Movement breaks and brain breaks are definitely not a new concept in education. However, never have I taught a school year that required brain breaks more than 2020. Due to COVID restrictions, this year I have 14 first graders who are not allowed to leave their seats all day. Six year olds, at desks six feet apart, all day long. No centers, no "find a partner who..." activities, no real group work, not even the option to get up to sharpen a pencil or grab a piece of paper. We have truly no movement naturally built into our day. So, I started the school year by intentionally planning movement breaks and partner activities that would be a part of every school day, to protect the mental and physical health of my students. I have always actually leaned away from formal brain breaks, like the ones posted on Go Noodle, because they often get students wound up and then require me to lose teaching time to get us refocused. Instead, I have always just built natural movement into our day, with center rotations, group projects, allowing students to get their own materials and work in every corner of our classroom. However, with all of those things being big nonos, I went into this school year with an intentional plan to give students movement without taking away from instructional time. Here are a few of the things I have done: "Action Break" Transitions Even though my students can't rotate through centers, I am continuing to teach through small group rotations. Only this year the students complete the activities at their desks and I move from one small group to the next with my rolling whiteboard. In between each rotation, when students would normally be moving from one area of the classroom to another I have created "action breaks". For these action breaks, I typed up a list of different actions, everything from basic exercises (like jumping jacks and pushups) to yoga poses (like chair pose and boat pose) to imagination activities (like pretending to drive a car or pretending to hula hoop). I cut up my list and during each transition, I pull an action and the kiddos have thirty seconds to a minute to complete it. This is about the same amount of time that I would normally give students to transition between center rotations, so no lost teaching time and the kids get out of their seats. Planned Talking Partner Activities When students are working in centers, they talk to their groupmates, a lot. When these conversations are on topic, they can create additional learning possibilities. This is especially important for English Language Learners and students with disabilities. But, honestly all students benefit from these peer on peer conversations. Additionally, these conversations give students an outlet from the monotony of their own thoughts. Without these built in times to talk, we as teachers need to intentionally build in talking opportunities. Since groupwork is challenging from a six foot distance, I have assigned each of my students a single "talking partner". This is generally the person closest to them in the classroom. All throughout the day, I ask students questions and they are to discuss it with their "talking partner". This can be as simple as "Tell your talking partner about the work you did on that word problem." or "Tell your partner what you would do if you were that character." However, I also build in specific questions during whole group and small group lessons. As in I write the questions directly into lesson plans. I also put them in my daily slides. This keeps me focused and gives my students a brain break from listening to me. It also gives them a chance to talk and make meaning. Learning Material Boxes Since students cannot share materials this year, I gave each child a tote with baggies of basic manipulatives. It has things like red and white chips, connecting blocks, plastic coins, dice, a timer, a clock, etc. I originally created these simply as a time saver so I wouldn't have to sanitize manipulatives each time they were used. However, this has really helped encouraged my students to pull out manipulatives whenever they feel they need them. This increases learning and the metacognition skills to realize when they need manipulatives. These learning boxes also increase movement. They sit on the floor next to my students' desks, and so each time they bend down to get something, they are more active than if I had delivered those manipulatives to them. Additionally, I use these learning boxes as an opportunity to build in partner talk. For example, I might say "Roll the dice, compare it with your talking partner. Who has more?" Or "Build that word with one chip per sound. Show your talking partner how to spell that word. " The lack of movement and conversation our kids are experiencing due to COVID is very concerning to me, as a parent and as a teacher. It is not good for anyone's mental or physical health to sit still all day, or to be isolated from their peers. While I understand that this disease is dangerous, the measures we are taking to prevent disease spread are also dangerous. Please, as a teacher, find ways to add movement and conversation into your classrooms, whether you are teaching virtually or face to face. And if you have a great way to add this into the classroom that you'd like to share, please leave a comment with that information. Let's learn from each other to make the best decisions for our students.
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If you're a teacher reading this, I'm going to tell you something you already know. Teachers are planners. Does anyone else remember filling out "Reflective Teaching Logs" when you were in college? These logs felt like such a waste of time while I was filling them out, but now I realize that they were preparing us for what teachers do each and every day. As we teach a lesson, we're mentally preparing for how to make this lesson better the next time we teach it. We do this each and every day with little things, but even more with big things, like setting routines and procedures. Halfway through a school year I have already made decisions that "Next year I'm going to do this differently next year." Before we finish one school year, we've already begun planning the next school year, and we spend a good part of our summer preparing (mentally and with new resources) for these tweaks, updates and changes. This year, thanks to Covid 19, is different because we don't know what to expect out of next year. Will we be back to distance learning? Will we be in our classrooms? Will we be working on a hybrid system? Will we be in and out of our classrooms and digital environments throughout the school year? I've read all the blog posts speculating what it can, should and will look like. However, the end result is that we don't know and all the speculation in the world isn't going to change that. All of the not knowing can be very stressful, and it can make it hard to make good use of this time when we normally prepare ourselves for next year. However, there are some things that we can do to prepare. For the next 10 days, we're going to look at 10 things we can do this summer that will help us no matter the fall looks like. These are things that will help us be