Monthly Archives: August 2019

Guest Post by Kristen Koppers, @Mrs_Koppers

Educator and Author of Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession 

The movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was one movie that brought together friendship through hardships. But a single pair of pants (no matter the size of each of the girls) fit perfectly to where they would wear the pants, write on them, and send them to each other throughout the summer.

We all know that wearing a pair of pants in one size does not mean that another pair of pants will fit even with the same size. The fact that one pair of pants can fit four different girls ‘perfectly’ who all have different body types is not realistic. Although the movie focused on the jeans, it was more about the friendship of the four girls during their personal problems they went through without each other.

The same idea goes for teaching and learning. While we hope that one size pair of pants (learning styles) would fit more than one student, we know that is not the case. Students come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, schools, and learning abilities so we cannot think that one curriculum or one “pair of pants” can fit all. This goes the same for purchasing a Halloween costume or outfit where the tag says “one size fits most.” Someone who weighs 120 pounds wearing the same costume that a person who weighs 30 pounds more won’t fit the same way. While the outfit will fit both sizes, the look will be quite different.

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL – What many forget is that teachers come from all backgrounds, cultures, educational institutions, and ethics. We cannot expect one teacher to teach the same way as other teachers. This is the same for students. It would be a perfect world if one style of teaching will reach all students. However, this is not the case. Differentiating work can be difficult as well to meet the needs of all students. In order to have that perfect pair of pants to fit all students, teachers must be willing to put their ego and pride aside and stretch the pants just a little wider so that not one size person but multiple sizes can fit.

The struggle is real. We all know how it is to try and fit into a fresh pair of washed jeans. The jeans that fit you the day before now feels tighter 24 hours later. If we think about how that one pair of jeans fit the day earlier and then the next day they don’t, this is how many students feel. One day they feel like they understood the information and then the next day nothing makes sense.

Using Differentiated Instruction is not about separating all students or creating one lesson plan for many. It’s about assessing student needs throughout the year. While one lesson plan will help several students at one point, another lesson plan may not work for the rest. Assessing students needs does not need to be cumbersome. It can be as simple as noticing non-verbal clues in the classroom to written work.

Recently, we were reading a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Students were intrigued by the reading and began to focus on the plot. It wasn’t until they were to share out what they learned to the class that everything unfolded. When I moved around the room, most groups were able to explain what they were thinking. However, between the individual group discussions and the informal presentation, something went wrong. This is where I used differentiated instruction. We discussed the lesson, the assignment, and guidelines. It was the connection from what they read to their knowledge that seemed ‘not to fit.’

As an educator of 16 years and instead of taking it as an insult to my teaching, I swallowed my pride of experience and began to learn how to fit into a pair of jeans that did not fit me. After a large group discussion, I was able to use differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all the abilities in my classroom. Students were given the choice to keep their grade or complete one of the two alternative assignments to replace the previous grade. Instead of making this decision, I let the students choose because, after all, they are the ones who truly know their own learning ability.

When one pair of pants does not fit, we shouldn’t just give them away and buy a larger or small pair, we need to stretch them a little to fit.

Follow Kristen on Twitter and Check out her book! Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession

This post is sponsored by Listenwise, all opinions are my own.

Back to School with Listenwise

The start of the new school year brings excitement for new opportunities and is often a time when educators are looking for new ideas and digital tools for enhancing student learning. For many educators, having extra time in the summer is great for reflecting on the prior school year and exploring digital tools and their benefits for students. Simply using technology because it is available without a true purpose will not benefit student learning much at all. However, when we implement versatile digital tools that provide students with innovative, more personalized and real-world learning experiences, we empower our students with amazing opportunities. Listenwise is a listening skills program that offers more than 1800 podcasts for students in grades 5 through 12 (with plans to expand further into Elementary content in 2020). The content is updated every day with new stories including daily current events from NPR.

Improve Listening Comprehension Skills With Listenwise

Listenwise is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to foster improved listening skills, reading comprehension, and create a more personalized learning experience for students. Listenwise is beneficial for increasing participation in discussions and promoting student engagement. It creates a virtual space where students can build listening and reading comprehension skills, confidence, as well as develop their own creativity and storytelling skills. Using Listenwise, teachers can better differentiate learning for students and promote more cultural and global awareness through access to more meaningful, real-world stories.

What makes Listenwise stand out?

The first thing that I noticed about Listenwise is how easy it is to navigate in the platform. There is also a robust teacher support center which offers the basics for getting started, teaching resources, hot topics, and more support to get started with Listenwise.

