Thursday, December 1, 2011

Reading Strategies

I am starting a unit on the Bill of Rights in my Humanities classroom and so I must face my foe, the textbook. Being a life-long nerd, I personally love textbooks. In fact, I remember the geek-high I got in college when I found out that I owned the textbooks, and thus I could mark and highlight well into the night.

However, as a teacher, the relationship has changed. I still am enthralled by my personal textbooks, but the students hate theirs. When I teach History, my biggest challenge is to help students read and comprehend the material from the textbooks. I switched to a more engaging textbook, History Alive, which has helped a little. My students read pretty well- they love To Kill a Mockingbird, they are moved by To be a Slave, and they even make it through A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Why is this? Is it because textbooks are nonfiction? Is it because reading skills are assumed to be only for the realm of Language Arts teachers? Is it because most teachers are voracious readers and have always been and cannot connect to reading problems? Is it because textbooks are often the first place a young reader struggles? Is it because of poor textbooks in previous classes? I don't know. I do know that I teach classes of students who would rather pull out their toenails (or mine) than read the textbook. Even some of my TAG/highly capable students won't read the textbook, relying instead on memory and class notes to master the material.

Therefore, I went looking for help. I just finished reading Laura Robb's Teaching Reading in Social Studies, Science, and Math. I recommend this book to any teacher who is frustrated with a lack of reading comprehension in class. It is quick read, with chapters on strategies for before, during, and after reading. There are examples of how these strategies look in practice for different subjects and grade levels.  Moreover, there is a wonderful chapter on building vocabulary through reading.

Armed with knowledge and tools, I started mapping out some strategies before I started the unit on the Bill of Rights. These are to aid the comprehension of all of my students, but the struggling/reluctant readers in particular. Here's what I have planned:

Pre-reading Strategies:
  • wordle (see of Bill of Rights, discuss
  • pre-assessment
  • students generate list of five important freedoms
  • front-load some key terms (Bill of Rights, warrant, self-incrimination, due process)
During Reading Strategies:
  • students use post-it notes to write questions or mark difficult parts of text
  • focus questions
  • text workbook
After Reading Strategies:
  • Rewording/paraphrasing of amendments
  • vocabulary graphic organizers
My goal is that all my students read the textbook more consistently and therefore comprehend the material more deeply.

Here are some other strategies recommended by Laura Robb: 

Pre-reading: brainstorm/categorize, K-W-H (What do I know? What do I want to know? How will I find out?)
During reading: pose questions, retell, identify confusing parts
After reading: connections to text/self/community/word issues, summarize

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Twice Exceptional Learners - Bridging the Gap Between Home and School

Here is a condensed version of a presentation I made at the Fall 2010 OATAG (Oregon Association for Talented and Gifted) Conference at Reed College.  It highlights the characteristics of Twice Exceptional Learners, those who are both exceptionally gifted and exceptionally challenged in one or more ways.  It provides strategies for parents and teachers to support these students and suggestions for communication between home and school to facilitate maximum success for these students who often mystify us and all too often slip between the cracks. 

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:

I have focused a lot on this population in the last few years and welcome any questions or suggestions.  Working with these students can be like playing detective, following the clues to figure out how these "different-brained" children operate and how to tap into their gifts.

In another post, I'll add the slide show that I designed specifically for a teacher audience.

Monday, November 28, 2011

How we Differentiate

This is from an activity in our Differentiation PLC. Ilana and I wanted to show how we all already differentiate in our classes. We had large pieces of butcher paper labeled "Process," "Product," and "Content." The teachers all add their ideas and discussed in small groups and then as a class.