better teachers if next year is all distance learning, but they will also help us if next year is a return to what we've always done. Hopefully, they will also help us with everything in between. Because if we're being honest, it seems like most of us will land in the somewhere in between zone. Below is a list of the things we can do. Each item on the list will be linked to the blog post explaining it (as soon as that post is published). In each blog post, I promise to include links to new tech tools you can check out, as well as at least 1 FREE resource you can download. So, if an item on the list is not currently linked to a blog post, come back tomorrow, because I will be linking one a day, and you won't want to miss the information I'm providing. Also, as an extra incentive to keep coming back, I will be hosting a June giveaway. (I'm so excited, I haven't done a giveaway in years!) At the bottom of each blog post, there will be a quick entry form for you to complete. I will be giving away a different distance learning bundle on each blog post, so that is 10 DIFFERENT distance learning bundles that you can possibly win, just by checking back on a daily basis. And to give everyone a chance to enter, I will leave the entry forms open until July 1st. On July 1st, I will randomly choose a winner for each of the 10 bundles and email the bundle you win directly to you. So, here are 10 things that you CAN do this summer to be prepared for the 2020/2021 school year, no matter what it looks like: 1.) You can prepare a digital classroom. 2.) You can explore new technology tools. 3.) You can search out new resources that will work with in class learning AND digital learning. 4.) You can make a plan for improving parent communication. 5.) You can dig deep into your standards and your curriculum. 6.) You can create teaching videos. 7.) You can create reward systems that will work with in class learning AND digital learning. 8.) You can consider differentiation options. 9.) You can explore ways to find a balance between parental and teaching responsibilities. 10.) You can take time for self care. Be sure you come back each day to find the linked blog posts, and the giveaway entry forms! What are you doing to prepare for next year? As we approach the beginning of the new school year, I started thinking about which differentiated instructional strategies I wanted to be sure to implement this year. Because in my classroom, it's which combination of differentiated strategies for ell or differentiated strategies for gifted will be used. It's never "Should I differentiate this year?" I started to think about writing a blog post to share some of what I was going to do and realized that I had never migrated my main differentiated instructional strategies blog post from my old blogspot blog over here to the new and improved blog. So here is a blog post that was originally posted in 2015, but still stands true to my educational philosophy. It will provide you with the reasoning behind why all teachers should use differentiated instructional strategies, give you 10 different differentiated instructional strategies with real world applications and give you some resources that can be used in your classroom as the new school year begins. Beware that this is a long post, so you may want to bookmark it to come back and read or revisit it as you get busy with the school year. You are also welcome to share it with your teammates as the new school year begins! How does differentiated instruction benefit students? Recently I read an article that said that many teachers believe that differentiated instruction is just a catch phrase or a passing phase of education. Many believe that it’s not something that can or will actually get done in the classroom. There are many catch phrases and passing phases in education, but I don’t believe and I sincerely hope that differentiated instruction is not one of these because I have seen it work in my classroom. Differentiated instruction is the best chance to give each child what they need. In a classroom of 20 or 30 kids, differentiation is hard work, and we may not always succeed at using differentiated instructional strategies 100% of the time. But I honestly believe that all teachers Kindergarten through 12th grade and beyond should be trying their hardest to differentiate each and every lesson that they teach, because each and every student deserves to have an education that meets their needs. No teacher has the ability to sit one on one with each and every student for the entire school day and meet the needs of each student, but we do have the ability to differentiate in many different ways so that we are getting at least closer to our goal. The idea is to walk into each and every lesson saying how can I get very close to meeting the needs of ALL of my students, no matter what their level.Now I’ve taught in real classrooms with students who are easily 2 grade levels apart or more in ability. I’ve taught in classrooms with high percentages of English language learners. I’ve taught in classrooms with special education populations. I’ve taught in first grade classrooms, third grade classrooms and mixed age classrooms that had students ranging from 2nd through 5th grade. I even taught technology to K – 5 students. In each and every classroom I’ve ever worked in I have used differentiated instructional strategies to help my students. I understand that differentiated instruction can be extremely intimidating, so if you’ve never differentiated your classroom before, choose one section of the day to differentiate at first. This will allow you to put a toe into the differentiation pool without jumping in all together. Then as it becomes more natural for you, let it flow into your other subjects, sections, classes, etc. However, stepping into differentiation, into giving students what they need as an individual learner, will change your teaching and more importantly your students’ learning. What does differentiated instruction look like in the classroom? Realistically differentiated instruction can and should take place in many different ways. For me it often looked different depending on the subject. In reading it often looked like differentiated instruction grouping via guided reading, literature circles and student peer reading. In spelling it often looked like a tiered assignment through leveled lists. In math it often looked like ad hoc groups based on a biweekly assessment. In science and social students I often use jigsawing, student selected topics and tiered questioning. In technology I use teacher selected peertutors. Today I will give you ten differentiated instructional strategies that I have used and that will help you better meet the needs of your students. For each strategy, I will show you how it might look in your classroom and what subjects you can use it with. I will also give you some additional suggestions for implementation. However, I must stress that before you can begin to use differentiated instructional strategies, you first need to identify the needs of your students through assessments, conferences, observations and just generally getting to know your students. 