When making decisions about which digital tools to use, especially those that offer as many features as Listenwise, there may be a concern about the learning curve. However, a key feature of Listenwise is in its simplicity and visual design.

It is easy to locate Lessons, whether by selecting a content area, exploring all of the lessons available, or searching based on a specific word or current event. A great feature of Listenwise is that teachers can also search for lessons based on grade level, the level of language challenge, and even the type of resources (lesson plan or current event). Being able to locate resources quickly enables teachers to find something more personalized for students and their specific interests and needs.

Enhance Collaboration Through Digital Learning Spaces

Teachers can provide students with access to current and relevant resources and news, create more authentic assignments, and promote student agency through the Listenwise platform. There are a variety of teacher materials available to enhance each lesson including comprehension questions, prompts, lesson plans, graphic organizers, tiered vocabulary and more. Finding time to create class activities and provide enrichment can be a challenge, however, Listenwise helps teachers to reduce planning time and instead have extra time for interacting with students. It is a platform that can be used in multiple ways for different forms of instruction. It is a great option for using a blended learning model with station rotations in class. Whether used for individual students or an entire class, or at home as a way to promote more family engagement, Listenwise offers many options for amplifying student learning potential.

Using the different lessons and current events available, we can extend learning, reinforce the content that we are teaching and in the process spark new discussions. We will then build upon student skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and promote creativity.

It is easy to navigate the site and set students and create classes. Listenwise provides an excellent way to help students stay informed of what is happening in the world around them and to connect with content that they are interested in and to take more control in their learning.

Foster Better Class Discussions

Listenwise provides a way for students to build skills and become more confident as they explore real-world topics and interact more with the content. Students also build digital citizenship skills as they navigate in the digital world, exploring global issues and making connections with their own community.

Key Features of Listenwise

  1. Content: Listenwise offers more than 1800 podcasts from NPR and other podcast providers. Students have access to the audio as well as an interactive transcript, vocabulary resources and an opportunity to work at their own pace.
  2. Teacher resources: There are many resources available through the Teacher’s Guide. Within each lesson, there are listening comprehension questions, discussion themes, vocabulary words, Socrative integration, additional related lessons, and multiple graphic organizers. There are also external materials provided which may include resources such as interviews, drawings, maps.
  3. Interactive transcript: A great feature where students can listen to the audio while reading along with it, and if needed, pause to take notes or to process the information. While the audio plays, the text changes color and moves at the pace of the audio. Students can replay sections by clicking a word in the story, and the audio will re-start on the word they select. This is a great way to have students focus on listening more closely and also being able to make a visual connection with the text and build their reading skills.
  4. Auto-scored quizzes: Each lesson offers listening comprehension quizzes which are embedded in the lesson. Students have the option to replay the audio and listen more closely, helping them to continue to build their skills at their own pace. Students receive their results and if needed, can retake a quiz once the teacher clicks “reset” on the report.
  5. Progress monitoring: There are eight types of listening comprehension skills that are assessed such as main idea, inference, and vocabulary. Teachers have a detailed view of student results, can download the class report and see schoolwide data. Having access to this data
  6. ELL and Scaffolding: Through tiered vocabulary and the option to play audio at a slower speed, students can work at their own pace through the lesson. Students also have the texthelp toolbar which offers options such as Spanish translation, word definition through text or picture, and the ability to read aloud any text from the page.
  7. Standards-aligned: Lessons are aligned to state standards for ELA, science, and social studies. Through the Teacher’s Guide, each grade level band contains the related standards and explanations, making it easy to refer to the standards.
  8. Custom assignments: Teachers can create custom assignments for students, which works very well for a blended learning environment or for schools which are 1:1. Assignments can be customized to include listening comprehension questions, interactive transcripts, short responses, graphic organizers and more depending on the needs of each student.

Listenwise helps to promote better communication, student success, and family engagement. Implementing digital tools like Listenwise promotes learning that can take place regardless of the time and place, also helping to globally connect students with authentic, real-world resources. Providing these learning tools for students makes a big difference in student growth and engagement.

Ready to get started?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Choose one of the lessons for a new way to introduce a unit.
  • Select a theme for Project-based learning (PBL) based on one of the lessons.
  • Teach students about global issues by informing them about the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and task them with finding events related to these goals. Opportunities like this promote student inquiry and lead students to more meaningful, personalized learning journeys.
  • Search for a recent current event and use it as a conversation starter!