  • Tic-Tac-Toe
  • Oral vs. written assessments/assignments
  • Choice (e.g. reading material, writing a R.A.F.T.)
  • Challenge/extension options
  • Amount of assignment
  • Including items that require higher-order thinking
  • Scaffolded Outlines/ writing/ steps
  • Rubric use
  • Personal support/ time
  • Sentence frames for reading
  • Modeling
  • Peer assistance
  • Small groups for targeted instruction
  • Partner reading
  • Accelerated pace
  • Open/closed sort

  • Jigsaws
  • Writing a R.A.F.T./M.C.R.A.F.T.
  • Leveled reading/ leveled texts
  • Multilingual texts
  • Debates
  • Literature groups/Literature circles
  • Accelerated pace
  • Visual vs. Audio vs. Tactile-Kinesthetic
  • Reading buddies

There is more than on way to skin the differentiated cat, so to speak. Feel free to add your methods in the comments section and I’ll add to the list. If you are not familiar with one of these, drop us an email or ask a colleague!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Differentiation by Class Period

If you teach the same subject multiple times in the course of your day, you know that each class has a slightly different personality, sometimes more than slightly different. The kids who are in your room when the high math class or the AP physics is scheduled are not the same kids who are in your room when the low math class is scheduled.

I have four core classes of Humanities in my teaching day. As you probably do, I naturally and instinctively differentiate my instruction from one core to the next. Some move faster; some need more repetition. Some are ready for higher level questioning; some need the graphic organizer. Some work independently very well; some need to work with a partner or as a whole class. Some are ready for extension activities; for some you’re thrilled just to cover the basics.

For example, we’ve been working on the Constitutional Convention. To prepare, students had some choices, but they were steered in particular directions based on the class “personality.” To prepare for an in-class simulation of the convention, the more highly able class looked at the main issues the convention delegates considered, brainstormed possible solutions, and considered the advantages and disadvantages of each proposed solution. The mid-level class read in a grade level textbook and filled in an organizer about the main issues, while the lowest ability class read a simplified text and filled in the organizer to prepare for the convention. The simulation ran differently in each period, too, in terms of how many issues we were able to cover, in terms of how many students rose to be recognized versus using a random procedure to call on delegates, and in terms of their grasp of the issues and their resolution, therefore requiring differing amounts of debriefing in each class.

Another example has to do with a class that was really struggling in September to get up to speed with all the class routines and demands, especially some new electronic submission requirements and online calendar links. I simply waited until they were ready, at beginning of the 2nd trimester, to introduce the higher level vocabulary program the other class began in September. They won’t learn quite as many words as the other students, but hopefully they’ll learn them well. They would have been overloaded and discouraged if I had heaped one more demand on them before they were ready.

What’s the point of this entry? We all differentiate in many ways, some of which we don’t even think of as differentiation. We are skilled professionals, and we do what it takes to meet the needs of our students. When we raise the instinctive to the conscious and begin to apply the variations to specific students in addition to whole groups, we are well on our way to creating a differentiated classroom.

Right Brain Left Brain Differentiation

Even though these terms are oversimplified and not scientifically accurate, I'll use the right brain left brain model to talk about summative assessments that appeal to your global, creative, outside-the-box learners or to your linear, analytical, logical learners. Of course, we want to stretch kids outside of those preferred modes, but it is a good idea to offer a choice of assessments, especially summative assessments, that appeal to students with a strong learning preference for one of these types of thinking. Quicker, simpler, and easier than creating a whole menu of assessment options.

Here are a couple of examples. For a unit on the Bill of Rights, students will all get the same inputs -- reading several case studies of court cases that involve the Bill of Rights and viewing a so-cheesy-it's-kinda-good dystopian movie called Future Fright about life in America without the Bill of Rights ( From there, students have two choices for a final assessment. The left brainers can choose to write a Supreme Court brief on one case, arguing for a verdict and including at least one paragraph for the minority opinion. The right brainers can write a dystopian story about America without the Bill of Rights, with the option to read/discuss at least one other dystopian story such as Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut or The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins before writing. Many students have already read at least one such story. Both assessments can be scored for understanding of the Bill of Rights, and both assessments can be scored for as many writing traits as you choose. The case study is recorded for persuasive writing and the story for imaginative. By the way, if you're looking for some options for dystopian young adult fiction, here is a link:

Another example comes from Eddie Mateo, an English teacher at Wilson High School in Portland. For the end of his Lord of the Flies novel unit, students have the option to write the final chapter of the book or to do an in-depth analysis of literary techniques and elements (symbolism, plot devices, etc.) for the novel.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Differentiation Gone Wrong