1.) Tiered or Leveled Assignments What is it? Tiered assignments consist of the same general assignment with a variety of levels. You can offer your assignment in as many different ways as you want. I generally try for 3 or 4 levels and put the kids in the closest level to their true level because making the 7 or 8 levels that I truly have is generally not feasible. Tiering means that all of the students in your class are doing the same thing – practicing spelling words, doing puzzles, learning problem solving, etc. However the problem set, the word list, the type of puzzle, or the depth of the topic is what is differentiated. What subjects is it best for? Tiering can work in any subject or grade level. It works best with assignments that have a specific process that students should be doing like problem solving or working on a spelling pattern or analyzing informational articles. Tiering works best when the content can be changed easily, without changing the process. What will it look like? The teacher will give the same general instructions to everyone. Then students will receive different materials. These materials can be completed individually, with a partner, or in small groups, depending on what you as a teacher want. If students are to work with others, be sure that the students know who else has the same materials as they do. This might mean that students with the same materials work in the same area of the classroom or it might mean that their materials are color coded so that they can see who has the same material as they do. Here's a real life example from my classroom: When I was teaching a multigrade math lesson on angles, I asked all of my students to go on an angle scavenger hunt. Each group was given an iPad and asked to take pictures of a specific type of angle that they found around the school. The 2nd graders were asked to find right angles. The 3rd graders were asked to find acute angles. The 4th graders were asked to find obtuse angles. The 5th graders were asked to find reflex angles. What resources might help me with this? Calendar books allow students to have the same cover with different work pages. Students all work on their calendar books for twenty minutes a day. They all work on math concepts, but the actual math concepts that they work on can be differentiated to eight different levels. Spelling and vocabulary packets allow students to all work on the same spelling pattern each week with four different levels of word lists. The activities for each of the levels are similar, but progressively more challenging. 2.) SemiPermanent Grouping What is it? Differentiated groups that can work together for long periods of time are semipermanent groupings. Students might work in these groups with you or by themselves. Groups can consist of students who are all the same level so that they can work on the same skills together. Or groups can consist of students who are working at a low, middle and high level so that they can work together on a problem with some students guiding others through the activity. These groups are labeled as semipermanent because they can and should change as the need arises, either for academic or social reasons. Teachers should track how groups are doing together and change groups accordingly. What subjects is it best for? Guided reading groups are of course the first thing that comes to mind when we think of semipermanent grouping, and literature circles can also be classified this way as well. However, semipermanent groups can be used any time students will be working on the same or similar types of activities over a long period of time. Groups that are done homogenously with time to meet with the teacher are great for specific skills that take a long time to build like reading comprehension, the writing process, math problem solving, the scientific method and using geography. What will it look like? The entire class can be broken into semipermanent groups that are all meeting at the same time. Or one group may be meeting, either on their own or with a teacher, while the other students are working on a completely different assignment. For example, I often pull my guided reading groups while the other students worked at their own pace through a list of assignments. Students who are called to my table leave what they were doing, come to me and work until we were done and then return and pick up where they left off once we are finished. Other teachers like for students to move with their semipermanent groups through a series of activities like centers or workstations, switching at assigned times. What resources might help me with this? Students in semipermanent groups can work together on any variety of novel studies. All of the students in your class can be working on novel studies at the same time if you wish, but each semipermanent group can work on a different novel that is appropriate to their reading level or interest. Students can work in semipermanent groups to complete internet scavenger hunts to work on internet research as well as science and social studies topics. 3.) Ad Hoc Groupings What is it? Ad hoc groups work together for short period of times. Students might work in these groups with you or by themselves. These groups generally consist of students who are all the same level so that they can work on the same skills together. Every once in awhile you might want groups can consist of low, middle and high level students show that they can work together on a problem with some students guiding other students. These groups are ad hoc because they change quickly and may only meet for one class period or less. Teachers can remove students from an ad hoc group as soon as the students have mastered the concept or completed the activity. What subjects is it best for? Any topic that has specific skills that might need to be reviewed or previewed with a specific group of students is a great topic for ad hoc groups. Ad hoc groups are generally formed after an assessment, grouping together students who need to work on a specific skill together. If you are using ad hoc groups to preview a topic, then you would pull students who generally need more assistance. For example, you might use this to provide differentiated instruction for ELL students. You could pull them together and preteach them the vocabulary for the unit before the entire class begins the unit. This gives them a little additional time to process the information, as well as helping them to be prepared to handle harder work when it begins. What will it look like? The majority of the class works on an independent work assignment or practice activity while the teacher pulls an ad hoc group to work on a specific skill. The teacher works with the group until she feels they have a good enough grasp of the concept to leave the group. Students may all leave the group at once or the teacher might release students one at a time. Once the student is done with one ad hoc group, she might pull another ad hoc group. Some of the students from the first ad hoc group might be in the second ad hoc group as well. Here's a real life example from my classroom: I take all of my assessments – usually a biweekly math quiz – and compile a list of each skill covered. Next to each skill I make