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Friday, September 29, 2017

Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated Instruction
 Image result for children

Brain research confirms what experienced teachers have always known:
  • No two children are alike. 
  • No two children learn in the identical way. 
  • An enriched environment for one student is not necessarily enriched for another. 
  • In the classroom we should teach children to think for themselves. 
Marian Diamond
Consequently, it necessarily follows that although essential curricula goals may be similar for all students, methodologies employed in a classroom must be varied to suit to the individual needs of all children: ie. learning must be differentiated to be effective.  
Differentiating instruction means creating multiple paths so that students of different abilities, interest or learning needs experience equally appropriate ways to absorb, use, develop and present concepts as a part of the daily learning process. It allows students to take greater responsibility and ownership for their own learning, and provides opportunities for peer teaching and cooperative learning.
Differentiating is not new, the concept has been around for at least 2 decades for gifted and talented students. (Also see Instructional strategies for G&T)  However, it is now recognized to be an important tool for engaging students and addressing the individual needs of all students. Differentiating instruction is also an essential tool for integrating technology into classroom activities. The most difficult and least effective way to integrate technology is to consistently take all students in to the computer lab to work on the same activities at the same time, and this may well be true for many other subjects. This is not to say that some activities are not appropriate for all students at some times. In the interest of expediency, it is sometimes most appropriate to conduct some whole group instruction. What is important is to recognize that this is just one of many strategies and it is most effective when used at the appropriate time for common needs such as the introduction to a new learning unit.
There are generally several students in any classroom who are working below or above grade level and these levels of readiness will vary between different subjects in school. It is important to offer students learning tasks that are appropriate to their learning needs rather than just to the grade and subject being taught. This means providing 3 or 4 different options for students in any given class (not 35 different options). Readiness (ability), learning styles and interest vary between students and even within an individual over time. In a differentiated classroom all students have equally engaging learning tasks.
In preparation for differentiating, the teacher diagnoses the difference in readiness, interests and learning style of all students in the class, using a variety of performance indicators.
For the teacher who is beginning to differentiate learning in the classroom, differentiation may begin by varying the content, processes or product for each group in the class. As the teacher becomes more proficient using these techniques, differentiation can occur at all 3 stages of the process for some students. This is especially appropriate for the more able students. The essential curricula concepts may be the same for all students but the complexity of the content, learning activities and/or products will vary so that all students are challenged and no students are frustrated.
Students with specific needs/weaknesses should be presented with learning activities that offer opportunities for developing needed skills as well as opportunities to display individual strengths. More advanced students may work on activities with inherently higher level thinking requirements and greater complexity.
Four Ways to Differentiate Instruction:
Differentiation can occur in the content, process, product or environment in the classroom.
1. Differentiating the Content/Topic
Content can be described as the knowledge, skills and attitudes we want children to learn. Differentiating content requires that students are pre-tested so the teacher can identify the students who do not require direct instruction. Students demonstrating understanding of the concept can skip the instruction step and proceed to apply the concepts to the task of solving a problem. This strategy is often referred to as compacting the curriculum. Another way to differentiate content is simply to permit the apt student to accelerate their rate of progress. They can work ahead independently on some projects, i.e. they cover the content faster than their peers.
2. Differentiating the Process/Activities
Differentiating the processes means varying learning activities or strategies to provide appropriate methods for students to explore the concepts. It is important to give students alternative paths to manipulate the ideas embedded within the concept. For example students may use graphic organizers, maps, diagrams or charts to display their comprehension of concepts covered. Varying the complexity of the graphic organizer can very effectively facilitate differing levels of cognitive processing for students of differing ability.
3. Differentiating the Product
Differentiating the product means varying the complexity of the product that students create to demonstrate mastery of the concepts. Students working below grade level may have reduced performance expectations, while students above grade level may be asked to produce work that requires more complex or more advanced thinking. There are many sources of alternative product ideas available to  teachers. However sometimes it is motivating for students to be offered choice of product.
4. Diffferentiating By Manipulating The Environment or Through Accommodating Individual Learning Styles
There has been a great deal of work on  learning styles over the last 2 decades. Dunn and Dunn ( focused on manipulating the school environment at about the same time as Joseph Renzulli recommended varying teaching strategies. Howard Gardner identified individual talents or aptitudes in his Multiple Intelligences theories.  Based on the works of Jung, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Kersley's Temperament Sorter focused on understanding how people's personality affects the way they interact personally, and how this affects the way individuals respond to each other within the learning environment. The work of David Kolb and Anthony Gregorc's Type Delineator follows a similar but more simplified approach.
Even though these approaches look at learning styles in vastly different ways they all have merit for some children. However, an amalgamation or blending of these concepts is probably more effective than any one approach.  The Dunn and Dunn approach would be most effectively applied in a building designed to accommodate environmental changes. Many classrooms offer limited opportunities to change the lighting or sound levels, to eliminate visual distracters, or to provide a more casual seating arrangement for students. Varying teaching strategies makes sure that students will occasionally learn in a manner compatible with their own learning preference but also expands their repertoire of  alternative learning strategies in turn. The Multiple Intelligences Theory is very helpful for helping teachers recognize that students have differing aptitude in different subject areas, but it still requires the application of the kinds of learning strategies listed here to be effective. The MBTI and Gregorc's Style Delineator help teachers recognize how personality differences can either enhance or distract from communication between individuals.
The most significant issue relating to learning styles  is the paradigm shift in education in recent years. This paradigm shift is illustrated in the way that curriculum is presently defined in the most recent programs of studies.  Curriculum is no longer defined in terms of what a teacher will teach but rather in terms of what a student will be able to demonstrate. If we are to be responsible for what a child learns then it is essential that we understand what (s)he knew at the beginning and how to move him/her forward from that point in a successful manner. This means we need to understanding how each student learns best.   It also means that we need to build on what they already know.
Within these four ways for differentiating there are embedded many learning strategies which are used in conjunction with each other.  
Within the four ways for differentiating instruction there are embedded several other learning strategies which are used in conjunction with each other.  ( Missouri Department of  Education 
Teachers new to differentiating instruction may initially choose to use individual strategies and begin by differentiating either content, process or product . 
It is also important to recognize that there is a considerable overlap between the strategies listed below. As teachers become comfortable with these strategies several may be very effectively employed simultaneously.
For example: students may be grouped by interest but may also have activities set at different levels of complexity (questioning levels/abstract thinking processes) resulting in varying products that employ students' preferred learning modality (auditory, visual or kinesthetic). Thus the content is being differentiated by interest, the process is being differentiated by readiness (complexity of thinking skills required) and the product is being differentiated by student learning modality preferences. This multiple differentiation has the added advantage of making presentations much more interesting than it would be if all groups do everything in the same way and each presentation is simply a repetition of the former one.  

