DI Journal

Unit 1 – Journal Entry

After watching the Technology Innovation and Teamwork video I felt empowered and motivated to try new things in my classroom! The teachers and administrators in the video seemed so excited about what they were doing and very supportive of one another. The video focused on how they use technology and a positive classroom community to help their students achieve. I think the importance of creating a classroom community is often overlooked by other priorities, such as test scores and curriculum demands. Establishing a positive learning environment, where students feel safe to take risks with their learning and feel comfortable communicating with their peers and teachers, can have a positive effect on student achievement. Kappy Cannon, principal of Forest Lake Elementary School, stressed the importance of fostering a culture for learning. She also discussed how this does not happen during the first week of school or even the first month of school, but rather it is a yearlong process. Creating this type of classroom has to be a priority in order for students to be successful.

Another interesting point made by Dr. Cannon was her mention of how her teachers do not waste time teaching students content that they already know, but rather teaching them based on their current level of knowledge. I believe this is where the idea of differentiation would come in to play since students have varying levels of knowledge. In order to determine a student’s current level of performance it would be necessary to administer a pre-assessment in order to see what a student already knows and what they still need to learn. This is in-line with Tomlinson’s thinking, which is that differentiated instruction is rooted in assessment. Information or data acquired from a pre-assessment allows a teacher is to appropriately group students and tailor lessons to their specific needs, which is the core of differentiation.

The video also demonstrated how their school uses technology to help improve student achievement. In almost every frame of the video the students were using technology, whether in a whole-group, small group, or independently. It appears that the use of technology is another way that this school differentiates for their students. Technology can be an easy way to differentiate for students based on their specific needs because it can engage students with all types of learning styles (e.g. auditory, visual, tactile, kinesthetic) and with varying intelligences (i.e. musical, spatial, interpersonal, etc.).

In terms of my own educational context I would like to learn more about using technology to differentiate for my first grade students, specifically with I-Pads or laptops, and then try to implement those strategies in my own classroom.

Unit 2 – Journal Entry

In this unit I was most interested in the readings that pertained to the teacher’s role in differentiated instruction. As I reflect back to when I was in high school I recall most of my classes being set up in a lecture format, where the teacher stood in front of the classroom spewing information while the students diligently wrote down everything he or she said.  Now as an educator myself, I think of how disengaging and ineffective those types of classes were, as well as how only one or two types of learning styles were being targeted.  I do think there is an appropriate time for lectures, but teachers need to create a balance between that style and a more interactive format. In my own classroom, there are times where I do stand in front of my first graders and dispense information; however, it is infrequent and is often accompanied with visuals, technology, or some other type of interactive tool.

In all educational settings, but especially in first grade, it is crucial to ensure students are engaged and invested in what they are learning, and being a “dispenser of knowledge” is not going to accomplish that. Tomlinson (2001) expresses that teachers need to steer away from being dispensers and focus on being “organizers of learning opportunities” or coaches (p. 16). I view the role of a coach as one where the teacher’s purpose is to understand his or her students and create activities where they can develop their skills and gain knowledge through authentic experiences. In a peer’s post this week he described the relationship between teacher and student as being “partners in discovery”, which I found to be a very appropriate and interesting definition. Setting a rapport with your students, where students feel as if they have part ownership over their own learning is what is going to help them become 21st century learners and thinkers, which is the basis of where education is moving.

Reflecting on my past experiences in school, as well at this week’s reading, I now have a greater appreciation and a better understanding for what differentiation is trying to accomplish, which is to help students reach his or her highest level of potential through the support of their teacher and a series of strategically planned lessons.

 References

Tomlinson, C. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd ed.). Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

 

Unit 3 – Journal Entry

I believe that differentiation is a beneficial and effective way for educators to meet the needs of each student, including gifted or disabled students, by focusing instruction on students’ diverse learning styles, intelligences, interests, and ability levels. To support this belief I offer the following:

  • In a three-year research study conducted in Canada it was found that students with mild or severe learning disabilities received more benefits from differentiated and intensive support as compared to the general education population (Huebner, 2010).
  • A study conducted by Tieso (2005) compared the achievement of students learning mathematics curriculum in a whole group setting to students learning the same curriculum in a differentiated group setting. The results indicated that students in the differentiated setting received higher scores on the post-assessment than those students in the whole group setting. Tieso found that differentiating the curriculum combined with flexible groupings can significantly improve students’ mathematics achievement, especially amongst gifted students.

Regarding Dodge’s idea of the Jigsaw Puzzle, where students work in heterogeneous and homogenous groups to learn information on a broad topic, I believe it is a great way to get students engaged in the lesson content and promote collaboration with peers. To support this belief I offer the following:

  • Although a complex strategy, Dodge (2005), stresses the importance of sticking with it as “research has shown that students become more confident learners, like school better, and achieve more academically through the use of this cooperative strategy” (p. 117).
  • According to the website, Concept to Classroom, a benefit of collaboration is that it actively involves students in learning. The site indicates that, “Students are apt to take more ownership of their material and to think critically about related issues when they work as a team” (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004).
  • The implementation of the Common Core State Standards focuses on helping students develop 21st century skills. In his article, Quinn expresses that “collaboration” is at the core of all 21st century skills and emphasizes the importance of students experiencing both the benefits and struggles of working with peers. He states that, “without this experience, students who spend their K-12 education career working in isolation will be ill-equipped to handle these challenges when they confront them in college and the workplace (2012).