a list of the students that needed to review each of these skills. These groups became my ad hoc groups that I met with during the next few classes. I worked with the groups until I felt like everyone had a good grasp of the skills, and then we moved on to the next set of skills. While I was working with ad hoc groups, the remainder of my class worked on Problem Solving Path and Tiling Puzzles, so they continued to be engaged in work on math skills that were appropriate to their level even if they weren’t working with me. What resources might help me with this? The work that students are doing with their ad hoc groups is generally teacher led and linked directly to an activity that is already done or already planned. So the larger concern for teachers is “what is everyone else doing?” The following resources provide quality, engaging work that students can do independently while you are working with ad hoc groups: Math Problem Solving Path Tiling Puzzles Reading Reading Response Journal Reading Logs Language Arts Writing Journals Spelling & Vocabulary Packets Science & Social Studies Internet Scavenger Hunts Vocabulary Graphs 4.) Teacher Selected Peer Pairs, Peer Tutoring or Peer Groups What is it? Students work together in pairs or small groups, helping each other through activities. Teachers choose the groupings, purposefully putting higher level students with lower level students. The students help each other while the teacher floats and helps the groups that get stuck. What subjects is it best for? Peer tutors works best when you have a class where about half of the class understands the concept and the rest of the class is either confused or just not quite there yet. Peer tutoring and peer groups work best on small, specific topics, not big general subjects. What will it look like? The teacher will create the groups and assign the activity whole group. Students will be assigned to work on a very specific problem or activity related to their topic. The pairs or small groups will then break apart and work together on the assignment. The teacher will circulate and help where she is needed. My favorite way to use this in my classroom was to assign writing prompts to work on specific types of skills like writing a solid introduction or using clear and concise details. I give a prompt at the beginning of class and specifically tell the students that everyone in the group MUST contribute to the prompt in order for it to be successful. If I see a group struggling, I would often guide my higher students by asking them to explain to their friends how they came up with their ideas. This often got students in the habit of explaining their thinking for the benefit of themselves and others. Two notes on using peer tutors: #1 Do not use the same peer tutor groups all the time. One student should never feel responsible for the complete education of another. They should be helping one another, not being their one and only teacher. #2 Try not to label your students as tutors and tutees to the children. They don’t need to be told who the stronger student is, and framing this activity this way will bring about confidence issues. Instead, frame this activity as students working together on an activity and sit back and watch the students learn from one another. What resources might help me with this? Students can work together on any topic that they need help on. Here are a few resources that work well when working in pairs: Math Projects Grammar Quizzes Area and Perimeter Worksheet Story Elements Bookmarks 5.) Collaborative Learning Groups in the form of: Jigsaw, Inside Outside Circle, Think Pair Share What is it? Students either do independent research on a topic or share what they already know on a topic to the rest of the class. This is accomplished by splitting the class into randomized groups. Each group presents to another group or the entire class so that by the end of the class everyone knows what each individual in the class knows. What subjects is it best for? Personally, I like to use collaborative learning groups to break up a large topic into much smaller topics where each student or group becomes an expert on that smaller topic and shares their knowledge with the rest of the class. This type of collaborative learning works best with science, social studies and health topics where students need to learn about facts and concepts. However, these collaborative learning groups can also be used to report out about books read, to share math strategies or to check for understanding after watching a video or listening to a lecture. What will it look like? Jigsaw – The teacher will break the class into a set number of groups. The groups will get together to gather or put together their knowledge by answering questions or preparing a short presentation on a small section of a larger topic. This may happen over several class periods. Then, on one predetermined day the class will jigsaw. Half of each group will stay at their designated table while the other half of their group circulates in a structured way visiting each other group. While visiting, the group that stayed will present their information from their small section to the students that are visiting them. Ideally the visiting students will record this information on a graphic organizer or in a notebook. Then halfway through class the students will switch places. Those who were visiting will becoming sitting presenters and the sitting presenters will become visitors until all students have visited all groups. Inside Outside Circle – Before beginning, the students will prepare a short thirty second presentation on their tiny piece of a larger topic. This many happen over several class periods. Then, on one predetermined day the class will circle. The class will stand in two circles, one inside the other. The inside circle faces out and the outside circle faces in so that students in each circle are facing each other. At that time the inside students have 30 seconds to present. Next the outside students have 30 seconds to present. Then the students each move one student to the right and repeat the process until everyone on the inside circle has talked to everyone on the outside circle. Note that with this strategy everyone does not talk to each other student so it is okay to have some overlap of topics covered. ThinkPairShare – This strategy is most often used during lectures to give students a chance to digest what is being discussed. However, it could easily be turned into ResearchPairShare if you want to do it more as a differentiated learning activity. In this way each pair of students has a question to answer. Each pair might have a different question or they could be looking at different possibilities to answer the same question. They research (or think of) the answer independently. Then they are allotted time to talk about it with one partner. Finally each group shares a quick summary of what they learned with the class. What resources might help me with this? For me collaborative learning is best if connected to a larger research project. So I might have students research, collaborate to build understanding and then create their project after the collaboration when they have more