Guest post by Dave Schmittou, @daveschmittou #LastingLearning

via Teachers matter more

I am all about improvement. At the end of every year, I spend some time reflecting on what my strengths and struggles are so that I can make a plan for progress. At work, I spend time evaluating programs, processes, and people. One thing I have noticed recently in schools is that far too many of us say teachers matter more,  that the people make the difference, yet we spend so much of our time focusing our improvement efforts on programs and processes. We think of ways to circumvent those who matter more instead of diving deep to develop the real difference makers. We know teachers are the drivers of learning, but we pour money and time into software, classes, textbooks, and schedules instead of into the people who make it all happen.

8

 

As a sports fan, I often use athletics to try and illustrate my points, so I may as well do so again. Lebron James is considered by many people as one of the greatest basketball players of this era. He is dominant, he can shoot, dribble, pass, rebound, and play defense (when he chooses to). Pretend for a moment that you are a general manager of a team Lebron plays on and you have the task of making the team better. Your goal is to get wins and championships. You can do this by upgrading the concession stands at the arena. You can do this by bringing in new players to circumvent Lebron, players who will not pass him the ball or expect him to be great, or you can do this by bringing in players that complement his game and allow him to dominate. Each of these strategies has been tried on his teams. Some owners and GMs have attempted to distract the fans from what is happening on the court by upgrading the arena. Some have attempted to save Lebron by bringing in others to take the pressure off, and some have brought in players to complement him and make him even better. Only the latter has resulted in championships, however.

Often times in schools we get ourselves distracted by things that don’t matter at the expense of those that do. As a leader who has had the opportunity to help lead turn around efforts in a few schools and districts, I have learned that no program, no paint job, no software will ever impact a child like an amazing teacher. If you are a leader, all of your focus should be on making teachers better, not working around them.

If you have struggling students in your school (we all do), do not go on the hunt of the newest tech gadget to give to the kids. Look for ways to help a teacher work with those students more. If you have accelerated students in your school (we all do) do not look for activities and classes to fill a schedule. Look for ways to have teachers inspire and motivate innovation. Stop looking for ways to work around teachers and begin looking for ways to support teachers.

Support does not simply mean increasing pay. Support means, if you have the option between a new textbook or staff professional development, invest in the teachers. If you have a choice between painting a hallway or developing a teacher, choose the teacher. Always, choose the teacher/

Every research study available describes the effects that matter most for student learning point to teachers as the difference makers. Teachers matter more. Teachers provide feedback, establish the culture, set the expectations, develop the assessments, and plan for progress.  If you are a leader, spend your time building capacity in teachers and you will be amazed at the learning that results from your students.

Check out the podcast on this topic at https://anchor.fm/david-schmittou/episodes/Episode-12-Teachers-Matter-More-e2n3c4

Feel free to also check out Dave’s book:

It’s Like Riding a Bike: How to make learning last a lifetime

 

Want to write a guest blog for my website? Submit an idea here!

Guest Post by Aubrey Jones, Education Specialist/Education Advocate
Twitter handle: @spedteacheriam
Instagram: @justaubrey87
Opinions expressed are those of guest author.

Myspace was the oldest of the five big brothers born on August 1, 2003, quickly followed by Facebook, who arrived on February 4, 2004, followed by Twitter two years later on March 21, 2006. Then there was a bit of a break, and then Instagram was born on October 6, 2010. One year later, Snapchat was born on September 16, 2011. 

My big brothers were moderately successful in providing the world with a distraction. They had the latest feeds and showed the mildly glamorous life of everyone. People seemed happy. There quickly became an obsession with screens and snapping the latest moment. Oddly, tragedies or sadness were not captured.

As I sat in my English class being told how to think, the teacher gave us a template to write our essay from George Orwell’s 1984. It was mostly filled out leaving no room for original thought.  No one asked a question as the period dragged on. The teacher indoctrinated us with his ideas on the book. Everyone was responding in a robotic fashion if they managed to look up from their screens.

As I sat there in the hot classroom waiting for class to end, a thought entered my mind. I couldn’t record it anywhere as the essay only allowed for certain words or phrases to be filled in. As I sat there reading the book, filling in the mandated phrases, my thoughts wanted to desperately escape and join the other words on the paper. I thought of my big brothers and how they were able to consume everyone’s thoughts and time and energy; it was slightly genius. 

Even though there were predictions of a robotic society controlled by Big Brother and the jokes that Big Brother was “always watching,” there were never predictions that people would buy the cameras themselves. It was creative and genius. The idea that Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat were able to control society and get people to buy cameras and photograph every aspect of their lives was brilliant.