Substitute differentiated lesson plan = bad idea. One of my students said to me the next day, "You know, not everyone knows how to do what you do."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Everyday Differentiation

Everyday Differentiation

There are so many ways to differentiate, from the complex multi-text tiered assignments with flexible grouping (the “Martha Stewart”) to very low preparation options. A great list of high and low preparation options can be found in Carol Ann Tomlinson’s How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms. Here are some of my favorite low preparation options:
Ø  jigsaw
Ø  multiple levels of questions
Ø  homework options
Ø  choice options

In the last week, I have employed the following low preparation differentiation strategies to meet the diverse needs of my students.
Ø  I used a “Caught Ya” as my warm-up in class. A “Caught Ya” consists of a few sentences with grammatical mistakes that students correct. After reading the sentences, I usually give the students one hint about a mistake that is easy to correct (“Look out for un-capitalized proper names!”) and one hint about a mistake that is harder to find or correct (“For those of you who want a challenge, we need a semicolon, too.”)
Ø  Homework choices that focused on either writing or social studies content knowledge
Ø  Student choice concerning which learning targets I would assess
Ø  My students summarized The Declaration of Independence and then re-wrote it as a break-up letter to King George III. Every student listened to a recording of the DOI and read along. They then chose different options to rewrite the letter. As they started to take summary notes, some students used the DOI with explanatory notes, some students used a simple English version of the DOI, and some students used a Spanish version with explanatory notes.
Ø  Multiple levels of questions. Williams Model is an excellent source of questions for your TAG and highly capable students. (

BOTTOM LINE: Low preparation differentiation is a great way to get started immediately to meet the needs of all the students who will show up in your classroom tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Characteristics of a Differentiated Classroom

This was supposed to be a closing activity for class on Tuesday, but all the amazing conversation and sharing of ideas put us off schedule. 
Listed below are some characteristics of a differentiated classroom. Some of these characteristics are from ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), others are from Ilana and myself. Feel free to comment to add more characteristics. 

Differentiation PLC
What are characteristics of a Differentiated Classroom?  
    Differentiated classrooms can take many forms, and no one class will contain all of the following characteristics. Feel free to add your own ideas and observations.
  • Proactive, not reactive- differentiation is planned for up-front
  • Flexible groupings
  • Students’ needs are met
  • Respect for diversity
  • Respectful student tasks
  • Positive classroom climate
  • Student centered learning/learner-led
  • Student-teacher partnership
  • Student Choice
  • Knowledge-centered- the teacher has a clear understanding of the material
  • Focus on academic growth, not competition
  • Scaffolds growth
  • Addresses student readiness, interest, and/or learning profile
  • Students taking responsibility and ownership of work
  • Stretches the student academically (ZPD)
  • Derived from ongoing assessment
  • Variety of materials to address student needs

Homework for Humanities PLC "Design for Differentiation - Theory into Practice"

Homework for Humanities PLC "Design for Differentiation - Theory into Practice"
Tuesday, October 2011
1. Try one (or more) of the strategies we discussed and be prepared to report back in our next class. 
2. Bring a writing unit, lesson, or assessment to our next class. 
3. Comment on one post on this blog. 

See you November 8th!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Using Depth and Complexity as a Differentiation Strategy

Just want to share a link to one of my mentor's wiki sites about the Icons of Depth and Complexity. These icons provide a great entry point for higher level interaction with material in any subject area. They're very adaptable and stimulate divergent and higher level thinking.

Here's the link:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Quote of the Day - "Same donkey!"

I teach most of my students for all three years of middle school, so I get to know them and their families very well. Some of my twice exceptional students (exceptionally gifted and exceptionally challenged in one or more areas) require very individualized differentiation, as in try anything that works!

I just met with the parents of one student who struggles mightily with work completion for various reasons -- ADD, anxiety, avoidance, and more. Following my own advice to "Try something and then try something different," we were brainstorming new systems of incentives and consequences for using her planner to record assignments and complete them.