knowledge. Here are a few projects I have used collaborative learning with: Important Americans Project Rock Project African Folktales Project 6.) Projects with Choices What is it? Students complete a project on a topic that the class is learning about, but within the project they have choices. They might be able to choose their subtopic. They might be able to choose the types of information they want to gather. They might be able to choose how they will present their information. Or they might be able to choose a combination of those things (like in a RAFT situation). The general idea of projects is that students are given autonomy and an opportunity to take ownership over their learning, while still keeping them within a general framework of the standards that must be covered. What subjects is it best for? Science and social studies are obvious subjects for projects, but math projects can contain a lot of choices as well. In my Party Planner Math project students choose their own theme, their recipes, their guest list, their venue and decorate their own invitation. Within literature, students can have a lot of choice about how they present the information in books they read. Really projects can be used for any subject at any grade level as long as teachers take the time to make sure that the project is appropriate for the students. What will it look like? Projects can be handled in many ways. Students might be allotted half or all of the class periods for a certain number of days while everyone works on their projects at the same time. Or students might work on their projects as independent work when other class work is completed. Or students might work on their projects independently as a teacher works with semipermanent or ad hoc groups. Personally I like to start out the year with students all working on their projects at the same time while I circulate to assist. But as the year goes on and students build an understanding of how to do research, how to work independently and what my expectations are, I use projects as independent work while I work with groups. And by the end of the year I add projects to the end of my students’ to do lists so that they have additional time to work on their projects as soon as they complete assigned work. This means if you come into my classroom in March it is fair game to see me working with a group of 3 or 4 students while other students work on textbook pages or a classroom assignment and the students who are done with those, but not needed by me are independently working on projects. What resources might help me with this? There are so many possibilities for projects. Here are a few I have available: Math Projects Biography Project Country Study Project Important Americans Project Earth’s Minerals Project 7.) Choice Boards What is it? Choice boards are a grid or list that gives students options for how they will conquer a task. Generally students will all work on the same standard, the same topic and the same questions, but will present or explore the information differently depending on their choice off of the choice board. What subjects is it best for? Choice boards work great when you want students to work with material in their own way. They are great for giving options on presenting, but choices can also be given for how are you going to intake the material or how are you going to explore the material. For example if you are learning about Ancient Rome, students could have a choice between reading the chapters in the textbook, watching a designated list of videos, or researching the answers to specific questions. No matter which method the student chooses, they will learn the important information, but the choice lets them pick the way that they are most comfortable with. Or if students are learning about algebraic equations, they might get to choose between creating practice equations for a friend or creating a song to explain how to solve an equation or creating a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast equations and inequalities or writing a short essay on the topic. What will it look like? Using choice boards will look different depending on whether you are using them at the receiving information stage, the exploring information stage or the presenting information stage. At the receiving information stage, students will be given their options at the beginning of the lesson. They will choose one and the teacher should be clear that whatever they choose they will be required to stick with. They may choose something else next time, but for today once chosen they can’t change. This cuts down on time wasted. Once they choose, they will be given an allotted amount of time to gather their information, taking notes along the way. Notes may be taken in a graphic organizer or any other note taking system that students are already familiar with. Once the allotted time is complete – be sure to give students enough time to find the information noting that it might take more time than giving a lecture, but students will remember more if they find it themselves – come back together as a class. Ask various students to briefly share out what they found, or use one of the collaborative learning exercises from earlier. At the exploring information stage, students will receive their information in the same way, whether from you, from a video or from their own research. Then they will take the information and manipulate it, turn it around in their head and shape it like virtual playdoh. In this way, students are building understanding. So for an allotted amount of class time, students will be asked to work independently on a choice from the choice board. Your classroom will look similar to if they were all working on the same assignment, but because of the choices students will be building their own connections. A powerful example of this for me was interactive math notebook reflections. Students have five options of the way they can reflect on what we have covered in our math mini lesson and math reference page. Each student chooses the one that means the most to them. My artistic students often chose to design posters. My analytical ones chose to create diagrams. My writers chose to do a paragraph. My logistical students created practice problems. Everyone was working on the same topic. Everyone was learning. Everyone was building individualized knowledge. At the presenting information stage, students have built up knowledge in a topic until they are ready to present that knowledge to the class. When they are ready to present, they are given choices as to how they will do that. Some students love to stand in front of the class, but many don’t, so give them options. Can they create a video? Can they create a podcast? Can they create a piece of art? Can they write a story or a song? Can they create an interactive poster? There are so many ways to present information. What resources might help me with this? Many of my projects have built in presentation choice boards or lists including: Historical Figures Project Black History Project Matrix Country Study Project Additionally all of my Math Interactive Notebook lessons include exploration/reflection choices. 