Sunday, December 19, 2010

I just give them an extra worksheet when they're done....

What does differentiation look like? Seriously! Is it something you can put your hands on or is it something in the moment. What I do know is that for some teachers differentiation is natural and in the moment and for others it might take some planning. What we as educators need to grasp is that differentiation is most definitely not an extra worksheet at the end of a lesson. While we all hate to hear that we need to do something else, differentiation does not need to be a burden.

I have two examples of lessons that as a teacher I found were prime examples of how some preplanning allowed me to differentiate. Also the preplanning allowed me to not have to put a great deal of energy into focusing on it (then and after). After all, the students should be the ones doing the extra work not the teacher.

The first lesson was a long term project in Science that counted as a test grade (I never gave sit down tests because I feel application of concepts taught, truly demonstrates understanding). The project was called the "Creature Paper." It was given just after we had discussed 6 different systems of the human body. It begged that the student create a creature of their choice and develop a system of the body that reflected each system in the human body that we reviewed. The students were not only asked to invent a system, but justify why that stem would work in the environment that their creature would live and then compare it to the human system that it would be most compatible to (cool right!). They were also asked to draw a picture of each system. As you can imagine I received some amazing products! One of my favorites was a creature that was born in a rain drop and its whole life passed in the time that the rain drop fell (It was intense!) Because in this project I was looking for some basic comprehension of the human body, the design allowed me to gather if any particular student had the right level of understanding and at the same time let any learner explore, at which ever level they wanted, their wildest ideas. Once I developed the lesson it was done! No extra work. No sleepless SAIL nightmares.

The second lesson was a quiz style that came to define me. When students in my class took quizzes, they participated in a unique experience. Quizzes to me should be a formative assessment that gathers quick feedback on whether or not your class got whatever it was that you where teaching over the last week or month. My design was to have all of the desks in a circle. The students wold all take a seat and each would have a question at their seat. When the quiz began they would flip the question and have 2 minutes to answer it. After 2 minutes I would say "Okay.... Switch." At that moment all of the students would stand and move to the seat to right of them and have 2 minutes for that next question (after all if you don't know it in 2 minutes you probably didn't know it!). Each question allowed a student to respond based on their strength, which could have been writing, drawing, diagraming, etc.... In addition I would play music in the background and introduce the artist with some background before we started. This practice awarded me a fellowship from the Developmental Disabilities Counsel for excellence in practices in inclusive education (Not to mention it was a lot of fun!).

Again, some of us are naturals. We do it without a second thought. However, in a time when less support is being offered by the district to support our most advance students and students who need the most support, we need to develop a classroom model that will both address their needs and not give us more work!

Help us out and share! How do you differentiate?

Monday, December 6, 2010

How do you grade your students?

With our lengthy subjective report cards coming up, this recent article entitled "No More A's for Good Behavior", caught my eye. Even though the article focuses on middle and high school, I thought it contained many interesting points that I could relate to my grade level. One statement that I found interesting was a pivotal debate: Should students be rewarded for being friendly, prepared, compliant, good school citizen, well organized, etc. Or should good grades represent exclusively a student's mastery of the material? Do you grade your kids for compliance or for mastering the course material? The article mentions that A and B students were not the ones who were gaining the most knowledge but the ones who had learned to do school the best. What do you think?
Something else that I found interesting was that one middle school is giving "knowledge grades" based on calculating the average of test scores. And "life skills grades" based on work habits, attitude, effort and citizenship.
These are just a few of the interesting topics from this article. I encourage you to skim the article too. It may open your eyes and help you decide what is really most important when you are filling out those lengthy subjective report cards next week. Again, how do you grade your students?

Diane Conahan
4th Grade Math Teacher