"New year, new carrot, new stick," I commented.

"Same donkey!" responded her dad.

Well, at least they haven't lost their sense of humor!!

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Very Different-iated Day

from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg

Phew! I'm feeling a tad less like a fraud after a fabulously differentiated day in my room this week. I've been implementing the writing pre-assessment protocol Kacy and I talked about at the OCTE conference, which has lots of choice elements for the kids, a far cry from the "What I did on my summer vacation" style prompt for a fall writing sample. I did have the students all write in response to an Oregonian opinion piece about students taking responsibility for their own learning, but that was the only draft that everyone wrote on the same topic.

Each day, the students had time to begin a draft in a different writing mode. For imaginative writing, I used Chris Van Allsburg's Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a fabulous set of pictures with a title and caption for each, which the students had to incorporate as the story's first line. That book provided the students with at least a dozen choices of prompts. For narrative writing, the students brought in a photo of an event or experience they took part in. It added a level of excitement that they were actually allowed to bring the photo on an electronic gizmo like a phone or iPod. And for expository writing, the students had about 10-15 minutes to read any non-fiction writing in my classroom -- from National Geographic articles, to history books, to teacher resource books, and much, much more. Then they summarized what they had read.

So now the students had four unfinished drafts. They got to choose which one they wanted to revise and polish into final form. We have decided to tier the traits this year, with highest priority on Ideas & Content and Organization as the most crucial writing skills. We spent time reviewing the rubrics for both traits before the revision process. I have to confess that the rubrics are difficult to get the students to engage with; they are so wordy and sometimes vague. At least we only had to look at two of them rather than all six traits.

Before finalizing and scoring their final copies, we spent two partial periods scoring State writing samples for the traits, one day for each trait. We often ask students to score their own work, but without practice, without looking objectively at strong and weak examples that are not their own, the activity is of marginal use, in my opinion.

At last, the day for self-scoring had arrived. After explaining the process, I turned the students loose to work at their own pace. Some students, reluctant writers who had not completed a final copy, were working on that. Students scored themselves and finished at different times. Once they were finished, they began a journal response to a couple of quotes by the founding fathers as part of our Revolutionary War/Constitution unit. And when they finished that, they began to quietly discuss their responses. Four different activities happening concurrently, smoothly, and actively. It was a highlight moment of the school year so far!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

“I want to differentiate…but I can’t!”

Kacy Smith 
“I want to differentiate…but I can’t!”

         I say, “Excellent! You can!”

         This weekend I presented on differentiation at the OCTE (Oregon Council of Teachers of English) with my co-diva, Ilana. We were surprised to see how many of our fellow teachers turned out for our presentation!  They were attentive and asked questions during the presentation. When Ilana and I designed the presentation, we made a conscious decision to address roadblocks early, and not wait for questions or save it for the end. Indeed, more than one teacher approached me after the presentation about various impediments to differentiation. We know there is opposition. We know there is resistance. I have been that opposition, that resistance. Once upon my twenties, I told an administrator, “I don’t need to differentiate because I have a little something called high standards.” The fact that I wasn’t corrected shows how much resistance there is.

         With that in mind, and maybe as somewhat of a penance, here are some common roadblocks (and possible solutions) to implementing differentiation in your classroom.

“I can’t differentiate because it take too much time.”
         Yes, it will take time. It will take time and thought up-front, before you make your first xerox or even decorate your room. Remember that this is an investment of time. Also, you can start slow. There are many ways to differentiate, including low-preparation options. One lesson per unit? One product per semester? Even a few high-order questions written with your TAG kids in mind is a start.

“I can’t differentiate because the grading will be crazy.”
         If you can align assessments under the same learning target, that will help. Rubrics help a great deal. Explore your grading software for ways to enter a narrative for parents about the assessment if you have different learning targets or assessments. With my software, I can enter one comment and then “copy first comment down.” Also, don’t grade and enter everything—even if you aren’t differentiating.