8.) Student Paced Learning (ToDo Lists) What is it? In student paced learning, students work at their own pace through a list of set activities. They spend more time on the items that are difficult for them and less time on the items that aren’t, rather than waiting on others to be finished before they can move on. What subjects is it best for? While I generally used student paced learning in literacy based areas, it can be done in any subject area. The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast recently featured a teacher using student paced learning in a middle school math class. Students could also work their way through European history or the Periodic table on their own if given the correct supports. What will it look like? This is one that is going to look very different depending on the class and the level. In my intermediate elementary grades classroom, student paced learning looked like a list of things that had to be done for the day or the week. Students check them off as they complete them. The list always includes open ended items at the end like projects, puzzles and independent reading so that I rarely hear “I’m finished!” With older students the list might be all of the lessons for a month or a school year that students work through at their own pace while you are there to answer questions, assist, guide through problems, give small group tutorials, etc. Overall the thing to remember is that student paced learning does not mean learning without the teacher. It means that the teacher provides the student with materials – in written, audio or video format – ahead of time so that students can work through it at their own pace. It also means that you have taught them what to do when they get stuck. Student paced learning takes a lot of important “front end” work. Teachers prepare the materials and teach students the structure at the beginning, which means that the first few weeks of school you are teaching hard and heavy. But once students get the structure and the flow, you get to step back and be the guide on the side. You have time to give students one on one or small group instruction on what they need when they need it. You have the chance to let your students take control of their own learning. What resources might help me with this? Pretty much any kind of learning can be preloaded, it’s just a matter of taking the time to preteach it. However it is easy when things are already copied, bound and ready for the entire year. So I suggest choosing systems that last all year long so that you don’t have to reteach all of that important preteaching. Here are some year long systems that might help: Country Study Project Reading Journals Writing Journals Tiling Puzzles Problem Solving Path Self Correcting Puzzles (for Primary Grades) Internet Scavenger Hunts 9.) Let Students Be the Teacher What is it? When we teach, we learn. So letting students be the teacher is a great way for them to cement their own understandings on a topic. Using this strategy, students might actually stand in front of the class and teach, or they might create a video to teach others about a topic they have learned about. But however they are teaching, they will teach in their own individualized way and learn as much as they are teaching. What subjects is it best for? Teachers teach every subject, why can’t students? However, I do generally try to limit students to a narrow topic for each individual lesson they are going to teach, as students can choose broad, wide ranging topics without realizing how much work is really entailed. What will it look like? Students should plan out their lesson ahead of time. The lesson plan is more important than the delivery of the lesson, because this is the time when they are getting their information in order and making sure they actually understand what they think they understand. Time for this planning should be set aside in class. Your classroom will look similar to if they were all working on an independent work activity, but in reality they are solidifying their learning while they plan this lesson. One of the things they will plan is how they will teach the lesson. Will they stand up front and lecture? Will they create a video? Will they create a series of fun activities? Will they create a game? Will they make a student paced project? Once the planning is complete, this will look like any other project. Students will plan out their work, they will create their presentation or their game or their manipulatives and then on a designated time, they will teach the rest of the class their lesson. You may want to give students a set amount of time that they may have to teach their lesson in order to have enough time for everyone in the class to teach. Or you may want to have students teach their lessons as they complete them in a student paced type of system. As long as they have time to teach, the differentiated instruction has begun. What resources might help me with this? With my students I have created video lessons and vocabulary games to teach others about topics: Tutorial Video Planning Sheets Vocabulary Game Planning Sheet 10.) Student Led Inquiries/ Passion Projects What is it? Student led inquires are a chance for students to follow their own thought processes and find answers to their own questions. What subjects is it best for? If your subject is one that students can use in a real world application, we hope that they have real world questions about your subject that might be answered. For some students it might be as simple as “When am I going to use Physics in my real life?” to start out with. But then as time goes on it might be “How do I use Newton’s laws when I’m designing my own rollercoaster?” or “I wonder how much force a car would have to have to push over a stop sign?” The idea of an inquiry is to get students answering their own questions, so inquiry can be worked into any subject. What will it look like? Inquiries can have a wide range. Some inquiries will be similar to Genius Hour, 20% Time or Passion Projects where students choose their own topic, their own questions and their own presentation or project on any topic that suits them from writing poetry to learning sign language to developing a website. These type of inquiries are great for Language Arts classes because students are reading and writing and researching and covering all of your standards. But what about Math and Science and Social Studies? For those classes, you might need to be more specific about what kind of questions you want them to have. Here's a real life example from my classroom: During a unit on heat, I asked students to come up with a list of questions they had about heat. The students brainstormed about 30 questions total, which we listed on the board. Then the students, who were broken into groups of two and three, chose a questions and worked on answering it. The questions ranged from "How do you make a fire?" to "Why does a refrigerator get hot if it’s making things cold?" to "How do you build a blowtorch?" While students were doing their research, they learned about ignition, combustion, conduction, convection, insulation, the movement of heat particles, and much more. I didn’t lecture about it, they wanted to know about