References

Dodge, J. (2005). Differentiation in action. New York: Scholastic.

Educational Broadcasting Corporation. (2004). Cooperative and collaborative learning: Explanation. Retrieved from http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/coopcollab/index_sub3.html

Huebner, T. (2010). What research says about differentiated learning. Educational Leadership. 67(5), 79-81. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb10/vol67/num05/Differentiated-Learning.aspx

Quinn, T. (2012). Group work doesn’t spell collaboration. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/12/01/kappan_quinn.html

Tieso, C. (2005). The effects of grouping practices and curricular adjustments on achievement. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 29(1), 60–89.

 

Unit 4 – Journal Entry

In chapter 3, Dodge (2005) references a quote made by Eric Jensen that stated, “There is no such thing as an unmotivated learner”. He goes on further to explain that a student can exhibit low motivation when he or she is disengaged or disinterested in a particular learning situation, but this does not indicate they are not a motivated individual (p. 50). This made me reflect on my own teaching and experiences with students who appeared unmotivated. In these types of situations I often feel frustrated with the fact that a particular student is not putting forth effort or does not seem to care about his or her learning. Reading this chapter in Dodge’s text made me realize that it may not be the student I should be frustrated with, but rather myself.

Although I make attempts to differentiate for my students’ needs, and plan thoughtful lessons that focus on the various learning styles, I often forget to think about incorporating something in the lesson that will interest or excite my students. I do take time to get to know my students, but I’m not sure if I do enough with that information. In addition, I always ensure that my lessons cover the necessary content, standards, and include supports to help students understand, but I sometimes overlook including a component that will be motivating for them.

Dodge offered various strategies that can promote intrinsic motivation, most of which focused on offering choices to students. I do provide students with choices for some activities, but I realized that I can expand that option of choice into homework and groupings. I am consistent with the groupings I use, meaning if we are doing partners, everyone has a partner, and if I plan for small group, everyone is in a small group. I think students would feel empowered and excited about being given a choice to work alone, with a partner, or with a group.

I enjoyed the readings this week, especially Dodge’s chapter on providing choice. Next time I have a student who appears disinterested I will remember to look deeper at the issue to determine what is causing this student to be unmotivated, since it could likely be a simple fix of providing that student with a choice.

References

Dodge, J. (2005). Differentiation in action. New York: Scholastic.

 

Unit  5 – Journal Entry

In Chapter 4 and 5, Dodge (2005) explores Bloom’s Taxonomy and Gardener’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences and discusses how the combination of the two can help students use higher-level thinking skills along with a specific intelligence to demonstrate what they know (p. 88). My personal teaching philosophy has always focused on engaging students in the learning process by meeting each student’s specific needs. I think Gardner’s learning theory best aligns with that philosophy. His theory suggests that each individual possesses varying levels of intelligences, including one or more of the following: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, body-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal. He believes that learning and teaching is most effective when it focuses on the distinct intelligences of each student. Furthermore, Gardner believes that instructional activities and assessments should be tailored to meet different and multiple forms of these intelligences (Culatta, 2013).

As a general and special education teacher for over seven years, I consistently have a class of diverse learners with varying strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, I have become skillful at differentiating for each student in my classroom based on his or her specific needs. In the past I have primarily focused on differentiating instruction based on students’ levels or learning types (i.e. visual, auditory, tactile, or kinesthetic learners). Reading about Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences in combination with Bloom’s Taxonomy has provided me with a different perspective on how I can better differentiate for the students within my classroom. Dodge (2005) suggests having the students use the How I Am Smart checklist to assess their strengths at the beginning of the year (p. 93). Students at the first grade level would not be able to read or understand this checklist; therefore, I would have to modify it by providing fewer choices, adding images, or reading it aloud to them. The information obtained from this checklist would help me to develop groupings, as well as various activities that the students can chose from.

Gardner’s theory can also help educators in the areas of curriculum development, assessment, and instructional planning. In his article, Smith (2002, 2008) quotes Mindy Kornhaber, a researcher, who states that Gardner’s theory “provides educators with a conceptual framework for organizing and reflecting on curriculum assessment and pedagogical practices. In turn, this reflection has led many educators to develop new approaches that might better meet the needs of the range of learners in their classrooms”. The main strength of his theory is that it can provide teachers with knowledge on how to better reach his or her students and thus help them grow as learners.

References

Culatta, R. (2013). Multiple intelligences (howard gardner). Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved from http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/multiple-intelligences.html

Dodge, J. (2005). Differentiation in action. New York: Scholastic.