“I can’t differentiate because the students will push back/feel bad/ask questions.”
         Even though we teach the whole child, and therefore need to keep the heart as well as the mind in lessons,  we need to be honest with them. I told my students on the first day that they could expect different assignments, groups, due dates, even texts. I told them that I couldn’t help them to the next level unless I met them where they are right now. I too feared resistance and hurt feelings. So far, it seems fine. I am hoping for more feedback for students and parents during conferences.
         You don’t have to group students only by ability. You can group students by interest or learning styles.

“I can’t differentiate because my classroom will be chaotic.”
         If you use flexible groups, it well may be chaos the first couple of times. Keep practicing! The first flexible group activity this year was so loud that the Vice-Principal popped in to make sure there wasn’t mutiny in my classroom! (I guess my second bit of advice is to keep some Advil nearby.) Also, I’ve had to be really clear about behavioral expectations in group settings. We even had to practice the basics, like listening for a signal to move, or using non-verbal signals for assistance.

“I can’t differentiate because how will I know if I’m doing this right?”
         Well, if you figure it out, will you let me know? In a way, I feel a little bit like a fraud sometimes on this blog. I’m learning, experimenting, and making mistakes, just like everyone else.
         Read. Keep up with best practices. Ask colleagues to observe— even an administrator—if you’re feeling brave. Students also provide wonderful and truthful feedback. Don’t judge yourself harshly in the beginning.

In sum, like Carol Tomlinson says, “[S]tart slowly, but start.” Or as Dr. Suess says, “If things start happening, don't worry, don't stew, just go right along and you'll start happening too.” Go get ‘em, Tiger!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Quote of the Day

"I taught 'em; they just didn't learn it."
heard in staff room at lunch

In other words, why we need differentiation!

True Confessions

Well, I've been presenting at conferences and staff development programs for the last year on various topics: Twice Exceptional Learners, Formative Assessment Strategies, and yesterday at the OCTE conference, Design for Differentiation. My confession is that I always feel like a bit of a fraud at these moments. After all, what do I know that everyone else doesn't also know? I guess the deal is that if you put your time and energy into learning about a topic that matters to you, if you put the ideas into practice in a way that works and makes sense for you, if you take the time to figure out what the key ideas are and how you can communicate them, then you do have something to offer your colleagues. Not a definitive end-all and be-all, to be sure, but a springboard or platform for others to use as they dive into the task of upping their teaching game to the next level.

At OCTE yesterday, the room was pretty packed, an indication that differentiation has found its time, that we educators know it's something we really need to do, that we know it's really challenging, and that we need to collaborate with each to figure out how to really implement it in our classrooms. Tim Gillespie, one of the keynote speakers at the conference mentioned three big ideas that he has extracted from his 37 years in the biz: 1) It's about the students; 2) Go blalah (Hawaiian for big) or go home; in other words, stick to the big learnings; and 3) Keep your enthusiasm. Presenting for colleagues who want to be part of the process, getting good questions and good feedback, and recommitting myself to the task of creating a truly differentiated classroom definitely fed my enthusiasm for this demanding work.

On to my second confession, which I guess I should let my co-diva hear before posting publically. It has to do with clarifying what that commitment looks like in my room. Kacy mentioned at the workshop that we were going to differentiate every lesson and every unit this year. I have to confess that I am not going to attempt this for every lesson. Every unit will have differentiation woven throughout - entry points arrived at through preassessment, different inputs in terms of materials, varying amounts of practice along the way, and differentiated products for the students to show what they have mastered. But I know there are some core lessons that are going to be whole group activities because they get at core knowledge that all the students need. I'll use student engagement strategies and formative strategies so I know where to go from there, to be sure, and allow students more than one way to interact with or respond to the lesson. But some days, I know we're all going to be doing pretty much the same thing at the same time. Again, it's about going big, not sweating each and every day, lesson, etc. It's a long journey and I want to get to June in one piece!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Differentiation has a lot to offer individuals, society and the economy, so it’s worth getting it right."
-Geoff Petty  

Small Steps/Getting Started

by Ilana Rembelinsky

I've been thinking back to when I first made the commitment to really differentiate to meet the diverse needs in my classroom. This was back before the standards-based, proficiency emphasis in Beaverton School District, so in some ways it was simpler. But it worked! My bright kids were challenged and my Special Ed and ELL kids were successful. It was a foundation to build on and add to as I got more training and experience.

