Archive for April 2007

My Answers to the Ten Differentiation Questions

April 26, 2007

One of my colleagues asked some good questions about differentiation over on his blog, and I thought I would attempt to answer them. So, here goes…

The following are 10 questions about classroom differentiation.

  1. Do you differentiate by content, instructional method, assignment or some other way? The most common way I differentiate is by assignment or product. Giving the students choices by allowing them to present information in a way that is the most comfortable or engaging for them is the quickest and easiest way to get students actively involved in their education.
  2. For whose benefit do you differentiate?I differentiate for the benefit of the students as well as for myself. Differentiation allows students to learn at the level and in the way that is best for them while also allowing me to teach in an environment that is continually changing.  Differentiation often times also helps me by allowing students to “cover” more of the curriculum in a shorter amount of time because they take some of the instructional burden off of me.
  3. To what percentage do you differentiate you assignments? 100%, 50%, 10%?Hmmm… this number is totally arbitrary but in the past I would say I differentiated lessons about 40-50% of the time and it tended to be more on projects than on everyday assignments. Next year when I am back in the classroom,(yes, you heard me right… I am TEACHING half-time next year.  Woo hoo!) I plan on using the Adaptive Release feature in Blackboard to differentiate grammar and vocabulary assignments.
  4. What are the immediate student benefits of differentiation? Engagement, success, a voice in their own education, a peek into the educational process…
  5. What are the long term benefits for teachers? Decline in classroom management issues, students interested in their learning, inability to stagnate…
  6. Were you taught about differentiation before or after you became a teacher?After… I figured out after my first year teaching that I needed to allow students to have some choices and a voice about what they were learning, but I didn’t actually hear the term differentiation until about my fourth year teaching.
  7. Does differentiation take more of your time to implement than other instructional approaches?In the beginning yes, but like most things once you become accustom to creating differentiate lessons I think the time evens out… and the time is worth it.
  8. How do you keep from differentiating only to your own interests and styles? I am not sure I “get” the question… but I will venture an answer.  I think you give the students an opportunity to critique lessons and offer input into their design. You may have certain objectives to teach, but students can help you devise how they are taught/learned.
  9. Is there such a thing as too much differentiation? Sure.  Differentiation is great, but so is candy… too much can make you sick. 🙂 But seriously, there are some topics that may not require differentiation to engage the students.  There are some times when you might want to have an old-fashioned discussion or need everybody on the same page.  The trick is to mix it up and give the students input.
  10. Have you ever sat through a lecture on differentiation? Bonus: Did you find it ironic? Yes and yes… In fact, I have given a lecture on differentiation and thought… “Wow, what a bad example I am.”

After reflecting on differentiation and answering the above questions, I have decided to make this a meme of sorts… so, I am tagging… Otherside of the Desk, Left Lane Ends, Finalcurve, Miguel Guhlin, Wesley Fryer and Change Agency.  Hope to see your answers!


A Winding Path…

April 24, 2007

Let me go ahead and warn you… I am not sure exactly where this post is going, but I had an experience yesterday that I feel like sharing…

Yesterday on the way home from the gym, I decided I wanted breakfast for dinner but knew that all I had at home was frozen waffles, so I needed to stop by the store.  The problem is that I had already passed the store where I usually shop and was not sure where another store was located, so as I exited the highway to make my way home (because at this point I had resigned myself to just have something else for dinner), I noticed a Sack and Save in a nearby shopping area and decided to pull in there to get my groceries.

I must say that I had never before been in a Sack and Save, and I was in an area of town that would not be deemed very good by most people.  Needless to say, I made my way in and started searching for the items that I needed: turkey bacon for me and regular bacon for my husband, Eggbeaters for me and regular eggs for my husband, yogurt, bread and some soy milk.  I was a little surprised at the items the store had available for purchase – there were no whole grain breads, no Eggbeaters, two choices of yogurt, one choice of turkey bacon and one choice of soy milk.  There were lots of canned food, chips, white bread, sausages, snack cakes, and other items that lack nutritional value, but I found what I could and made my way to the check out where the person in front of me paid with a check… an actual check that she wrote out…  it has been awhile since I have seen that. 

Once my items were scanned and went down the little conveyor belt, I sort of stood there and waited, and then it dawned on me.  Duh!  Sack and Save… I need to sack my own groceries.  So I did and I left.

On my way home I thought about my experience.  First of all, I decided Sack and Save was not really any cheaper than the Super Target where I usually do my shopping.  Secondly, the experience made me think back to my Ruby Payne conference because the majority of the people who live around this particular store are probably economically disadvantaged, and they are offered a poor selection of foods at their local grocery store and charged a somewhat inflated rate.  And finally, this experience made me think of the parents of many of our students.

I felt out of place in this store.  I couldn’t find what I wanted, and I didn’t know how the logistics of the store worked.  I think that many of our parents feel similar to this when they come to school for parent conferences, meet the teacher, and open house.  They don’t know where to go, they may not speak English, and many of them feel uncomfortable because they may not be “educated”.

My experience at Sack and Save compared to parent conferences may seem like a stretch, but I became contemplative on my way home from the store and this is where my thoughts lead me… a winding path, I know.

I may just have had parent conferences on my mind because we had them on Saturday, and we had a great turn-out.  So, whether the parents felt uncomfortable or not, many of them made it up here to take part in the child’s education, and I give them kudos for that!!

Sorry for the rambling… I will try to post something more cohesive later.

Developing an On-line Class – Part II

April 19, 2007

I posted the other day to get some ideas about what to include in the on-line health course I am helping to create for my school district. Since this initial post, we have begun the creation process and are off to a pretty good start (I think).

