One of the more over-used phrases in education continues to be the term "differentiation." I don't call it over-used because it is not important. I believe a diversified learning environment is more important now than ever before. However, many education platforms and leaders continue to harp on this idea without providing real solutions to the challenges that a truly differentiated classroom poses.
Challenge #1 - Resources
For decades, the classroom was supplied with two primary resources, the teacher and the textbook. Students would spend the majority of their class-time interacting with these two resources and success was often dependent on their ability to do so effectively. It is my opinion that one of those resources continues to be the most important resource a student can have, the teacher, and the other is outdated and in need of drastic modification, the textbook.
Regardless, true differentiation requires the classroom to move beyond these two resources because all learners are unique, as are their needs. By opening our classrooms up to various methods of learning content, skills, and processes, we model what awaits our students after they leave our buildings. We should also clarify that needs are not just an indicator of students who are struggling. In many cases, our upper level and highly motivated students have even greater needs to be met.
While I don't have the absolute solution to the classroom resource issue, it is exciting to see the number of digital platforms that are providing new ways to engage with content and learning processes. Free web-based platforms like BioInteractive provide written content, videos, labs, and other interactive media to make learning go in directions that a textbook never could. Here is a list of my favorites this year.
STANFORD HISTORY EDUCATION GROUP: As the digital education landscape continues to take form, it is clear we need to teach students to discern fact from fiction on a screen. This free resource provides full historical lessons, rigorous assessments, and primary sources for students to review and evaluate critically.
COMMONLIT.ORG: Are you teaching To Kill A Mockingbird? Head to CommonLit to find a range of paired texts and lessons. Literary and Informational texts are paired with curricular texts in this free online library. Simply select content based on the book, theme, genre, grade, or even literary device.
BIO-INTERACTIVE: Digital textbooks could offer the world so much but fall flat in the execution. Sites like BioInteractive really pave the way for what content resources can, and should, be in the years to come. A plethora of digital videos, articles, research, interactive labs, assignments, and other science/math resources are available for FREE!
LISTENWISE: An huge collection of public radio podcasts have been curated, tagged, and organized by topic. Specific tabs for ELA, Social Studies, and Science are available, but other areas are covered. This library is free for Teachers, but premium features are available and include interactive transcripts, quizzes, and standards aligned lessons.
NEWSELA: Differentiation with texts can be difficult. Newsela offers the ability to assign articles to a class and scaffold them to the reading level of the student. Five different reading levels are available for most articles from sources like the Associated Press. Basic access is free and provides tools for annotation and basic quizzes.
NEWSEUM-ED: The internet provides instant access to information, but so much of it is inaccurate, misleading, or flat out wrong. NewseumED provides historical primary and secondary sources, along with pre-made lessons. Social Studies teachers will be able to teach media literacy along with their selected content by using historical publications of the era.
Today's in-service is a district-wide discussion and reflection about our on instructional practices at Morris Hills Regional School District. The instructional coaching program is committed to building meaningful learning opportunities that are led by the best resources we have to offer, our teachers.
Below you will find links to the Google Slides Presentation that will serve as the launching pad for our activities today, which includes:
Summer Program Development Sign-up:
Yesterday I was out of the building. Like many teachers, I hate missing school because we lose the day of instruction; and with a block schedule, that can lead to large gaps in the learning process. After being out of the building yesterday, I returned this morning to a simple two sentence note from a substitute. It read, "Students worked the whole block. They are really into their projects."
I know this class well and it isn't a stretch to say they are among the best music appreciation classes I have ever taught. They are insightful, committed to their work, and they continue to demonstrate a vested interest in the art of music. What is interesting to me is the contrast between who this class is today and who this class is on day 1 each year.
Every Year Starts the same
My first activity each year is called "State Your Purpose." In this activity, students explain their reason for signing up for Music Appreciation in 1 tweet, about 280 characters. Many don't even use 100 to get their point across. I tend to get a few outliers, but the common thread of answers essentially read something like "I don't sing, I don't play an instrument, and I can't draw but I need to graduate high school."
While I have come to expect this answer over the years, I must say it always stings a bit to have students who are just not that interested in my subject area. I know that every teacher in the building can relate to that. However, we are still charged with the task of maintaining an orderly class, progressing every student through a curricular program and assessing their progress.
So who are these self-motivated learners?
Why do i care?
So the sub left a good note; the class did what they were supposed to do; why does that matter? It matters because I am watching the effects of positive learning experiences play out each day in my class. I am watching the development of student efficacy and executive functioning skills as students navigate a classroom environment that relies on them, not me.
