Tuesday, August 25, 2015

TPT Gift Card Giveaway!

To celebrate the beginning of another school year and to make a little donation to a hard-working teacher, our Tools for Teaching Teens team is having a TPT gift card giveaway!
The giveaway is open from August 25 until Sept. 1.  
The winner will be notified on Sept. 2! 
Good luck!!

Thanks for graphics & font:

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Time to Clean Out Those Closets?!

I started going through my mess of papers in my classroom yesterday. Back at the end of the school year, I mentioned (as a tip) that teachers need to make sure they put those papers back where they belong....yeah, I don't do that very well :-)  So, I pulled all of the papers out of the random binders I had put them in and started sorting them into piles by topic. I decided that I'd finally break down and make myself create one binder per topic...they probably won't be as pretty as many of the ones I've seen on Pinterest, but they will be organized.

While I worked on the papers, my daughter helped me clean out my
closets....I guess technically she organized them for me, since I couldn't be convinced to throw much away. Our afternoon went kind of like this:

Daughter: "Mom, you have 4 packs of Geoboards that aren't opened. Do you really need them? Plus the overhead projector one? You don't even have an overhead projector any more."
Me: "You never know, they might be fun to use in 9th period; or they might change the curriculum again and I might need them."

Her: "Mom, do you need all these flashcards?"
Me: "Wellll, some of the kids don't know their facts, and they might not have cards at home, so I can let them borrow them. Someday I'll give them away to someone who needs them."

Her: "Mom, you don't teach this subject any more. Do you need this bulletin board stuff?"
Me: "I could end up teaching it again. People get switched around."

Her: "How old is this Scrabble game?!"
Me: "Well, it belonged to the teacher I replaced (24 years ago!)  and she retired, so who knows! Stuff in my closet could be 50 years old!"

Her: "Perquaky?" (game she's never heard of)
Me: "Yeah, that was the other teacher's too. Is there a date on it?"
Her: "1970."
Me: "See! I wasn't exaggerating! That's 45 years old, so 50 years wasn't that far off. I can't throw it away now...it's like an antique!"

She REALLY enjoyed questioning why I still have all these things....I just can't seem to throw them away...but I suppose, some time in the next few years I will.

Maybe I should go through the closet again, strictly following these 2 rules (it's only 2 rules - shouldn't be hard to follow...):
1) If I haven't used it in 20 years (or maybe 2??), it's safe to say I will NEVER use it and I should throw it out,or give it away.
2) If someone else can use it more than I do, I should give it away.

What do you have lingering in your closet??

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Check out the Video Blog Posts!

Another quick post today (wow - two in one day!!)
This summer, my wonderful team - Tools for Teaching Teens - collaborated to create a new site! We've started adding video blogs and will continue to add them every week. We would love for you to check them out and let us know what you think!

Check it out!

Back to School Giveaway!

Oh, I have SO been neglecting my blog this summer! I've been doing some other types of writing, and I think my "writing energy" has just been tapped out!

I do want to write a quick post about the fantastic giveaway you can enter at The Language Arts Classroom! There are several prize packs you can enter to win - MATH, English, Science, SS, and more, so head on over!  Good luck!

Enter to win!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Chapter 6: Differentiating in Response to Student Interests

I hope you have been reading along with us! There are so many interesting concepts to learn and think about with this book, Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom.

Chapter 1 is found on my blog, in June.
Check out Chapter 2 here, with Brigid (Math Giraffe)!
Here is Chapter 3, with Brittany at The Colorado Classroom!
Chapter 4 is found here at What's New with Leah!
Andrea reviewed Chapter 5 here, at Musings of a History Gal!

So, here is Chapter 6: Differentiating in Response to Student Interests!
The authors start out be sharing results of a 2006 study of 500 students that dropped out of school (in 26 different cities). The study revealed that 47% of the students left school because they did not find the classes interesting. Because of curricular and standardized testing pressure, many teachers do not link their curriculum to their students' interests.

When people are interested in a topic, they pay attention, ask questions, focus, and willingly explore sources to find out more - they are drawn in. Think about your own behaviors when you are interested in a topic. To elicit these behaviors in students, teachers need to tap into student interests. To effectively differentiate according to interests, one must consider these 4 principles:

1. Interest recruits the brain’s attention systems.  It stimulates cognitive involvement.
2. Any group of students is likely to have common and varied interests.
3. When teachers know and address student interest in the context of curriculum , students are more likely to engage with content.
4. Attention to student interests should FOCUS students on essential knowledge, skills, not divert students from them.

