning is the ability to tackle difficult concepts, persevere through the frustration (walking away if necessary), and successfully complete the learning. (Conrad, I’m looking at you and thinking of Heart of Darkness.) Intervention should occur only when learning cannot take place because of some structure or knowledge that is fundamentally missing on the part of the student(s).

Finally, if a classroom environment has become unsafe or unsupportive, intervention should occur immediately. As differentiation fundamentally hinges on respect for others and the importance of an integrated community of learners, anything less cannot be tolerated. Period.

References

Hill-Sypnieski, K. & Ferlazzo, L. (2012, January 17). The five-by-five approach to differentiation success. Education Week Teacher. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2012/01/17/tln_ferlazzo_hull-sypnieski.html

McCarthy, J. (2015, August 28). 3 ways to plan for diverse learners: What teachers do. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/differentiated-instruction-ways-to-plan-john-mccarthy

Smith, G. & Throne, S. (2009). Differentiating instruction with technology in middle school classrooms. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology Education.

Tomlinson, C. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wormeli, R. (2008). Interview. Education World. Retrieved from http://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/chat/chat223.shtml

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Week One: Reflection

First, I want to apologize for my incredible tardiness on my posts. I was out of the state last week, in a cabin that was supposed to have internet but did not, and I didn’t know my phone wasn’t updating Blackboard. I got home late this weekend and panicked a bit over catching up! That said, I will be more timely in the future.

Back to the regularly scheduled programming…

I love the idea of differentiated instruction; some of my more memorable formative education moments revolved around differentiation of some sort. Given that, I know how important it can be to allow students those opportunities to grow, seek, and explore along their lines of interest. I think though, like Cherie, Gerald, Mariah, and others, it’s a frustrating mark to hit. I love that Mariah called it “a golden ticket that [seems] unobtainable.” In an ideal world, with all the time, support, and equipment necessary, I would love to have a classroom where students are engaged every day in meaning-making. As a teacher, I was getting there about the time I left to get my Masters and I’ve found my way back to it in my professional career and now working on my PhD. (My dissertation focus is on the creation of interactive modules that allow for learner directed learning around historical primary sources.) I have a feeling this class will make me miss teaching more than I anticipated!

I also really enjoyed Jule’s comment that “Fair isn’t always equal” – I think, in the “everyone gets a trophy age” we’ve lost sight of the fact that sometimes you need a bigger stool to stand on so everyone has the same view. Great post and a great graphic to make it stick!

Week One: Differentiated Instruction

We’ve all sat in THAT class. You know, the one where the professor lectured ad nauseum (or for three very long, dry hours, but who’s counting?) over the content they required you to read before class. The one where the students who “got it” rolled their eyes when those who did not asked (seemingly) endless questions. That class where, although the professor expected active engagement during their lecture, they never paused to ask a single question. The class where you frequently found yourself caught in the perpetual battle between struggling to pay attention and staring at the clock silently willing the Force to imbue you with Jedi powers so your mind could move the hand forward, making the last 15 minutes fly by in mere seconds.

I am willing to bet we’ve all been there, experiencing the frustration, and yet, I am equally willing to bet that the majority of us, standing in front of our first classroom, relied on that same comfortably uncomfortable pattern more than once. And, for that, I want to apologize to my earliest students.

Although I made my lectures story-like and engaging (I’m Southern and prone to exaggeration, after all), asked them deep and thought-provoking questions, ensured they worked in groups, and provided them with engaging activities and primary sources to study history beyond the textbook, they were my stories, my questions, my choices, and my expectations. And, for all that I, having grown up in a gifted program, knew differentiation was important, I aimed for but mostly missed the fully student-centered target.

I could make excuses, supported by the literature, that differentiation is time consuming, requires a steep learning curve, and the district in which I worked offered no related development (Weselby, 2014). The problem with excuses is that we go into teaching, putting countless hours into bettering our craft, hoping to offer our students the best possible opportunity to succeed. So, when their optimal success requires differentiation wherein we design and deliver instruction to best reach each student, these excuses lack validity (Tomlinson, 2001).

Differentiation is the delivery of content in a way that is both comfortable and challenging to students (Smith & Throne, 2009). It involves encouraging students to actively engage with and process the information they are learning in a variety of ways, including deep discussion, research, writing, inquiry, etc. (Smith & Throne, 2009; Tomlinson, 2001; Weselby, 2014). Students then take the content they have processed and demonstrate their mastery through the creation or completion of a product geared towards the upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Smith & Throne, 2009; Tomlinson, 2001; Weselby, 2014). Differentiated instruction also requires a learning environment that physically and psychologically supports students in these processes (Smith & Throne, 2009; Tomlinson, 2001; Weselby, 2014).

Differentiated instruction moves teachers into the role of facilitator and asks students to actively engage in inquiry and the creation of their own knowledge. It is proactive, organic, qualitative, and rooted in assessment, requiring teachers to observe students’ progress and modify content accordingly (Tomlinson, 2001). It requires students to develop both critical understanding, gaining the “skills and strategies necessary to analyze and understand perspectives [and] question the content of a subject itself,” and metacognition, “undergoing a personal initiation…into their perception on the realities of life [creating] an ongoing impression of who they are and how they fit into their world” (Bennett, 2015, p. 75).

 

Citations:

Bennett, M. (2015). The convergence into an ideal thought: Critical thinking and metacognition. Childhood Education, 92(1), 75-76. DOI: 10.1080/00094056.2016.1134249

Smith, G. & Throne, S. (2009). Differentiating instruction with technology in middle school classrooms. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology Education.

Tomlinson, C. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Weselby, C. (2014). What is differentiated instruction? Examples of how to differentiate instruction in the classroom. Concordia University Teaching Strategies. Blog posted to http://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/teaching-strategies/examples-of-differentiated-instruction/

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