Monday, November 14, 2005

Differentiation Puts Kids Over Content

"Artful teaching is a love triangle between teachers, students, and content." --Tomlinson

Carol Ann Tomlinson believes that "Differentiated instruction is the means by which teachers ensure that good curriculum is a good fit for each learner." It's connecting with kids, and connecting kids with content. In her Tuesday, October 25th, morning session "Differentiation: Connecting with Kids and Connecting Kids to Content," Tomlinson gave four basic guiding principles for connecting students and teachers, content and students.

  • Connect--Through student-driven activities, opportunities for kids to share or build on their personal interests, journaling, positive humor, and many other ways.
  • Respect--For example, learning about and honoring the students' cultures, communicating high expectations, and making time for students.

    "The heart of the method is the relationship between teachers and students." --The Macon Telegraph
  • Challenge--By providing meaningful work that extends the kno wn and challenges the unknown.
  • Support--For example, giving second chances and deferring grades, clarifying expectations, teaching needed skills, accepting responsibility for student success, and learning students' strengths and weaknesses.

Differentiated Instruction is tied to the new performance standards in the state of Georgia. For a peek at how teachers and middle Georgia are putting differentiated instruction to work, as a means of supporting the performance standards, check out this article from The Macon Telegraph. How is differentiated instruction working in your schools? Is differentiation supported, at the classroom level, on a regular basis? Or is it just more inservice jargon that never really fleshes out into practice? Let us know.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Giving Kids Control

It doesn't take Tuesday's school shooting in Tennessee (Washington Post, free registration) to convince me that schools can be stressful environments. Aside from the impact of major traumas like violence and death, everyday stressors have huge impacts on how we teach and learn. For students and teachers alike, feeling like you have more control over your life is one way to reduce stress, contends Eric Jensen.

In his Sunday afternoon conference session, Principle-driven Learning: How Highly Effective Teachers Boost Student Achievement, Jensen outlined some ways to make students feel like they have greater control over their school experiences:

Emotional vesting—Teach content student’s feel is worth learning.

Relationship contracts—If you give your word, keep it. Be a good listener, and when applicable, give kids “insider information"--for example, the next step in a lesson. Ask students to do things they like doing, and then expand that into things that are more challenging.

Create “hooks” in your lessons—For example, give kids opportunities to vote, bet, or make predictions about activity outcomes. Keep points during the week, on whether their predictions were correct or not—or allocate a sum of “play money” that they can use to bet answers to questions. This’ll also help reign in the kids who think they have the answers to everything—they’ll soon learn they have much to learn. Another way to hook kids is by asking compelling questions.

Create “ladders” in your lessons—For example, ask students to do one lillte thing that leads to another, and another, and another. Don’t always tell students the endpoint of their actions, keep them curious.

Get kids to change “pools”—This means getting students to change their mental or emotional states before trying to change their behaviors. The objective is to get them into a better state for hooking them into the lesson. For example, getting kids to stand up, move around the classroom, or do some whimsical task like blow bubbles or clap a rhythm.
Allow multiple social structures—Use a variety of pairings for student work.

Provide feedback-driven activities—Build-in scoring that allows for incremental review of student work, use models so that students can compare their work, and if possible, use audio or video to record student work for their review.

We've talked about kids, now let's hear about teachers and colleagues. Principals, Superintendents, and Administrators--Share your strategies for giving your staff greater control over their circumstances in school.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Educating the Whole Smile

Diane Clark and Pamela Garriott's session--Teaching Strategies That Foster Resiliency in the Inclusive ClassroomI put off going to the dentist because my biannual cleanings have become painful reminders that I should really floss more often. But for a lot of school-age kids, trips to the dentist are skipped because they can't afford it or they don't have anyone to take them.

In the United States alone,

  • Nearly 63 percent of all children do not visit the dentist annually.
  • Children miss about 52 million hours of school each year because of oral health problems.