As that thought came to fruition, the wall in the back of the classroom crumbled. The crumbled wall showed smoke in the distance; almost like a bomb had gone off. There had been recent whisperings of a conflict that could lead to World War Three. No one else seemed to notice the wall crumbling. In fact, no one looked up from their devices. A whole part of the wall had crumbled and everyone was still writing frantically. 

As the bell rang, everyone got up (almost in unison). The massive zipping of backpacks could be heard as it was almost deafening. Pencils were dropped into empty backpacks. There was a mass rush as everyone had somewhere to be or something to do. Papers were quickly picked up in a flurry and tossed into the direction of the basket. It was like a well-oiled machine and there was no part out of place.

How odd that no one questioned the hole in the wall. Once the papers had been flung towards the basket; people turned toward their devices, not speaking; posting to social media platforms and adding emoticons to others’ posts. The classroom was suddenly eerie as part of the wall crumbled a little bit more as the preceding stampede of students vacated the room. Facebook being the oldest, had some dark secrets under his name. I mean who else could harbor the guilt of the infamous “like” button that was created to create and maintain addiction. These bright dings of pseudo-pleasure have caused and fueled social media addiction. Even though my big brothers have been documented as having the worst effect on young people’s mental health, their hold on the world continues, like the curse of the grim reaper.

 

My big brothers have made users addicted resulting in negative effects on their mental health and adding idiocy and stupidity among the masses.  That pseudo-ding and the partial attention that goes along with social media use scares me; my big brothers have dumbed down users, decreased their ability to focus, and potentially lowered their intelligence. My big brothers have caused a distraction and this distraction with every “ding” occurs all the time. 

As I joined my classmates in the hall, there was no talk of the smoke or the crumbled classroom wall- as if it didn’t exist at all.  Instead, it was about how many followers so and so had or how many likes, retweets or forwards a post or picture had received. 

Snapchat, a glorified version of his older brother, except that it only captures videos or pictures for ten seconds. So, Snapchat requires that you look at the picture or you miss the chance to see it and be part of the buzz that everyone is consumed by. My big brothers have allowed people to send messages to each other while breaking the rules of conversation. This is why the school dance was quiet as everyone was glued to the screen of their phone. 

School has become a regurgitation of others’ ideas. It is not a place for free thought. It is decorated the same, scripted the same and even responses are the same. There is no room for creativity or beauty. There is no room for something different without being teased mercilessly. There is no room for different anymore, to question the material is considered offensive and rebellious. However, this is all part of the script that my big brothers have wanted;  part of a bigger script that has been written and the scariest part of the script is that there is no room for questions.  The reality is that this is not the narrative that can exist through creativity and safe environments.

I felt liberated as I turned in my paper and knew that my teacher embraced creativity through the creation of a safe environment through play, taking risks and exercised autonomy. They created a supportive environment and wanted to pass these tips along:

  • Create a compassionate, accepting environment. Since being creative requires going out on a limb, students need to trust that they can make a mistake in front of you.
  • Be present with students’ ideas. Have more off-the-cuff conversations with students. Find out what their passion areas are and build those into your approach.
  • Encourage autonomy. Don’t let yourself be the arbiter of what “good” work is. Instead, give feedback that encourages self-assessment and independence.
  • Re-word assignments to promote creative thinking. Try adding words like “create,” “design,” “invent,” “imagine,” “suppose” to your assignments. Adding instructions such as “Come up with as many solutions as possible” or “Be creative!” can increase creative performance.
  • Give students direct feedback on their creativity. Lots of students don’t realize how creative they are or get feedback to help them incorporate “creative” into their self-concept. Explore the idea of “creative competence” alongside the traditional academic competencies in literacy and mathematics. When we evaluate something, we value it! Creating a self-concept that includes creativity.
  • Help students know when it’s appropriate to be creative. For example, help them see the contexts when creativity is more or less helpful—in a low-stakes group project versus a standardized state assessment.
  • Use creative instructional strategies, models, and methods as much as possible in a variety of domains. Model creativity for students in the way you speak and the way you act. For example, you could say “I thought about 3 ways to introduce this lesson. I’m going to show you 2, then you come up with a third,” or show them a personal project you’ve been working on.
  • Channel the creative impulses in “misbehavior.” For students who cause disturbances, see if you notice any creativity in their behavior. Perhaps that originality could be channeled in other ways?
  • Protect and support your students’ intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation fuels creativity.  It is suggested that educators try to limit competition and comparison with others, focusing instead on self-improvement. Experiment with monitoring students less as they work, and provide opportunities for them to pursue their passion when you can.
  • Make it clear to students that creativity requires effort. The creative process is not a simple “aha” that strikes without warning. Tell students that truly creative people must imagine, and struggle, and re-imagine while working on a project.
  • Explicitly discuss creativity myths and stereotypes with your students. Help them understand what creativity is and is not, and how to recognize it in the world around them.
  • Experiment with activities where students can practice creative thinking. “Droodles,” or visual riddles, are simple line drawings that can have a wide range of different interpretations and can stimulate divergent thinking. “Quickwrites” and “free-writes” can help students to let go of their internal censor. As part of reviewing material, you could have kids use concept cartooning or draw/design/paint visual metaphors to capture the essence of complex academic information.

