Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Great Resource

Check out "The Differentiator" for a great menu of differentiation possibilities you can apply to any subject.

The Differentiator

Monday, June 25, 2012

Low Prep DIfferentiated Literature

This is a student-centered approach to a literature study.  It works in a class where students are reading the same novel and it also works in a class where students are reading different novels in book groups or different novels related to a common theme.  Students can even participate and benefit from the activities on some level even if they haven't read as far as the scheduled assignments call for.  It's so simple I almost feel like I'm cheating when I use it in my classroom. 

Here's what the students do.  They choose three quotes from the novel that "speak to them."  We discuss what that means in class.  They also write three discussion questions after talking about what makes a good discussion question versus a comprehension question and looking at some examples and non-examples of good discussion questions.  If students are not all reading the same novel, they will have to provide some context for the quote and they may need more guidance to write discussion questions that are thematic or universal rather than specific to one story.  Then, as fits your calendar, the students share their quotes and discussion questions in class over several days.  I used clock partners to make sure they were talking to different students and getting different perspectives on the novel.  This requires a little flexibility if a clock partner is absent or unprepared, but it is very doable.  Students without a partner remained standing and found a discussion partner that way.  I also stepped in as a clock partner at times. 

What makes this differentiated content?  Students can read books at their ability level.  Students can write questions at their cognitive level.  Students who struggle with written expression can express themselves orally.  Students can pair with students at different levels of understanding.  Students who haven't quite completed the book can choose quotes and write questions from the part they have read and will hopefully become more motivated to finish the book by participating in the conversations in class.  Students get lots of input and lots of practice before completing a summative assessment. 

I used this approach with To Kill A Mockingbird.  Some students read an alternate novel, Words by Heart by Ouida Sebastyen, an easier book with remarkably parallel elements.  It worked like a charm!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Group Work and Learning Preferences

We all know there are some students who just dread the group projects that are so commonly used in school today -- the introvert, the social communication challenged, the divergent thinker, etc. all have strong preferences against group projects.  The issue of group work also arises in a heterogeneous classroom, where all too often, the high-achieving students feel they get stuck with more than their share of work.  This may happen because they are more motivated or have a higher internal standard of achievement than their peers, or it may happen because they are bossy, opinionated, and not skilled at delegating or sharing responsibility with other group members.

Sometimes our agenda in assigning a group project is precisely to help those students who find it challenging to develop the cooperative skills they will need to be successful in the workplace and the social world.  If that is the case, it is important to structure the work clearly, provide defined roles for group members, monitor and support the group process during the project, and make it clear how the project will be evaluated based on individual and/or group effort and results.

If teaching and supporting cooperative group learning is not the main agenda, then I think it is important to offer an alternative, independent project as a differentiated option.  As long as the learning targets for the assignment are clear to you, there will be another way for students to demonstrate their skills.  Here's an example of a culminating project my students are just finishing for our Civil War integrated history and language arts unit.  After studying the historical facts of the Civil War and reading Paul Fleischman's Bull Run as a model of writing from multiple perspectives, the majority of students opted to write a cooperative group novel focused on one significant event or aspect of the war (Antietam, Andersonville Prison, Siege of Vicksburg, etc.)  They will be scored for research skills, historical knowledge, narrative writing, writing craft (word choice, voice), conventions, and group cooperation.  As an independent alternate project, students are creating multimedia digital narratives focused on any of the focus topics used for the novels.  The same learning targets are scored, with the single substitution of technology use for group cooperation.  Just about 10% of my students opted for this project, perhaps because they like to play with computer applications, perhaps because they strongly dislike group work.  Regardless of their reasons, they are more motivated and more satisfied than if they had been shoehorned into the group project.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Differentiation with Vocabulary

Differentiation with Vocabulary

            As a former Latin teacher, I love teaching vocabulary in my Humanities classroom.  Words are powerful, words are interesting, and words can be wildly entertaining. I want my students to maintain and utilize an academic vocabulary in order to help them in high school, college, and beyond. My goal is that my students remember the words well beyond next week’s quiz.
            I use Jane Bell Kiester’s The Chortling Bard as my grammar and vocabulary warm-up to start each class. Specifically, I use the warm-ups from her version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The vocabulary is rich and a good mix of words. Many of my students perform well on assessments, but I want all the students to perform well and also retain the information after the assessment.  I’ve been varying the processing activities and differentiating groups based on previous scores of vocabulary assessments and word choice in their writing. Here is a sampling of what I’ve been doing:

Activities for not yet proficient students
Activities for on-target students
Activities for TAG/highly capable Students

1. Making flash cards
2. Quizzing with a partner
3. Drawing/ graphic representation of words
4. Practice with assessments from previous years
5. Small group check-in with teacher

1. Writing pseudo-assessments: true or false, fill-in-the-blank, matching, synonym and antonyms (I sometimes use their questions on the assessments)
2. Exploring the parts of speech with vocabulary
3. Small group vocabulary charades

1. Writing linear arrays[1]
2. Writing analogies
3. Writing stories with vocabulary words
4. Compare/
contrast words
5. Word families
6. Etymologies

            For whole group instruction, I use vocabulary graphic organizers[2], class discussion with emphasis on root words and prefixes/suffixes and visual representations of vocabulary words.  Often I’ll type the vocabulary list into Google Images search and we’ll discuss why a particular image came up. Caveat: do not do this “live” in front of students. Even with the usual school safety settings in place, I’ve seen some unseemly images! Making your own vocabulary puzzles is another great idea- I use crossword puzzles because they are self-checking[3]. If you have a small class and/or enthusiastic class, you can do whole class charades with vocabulary. I’ve used “Mad Libs” as a practice activity for vocabulary, and students love it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

Different Assessment - Same Rubric

If you've looked at some of the teacher materials for differentiation, many of them provide assessment menus with interesting and creative ways for students to demonstrate what they know or can do.  However, when time comes to score these varied products, it can be a nightmare and a real deterrent to providing differentiated options for student assessments.  This is even more true for teachers in a standards-based or proficiency-based school in which all assessments have to tie to the specific learning targets.

The challenge I have set myself is to provide the students with at least two options for major summative assessments, both of which can be scored using the same learning targets and the same rubric.  In both the examples I will provide, the model I used for differentiating is not based on ability, skill, or readiness.  Rather, it was based on learning style preferences.

I taught an extended Bill of Rights unit, in which students learned the rights in each amendment and applied the concepts to a variety of court cases, and also watched a short (cheesy) movie called Future Fright (available online at http://www.viddler.com/explore/askgriff/videos/20/), which depicts an America without the Bill of Rights.  For their summative assessment, I needed a scored writing sample and needed to know what they understood about the practical application of the Bill of Rights in American life.  I offered two assessments.  One was a persuasive essay in which the students argued a Supreme Court case, either for the plaintiff or defense.  This assignment appealed to the students who were more linear/analytical thinkers.  The other option was to write a short imaginative piece of dystopian fiction about an America without the Bill of Rights, which required at least three specific rights to be violated.  This assignment appealed to the more global/creative thinkers and is one of very few opportunities for creative writing in my integrated Humanities class with its extreme time pressure to cover vast amounts of material.  Both assessments were scored for content knowledge and for the writing traits I chose to assess this time (Ideas/Content and Organization). 

I am designing my Civil War unit today, our semester work day.  In the past, the culminating project has been a collaborative group novel set around one specific aspect of the Civil War (4 - 6 students per group), based on the model of Paul Fleischman's Bull Run.  This year, I want to accommodate those students who 1) really, really hate group projects or 2) really, really hate creative writing.  So I will offer an alternative assessment, a multimedia digital movie project in which a student researches and presents learning about one specific aspect of the Civil War.  Both projects will be scored on content knowledge, research, and writing targets, using the same rubric.

Because my students have figured out that my classroom is a place where differentiated assessments are welcome, students are beginning to take me up on the option of "make a proposal and get my approval" more than ever before.  Because I am clear on the learning targets, I have a way to evaluate their proposals.  For the Bill of Rights assessment, two students opted to write a series of newspaper articles written as if the Bill of Rights had been repealed.  Two others opted to create a graphic novel portraying their dystopian fiction.  They were awesome!  And they were scored with the same rubric.

Maybe this is all a big no-brainer, but for me it has been a big aha!  If I start with the learning targets I will assess, it gives me the structure I need to provide differentiated assessments that are authentic measures of student skills.   This is very different from simple creating a menu of fun, interesting, creative products for students.  Maybe next time I teach these units, I will be able to expand the options.

If anyone is interested in seeing these assignment handouts, I'm happy to share.  Comment to this post or e-mail me at Ilana_Rembelinsky@beaverton.k12.or.us and let me know what you want me to send.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Quote of the Day

From Differentaiting Instruction in the Regular Classroom by Diane Heacox, Ed.D:

"The act of differentiating instruction captures the creative spirit."