We have a decided on thirteen modules of study and each module is broken in to consistent “chunks” –

  • What will I learn? – This is the section where we outline the learning objectives for the module.
  • What do I read? – In this section we have links to the on-line text book and any other necessary readings.
  • What do I watch/study?– Video clips, links to websites, PowerPoints and other study resources are placed in this section.
  • What do I talk about?– We plan on using the discussion board as an integral portion of the class for students to interact with each other and the instructor.
  • What do I do? – This section includes the actual assignments students need to complete for each module.
  • What do I know? – The final section of each module will include quizzes and/or short tests to assess the students’ knowledge of each module.

We have also created a course syllabus which includes information about the course, links to the state TEKS and links to each module.

There is also a course schedule with links to each module, dues dates and class dates (which are on-line and which are face-to-face).

We have a pretty impressive skeleton set up and now we are just working on getting all of the modules filled in with high-level and engaging lessons.

I welcome any suggestion you have for tying the course together. I would also like your thoughts on the framework we have chosen. Do you think it will be user-friendly for students? We have tried to make it as easy to follow as we can… for example,  each section in the module is a consistent color throughout all modules.

Love your thoughts on this one!

Fun With Myths and Legends

April 12, 2007

I came across this site yesterday when I was reading my Metafilter feeds.  I haven’t had a chance to investigate the site intensely but from my initial look, it seems pretty fun and certainly has potential uses in the classroom.

I wrote about Toondoo the other day, but I think I like this site a little more.  Although it doesn’t produce a comic strip like Toondoo, it still gives the same sort of options to summarize a concept or reading, and it also appears to have a few more features.

The Myths and Legends site allows for more frames (or in this case chapters) to be created than in Toondoo. It also allows the author to record audio narration along with the story. Overall, it seems like a quick and easy way to produce a digital story or summary of ideas without any necessary software.

I plan to play around with it a little more, and I would love to hear from any of you who have used it in the classroom.

Developing an On-Line Class

April 10, 2007

I have been asked to help create an on-line Health Course to be offered in my school district during the summer school sessions this summer (and possibly as an option for students next school year).

Since I am not a Health teacher, my role will be more on course design and the logistics of actually creating the course, as well as offering suggestions for creating lessons that can be taught effectively in an on-line environment.  I will work in cooperation with a Health instructor who will create the actual lessons.

I certainly have experience using Blackboard and creating English classes with on-line components, but I have never created an entire course on-line, so I would love some suggestions on best practices.

  • What components do effective on-line courses have? 
  • How do I set up a useful and effective discussion forum which motivates students to participate?
  • What types of assignments work best in an on-line environment?

I have some ideas, but I would love your thoughts and experiences as well.

I Am Falling a Little Behind…

April 9, 2007

I have not been reading the news and blogs in my aggregator as avidly as I usually do, and I am falling behind on my own blog postings. I have some ideas about some future posts, but I just can’t seem to get motivated to post anything substantial. I think I may have caught “senioritis” from some of the students. 🙂

With that being said, I feel the need to discuss a recent news article that has been a hot topic on some of the blogs I read.

After reading the AP article, my initial response was… I just don’t get it.

“The study found achievement scores were no higher in classrooms using reading and math software products than in classrooms without the new products… The teachers that participated used more than a dozen software products to help deliver their lessons.” Maybe I am not being “fair” to the survey, but based on this article, I am envisioning students sitting in a computer lab all doing the same thing – testing “drill and kill” on a computer instead of paper. The teachers in my vision are using this software to “deliver” the multiple-choice questions instead of actually interacting with students, and, well… teaching.

The article made me tired. Tired of saying the same thing. Technology is not a “magic button” that will automatically raise your students’ IQ and make them better test takers; technology will not miraculously make you a better teacher and solve all your school’s problems; and it will not by itself make you more popular and fun to be around. It is just not that easy. Raising reading and math scores requires good teaching and hard work(with or without the introduction of technology).

I felt a little better after reading Wesley Fryer’s somewhat sarcastic response to the article (and I must admit that the sarcastic parts were my favorite), “NEWS FLASH! SHARPER PENCILS DON’T IMPROVE STUDENT TEST SCORES! HOT OFF THE PRESSES! BRIGHTER OVERHEAD PROJECTOR BULBS FAIL TO BOOST SAT RESULTS! AMAZING DISCOVERY! COLORED CHALK DOES NOT INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT IN 132 SCHOOLS!” <grin>

And I felt even better after reading eSchool News’ more in-depth coverage of the survey. “It is important to remember that educational software, like textbooks, is only one tool in the learning process. Neither can be a substitute for well-trained teachers, leadership, and parental involvement,’ said Keith Krueger, chief executive officer of the Consortium for School Networking, in a statement. “

So, I feel a little better, but I am still disheartened that everything in education seems like it must be justified by test scores. If a study comes out that “proves” technology integration is detrimental to math and reading test scores, are educators going to be encouraged to ignore technology in order to prepare students for these tests?

By the way, if you want to read the actual study referenced, you can find it here.

Toondoo and Today’s TL Tuesday

April 3, 2007

This post is directed more to my staff…


And it is my first attempt at using Toondoo which is a really fun on-line comic strip creator.  I showed it to one of my Algebra teachers yesterday and he used it to create a comic strip of a TAKS word problem (just to make it a little more fun for the students). 

I think it would be a great way to illustrate the definition of a word or phrase or to have students summarize something they have read.  Do you see any educational uses for it?

By the way… I have been trying like mad to get the full-version of the comic strip to show up, so you don’t have to click on it to read it, but I can’t get it to work and fit in the provided space.  I have re-sized it before I put it in, after I put it in and I tried the different codes Toondoo provides.  I would love some guidance. You can view the comic directly here until I can get the coding figured out. 🙂