Monday, February 25, 2013

critical thinking

Teaching students to analyze and evaluate information is a key focus for all teachers at all grade levels. Indeed, I work on this skill all the time with preservice teachers as much as I did teaching elementary school. Critical thinking skills has become a more targeted focus of instruction in the wake of the Common Core State Standards, and there are a number of resources to help you thinking about planning instruction to develop critical thinking skills in students.

What resources do you use to help you plan instruction to build critical thinking skills in students.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

planning for all

Around this time in the school year is when teachers really become confronted with the evidence that some students are not making the expected progress based on the intructional plan in place in the classroom. When I was first starting teaching, I knew that I needed to make some adjustments in my instruction and assessment to meet the varied needs of students, but I wasn't always sure what that was supposed to look like. It's usually in the winter that teachers really start to adjust their plans for differentiation to make sure that all students are receiving the instruction that they need to make progress in their learning goals.

And while you no doubt learned a lot about differentiation in your preparation program, it can sometimes be hard to figure out ways to put it effectively into practice. I'm no expert, but here are some ideas to help you think about differentiation to meet student needs.

One of the researchers writing a lot about differentiation, Carol Ann Tomlinson (1999), says: we can recognize differentiated instruction by a variety of classroom characteristics:
  • Teachers begin where the students are.
  • Teachers engage students in instruction through different learning modalities.
  • A student competes more against himself or herself than others.
  • Teachers provide specific ways for each individual to learn.
  • Teachers use classroom time flexibly.
  • Teachers are diagnosticians, prescribing the best possible instruction for each student. (p. 2)
When teachers plan to differentiate, they differentiate primarily in content (what they learn), process (how they learn), product (how they share their learning), and environment.

Some examples of differentiation by content might look like:
  1. Having materials at different reading levels on the same topic.
  2. Changing the types of items certain students complete.
  3. Students complete different graphic organizers for the same text/topic.
  4. Front-loading vocabulary and/or academic langauage, or providing pre-reading strategies for some students.
Examples of process differentiation include:
  1. Presenting materials through both auditory and visual means.
  2. Asking students different levels of questions.
  3. Teaching content through center activities.
  4. Providing students choice in task completed.
  5. Varying the length of time students have to complete a task.
  6. Offering hands-on activities to support some students.
  7. Allowing students to work independently or in small groups.
Product differentiation is likely the easiest to consider. Examples include:
  1. Giving students choice to complete a written report or create a webpage.
  2. Having students determine the best way to share their learning.
  3. Providing students with tiered assignments.
Addressing environment differentiation is about the levels of scaffolding, support, grouping patterns and cooperative learning experiences for students. It also means that teachers are considering their students' needs and their students backgrounds when selecting materials, tasks, and products. Some students may prefer to sit quietly, while others work better standing or moving. These are also examples of differentiation by environment.

Teaching Tolerance has some videos and prompts to help teachers think about differentiation. The Teaching Channel also has posted videos to model ways to differentiate. The Association for Middle Level Education has a great article about incorporating tech tools for differentiation.

What are some ways you plan for differentiation in your classroom?