Ramblings. Musings. Required coursework.

Month: April 2017 (Page 2 of 2)

Week Ten Reflection

This week felt a bit like déjà vu. To be completing an Understanding by Design 2 Template and discussing how I will assess my students for a module where they are in the process of creating a UbD Template, learning about assessment, and determining how they will, in turn, assess their students is a bit of a circular trip. I didn’t plan it that way, as it honestly worked best with my already scheduled modules, but it’s been interesting to wrap my head around for sure.

I think what I struggled most with this week was how to build differentiation in an online asynchronous course that’s already being taught. Beyond simply losing the face-to-face time you would generally have with students, the online nature of the course makes real change mid-semester difficult as most courses follow specific templated designs (in the sense that each module has distinct items, follows a similar flow, etc.). Additionally, as most higher education courses have a defined syllabus set out at the beginning of the semester, change has to be done in the parameters for grades and course participation that are set forth from the beginning. Taking this one step further, I’m working with adult learners who prefer meaningful learning experiences and not work for the sake of work. Taking all of that into consideration, I needed to create a differentiated unit without changing the basic structure of my course, without requiring any work that was not already reflected in the syllabus, and ensuring anything I asked of them was meaningful. While I managed to make the module look good on paper, we’ll see how they felt when the presentations and reflections start rolling in…

Aside from the work I completed on the UbD, I was able to interact with several of my peers around their work on their UbDs and differentiated instruction. Mariah and I were able to interact around the concept of flexibility in teaching. When I taught K-12, I was easily frustrated by the rigidity of the state standards and district practices I encountered. Gerald and I have discussed this offline recently, so I shared a few rhetorical questions that I debate about the less-than-optimally-flexible system we (America, not we locally) have created; Mariah responded that, living in rural Alaska, she actually has the support to be a bit more flexible in her teaching, with the support of her Administration, which I think is great. I encouraged Kendra to consider rethinking the specificity of her Essential Questions as Wiggins and McTighe encourage questions that are broader by nature to allow students to make relevant and lasting connections across their content knowledge and experiences.

I encouraged Gerald, as an experienced teacher, to consider all the things he does on a daily basis for his students to make their learning more successful as differentiation. Often times we are so caught up in new terms or new concepts, we don’t realize that we’ve likely been doing aspects of the process all along. We also interacted on my blog, discussing how we can limit the amount of reading required for our students while still ensuring they get the content needed to be successful.

Finally, I shared with Jim that I really like his classroom management practices and his flexibility in allowing students to work in ways most beneficial to them. I believe thinking outside of the “traditional classroom” box is the best thing we can do for our students who, as we all know by now, don’t come in a one-size-fits-all model!

Week Ten: Differentiated Instruction in the UbD Unit

As I’ve mentioned before, I teach a curriculum development class for students in our Nurse Educator track and other graduate-level professionals who will be responsible for the creation of education programs for their peers. As part of the team that redesigned the courses, moving away from theory to a skills-based program, I am adamant that the learning in the course be relevant, immediately applicable, and interesting to all of my students (Knowles, 1984; Dosch & Zidon, 2014; Hauptman, 2015). By “Module 5: Assessment” (the module I opted to use for the UbD assignment), they have completed modules that examine: curriculum in the professional context; active learning; modes of instruction and design frameworks; and how to write a course development plan and objectives. To frame this for educators, they develop a course they will present to their peers using the UbD model. They only complete one UbD, as their courses will largely be short workshops or encounters. If you are interested, here are the slightly modified UbD Template and rubric I provided for the assignment.



While differentiation can be a bit more challenging in an online course as you have to reconsider how you build authentic interactions with students who you do not see on a daily basis, we, as educators do have the tools we need to maximize the learning of our students (McCarthy, 2015).

First, I present content to students in a variety of ways: the module Introduction is an audio clip with a transcript; two short (under 3 minute), close-captioned videos were made for content delivery – one is a voice over PPT introducing assessment and the other a formative and summative assessment Powtoon (I like the results, but it still took way too long (but that’s another story)); all other sections, including those that are present in every Module (Objectives, Required Materials, Assignments, and Supplemental Resources) are text-based (Tomlinson, 2001). Students also have choice regarding the order in which they complete the content in the module – I do not enforce sequential learning in Blackboard (Tomlinson, 2001).

Second, I reduced the total number of assigned required materials, changed two by asking students to skim them, rather than complete an in-depth reading, and allowed students to select and share two resources specific to their interests and/or fields in assessment. This decision provides students an additional, and different, choice in course content (Tomlinson, 2001).

Third, to create authentic interaction and feedback, as students would experience in a face-to-face classroom, I used an embedded Google Form as a short Check for Understanding Activity where students post replies reflecting on the Essential Questions. I then embedded a Google Sheet so they can see each others’ responses and assess their learning and thoughts against those of their peers. Finally, before they complete their presentations, I will review their responses, emailing students directly or providing feedback via the Muddiest Point on common misconceptions if a “reteach” needs to be completed. While not as strong as offering a variety of activities, this does ensure differentiation in process as students will process the content differently and receive additional instruction only if needed (Tomlinson, 2001).

Fourth, to demonstrate mastery of the learning in this module, students create a presentation that directly addresses the four assessment objectives in the module. I opted to have them complete a presentation, as opposed to the standard discussion board, for two reasons. First, it is authentic, requires active engagement, and the course provides a safe learning space for those who will be responsible for creating presentations for their peers in the near future and, second, the performance-based assessment allows me to assess their mastery of the content at hand using the objective-aligned rubric below (Tomlinson, 2001; Smith & Throne, 2009; Weselby, 2014).


Although the presentations have to include audio or video commentary and must be uploaded into Voicethread for peer and instructor comments, review, and feedback, they are given no other requirements (beyond a time limit and instructions to avoid pixelated images, text-heavy slides, formatting errors, etc.) for the technology used to create their presentations. It is their choice. That said, I did provide a few examples of how I might approach creating the presentation for those who may be less comfortable with technology. To ensure student success, I will also check their progress at the midpoint and support any issues they may be having along the way (Tomlinson, 2001).

Finally, students are in the process of completing a UbD-based Course Development Plan; this is the most significant assignment in the course and the plan they will use to complete their Capstone Projects at the end of their course of study. As such, we take about six weeks to scaffold and complete the process (Tomlinson, 2001; Wormeli, 2008). They are introduced to UbD in the first few weeks of the course and then begin the development process in the previous module by completing the “Stage 1: Desired Results” section; their work is uploaded to the Discussion Board for both peer and instructor commentary, review, and feedback. In this module, they are asked to complete “Stage 2: Evidence”. Although I do not require them to turn it in for review in this module, for students who are struggling or need extra assistance, they have the option to do so. I will, of course, provide feedback and they are instructed that, should they post theirs, they are required to provide feedback to any peers who do the same. As in the previous module, students are asked to identify specific areas where they struggled in the completion and are also provided a list of suggested questions to help target their feedback to peers. The final Course Development Plan is due in the next module after they learn about materials, learning activities, and course tools.


Dosch, M. & Zidon, M. (2014). “The course fit us”: Differentiated instruction in the college classroom. Educational Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 26(3), 343-357. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1060829.pdf

Hauptman, A. (April 10, 2015). Differentiation for the adult learner. Lipscomb Education Connection. Retrieved from http://www.lipscomb.edu/education/blog/education/2015/4/10/differentiation-for-adult-learners

Knowles, M. (1984). The adult learner: A neglected species (3rd ed.). Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing.

McCarthy, J. (August 28, 2015). 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.

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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