There is quite a lot of research to document that incorporating student interests enhances motivation and increases achievement in the long and short term. Work that interests students will be at an appropriate challenge level, and thus at their readiness level.

I was very interested in the imaging study they discussed. The study focused on motivation to learn versus motivation for money: both motivators activated the part of the brain called the putamen. However, when the motivation to learn was greater, the change in the signals in the putamen were greater. Brain activity shows us that motivation (interest) has a great effect on the mind.

The authors discussed seven themes for addressing student interests in the classroom:
1) Start with something familiar to students.
2) Help students to "see themselves" in what they are learning about.
3) Use your deep content knowledge to "craft" your curriculum.
4) Be interesting! Vary the way you the way you teach and the way you assess students; make the classroom lively.
5) Share your own interests.
6) Help students use their interests in your subject area.
7) Help students expand on the interests they bring with them - in inquiry centers, enrichment centers and independent studies.

The authors also share their thoughts for the implications of incorporating students interests for the five key classroom elements:
1) learning environment - learning is supported in an environment that is safe, challenging, and supportive. When students' interests are addressed, this type of environment is developed.
2) curriculum - a curriculum is not just a set of standards, but is a specific content that is enhanced by what the educator adds, which should include the interests of the students
3) assessment - there are 3 ways in which student interests intersect with assessment:
    preassessment - letting the teacher know student interests through surveys
   formative assessment - can help teacher gain more understanding of student interests
   formative and summative assessments - can be developed with student interests in mind
4) classroom management - as with the readiness-differentiated classroom, flexibility is critical and allows teachers to work with small groups on interest-focused activities
5) instruction - guidelines for differentiating instruction (there are many of these!):
* identify and explain, in student language, what students should know, understand, and be able to do, so that students understand the academic expectations
* use a preassessment of student interests - this can be at the beginning of the year or at the beginning of a new unit
* find small amounts of time to share your own interests with your students
* have a purpose in providing opportunities for students to share their interests; find a way to keep track of each student's interests throughout the year (like an index card for each student)
* use your knowledge of students' interests to state the essential understandings, build activities, create student groupings, incorporate anchor and extension activities
* think about ways to incorporate student interests into stories, examples, analogies, and applications in the classroom - students love to hear things that they can really relate to, especially in story form!
* remember the connection between readiness and interests
* make sure flexible groups include interest-based groups
* keep studying your content!

When differentiating with student interests in mind, the authors suggest that teachers differentiate by content, process or product. They do go into detail about ways to differentiation in each area, if you are interested in further information. Another way in which to differentiate is with "expert groups" and "sidebar studies." Expert groups sound great to me - they allow students with common interests to delve further into the topic, which enables those students to be involved in more complex cognitive processes. The authors take time to specifically outline how the expert groups are run. Expert groups complete their work during class time, while "sidebar studies," that also explore interests more in depth, take place outside of class time, often on an individual basis.

There was a LOT of information here! I do interest inventories at the beginning of the school year, but I haven't found a good way to consistently incorporate those interests into my classes. Using the content from this chapter, I will be able to create a plan to use these interests in the future.

How do you incorporate your students' interests into your curriculum?

Chapter 7  - back to Brigid!
Chapter 8 with Leah!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Differentiation and the Brain -Chapter 1

Chapter 1: The Nonnegotiables of Effective Differentiation

I'm very excited to get started with this book; it's a great topic! So far, it's interesting and a pretty quick read. This is summary of the important ideas in the chapter....sometimes I get a little detailed, because I don't want to miss anything!

In Chapter 1, the authors reinforce the idea that differentiated instruction is not new. (This was discussed in the intro). Though students are in classrooms with others of the same age, students are not "the same." In spite of this, and because of all the material there is to cover, many teachers teach their students as if they are same.
According to research, students will engage more with learning and will learn more robustly when the learning is designed with students' differences (and similarities) in mind. A learner-centered model views the teacher's role as one that is responsible for covering material, but also one that is responsible for maximizing student learning. Whether a student is missing information or has already mastered the current content, a teacher's job is to move each student beyond their current level to ensure that they continue to grow in their knowledge. Differentiation is based on the premise that if a student can't learn efficiently or effectively in one mode, a strong teacher looks for another learning mode that will work.
Sousa and Tomlinson state that the "bedrock of differentiation is a four-part argument that is foundational to effective teaching." Paraphrased, the four parts are:
1) the environment must invite learning - be safe, challenging, supportive
2) teachers should be able to recognize what constitutes essential knowledge, understanding, and skills
3) teachers should "persistently assess student proximity to the essential knowledge, understanding and skills..."
4) when assessment data indicates that a student is confused, has gaps, or has mastered the knowledge, the teacher should use that information to plan future instruction

The authors include a model for differentiation, in diagram form. The diagram describes differentiation as a teacher's response to learner needs; it includes the ideas that shape the teacher's response, names ways to differentiate according to students' factors, and lists a variety of strategies. This is a very detailed and informative diagram....I may need to draw it for myself and hang it in my classroom!