 

Unit 6 – Journal Entry

When completing my discussion board for this week’s unit regarding content, process, and product, I had some difficultly “differentiating” between process and product. When trying to think of an example I experienced as a learner for differentiating product, I then had to rethink it because it felt like it may have been an example of differentiating for process. For example, I discussed a way that my 6th grade teacher differentiated homework, which was the use of a Tic-Tac-Toe board where students could pick any three assignments, but they had to be in a row. As I was reflecting on that experience I could not decide if the teacher was varying the process, the product, or both.

Tomlinson (2001) describes process as an opportunity for learners to process the content, ideas, or skills that have been taught in a particular lesson (p. 79). In contrast, she describes product as a long-term endeavor where students have an opportunity to rethink, use, and extend what they have learned over a long period of time (p. 85). After reading about Tomlinson’s thinking, I realized that the main difference is that differentiating process is to help students understand or make sense of information just taught, while differentiating product is related to demonstrating knowledge of a unit of study.

I think the reason I was having trouble distinguishing between the two is because the basis for how you differentiate them is similar. Whether differentiating process or product, you still need to consider the same elements, such as student interest, readiness, and learning style. Whether it is a short-term “sense-making” activity (process) or a long-term group project (product), you still want to ensure you are providing students with choices on tasks that best suit his or her learning style and ensuring that the activity matches the needs of the student.

At first I was confused, but after reading the chapters in Tomlinson, and reflecting on my own classroom, I now understand that while process and project have similarities in what you base differentiation on, they are different in the type of activities you are differentiating for.

References

Tomlinson, C. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd ed.). Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

 

Unit 7 – Journal Entry 

When I started teaching eight years ago we were encouraged to use Bloom’s Taxonomy to plan appropriately for all levels of thinking. I thought it would be impossible to create experiences for my first grade students in the analyze, evaluate, and synthesize level. Being a beginning teacher I do not think I had enough experience to understand that first grade students can be analytic and creative thinkers when presented with an appropriately and well-thought out lesson.

Now I am much more comfortable and experienced with using Bloom’s Taxonomy for developing lessons that challenge student’s thinking in a variety of ways. With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, many of the standards require lessons that are encouraging students to work together to complete all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, especially analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing.

One way I have demonstrated Bloom’s Taxonomy in my classroom is during a writing unit on opinion writing. During this unit students complete book reviews on books they are reading at their specific reading level. This project requires pairs of students to read a book, complete a graphic organizer for the parts of their book review, and then record their book review on the I-pad. As a culmination the students share their book reviews with the class. These activities cover comprehension (reading the text), application (graphic organizer), evaluation (book review), and synthesis (recording).

Another example is during our science unit on plants. Students are exposed to various resources to learn about the parts of a plant, including books, video clips, and visuals. The students then use an app on the I-Pad called Educreations to create a diagram of a plant using photographs from the Internet and labels. Finally students use the record option of this app to create a recording of themselves describing each part of the plant and its specific use. These activities focus on knowledge (readings, videos), comprehension (diagram), and application (recording).

In my district we are trained to use the Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix when planning our lessons. It is a combination of Webb’s Depth-of-Knowledge (DOK) levels and Bloom’s levels. It basically takes Bloom’s levels and extends them into 4 increasingly complex levels of knowledge. For each of Bloom’s levels there are 4 DOK levels:

  • DOK 1: Recall and Reproduction
  • DOK 2: Skills and Concepts
  • DOK 3: Strategic Thinking and Reasoning
  • DOK 4: Extended Thinking

To see the matrix, click on the following link: Hess’ Matrix

 

Unit 8 – Journal Entry 

Last Friday my school had a professional learning day where teachers attend workshops, presentations, or work sessions with colleagues and other professionals. One of my presentations was centered on guided math. Our new principal is a previous math specialist and is passionate and motivated to implement a guided math program at all grade levels. Although the presenters never mentioned the word differentiation, much of the information they were sharing where based on differentiation strategies.

They discussed methods on forming groups, which they suggested be based on readiness levels or assessment data. They also reinforced that the groups should be always changing based on the content of the day’s lesson, which is essentially flexible grouping. The presentation also provided us with ideas on math games or activities that students could be working on while the teacher has a small group. They discussed that each of these activities could have a different color folder, which should contain varying criteria for different groups. For example, if students visit the “Addition Station” they may all be working on using dominos to add, but the red folder group (struggling learners) may be adding number 0-5, while the blue folder group (advanced learners) are adding numbers up to 20. This suggestion sounded like differentiating the content of the task.

In terms of instruction, they discussed using tiered lessons. They provided resources from their program on how a teacher can tier content for varying ability levels. The resources contained ideas on how to teach English Language Learners, enrichment students, as well as Tier 1 and Tier 2 students. Having a resource like this minimizes a lot of the challenges that planning differentiated lessons can present. Although the resource is helpful, I also realize I need to keep the interests and knowledge of my students in mind when planning lessons, as the suggested ideas may not always be appropriate.

I found the presentation to be very useful. While listening to the presenters, I kept thinking to myself, “this is differentiation”. I’m not sure if that was as clear to the other teachers in the room, but after what I have learned in this course I have an easier time recognizing what differentiation looks like and sounds like.

 

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