it, they went and found it out and then they taught the rest of the class what they learned. And they covered all of my standards. The same could be done in other subjects. Ask math students for questions about coordinate graphs or algebraic equations or balancing a checkbook. Ask history students for questions about Ancient Greece or the Middle East or Victorian England. Ask literature students for questions about Shakespeare or Charles Dickens or haiku poetry. Ask music students for questions about instruments or famous musicians. This one works for everything! What resources might help me with this? Create Your Own Cookie Inquiry Great Plant Experiment As you can see from my descriptions, I often use multiple differentiated instructional strategies together to form a truly differentiated classroom. If that seems like too much for you, choose one strategy and try it out in one specific section of your day. Then slowly add more strategies and more class periods as you are comfortable. Happy teaching! This post originally appeared at: http://rakisradresources.blogspot.com/2015/12/differentiatedinstructionhowwhyand.html
This summer I had the opportunity to present about math technology in the elementary classroom at my district's Technology Conference. We have a wide range of technology in my district, ranging from a couple of computers to one on one Chromebook classrooms. So I needed to present ideas to these teachers which would help them learn about technology and math in elementary no matter what technology they had.
Technology at the elementary level is often used for typing essays and doing research. My presentation was about why and how we should be using it for technology based math lessons too! After the presentation I had multiple teachers stop and thank me for the information and ideas I had shared with them. So I decided to share a similar presentation here for you. I have recorded my presentation and below you will find the video, as well as the links to websites that I discuss in my presentation. I hope it will help you to infuse technology into your math lessons, making your technology time more impactful. SAMR Technology Model In my presentation, I use the SAMR model for technology. This model encourages teachers to look at the different ways they are using technology. It explains that technology can be used as a: substitution for what you are already doing, like using virtual flash cards instead of paper ones or typing up something that could easily be written on paper. augmentation to what you are doing, where the technology gives the assignment a little boost, but isn't irreplaceable. For example, websites like Khan Academy help us differentiate and using formatting tools makes our essays look better, but neither can't be done with paper/pencil tasks. modification of an assignment that begins to take the task to the next level. This is where the assignment begins to NEED technology in order to work. You can do modification tasks like creating presentations or completing complex projects without technology, but it would be a lot more work. Modification often allows us to be willing to try out more complex tasks with our students because the technology is making the task easier for us and our students. A lot of project based learning and connecting with other classes falls under modification. reinvention of a task into something unheard of before technology. These are the tasks that you wouldn't be able to complete WITHOUT technology. This is where coding and video making start to come into play and this is where students start to truly immerse themselves into the technology. This, of course, is also where some of the highest levels of thinking happen. In my video I make it very clear that although we should all aspire to use technology as a reinvention tool when we can, teachers and students should be working at all levels of the SAMR model, just as we work at all levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. Here is the video with specific examples on how to do just that: Links and Resources Within the video, I discuss a wide range of websites and technologies. Here are quick and easy links to those resources: Substitution  Websites for "online flash cards": Math Magician, Sumdog  Google documents  Online Math Games Augmentation  Math teaching videos and activities with Khan Academy  Math practice websites that track student data and allow for specific differentiation: Free: Prodigy Zearn Paid: IStation IXL Modification  Google Forms  Google Sheets  Presentation Sites: Prezi, Google Slides Reinvention  Video creation websites: Powtoon, Screencastomatic, IXplain  Video game creation websites: Tynker, Scratch  Website creation and online portfolio websites: Google Sites, Live Binder, Weebly
The challenge from my video is also a challenge for my readers: Come up with a way that you can use technology in your math lessons at least once a week (once a day if you have a onetoone ratio) during the upcoming school year. Please feel free to post your ideas here i the comments so we can learn from each other!
In the meantime, here are a few resources from my Teachers Pay Teachers store that may help you along the way: Math and Technology Project Matrix (Free) Technology Integration Bundle Tutorial Video Creation Planning Sheet Have a great day! Politicians say that class size doesn't matter. They say that the class size data shows that what the teacher does is more important than the number of students in your room. Any teacher can tell you that this isn't true. Here is my true life story about why and how class size matters in students' success. This year has been challenging me. I feel tired faster. I'm having a harder time keeping up with planning and grading. I'm not using as many differentiated instructional strategies as I usually do. It's taking me longer to cover certain topics and there are so many "extras" we haven't done yet that I normally have introduced by this time of the year. I couldn't figure out why I was having a harder time until my husband made a comment the other day. He said "You're trying to do everything you did for a class of 16, but now you have 24." This was a great "aha!" moment for me. He's absolutely right. Last year I was able to do a lot with my students and a lot more for my students because there were less of them. Eight kids may not seem like much of a class size reduction, but when you're trying to differentiate for the specific needs of your students, fitting eight more students into small groups and oneonone conferences can really throw you off, even if some of them receive special services with other teachers. Last year I taught at a charter school in a different part of town. There were less "extra" services available to me in the way of specialists and support teachers. However, my class sizes were kept drastically smaller. This year I have moved to a "regular public school" to be closer to home. I'm not knocking the school at all. The teachers I work with are fabulous and administration is very helpful. We have quite a few specialists and support teachers. However, because of our budget, the class sizes are bigger. I have 24 kids in my class. 