What do I do with my time if I'm not running the show? I talk to kids, I evaluate their work individually, and I provide targeted feedback on their performance to help move them forward. I know that this isn't a brand new concept. Problem-based learning has been around for decades, but the LATIC framework gave me a structure to employ tools, strategies, and ideas that I have been reading about for years.
In short, learning took place in my absence and I can't wait to facilitate my next block and see what the students have built. It's fun changing the perception of my content area in this class because many of the students thought it was "going to be boring." In the long run, by creating challenging and relevant educational exercises, I am ensuring that my job as a teacher is necessary and essential. No modern machine can target feedback to an individual the way I can. I know my learners and how to meet their needs because putting the students in charge has freed me up to know them better.
Reading is a must!
When it comes to applicable cross-curricular skills, reading is at the top of the list. Beyond the walls of the school, reading is an absolute necessity for leading a healthy and productive life. While reading and literacy are regularly represented as ELA skills, they permeate every discipline in an important way.
Literacy simply defines the ability to read and write.As content specialists, much of our time is spent trying to make students literate in our area of expertise. Many of us are presenting daily tasks that require students to write about the content area. Math uses practice exercises that require one to read an expression and follow a series of written steps to solve the equation. Thus, a student must be able to read and write using math specific language; this is math literacy. Science is based on research and a desire to investigate the world around us. This research is published and built upon through decades and centuries. Students read and engage in experiments that will prove or disprove a hypothesis; then, students will reflect upon their findings using science terminology. Once again, this is literacy.
The same arguments can be made for every subject area in the building and this is why it is important to consider how teachers are implementing opportunities to read in every content area.
Creating a Meaningful class reading experience
Many classes use current events as a basic reading assignment. Maybe it is time to think about how we can make them more meaningful to students. Reciprocal Teaching is a tried and true group reading strategy to ensure students are reading for understanding and depth.
Teaching these skills can give you A 2:1 effect
It is very possible that a student could define their assigned role and be unable to facilitate the role correctly in this practice. Before you complete a full reciprocal teaching exercise, I would advise the teacher to complete at least one reading through each of the four lenses. In other words, take a class reading and practice summarizing as a group. For the next reading, everyone in the class is going to play the role of the questioner and progress through the reading sections with that mindset. In theory, that would prepare your class to attempt a reciprocal teaching reading for the fifth in class reading.
Why does this matter? Research concludes that Reciprocal Teaching can have a 2:1 effect on student achievement. That is reason enough to try for me. As always, the iCoaches are here to help if you want to learn more about this or other literacy strategies. Email icoachMK@mhrd.org to set up an appointment!
Our First student perspective
Episode #5 of the Morris Knolls Minute features Mrs. Emma Jean Evans and five of our terrific students from the Gifted and Talented program. While I have taught a handful of GT students in my time at Knolls, it was wonderful to gain a new perspective on this unique program.
This is also our first episode to feature a student perspective. So far this year, I have tried to keep the episodes to around 15 minutes, but I felt each of the students had a unique take on the program and I wanted to make sure to showcase their insightful view on what it means to be a Gifted and Talented student. For this reason, Episode five runs about 10 minutes longer, but I think you will enjoy it.
Whether you are considering becoming a GT mentor for the first time or this is a regular part of your educational practice, I encourage you to really listen to what these students have to say about their projects. It is a meaningful experience to take control of one's own learning and many of these students are doing it for the first time in this program.
If you have any questions about the GT program or the mentor/application process, please reach out to Mrs. Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the most common questions I have encountered this year is "How do I organized all of these digital things?" The hardest part of this question is defining the "things" we are hoping to organize. For this reason, I have divided my recommendation into 3 different levels. These applications are centered around the organization of tasks, reminders, and digital resources.
Level 1: Free, simple, and familiar Google tools (Google Keep and Reminders)
Level 2: Free and collaborative task management with Wunderlist
Level 3: A powerful, do it all, pin-board application called Trello
I have chosen not to include a popular application called Evernote because there is a significant cost to access the tool set. I think Evernote is great, but as I have stated before, my goal is to provide tools with little to no cost for the user.
Let's dive in.
Level 1 - Google Apps (Keep/reminders)
As a Google Apps for Education district, we have a large set of tools at our disposal. If you haven't used Google Keep before, we'll think of it as Digital Post-It notes.
Pros: Easy to use, impossible to lose a note, familiar format for an easy digital transition, Sticky notes can be assigned to categories, A chrome extension can be added to help you save websites and digital materials directly to Keep with one click.
Cons: It's basic, what you see is what you get... (I think this is a pro for those looking for a simple solution)
Summary: If you are looking for more power, continue to Level 2, but I think many of our faculty and staff will find a home with Google Keep if they persist and make it part of the routine.