  1. All differentiation of learning begins with student assessment
  2. Since differentiating requires a considerable degree of self direction and intrinsic motivation, it is necessary to focus on developing intrinsic motivation skills.
  3. It is necessary to clarify the concept of fairness.  Students often get hung up on the idea that it isn't fair for the teacher to have different expectations for different students. They often feel that all students should be doing the same thing or "it isn't fair."  It is important for the teacher to establish the fact that each student is a unique individual and has different learning needs. Consequently they will be working at different tasks much of the time.

The Strategies:
Readiness and Ability
Teachers can use a variety of assessments to determine a student's readiness. also, to learn new concepts students may be generally working below or above grade level or they may simply be missing necessary prerequisite skills.
However, readiness is constantly changing and as readiness changes it is important that students be permitted to move between different groups (see flexible grouping).  Activities for each group are often differentiated by complexity. Students whose understanding is below grade level will work at tasks inherently less complex than those attempted by more advanced students. Those students whose reading level is below grade level will benefit by reading with a buddy or listening to stories/instructions using a tape recorder so that they receive information verbally.
Varying the level of questioning (and consequent thinking skills) and compacting the curriculum and  are useful strategies for accommodating differences in ability or readiness.
Adjusting Questions
During large group discussion activities, teachers direct the higher level questions to the students who can handle them and adjust questions accordingly for student with greater needs. All students are answering important questions that require them to think but the questions are targeted towards the student’s ability or readiness level. 
An easy tool for accomplishing this is to put posters on the classroom walls with key words that identify the varying levels of thinking. For example I used to put 6 posters on my walls (based on Bloom's taxonomy) one for Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation. These were useful cues for me when conducting class discussions and useful for my students when they were required to develop their own research questions. Different students may be referred to different posters at certain times depending on ability, readiness or assignment requirements.
With written quizzes the teacher may assign specific questions for each group of students. They all answer the same number of questions but the complexity required varies from group to group. However, the option to go beyond minimal requirements can be available for students who require an additional challenge for their level.
Compacting Curriculum
Compacting the curriculum means assessing a students knowledge, skills and attitudes and providing alternative activities for the student who has already mastered curriculum content.  This can be achieved by pre-testing basic concepts or using performance assessment methods. Students who demonstrate that they do not require instruction move on to tiered problem solving activities while others receive instruction.
Tiered Assignments
Tiered activities are a series of related tasks of varying complexity. All of these activities  relate to essential understanding and key skills that students need to acquire.  Teachers assign the activities as alternative ways of reaching the same goals taking into account individual student needs.
Accelerating or decelerating the pace that students move through curriculum is another method of differentiating instruction.  Students demonstrating a high level of competence can work through the curriculum at a faster pace. Students experiencing difficulties may need adjusted activities that allow for a slower pace in order to experience success.
Flexible Grouping
As student performance will vary it is important to permit movement between groups.  Student’s readiness varies depending on personal talents and interests, so we must remain open to the concept that a student may be below grade level in one subject at the same time as being above grade level in another subject. 
Flexible grouping allows students to be appropriately challenged and avoids labeling a student's readiness as static. Neither should students be kept in a static group for particular subjects as their learning may accelerate from time to time. 
Even highly talented students can benefit from flexible grouping. Often they benefit from work with intellectual peers, while occasionally in another group they can experience being a leader. In either case peer-teaching is a valuable strategy for group-work.  
Peer Teaching
Occasionally a student may have personal needs that require one-on-one instruction that go beyond the needs of his or her peers. After receiving this extra instruction the student could be designated as the "resident expert" for that concept or skill and can get valuable practice by being given the opportunity to re-teach the concept to peers. In these circumstances both students benefit. 