For all major projects, assignments, and tests, I had three versions or tiers. I started with the basic assignment and added a challenge option for any student who wanted to take it on. And I modified "down" for the lower ability or language skilled students, in general, by reducing the assignment requirements, providing easier reading materials, providing more visual input, and providing a less writing-intensive means for students to demonstrate their learning. Whatever level of student I geared my tasks to, I provided some degree of choice. That little bit of student autonomy added a great deal of motivation and the payoff was well worth the up front work. Once I got in the habit of creating these three tiers, it really didn't add that much time or effort to the planning and prep process.

When it came time to up the level of sophistication to tiered assignments, flexible grouping, multiple rubrics for multiple products, I took it slow. If we try to adopt too many new practices at once, we end up back in our old habits before very long. So choose an area, a population that is near and dear to your heart, a unit you've taught many times and have time and energy to revise for differentiation. Choose a strategy or technique and make sure you teach the daily routine of it so the students have it down before adding the next layer. Take it at your pace and stretch your comfort zone a little at a time. And use your colleagues (and this blog) as resources for ideas and ways to vary your assignments. Lobby your admin for time to collaborate on worthy projects like this.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Differentiation in Heterogeneous Classrooms

by Ilana Rembelinsky

I have the good fortune to teach Humanities for Summa, a magnet middle school for highly gifted students in the Beaverton School District. When I helped start the program eight years ago, I thought I had it made in shade. Rooms full of high flyers, rip raring to challenge themselves and reach the heights of their full potential. With standardized test scores in the 99th percentile, the rationale was that even in a highly differentiated classroom, these students' needs would be difficult to meet. Coupled with the social stigma of high intelligence that is at its peak in the middle school years, the District created a program where students could have mind-alike peers, could engage in high levels of discourse, and could complete rigorous academic tasks.

I quickly learned that when you get to the higher end of the IQ continuum, you find a lot of idiosyncracies, not just in personalities, but in academic abilities across subjects, types of tasks, learning styles, communication skills, organizational skills, etc. The diverse needs of these students drove me back to school, first to learn more about Aspergers Syndrome and then on to Gifted Education and the Twice Exceptional Learner (students who are both exceptionally smart and exceptionally challenged in one or more areas).

Which puts me back in the position of creating a differentiated classroom. I know a few principles that drive my classroom culture:

1. If you don't plan for differentiation up front, it will not happen.
2. If you aren't clear on what skill or target you are assessing, you will not be able to provide differentiated options for assessing the skill or target.
3. Even in high ability classrooms, there are students who need additional instruction and support.
4. There are many, many ways students can demonstrate their learning and proficiency.
5. Written expression is one of the hardest modes for many students. If you are assessing content knowledge rather than writing as a skill, provide alternative means. Incorporate technology such as speech recognition or dictation.
6. Provide alternate means of presenting information, especially visual media such as graphic organizers, video clips, illustrated materials, etc.
7. Students (most of them anyway) want to be successful. If they aren't, be a detective and help figure out the obstacles and how you can help overcome them through differentiation in your classroom.
8. You set the tone that lets students know they can ask for alternate assessments, for help, for extensions, and for challenges.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Colonial Town Halls

Comply, Oppose, or Rebel?

By Kacy Smith  

Subject: 8th Grade Humanities (History)

Learning Targets: Social Studies: Knowledge & Contextual Understanding, Social Studies: Interpret History

Guiding Question: When is it necessary for people to rebel against their government?

Time: Two class periods

Differentiation: Groups based on reading ability

Whole Class: After covering the causes and events leading up to the American Revolution, I used the following debate activity to process and analyze the material from the textbooks. This processing and debating activity is from the History Alive! textbook. I differentiated for reading ability. In a Colonial Town Hall simulation, each group reviewed events leading up to the American Revolution. Each group discussed the events from the viewpoint of colonists and the British government, and then voted on whether to comply, oppose, or rebel against the British government. As a group, they wrote a prepared statement on their choice and a spokesperson read it to the members of the other town halls.