(Source: The Detroit News)

A mouth full of healthy teeth not only keeps kids' minds on their schoolwork; it also makes them feel a little less self-conscious. During Diane Clark and Pamela Garriott's session "Teaching Strategies That Foster Resiliency in the Inclusive Classroom" (pictured above), one attendee shared how her school helped mitigate disparities between students' appearances and boosted student wellness by funding a Mobile Dentists initiative. In addition to sending the message that student health is valued, providing dental services allowed the school to reach out to those students who may have been limited by time, access, and affordability.

In her "Message from the President" column in the November Education Update, ASCD President Mary Ellen Freeley notes that educating the whole child means more than current fixations on academic achievement and assessment. It also means each student "must have access to health care, good nutrition, and exercise to be physically ready to meet academic demands."

How does your school go beyond academics to support its community of learners? Please share your comments.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Asking for It

Stephen Sroka's panel of student experts

When Stephen Sroka tells you what students want from today's schools, he's not just reading you some 3x5 note card--he's actually asking kids for it.

During Tuesday's closing general session, Sroka's panel of student experts (pictured from left to right: Sroka, Neha, Maggie, Carlos, and Jake) answered questions about the kinds of schools they want to go to and identified their amalgam of the most desirable teacher qualities.

Here's two examples of the questions and the students' answers:

What three things would you remove from your school?

What are the top three things you want in your school?

In this month's "Is It Good for the Kids?" column, ASCD Executive Director Gene Carter asserts that policymakers need to listen to the voices of educators. Implicit in this call is listening to students, as well, so that teachers have what they need to reach each student's needs.

As student expert Jake put it, "I want a teacher that doesn't say I should know something just because it's in the book. If all I need to do is read the book, then why are there teachers?"

Teachers, students, principals, administrators, and support staff--let us know what qualities you'd like in your school(s), and which attributes have got to go! Post your response.

Also, check out the previous post on Stephen Sroka.


Monday, October 24, 2005

A Prickly Pomegranate

The big problem with No Child Left Behind, W. James Popham asserted during Sunday's opening keynote, is that it uses the wrong kinds of tests to judge the caliber of student learning and teacher instruction. Popham advocates for instructionally sensitive tests, which he claims possess
  • Clear descriptions of assessment targets.
  • A manageable number of assessment targets.
  • Instructionally informative results.

Standards-based tests are a good idea, but according to Popham, they've been corrupted. He explains that there are too many ill-defined content targets and that teachers are often left guessing what's going to be tested. Popham also believes that most standards-based tests don't produce results in ways that make sense to teachers and, thus, cannot be used as tools to benefit instruction.

The problem with traditional achievement tests, like the Stanford and Iowa achievement tests, is that they are derivative of the World War I "Army Alpha" test, which was used to identify potential Army officers. These sorts of tests, Popham notes, must create a score-spread and, therefore, by design, must include items that the majority of test-takers will get wrong or be unable to correctly identify. Often those gate-keeper items can be tied to socioeconomic status--like a pomegranate! They're a pretty pricey fruit, which your average bodega probably doesn't stock; however, more expensive markets do.

What do you think about using instructionally sensitive tests to measure student achievement? Post your response.

For more on Popham's treatise on instructionally sensitive tests, check out his "All About Accountability" column in the November 2004 issue of Educational Leadership.

Also, check out his past contributions to the ASCD canon.


More Than Healthy Events

Does your school promote healthy events or, on a broader scale, does your school sustain a healthy environment? Here's a quick self-assessment:
  • Health-related events are one-time, unique, short-term, and nonsustaining.
  • A healthy school environment is ongoing, repeated, sustaining, and incorporated at the policy level.

In today's session titled "School Employee Wellness: The Connection to Student Health and Learning," Beverly Samek and Eva Marx advocated for coordinated, districtwide health plans that go beyond isolated wellness events. Marx and Samek suggested considering disease prevention, stress management, employee assistance programs, emergency preparedness, wellness policy development, and wellness plans linked to employee benefits as ways to span the gap between scattered healthy school events and a sustained healthy school environment for each student and staff member.

What is your school or district doing to offer more than healthy events? Please share your comments.