Learning Profiles/Styles
Another filter for assigning students to tasks is by learning style, such as adjusting preferred environment (quiet, lower lighting, formal/casual seating etc.) or learning modality: auditory (learns best by hearing information) visual (learns best through seeing information in charts or pictures)  or kinesthetic preferences (learns best by using concrete examples, or may need to move around while learning) or through personal interests. Since student motivation is also a unique element in learning, understanding individual learning styles and interests will permit teachers to apply appropriate strategies for developing intrinsic motivational techniques.
Student Interest
Interest surveys are often used for determining student interest. Brainstorming for subtopics within a curriculum concept and using semantic webbing to explore interesting facets of the concept is another effective tool. This is also an effective way of teaching students how to focus on a manageable subtopic. Brainstorming using the blackboard or better still, using Graphic Organizers such as Mindmanager and Inspiration can be a highly effective way for teaching students how to explore a concept and focus on manageable and personally interesting subtopics.
Reading Buddies
This strategy is more useful for younger students. Children get additional practice and experience reading away from the teacher as they develop fluency and comprehension.   It is important that students read with a specific purpose in mind and then have an opportunity to discuss what was read.  It is not necessary for students to always be at the same reading level. Students with varying word recognition, word analysis and comprehension skills can help each other be more successful. Adjusted follow up tasks are also assigned based on readiness level.
Independent Study Projects
Independent Study is a research project where students learn how to develop the skills for independent learning. The degree of help and structure will vary between students and depend on their ability to manage ideas, time and productivity. A modification of the independent study is the buddy-study. 
A buddy-study permits two or three students to work together on a project. The expectation is that all may share the research and analysis/organization of information but each student must complete an individual product to demonstrate learning that has taken place and be accountable for their own planning, time management and individual accomplishment
Learning Contracts
A learning contract is a written agreement between teacher and student that will result in students working independently. The contract helps students to set daily and weekly work goals and develop management skills. It also helps the teacher to keep track of each student’s progress. The actual assignments will vary according to specific student needs.
Learning Centres
Learning Centres have been used by teachers for a long time and may contain both differentiated and compulsory activities. However a learning centre is not necessarily differentiated unless the activities are varied by complexity taking in to account different student ability and readiness. It is important that students understand what is expected of them at the learning centre and are encouraged to manage their use of time. The degree of structure that is provided will vary according to student independent work habits. At the end of each week students should be able to account for their use of time.
Carol Anne Tomlinson’s book The Differentiated Classroom and ASCD’s video tape kit Differentiating Instruction (VT 7600) list the following additional strategy for differentiating learning in a mixed ability classroom.
Anchoring Activities
This may be a list of activities that a student can do to at any time when they have completed present assignments or it can be assigned for a short period at the beginning of each class as students organize themselves and prepare for work. These activities may relate to specific needs or enrichment opportunities, including problems to solve or journals to write. They could also be part of a long-term project that a student is working on. These activities may provide the teacher with time to provide specific help and small group instruction to students requiring additional help to get started.  Students can work at different paces but always have productive work they can do. Some time ago these activities may have been called seat-work, and should not be confused with busy-work. These activities must be worthy of a student’s time and appropriate to their learning needs.
Tomlinson also recommends tiered activities, adjusting questions, learning centres,  flexible grouping, independent study and curriculum compacting as defined above.
The teacher becomes a facilitator, assessor of students and planner of activities rather than an instructor. This is what Roger Taylor called the Guide on the Side rather than the Sage on the Stage approach in the early 80s. It is less structured, more busy and often less quiet than older teaching methods. However, differentiation engages students more deeply in their learning, provides for constant growth and development, and provides for a stimulating and exciting classroom.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