Differentiated Groups: 
    Group 1 (lower ability readers) explored the earlier events of the period: the Proclamation of 1763, the Stamp Act, and the Quartering Act. They had graphic organizers for the discussion and sentence starters for the written statement.
     Group 2 (on target learners) discussed the effects of the Proclamation of 1763, the Stamp Act, and the Quartering Act, and then focused on the Townshend Acts and the Boston Massacre. Questions were provided to guide the discussion, but not graphic organizers or sentence starters.
     Group 3 (higher ability learners) briefly discussed all the acts listed above, as well as the effects on Boston, Massachusetts. This group then explored the Tea Act and the Intolerable Acts. There was less structure to the directions for this group. For groups that finished early an extension activity was provided about the battles of Lexington and Concord.

Successes and Challenges: This activity went well, but it was LOUD. I’ve been teaching middle school for a decade and a half, so I’m used to working in noisy work spaces. This exceeded even my tolerance for noise at times though. Despite this, the students were pretty focused and worked together well. No one asked how I set up the groups. I was only required to remove one student that was so unfocused and distracting in order to allow her to work independently on the assignment. The most noticeable success was that the students preformed better than last year’s students on the assessment. Not everyone performed well as there were some low scores and a few who refused to write anything for the short answers or essay question. Overall, I saw an improvement in scores though. One of the biggest challenges was managing the groups. I appointed a facilitator for each group, whose job it was to ask the questions and guide the activity. The facilitator communicated to me throughout the activity by using a green cup (everything is okay!), a yellow cup (I need some help, but it’s not urgent), or a red cup (HELLLLLLLLPPPPPP!). This helped a great deal by creating tight boundaries within which they could interact. The other challenge was that in Group 1, the writing slowed down the process for the students. I was hoping that by having the facts written down, the students could make an educated decision more quickly. Instead this often led to the other two groups finishing earlier. Next time I may spend more time in the beginning with Group 1 to give them a stronger start.

Monday, September 19, 2011

First Week

by Kacy Smith

First Week: Preparation and Perspiration

            How do you set up classrooms for a year of differentiated instruction?
My goal for this year is to design, deliver, and modify instruction to meet the diverse needs of my students. I teach 8th grade Humanities (an English/Social Studies integrated class) at Whitford Middle School in Beaverton, Oregon. I have students all over every continuum—readiness, willingness, ability, interest, and/or language. It is already very apparent, even on the first day of school. These differences have made getting to know the students interesting and enjoyable, but teaching them difficult.
            The other factor for the first week was the heat.  Summer had not shown up in Oregon until school started, and every day the first week was in the 90’s. In addition to first week jitters, there was no air conditioning and rooms full of sweaty 8th graders! There are only some many times one can say, “Is it hot in here or is it just me?” or “Yes, correct answer. You’re on fire. Ha!”
            Against this backdrop of warmth, I introduced the students to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I have already prepared preliminary student groupings for readiness/ability for each class based upon:
·      State Reading scores
·      State Writing scores
·      TAG designation
·      ELL/ELPA score
·      SPED designation
·      Anecdotal information from previous teacher
I also plan on using some on-demand writing pieces, student self-reflections, and other assessments to modify these groupings in the coming weeks.
How did this information affect the first week in my classroom? I’m better prepared for the students who may need more support and more challenge.  I already had different versions of a reading assignment and was more ready to assist students.
      I did discuss differentiation with each of my classes. I told the students that sometimes the whole class would work together, other times in groups, partners or alone, and that sometimes their assignments or reading material would be different. There were a lot of nods, but no questions or comments. My hope is that the students will ultimately expect flexible groupings or different versions of an assignment as what happens in my room. My fear (or one of my fears, really) is that students will be comparing themselves or being frustrated/upset by being placed into a lower group.
      Next week promises to be cooler (hooray!) and more challenging as I delve deeper into the curriculum.