Chromebooks and Differentiation

I was reading this article (http://ryanheraty.blogspot.com/2015/02/ten-ways-to-differentiate-with.html) about using computers to differentiate for different learners in a classroom.  I have been using strategies 1 and 2 on my own in class.  I have leveled reading that students use in my class.  I also use the multimedia slide show to help the digest and summarize content and put their own spin on it.  I would like to try more higher level activities like the “publish!” idea presented in the article.  I just need to find an authentic reason to launch a blog or something that is easy for students to use.  I’d love to collaborate with students in another school.

The best way to use the chromebooks for differentiation is to layer lessons/assignments so that my fast movers and time takers can both be served.  I have produced layered assignments so that when students complete the activity they can move on to something more challenging.  At the same time, good fundamentals in the core assignment make it truly worthwhile to “stay with” for my lower level students.   My role is to set up the activity and roam and give feedback to each student as they work through the assignment that best fits them.  Although this is more of a linear approach instead of true differentiation.

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How “Teach Like A Champion” is helping me to strengthen routines/procedures.

When I first read the book, “Teach Like a Champion”, by Doug Lemov – I was unimpressed by its simplicity.  It sounded like a beginning teacher primer and I thought I had little use for the resource because I already had decent “teaching chops”.  After my first month back in the classroom (at a pretty disadvantaged school) I realized that my teaching chops needed a tune up.  I was surviving in the classroom – but not thriving.  In my search for resources – I rediscovered Lemov’s book sitting on the bookshelf.

The emphasis on routines and procedures have really helped establish a calm in my classroom.  Not just the “how to do it”, but the hyper-consistency with which the routine is reinforced.  I use an Entry Routine and a Do Now to distribute materials and get students ready for class – but more than anything, it sets the tone for the entire hour.  Without this routine, chaos quickly ensues.  I use the procedure on test days, sub days, half days, etc…  it really signals to the students that this is a “business as usual” kind of day… that they know what to expect.  This makes the class begin on my terms in a very calm and controlled way.

My Entry Routine:  As students enter, they pick up a short current event reading.  They are instructed to quietly read the article without getting up for anything (that includes pencil sharpening, getting supplies, asking questions, etc….)  The goal is to simply grab the packet and read.  When finished, they answer 4 reading comprehension questions about the news.  At this point they can move to get supplies or pencils sharpened (this way it staggers students by when they finish the reading).  As they work, I am roaming and giving feedback to students and having those quiet interactions that really sets the tone for the class.  It also allows me to deal with any “surprises” since the Do Now takes about 10 minutes.

Lemov’s book may be centered on fundamentals – but it does a good job of focusing experienced teachers on articulated techniques to help us sharpen our practices.  When I think about improving classroom culture or some other goal… Lemov’s book will not be overlooked.  It has specific techniques to support my needs.  My next goal is to try SLANT and warm/strict to improve student engagement/attention and a more positive classroom climate.

Uncompromising on Big Vision

As usual, a casual Saturday morning #satchatwc leads to great conversation with @jcorippo about vision.

From a functional standpoint I see two levels of vision: the big-picture-deep-down-in-your-gut vision and the nuts-and-bolts-how-do-we-move-forward vision. They are different and require different amounts of commitment/passion.

The small vision: Individual preferences and details about which programs to use or their approach to solve certain problems can be very flexible. We work in a world of differences and unique individuals. I don’t expect teachers to all teach the same way. I don’t expect us to prefer or be exceptional at a single specific style. As a previous wrestling coach… one thing that wrestlers do is find their unique strength moves and use them to their advantage – you want a broad vocabulary of techniques but really you find your bread and butter talent/skill and use it as often as you can because it’s THAT GOOD. Everyone can’t be perfect at a specific style. The trick it to pair the individuals strengths with a technique that makes them unstoppable. That’s what teaching techniques or even general programs are like. Some teachers are great storytellers others are great facilitators. I can be very flexible with anyone who is able to reach success by leveraging their special talent/skill in the classroom. That’s the joy of teaching and being an excellent teacher. I don’t think any one program or approach is exclusively the best – I think the best results come from the individual who believes in the approach and follows it with fidelity – just like diets and exercises (doing it daily is the biggest factor in success).

The big vision: Great organizations that reach their goals and don’t allow for divergent beliefs when it comes to the big vision. This is the deep down stuff. This is the gravity and reality that impacts the way that we all operate within our organization. This is the “all kids can learn” or “we are here because we have the power to make a difference for students”. These are important and show us an overall mindset that drives the way we operate. These things do not have any connection to the brand or program that we adopt. These are the “in your soul” beliefs about your role in the organization. These beliefs need to be consistently held – maybe not Kool-aid drinking levels but at least generally agree upon beliefs. Here’s what I mean. If a student is struggling I hope that everyone in the organization believes that we can make adjustments and changes to cause a positive change to occur. That’s what good organizations do! If we have several who blame the student or think that we’ve tried everything and the student is simply hopeless – then we have a problem. Our actions and attitudes change toward the basic vision and mission of the school. This is our existence. This is not the place to tolerate different beliefs. The organization. Needs to build consensus on the big vision and constantly foster it and fight against the “anti-vision”. Again, I don’t need an army of zealots or copycats – but I can’t have people working the opposite direction to the vision. Here’s some big vision statements that we often say or nod along with, but often act against – you can see the caveats added on to each statement.

All kids can learn – but it totally depends on their attitude and work ethic.

I can teach all students – unless they aren’t cooperative.

All students should pass my class – but some don’t and it isn’t my fault.

I can positively impact learning – but outside factors make my efforts ineffective.

As you can see, these “vision statements” have built in excuses for some of us. This is unacceptable for schools. We need to act in a way that honors the true vision statement as have staff members who support the big vision. Sure, we may have a bad day or two – but the overall school culture should be full of positive messages an examples of making the vision come true. Anyone who is acting or talking against the true vision should be engaged. Not to chastise or ridicule – but to re-instill the vision of why we are here. If we don’t actively support the aspirations of our school and our individual beliefs then we will eventually trade out the written vision statement for an unwritten one – with caveats. Great schools and teams don’t work like that.

There is room for flexibility, differences in opinion, and great debates in education. But if you don’t believe in the deep down ideals and vision for your school then there’s a problem. I think educators owe it to each other to seek out organizations where your personal beliefs match well with the real vision of the school. It informs how we act and what we do. When we are all working together we can accomplish anything.