IPADS Are NOT Babysitters- 5 Tips to Teach Digital Responsibility

 The IPAD is Not a Babysitter – 5 Tips to Teach Digital Responsibility

Image result for baby with ipad
One of the issues confronting society is the responsibility around the use of technology and the devices it is delivered on.  The device and information is not necessarily the problem but the proper use of the device and how information is accessed.  We live in a world where if not supervised children can access inappropriate material and become overwhelmed, desensitized or anxious.  The primary responsibility in teaching proper use of technology lays with the child’s caregiver.  So ultimately we shouldn’t rely on the iPad or similar devices to babysit or bring up our children.
The need for human contact and engagement is extremely important for a child’s healthy development.  I have witnessed on numerous occasions how a device has been substituted to soothe a child or redirect them when they are upset.  The caregiver uses the device as an easy attempt to meet the child’s needs rather than the all-important human interaction the child needs in order to learn methods to self soothe.  The device cannot substitute for the caregiver’s attention or required discipline.

As teachers we have seen a decline in social skills, communication skills, problem solving and decision making skills as well as relationship and cooperative skills.  These social emotional skills are taught typically immediately in the child’s life and built upon as they learn from their caregiver how to navigate the world. Without these important social emotional skills children may have a very difficult timer reaching their academic potential as well.

Tips to Teach Digital Responsibility

1.       Be Present:  Put YOUR device down and engage with your child.  Ask them questions about their day.  TALK to them don’t just text.

2.      Be Responsible for the Relationship:  Keep building and focusing on a quality parental relationship.  You provide discipline and guidance.  Role model what you want to see in your child.  How are you showing up in the world?

3.      Supervise internet usage:  You are the child’s initial gatekeeper to the digital world.  You buy the device, provide the internet service in your home… you have the ultimate say in how it is used.  Don’t ignore or not follow through on the little things or issues will get bigger and bigger.

4.      Teach Digital Responsibility: Handing over a device and expecting the child to monitor their own time is na├»ve.  Set boundaries and limits.  If they exceed those limits implement consequences.  The more you let it slide the more default it will be later.  Teach children it is not ok to use this device to bully others.  As well remember when they are at school and it’s not an emergency… you probably can wait to speak to them until they get home. 

5.      Have family time with no devices.  Yours included.  Have time together without any distractions from a device.  Go outside, play games, go out for dinner and a movie.  Make TIME to be a family.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

Bullying: Making School a Safe Place to Learn

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A number of children and families are being affected by bullying every day.  Schools cannot deny the fact that the increase in school violence, suicide, and bullying are detrimental to learning and children feeling safe at school.   In a recent survey of over 30 million U.S. students between the ages of 12 and 18, nearly 32 percent reported that they were bullied at school (US Department of Education 2011). The internet and social media have increased the tragic and traumatic effects that bullying has had on many students in school.  Research is showing the increase in hateful comments and intimidating behaviour that occurs through social media as well as messaging and video responses.  This has prompted many school districts to take action through policy and programming to try and alleviate this issue.

So what do we do??  How can schools control, monitor or supervise activities that are being done over the internet and through social media?  Can we make schools safe for everyone and have children feel that they will not be bullied or intimidated by those they share a space with?

Let's begin by defining bullying and what it means to be bullied.
In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:
  • An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Why Cyberbullying is Different