Level 2 - Wunderlist
Wunderlist was my gateway to collaborative digital task management a few years ago. This is a to-do list style platform. If you like to make to-do lists and want checkboxes with a satisfying "bell" sound when you check them off, then Wunderlist is the app for you. Wunderlist also makes it easy to share lists with others.
Pros: Pretty simple and intuitive to use, I like that you can assign notes to subtasks, Collaborative (lists can be shared with others to help with group tasks), That bell sound is very satisfying and can be addictive!
Cons: Definitely more of an investment to get going, Requires installation of additional apps on your computer (Google tools are just accessed through the internet browser, The notes section a welcome addition but pretty limited.
Summary: If you are looking for more options and collaborative options, I believe Wunderlist is a wonderful step to take. The ability to add subtasks and notes can be extremely helpful when you are unable to finish larger projects in one prep period. On a personal note, the Langer family grocery list now lives on Wunderlist so we never forget an item.
Getting Started with Wunderlist Video
Level 3 - Trello
Trello... Wow, what a tremendously powerful and free system for all types of task and project management. I moved to this platform about a year ago and it has made a major impact on my ability to organize my work tasks. Essentially, they have built a digital bulletin board, but you can have multiple. I have a pin-board for Instructional Coaching, General Teaching, Clubs I Advise, Resources I don't want to lose. While Pintrest is a pin-board style setup, it is more social media based. Trello is a legitimate powerhouse for managing tasks, collaborating on projects, and keeping track of the many hats we wear as educators.
Pros: By far the most powerful and visually appealing option in task management. Integrates and facilitates most projects and tasks the way I need it to. It is collaborative if you want it to be and private when you need it to be. Subtasks, links, resources, due dates, and a ton of other features can be added to individual cards. Each card can have independent alerts setup as well.
Cons: This will be intimidating for some people. The capability is high, but so is the investment at first.
Summary: I am impressed with Trello on many levels but I love how it integrates with all types of links and platforms very well. I find the drag and drop setup to be very intuitive even though you can get so deep into tasks and subtasks. It will take time to learn, but if you start with one board, one list, and a set of cards, the learning curve is manageable.
ATL and Social-Emotional Learning Workshop
January 30th Activity List - Building ATL Skills Across the IB Program at Knolls
IB - ATL Skills (IB Unit Cover Sheet)
NJDOE - NJ SEL Competencies
LATIC* - Executive Function
*This list is not exclusive to the LATIC framework, but the list was compiled by the creator of LATIC, Nancy Sulla.
iCoach MK Workshop Feedback Form
CLICK HERE TO COMPLETE FEEDBACK FORM
Music Department Morning Session
Resources Folder: https://tinyurl.com/y7gk4yvz
Feedback Form: https://goo.gl/forms/pG7SBSg6SdBLGQHn1
Too Many Tools, So Little Time (Room 325)
Workshop Resources: http://www.tinyurl.com/TechToolkitB3L
Feedback Form: https://goo.gl/forms/pG7SBSg6SdBLGQHn1
A passion for learning drives Authentic classrooms
Empowering them [the students] will help any class or content area
The selection of curricular options at Morris Knolls is impressive. We have an incredible number of talented educators offering a range of courses each and every year. For our fourth installment, Jenny Benack came down to A-31 to talk about her offerings to the MK students and what drives her to continually revise and improve her classroom; and explain how she goes about empowering students to take ownership of learning and success.
Happy New Year Morris Knolls!
Every new year brings a season of contemplation about last year's successes and failures. While it is easy to zero in on our faults, we should always spend time reflecting on all of the positive impacts we have made as teachers. With the new year upon us, goal setting is in full swing throughout our society. Whether you are focused on personal goals or career goals, there are a number of ways to put your goals into action.
One of the more common strategies for student goals is the SMART goals process. This method has caught traction in schools all over the country and a number of our programs use the SMART framework to set achievement goals with students. I have found a couple different formats for SMART, but they all follow a similar line of thinking.
Why set achievement goals?
Implementing learning goals has shown to increase student achievement by an average of 75%. When students set relevant and achievable goals for themselves, opportunities are created to increase buy-in and participation. Goals set a destination for students to work towards and our teacher-created learning tasks will be the guide.
The following document is one template you could use to set a SMART goal in your classroom. The pdf version is printable, but not editable. If you would like to create your own prompts or edit the file, you will need to make a copy of this Google Doc.
Smart goals - pdf template
The iCoach MK workshop blog catalogs all of our workshop materials and new resources in one location.