The best thing about my teacher is that they practiced what they preached! In other words, they believed that we can approach any situation in life with a creative spirit. Teachers who can model creative ways of thinking, playfully engage with content, and express their ideas, will beget creative students. Students need to see teachers who have passions, whether it’s drawing, mathematics, painting, biology, music, politics, or theater. That contagion of passion and positive emotion is a hotbed for creative thought. Creatively fulfilled teachers may also be happier teachers.

Teaching is, through and through, a creative profession and so is learning!

 

Interested in submitting a guest blog? Apply here.

Image Credit Pixabay

Guest Post: Jenn Breisacher, Founder of Student-Centered World (www.studentcenteredworld.com)  

Twitter: @StuCentWorld, Instagram: @studentcenteredworld

 

Somewhere along the way, teachers got scared.

I don’t mean scared in the traditional sense. Yes, sometimes there are heart-stopping moments for one reason or another, but teachers aren’t scared of their climate.

Teachers became scared of today.

As long as we can remember, teaching has been about this technique or that in the classroom. We are sent to learn about different methods and spend hours of professional development learning about different ways to help our students be successful. Some teachers take this in stride while others sit back and roll their eyes, knowing that when they go back to the classroom, they’ll just stick to “what works”.

It always has, right?

But what happens when an entire generational shift occurs? What happens when an entire generation doesn’t know what life was like before September 11th? That landlines used to be the only way to call somebody? That “likes” and “follows” used to be a phenomenon that was done in person?

Folks, that generation is here…and “what works” doesn’t work for them.

Generation Z has entered our classrooms and they are different than any other group that has been taught in traditional education before. They are hands-on, tech-savvy, and need to know that what they are learning will help them make a difference. Simply put, traditional methods of instruction will not allow them to perform at their best. 

Let me say it again, “Traditional methods of instruction will not allow Generation Z to perform at their best.”

I’m not saying they can’t learn with traditional instruction. Sure, by osmosis they may learn by sitting and listening to a lecture or taking notes from a PowerPoint…but this is not how they will learn best. As educators, we don’t want to simply go through the motions. We don’t want to know our students learned the bare minimum to pass and move along. We want them to have a thirst for knowledge, to want to know more, learn more, do more. Yes, they may “learn” in a traditional classroom, but there will be multiple layers of potential that simply does not get tapped.

 

The world our students are entering is so competitive, but not in the ways we remember. Jobs used to be industrial, but now they’re turning entrepreneurial. We need to give our students the power to head into that world with confidence. We need to help give them an edge so when the going gets tough, they know what to do. We are preparing our students for jobs that don’t yet exist, which is a scary thought. (Don’t believe me? How many of you recall friends who wanted to be social media managers while you were in school? That’s just one example). The only way we can ensure their success is if we train them now to think outside of the box and to be willing (sometimes quite literally) to get their hands dirty and think like no one else.

This is the scary part for teachers.

Yes, throughout the years, life has changed. Every generation of students who have come to school has had different needs and interests than the ones before them. However, the birth of the information age and the worldwide connections that are now made in an instant are things that have never been seen before. We can debate for days whether or not this is good for society…whether or not “these kids” are being helped or harmed because they know how to function a Smart Phone by the time they’re 2. While those debates are fine, they’re not changing anything regarding what clientele we have in our classrooms right now. These changes to society aren’t going anywhere…at least not for a long time…and it’s our job…our duty…to make sure we are adapting in the classroom so these kids are learning in a proactive way for the world that awaits them, not the way it’s always been done in a world that no longer exists.

 

Change is scary for everyone. It takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us dabble in ideas that may be foreign to us…but remember, those ideas are not foreign to our students. If we want them to be as successful as possible in life, we need to help prepare them for the world that awaits them, not the world that awaited us.