Kids who are being cyberbullied are often bullied in person as well. Additionally, kids who are cyberbullied have a harder time getting away from the behaviour.
  • Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and reach a kid even when he or she is alone. It can happen any time of the day or night.
  • Cyberbullying messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a very wide audience. It can be difficult and sometimes impossible to trace the source.
  • Deleting inappropriate or harassing messages, texts, and pictures is extremely difficult after they have been posted or sent.
1.  The first approach that educators must implement is an assessment of the current bullying situation in their school.  Data collection may be difficult because sometimes students don't understand the definition of bullying and what it is or they feel uncomfortable telling people in authority what may be happening to them.  
2.  Engage Parents and Youth to take control of the situation.  Developing or promoting a committee that includes parents, teachers, and youth is a great way to make sure all relevant stakeholders are being responsible for the outcomes within the school.  
3.  Set clear rules, policies and expectations around the behaviour in the school, in the playground, on the bus and the parents can be asked to set expectations at home.  Developing a Code of Conduct and sending it to all members of the school to sign and acknowledge.  A Student Bill of Rights may also be a powerful tool to engage students to exhibit appropriate behaviour.  
3.  Create a safe and secure classroom environment with the teacher making sure to stand up to inappropriate language, comments and behaviour.  Establish a climate of inclusion and acceptance that welcomes all students.  Monitor school "hot spots" that may have known bullying incidences.  
4.  Training sessions can be formal or informal.  Discussions among staff, parents and students can happen anywhere and at any time.  Design activities that focus on what can be done to prevent bullying - art, research projects, presentations, classroom meetings.  
5. Never underestimate the power of the community when it comes together to address bullying issues.  People in the community bring with them unique strengths and ideas and should be utilized on a regular basis.  Examine the potential community partners the school can involve themselves with to address issues happening in the school.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Anti-Bias Education: Teaching Sensitive Issues in the Classroom


Challenging our biases as teachers is an important practice so we can become self aware of the messages we are giving children on a regular basis.  What are your biases toward gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity?  What kind of literature are you using that portrays certain stereotypes or class structure?  AS teachers it is our job to model respect and embrace the differences we encounter in our classrooms and within our communities.  The difficulty comes in when our belief systems are challenged by others and what do we say when a child is being bullied or someone is shaming them because of their sexuality, gender or race.  I have prepared a free workshop to help you with strategies and ideas to use in your classroom around the concept of anti-bias education.


6 Ways to Help Decrease Anxiety in Children

Anxiety is an increasing issue that is arising in the classroom.  Teachers and parents are having a difficult time managing students experiencing high levels of anxiety while trying to maintain an active learning environment for others.  Anxiety can be moderate to severe and debilitating for the student to function.  Symptoms can range from worrying about things like tests or assignments, to avoidance of activities because of their feelings about what could happen in that environment.  Anxiety is really a form of stress that the child is experiencing and it involves the child's view of the world and what is happening around them.  Anxiety is a normal reaction to certain events but when it hinders our ability to engage in activities or with others it becomes an issue.  What can we do to help children who may be experiencing anxiety and having difficulty in the classroom?  Here are 6 ideas for you to implement:

1.  Incorporate Forms of Exercise:  Exercise is an excellent way to help children alleviate anxiety as it can get rid of energy that is negative.  Running, skipping, hopping or other gross motor activities can be used to engage a full body response and help the child focus on the body rather than the events that are making him/her anxious.  Games should also be used to engage the child in fun activities.

2.  Music:  Playing soft quiet music can be helpful for the brain to move into a more calming state.  Using music/ipods, earphones or earplugs can block out excessive noise that may be contributing to higher levels of anxiety.

3.  Mindfulness:  This program teaches children to become mindful of how their body is reacting in the moment.  It is about becoming self-aware of how they are feeling and teaching them strategies to control the thoughts and their reactions.

4.  Connecting Mind with Body:  Very similiar to mindfulness but we actually utilze activities the child can incorporate to reconnect their body with their environment.  For example:  tangle toys or fidget toys that the child can use.

5.  Change Location, Change State:  Have the child move to a different location if they are feeling stressed or anxious.  Leaving the location helps the child associate a different emotional response to a new setting.

6.  Guided Relaxation or Mediation:  There are many YOUTUBE videos that you can utilize with all your children to enter a calm and relaxed state:  Magic Bubbles

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Canadian Seminars and Workshops

We are all ready to go with the Canadian Workshops "Proactive Strategies for Children with Challenging Behaviour".  This is our popular seminar focusing on strategies and ideas for the classroom or home.  We offer a fantastic day with tons of ideas and ongoing support following the workshop through email.  Have a peek at our locations and join us for an awesome day!!!

Go to our website for more information and to get registered.  Spaces fill quickly!!!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Classroom Management

We have started the beginning of the year in Canada and loving every minute of it!  If you are not what is happening.  Do you need some ideas on classroom management techniques or strategies to help children reach their potential.  The beginning of the year is the best time to set your routines and procedures for the class to run smoothly for the rest of the year.  Save Your Sanity can help you with some innovative ideas and strategies to implement in your classrooms for Children with Challenging Behaviour.  Our online course "Proactive Strategies" is available at our website and you can have unlimited access to video support, email support and resources.  Check us out.

Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated Instruction   Brain research confirms what experienced teachers have always known: . No two children ...