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Monday, January 31, 2011

Planning for Differentiation: Focus Student Planning

Students who are gifted.  Students whose native language is not English.  Learning through different modalities.  How can teachers accommodate all of the different learners in their classrooms?  Try focus student planning.  This very simple process will greatly enhance the engagement of all students.  The purpose of focus student planning is to increase the success of all students. 

Speaking of engagement.  First of all, we need to plan for active engagement of students as a foundation.  Students need to be busy working in groups, manipulating, speculating on how to solve a problem, researching answers and engaged in any type of action which sparks thinking. 

Plan for this active environment by selecting four to eight students who are representative of the learning continuum in your classes.  For elementary teachers, your learning continuum will mostlikely be confined to the students in your class.  Secondary teachers can think of the learning contiuum in individual classes or they can choose a selection of students from across their classes.  The student chosen should include learners who are gifted, typical students, and students who have academic challenges.  Depending upon your students, you may want to select one or two second langauge learners, a student with limited attention, or a student with behavior challenges.

Plan your unit or your lesson.  Think about the activities that you are going to do as well as other assignments.  Now, think about your focus students.  Will they be successful with your instructional plan?  If your answer is "yes".  You are all set.  Begin the instruction.  But, if you conclude that one student or more students will not be successful, then either restructure a segment of the assignement or try to identify an accommodation. 

For example, the students are reading a piece of literature.  One of the focus students you have chosen, will not be able to do the reading.  Look for ways to increase the success of this student.  Is it the reading that is the main purpose for the lesson?  Or, is the main purpose of the analysis of the text?  Look online for auido books.  Many of them are available for free and have an audio and interactive componenet.  Or, look for the book on CD at your local library.  If the reading component is not an option, then plan literature that is available in a video format. 

Right about now, you may be saying, "Okay, I have these five focus students covered.  What about the other thirty students?  The main concept of this planning process is that every class has similar learners.  If you can plan for success for a small group of students who represent the continuum of learners in your classes, you will be able to engage most of your students. 

You have reviewed your lesson and conclude that most of the students will not be successful.  It's back to the drawing board.  The lesson will need to be restructured.  I always recommend increasing active engagement, and change the instructional grouping. If the students are working in small groups, have them work with a partner.  If your plan is to do an introductory lecture, then plan to build background knowledge first by watching a video clip and having a discussion. 

A quick note:  when selecting your focus students, don't select the outliers as your focus students.  These students are exceptionally gifted or they may have moderate to severe cognitve challenges.  The students who are at opposite extremes of our learning contiuum, require accommodations or total modifications to be successful. 

Focus student planning works for increasing the success of students in your classes.  Try it.  Let me know what happens.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Word Play with Wordle: Getting the Main Idea

I just started playing with Wordle, an artistic visual organizer for a collection of words otherwise known as word clouds.  Have you tried Wordle yet?  I have seen it used as a summary tool for groups who are describing their experiences, feelings, or impressions.  Each person creates a list of adjectives.  Then, one person enters all of the lists into a Wordle page.  The results are a beautiful "word cloud".  The words that were mentioned more frequently are depicted by color and size of the word.  The words mentioned once are much smaller. 

I see a lot of applications for Wordle in the classroom.  Here's an example.  You ask your students to develop a Wordle highlighting the main ideas in the book they are currently reading.  They record Themes and concepts five times.  They record main ideas three times, supporting details two times, and minor details such as the names of characters once.  They create the Wordle.  Then, they share their creation in person with their peers and  on the class Wiki or Blog.  If the whole class is reading the same text, the students can create a class Wordle.  They would create a list of adjectives describing the book or a selection from the book.  The list would be compiled and the Wordle created. 

Wordles are a great way of capturing ideas through a very fluid thinking process.  Plus, it's fun!  Check them out at wordle.net.  What are your experiences with Wordle?  Do you have other tools that are as equally engaging?  Do  you need more information about Wordle in the classroom?  Check out this link:  http://blog.simplek12.com/education/video-how-to-use-wordle-in-the-classroom/?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzEmail&utm_content=648760&utm_campaign=0

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

To Do Lists: Simple Tasks Powerful Tools

In our busy lives, it is hard to remember all that we have to do.  A simple memory tool is the To Do List.  We jot them down on small slips of paper.  We tap our phones and create a memo.  Our calendars follow us where ever we go.  This very simple task helps us all accomplish a great deal during each day.

Students see their parents maintaining their calendars and creating their To Do Lists.  Many schools begin to teach this important organizational skill by asking students to maintain homework notebooks.  The To Do List is an important tool for helping students maintain attention.  It can be used in different ways to assist whole classes in maintaining the instructional focus.  It can be used with individual students who need more specific organizers to complete their assignments.