Within the diagram, the five key principles for effective differentiation are as follows (these are described thoroughly in the reading):
1) work in a differentiated classroom is respectful
2) there is a quality curriculum, rooted in the critical ideas of a topic/discipline
3) teachers use flexible grouping on a regular basis
4) teachers use ongoing assessment to guide their instruction
5) the learning environment allows students to feel that they can take risks in learning (this is called building community in the diagram)

The authors end Chapter 1 with the ways in which brain research supports differentiation. These ideas will be discussed more thoroughly in the rest of the book:
1) All brains are organized differently; teaching all students the same way is not brain-compatible.
2) The brain is a "pattern-making machine."
3) Divergent thinking helps to produce new patterns and expand cognitive networks. Differentiation promotes divergent thinking.
4) Emotions play an important role in pattern making; differentiation can offer students more opportunity to reach emotional "aha" moments, which result in chemical releases in the brain and keep learners motivated.
5) Learning is not just a cognitive process, but also a social one; differentiation can provide an environment that is socially nurturing.
6) When information isn't used in a meaningful way, it is not retained in long-term memory. Differentiation can include strategies that make learning more meaningful and memorable.
7) To retain learning, students must be focused and give attention to a topic. The more personally meaningful (through differentiation), the more a student will focus.

In summary, the authors state that differentiation requires teachers to be "mindful" of:
1) how content is structured for meaning
2) who their students are as individuals
3) which classroom elements allow some freedom in connecting content and learners.

Future chapter summaries of this book will be out every few days, on our different blogs: Math Giraffe, The Colorado Classroom, What's New With Leah, and Musings of a History Gal

Check out Chapter 2 here, with Brigid (Math Giraffe)!
Here is Chapter 3, with Brittany at The Colorado Classroom!
Chapter 4 is found here at What's New with Leah!
Andrea reviewed Chapter 5 here, at Musings of a History Gal!
Chapter 6 is here on my blog.
Chapter 7  - back to Brigid!

Differentiation and the Brain - Introduction

It's summer-time and time to get some reading done!
Myself and my Tools for Teaching Teens collaborators are going to read and review Differentiation and the Brain, How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom, by David A. Sousa and Carol Ann Tomlinson.We will each be reviewing different chapters, and those blog posts will be linked together as we go. If you're interested in learning more about this book, check back and follow the links to the different chapters:)

I'm going to give a quick review of the book introduction here, and then later today I'll be reviewing Chapter 1.

According to the authors, differentiation is brain-friendly and brain-compatible! They describe the rise, fall, and rise of differentiation, starting with the one-room schoolhouses, where teachers taught all subjects to all students, of all ages, and HAD to differentiate - there was no other way! As the country's population grew, public schools grew, and students were separated into single grades by age, but differentiation was still common. In the 1930s, the industrial model of education began, and the "middle-of-the-road approach" was adopted. Subjects became departmentalized, class sizes grew, secondary teachers became content specialists, and differentiation became less common as the curriculum became one-size-fits-all. In the 1960s, states began exerting more control over schools, and state departments generated curriculum standards and standardized tests. Districts were becoming more alike, but populations in those districts were becoming increasingly different. Testing results showed modest gains, and secondary students scored lower than students in other developed countries, leading to the realization that one-size-fits-all does not work.  As with many aspects of education, we have circled back to the need for differentiation

According to the authors, this book talks about teaching differently and smarter, not harder.
They state that when properly implemented, differentiation emphasizes a shared responsibility between teacher and student. There are many questions this book will answer; the few I am most interested in are:
1) What kind of model can teachers use as a basis for setting up a differentiated and brain-friendly classroom?
2) What are the five major components of a brain-friendly quality curriculum?
3) What are some strategies for effectively managing the differentiated classroom?

I can't wait to get into this book! I hope you are eager to learn what these fantastic authors have to teach!

Click here to continue to Chapter 1.


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