24 kids with different levels, different needs and different backgrounds. I've had quite a few people tell me I have a "small class". I guess when the some classes have 27  30 kids, that's true. It's all about perspective, isn't it? But of course my previous experience has given me a different perspective too. And it's this perspective that got me thinking: What do we give up in order to teach a larger class? Or more specifically, what do the students give up? Individual attention: With a larger class size, I have less time for oneonone conferences. I have less time for small group reading and small group math. Of course this means that as a teacher, I often prioritize those with the greatest needs. This means that if a student has greater abilities, they don't get as much of my attention. Additionally, these higher achieving students are also used as peer tutors and asked to help other students out, often taking on an almost grown up role. When I had a smaller class, I worked on novel studies with these higher achieving students and I didn't rely on them as much as peer tutors. They got a much more equal share of my attention. In larger classrooms, higher achieving students receive less of a push. They spend more time helping other students and less time exploring their own interests. Lower achieving students receive less individualized instruction. They spend more time being helped by students and less time being helped by a teacher. Overall, we tend to "teach to the middle" more in larger classrooms and this really doesn't do the needs of our students justice.. Calmer, more peaceful classrooms: Students who have behavior problems often behave worse in larger classrooms because they can't have the attention they need when they are just beginning to be distracted. This causes bigger behaviors than you would see in a classroom with less students because it's harder to "nip it in the bud". There are also more students in the classroom, meaning that there are more chances of one of those students providing a student with a history of misbehavior with a trigger or distraction for their behavior. Students who have focus problems receive less help in staying focused. Instead of having one child who might need some light reminders, I have multiple students with checklists on their desks. Because of this, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Students who can skate by without making a fuss often get very little help because we spend so much time dealing with the student who is turning our classroom upside down. Additionally, in classrooms with a big class size, we spend more time "managing" behaviors and less them teaching which leads to louder, less peaceful classrooms and can often spiral into additional behaviors. Interest Based Learning: In addition to less time for differentation to meet the needs of our students, we have less time for differentiation to meet the interests of our students. Even though studies show that students learn more when they can connect their own interests and background knowledge to the curriculum, most students do not get a chance to see their own interests mirrored in the curriculum. When we have small class sizes, we get to know our students and their interests and we make connections for them. The more kids in the class means the more interests to connect to and generally the less connections that are made. Unless a students is extremely vocal about a certain interest, we as teachers may not even know to make a connection. However, in a small class, there was time for conversations. These conversations clued me in to my students interests and this knowledge helped me to build connections for students with the books we were reading. I was able to buy books that were of interest to students and findz other ways to allow students to see their own interests in the curriculum. Access to Technology and Learning Tools: I have the same amount of technology in my room this year as last year, but we get less use of it. Why? Because now there are 24 students vying for those 4 devices instead of 16. In order to rotate students through, we would need 6 rotations instead of 4. This means that technology tends to be available for those early finishers or to help struggling students better access the curriculum. This means that technology is not something everyone touches every day. The same is true for any other centers or learning activities. Unless you have a one to one setup for technology or other resources, students will spend a lot more time waiting for the technology than using the technology when you have more students in the classroom. Engaged mentors: Our students need us not just as teachers, but as mentors. They need to know they can come to us with a problem and feel like we're listening. They need to know that we care. When we are tired from managing behaviors, we are less engaged with our students and we are less likely to listen to their problems. More students means that teachers are more tired and less engaged. There are also more problems, and a wider range of problems, for teachers to listen to. This means that in larger classes, we often lose that personal connection that allows students to know that we care for them. This personal connection can make a world of difference to our students and we should have the time and energy to give that connection to our students! Now I'm going to have some teachers read this post and say "I've taught a class of 30 for years and I differentiate and give individual attention!" And they won't be lying. Teachers are an amazing group. We do the impossible because we strive to treat a class of 30 in the same way that we would treat a class of 10. I know that I still try each and every day to give each and every child my undivided attention. We differentiate and we find ways to make miracles happen. But I've also taught a class of 10 and know that the attention and differentiation I give my current class of 24 is not the same as I was able to give my class of 10. Of course as teachers we have little control over the number of students they place in our classroom. Often the numbers go up for reasons that are out of even our administrators' controls: shifts in school district lines, emergencies that cause people to move from one area to another (I got an extra 6 kids during the aftermath of Huricane Katrina.), or budget cuts happen. Teachers "make it work" because that's our job. That doesn't mean we don't go home exhausted because of our effort and it doesn't mean that just because we "can" teach a class of 30 that we "should" teach a class of 30. In my perfect world we would look at what students are losing in these larger class sizes and prioritize our students' learning over whatever fancy new tool the military is getting or what great tax cut is going to bring a new millionaire business into our state. In fact, in my perfect world I would put less kids per classroom and take the money to afford it from the billions we spend on standardized testing and curriculum that is not developmentally appropriate. But alas I don't run the world, so for now, I will just make my point that size does matter, especially if it's class size! 
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