On a daily basis the teacher simply lists the tasks for the class.  As they are completed, they are crossed off.  Students with limited attention are able to persevere through a task when they know it will end soon.  Teachers can increase the effectiveness of this tool by adding a check-in time.  The students are given a specific time to work.  When that time is completed, the teacher checks-in with the students to see if additional time is needed. 

Students who require more structure and more specific direction can maintain a personal To Do List at their seat.  This list can be further modified by the teacher based upon the needs of the student.  Perhaps the student needs a single assignment broken down into smaller steps.  Instead of having a list detailing the morning schedule, the more individualized list would sequence the steps to completing one assignment.  The student would cross out the items on the list as they are completed. 

For example, the item on the class list is to begin persuasive essays.  An individual list may have these steps.  One, choose one topic from the list of four.  Two, make a list of what you know about the topic.  Three, make a list of the pros and the cons about the topic.  Four, choose a position (pro or con).  Five, begin writing the first paragraph that states your position. 

The To Do List is a powerful instructional tool because it is one that is used with adults.  The List helps to maintain attention, increase organization, and increase assignment completion.  It can be designed as a whole class organizer, a group organizer and an individual accommodation.  For teachers, the To Do List does not take a lot of time.  But, it does take a conscious effort to build the routine.  This simple tool will be a help to teachers and students alike!

What tools do you have that enhance organization and participation in the classroom? 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Eighty Percent Rule

Teachers can expect and get high quality work from all students if they teach systematically, break learning down into understandable steps, and establish high standards with multiple ways for meeting those standards.  One way to obtain that is to establish a routine and a rule.  I have found the Eighty Percent Rule to be very effective.  Simply, say that work on key assignments or on all assignments will only be accepted at a minimum of eighty percent.  Students are given up to three opportunities to increase the quality of their work to that level.  This is an effective rule for those students who rush through their assignments just to finish and for those students who just need more time to practice and update. 

Yes, the Eighty Percent Rule does take additional time.  But it also gives more students an opportunity to achieve at a higher standard.  Once the students realize that poor quality work will not be accepted, they will increase the quality of their work. 

What rules, routines or tips do you have for expecting and getting high quality work from students?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Just Behave: Linking Learning and Behavior

"Why can't the kids just behave?  My job would be so much easier if I didn't have to deal with behavior all of the time."  Does this sound like something you would like to say or do say? 

In my work with educators, I hear this comment all of the time.  There is a simple lesson here that we all need to learn.  Interested kids do behave.  So, the key is how to interest and engage students in school?  Here are some steps linking beavior and learning.  None of these are new.  None of these take the knowledge of a rocket scientist.

1.  Get to know your students.  I mean really get to know your students beyond what you teach.  What do they like to do?  Who are their friends?  What is their favorite food?  Any information that will help you understand your students.
2.  Take a ride or a walk through their neighborhoods.  One of the best experiences I had as a new teacher was taking a drive through the small rural and poor district where I secured my first teaching job.  This was an eyeopener!
3.  Plan your lessons!  The best teachers have great plans.  As we grow in experience, some of us get relaxed in our planning.  Develop your plans electronically.  This way you can store and revise them.
4.  Smile!.  Did you know that students score higher on high stakes tests when the teachers smile when they talk about the assessments, do practice assessments or review the directions to the assessments?  Smiling makes everyone feel better, students included. 
5.  Acknowledge the small things frequently.  Celebrate the big things.  A sincere recognition of effort by a teacher will inspire a student to keep trying.  The secret with acknowledgement is students need to feel like they have truly accomplished something.  Sometimes we hand out recognition in a wholesale manner too frequently.  Kids find that type of recognition to be artificial.
6.  Engage.  Plan all lessons for engagement.  A simple rule that I learned is the person who manipulates the materials the most and talks the most about the topic, learns the most.   Give students interesting questions to answer and guide them through the process of answering the questions. 
7.  Plan instruction systematically.  Think about how students are learning and plan the next steps to take them to the next level of learning.  Don't assume that they have learned. 
8.  If inappropriate behavior is a barrier in your classroom, then teach the appropriate behavior before, during and after instruction.  Model, what should be heard and seen.  Ask students to define appropriate behaviors for a specific situation.  Do quick practices with the students in an engaging manner. 
9.  Be organized!  Students do not naturally know how to organize their various tasks.  provide that guidance.  Use checklists, provide models.  If you expect work to be done in a certain manner, involve students with reviewing different work samples. They can identify positive and negative indicators in each sample. 
10.  School for many students is the most stable part of their lives.  Teachers must provide an environment that is welcoming, predictible, consistant, and immdediate.