Keep an eye on the ASCD Online Store for recordings of this session and others from the 2005 Conference on Teaching & Learning. Also, learn more about Samek and Marx's work and their forthcoming book, Protecting Our Assets: A School Employee Wellness Guide, which will be available summer 2006 from the Directors of Health Promotion and Education.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Fit To Be Tried

Nourishing the body with nutritious food and regular exercise means more than just improving the attendance rates of students and staff.

By the start of school next year, the federal government will require school lunchrooms receiving federal money to have a local wellness plan in place. Today's Washington Post profiles a school in Fairfax County (Va.) that incorporates exercise and healthy eating into its school culture and community.

In the September 2005 Educational Leadership article "Healthy and Ready to Learn," former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher cites several studies that link student health to academic performance and positive social-emotional development. In the same issue, Pat Cooper's article "A Coordinated School Health Plan" profiles a Mississippi school where dedication to schoolwide healthfulness netted lower discipline referrals, higher graduation rates, increased school enrollment, and vastly improved academic performance on state tests. (Log in for full access to Educational Leadership.)

For secondary school teachers, the September 26, 2005, issue of ResearchBrief addresses the issue of thwarting the trend toward physical inactivity in high school girls.

Whether in the daily newspaper or in a school's daily routine, school health is about more than responding to a federal mandate--it's about the whole child who is healthy, engaged, and actively participating in life and learning. Evidence shows that if students have a healthy place to learn, they are going to do a healthy amount of learning.

Related Conference Sessions

On Sunday, October 23, Joyce Fetro walks you through a sample coordinated school-health framework and how its components can be integrated in any school in her Conference on Teaching & Learning morning (1204T) or afternoon (1304T) session titled "Developing Policies and Practices That Support Student Well-Being and Academic Achievement."

On Monday, October 24, Eva Marx and Beverly Samek put teachers' health first and show the student success tie-in during their morning (2209T) or afternoon (2309T) session titled "Teacher Wellness: The Connection to Student Health and Learning."


Thursday, October 06, 2005

Where Does Resiliency Come From?

Some kids seem to have a natural ability to bounce back from trauma, while other kids seem lost in grief or stress. Teachers have the unique opportunity to foster students' resiliency and develop it in those students who struggle with coping. Besides strengthening your commitment to educate the whole child, teaching kids to be resilient helps their school achievement, as well.

In the October Education Update newsletter article "Resiliency and Achievement," WestEd's Senior Program Associate Bonnie Benard, who has logged over 20 years studying resiliency in children, identifies three ways teachers can nurture their students' resilient natures:

  • Establish caring relationships. Teachers must take time to connect with each of their students, says Benard. It's as simple as making eye contact at least once a day with each student, as simple as knowing each child's name, and as simple as noticing when a child is absent and saying the next day, “We missed you yesterday.” These are actions that all adults who interact with children can take, asserts Benard.

  • Deliver high-expectation messages. Teachers can help their students realize that, as Benard puts it, “they do indeed have a power within themselves” to rise above difficult circumstances. To do so, teachers and other adults in schools need to convey that they truly believe in each student's capacity to learn and to be successful in life. “Showing that somebody believes in you when you don't believe in yourself is so big,” Benard states. Use a “strengths-focused” approach, she advises: First, identify the strengths and interests that each young person has, and then use those strengths and interests to address any challenges.

  • Provide opportunities for active participation and contribution. Giving students a voice can be accomplished through classroom management approaches and instruction, Benard suggests. Students can help establish classroom rules that everybody can agree with, for example. Further, she adds, learning strategies such as cooperative learning provide opportunities for students to be resources for one another and convey to them that they can help one another learn. In terms of assessment, teachers can use strategies that invite students to reflect on their work. Benard recommends, for example, that teachers ask students to create portfolios and include items that represent their best work.

Related Conference Session

Learn more about fostering resilience in students on Sunday, October 23, at the 2005 Conference on Teaching & Learning. Attend morning session 1203T, "Teaching Strategies That Foster Resiliency in the Inclusive Classroom," presented by Diane Clark and Pamela Garriott, both professors at Grand Valley State University, in Grand Rapids, Mich. If you're already planning to attend this session, let us know what you learn!