Natural Differentiation--or self-differentiated groups is becoming a new hobby in my classroom because I'm lazy and I hate pigeonholing anyone. I want to design lessons that remove the barriers to the top end of the class, while at the same time nurturing and scaffolding challenged learners so that both groups and everyone in between reaches his/her/their zone of proximal development (Mike Anderson Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn--chapter one).
We had some amazing results this year. Check out the top three video projects this year.
This unit is designed to review the six traits of writing and the five steps of writing. To make this blendED, I gave the students pathways to accomplish the pre-write. They could work on a packet (I use this one from Lyndhurst Schools) which walks them through a brainstorm, listing of memoirs, choosing the best three and illustrating OR they could watch a video tutorial (I used this one from Susanne Rasely-Philipps) on how to write one and simply follow along.
I called this Path One and Path Two and told the students they needed to choose one.
So, once the students choose a path, they will start naturally differentiating themselves by rate of completion. Like this:
Here are the lesson plans I used. Also, the entire lesson would not have been possible without our iPad initiative. Here's just a quick list of all the apps the students and I used to make the videos and execute the lesson plans.
Although I didn't get to work on my drawings as much as I wanted over the summer, I did do a few and learned several things.
On a similar note, after taking the Bellevue Techie Squad's BlendED PD this summer, I learned several things.
With that in mind, I'm starting this year trying to stay fresh. This is my fourth year teaching 8th grade English in Bellevue. I'm getting into a pattern and having to create fewer and fewer resources. After all, I can just do what I did last year, right?
Wrong. I would simply die of boredom. That, and with the ever changing state test, I have to evolve to stay relevant to what my kids need to be considered educated. With that in mind, I'm setting some goals to me and for this year. (And yes, those goals will be SMART)!
This is relatively ambitious for me and doesn't even touch my personal goals (Lost Creek was so much fun, I'd LOVE to do a loop there--but they are 25 miles long and I had trouble hiking four miles with my pack at 10k+).
It's going to be a fun year. I know that for absolute certain. Here's to a shiny new chance to change lives and live my best life.
So, this year, I actually had a moment of exceeding frustration so intense I had to drink water, walk down the hall, talk to my co-teacher, and get myself together before I went back into the classroom because I absolutely wanted to destroy some student’s pour soul.
At various points during that walk, I blamed the kids, the district, and society at large. The walk was preceded by perhaps the seventh or eighth student coming to me and asking to do the big summative speech alone (without an audience). Instead of losing it on a kid, I just walked out. Here’s how it sounded in my head:
Student: “I’m too anxious to do my speech. I want to do it just for you.”
Me: “Let me understand this. All year, you have disrupted my class talking across the room for everyone to hear but now I have to give you a private session during my plan time so you can get your summative grade and get your speech done without causing you “anxiety.”
Me: “I’m supposed to do that; I don’t want to do that.”
On my walk of shame, I drank water and tried to calm down. Luckily, I ran into my co-teacher (the fabulous Kami Truax). She saw the look on my face and knew something was very off. I very pointedly explained the situation as I saw it to her.
She looked at me and said, “So, they are frightened.”
That hit me hard. (Kami has a way of doing that). I was seeing them through the lens of supreme frustration with my job, my life, and my time on Earth. I had forgotten to see them as scared kids. My life’s purpose all came back to me in a rush.
I was a teacher; I had to teach them not to be afraid and to do this task.
So, I did. I started at the beginning of the unit having them do silly three sentence writing assignments (prompts like “Are Trix just for kids? Why can’t the rabbit have some? Is this discrimination?”). We were doing persuasive papers, so I tried to focus on prompts that would force them to take a stance on something trivial. From there, they had to turn and read it out loud to their table partner. Then, I expanded the groups from dyads to groups of four. The groups of four turned into half class groups.
So far, everyone has taken these mini-assignments in stride and done his/her/their part. We’ve had some fun laughing at the silliness of the prompts and I have been amazed by the kids’ creativity in responding.
At the end of the lesson, I only had three students (all with IEP’s) who needed a small group setting. It worked, and once again I am humbled by how much power I have in the classroom over the outcome of my lessons. When something goes wrong, I need to look to myself first and not blame others. That’s really hard to do as a teacher (especially as one who is used to having all the answers). However, it is incredibly necessary to continue to be a good teacher.
At the end of every year, I do Genius Hour projects with my students. There are no grades and the only thing at stake is fame. The winner of the popular vote from all five classes gets profiled here.
This year, we had some amazing entries. There was a dessert cafe complete with samples from the recipes, a "Day in the Life" of one of our team teachers, an "Ultimate Dog Park," and several ideal teen hangout designs.
However, the winner this year was unique. The gentlemen decided that they would teach two teachers to play Fortnite and then pit them against each other to see which group could "teach" the best.
So without further ado, here's the winning entry from this year's Genius Hour projects.
Back in December, I was fortunate enough to be chosen by Vikki Davis @coolcatteacher to be interviewed about some of our technology innovation here in Bellevue Public Schools.
It was a great interview and I was truly honored and enjoyed working with Ms. Davis to spread the word about using drones in the classroom to facilitate communication and genuine learning.
Be sure to check out the latest 10-Minute Teacher to see all the cool trends in education!
All right. I had a pretty great lesson last week and I'm proud of it; however, no matter how fabulous I thought it was and no matter how much work I did to organize it, it did not end like I thought it would.
Here's the basic outline:
Objectives: TDA--students will work to hone skills associated with Text Dependent Analysis using differentiated reading groups and grade appropriate reading levels by employing the Readworks.org software.
I used the MAP data to break the students into four reading groups. These groups are summed up here:
By creating these groups in Schoology, passages and questions in Readworks can be tailored and assigned privately. Each student only sees what he/she is working on.
Students are allowed to redo tests until they have a minimum of 80 percent.
After students have this review under their belts, they are assigned a version of the STATE TEST I recreated in Schoology. They will also be able to take this test until they have the score they desire.
#iPadAcademy Note: This level of differentiation would be extremely difficult maintain without the private group and grading features of Schoology. Using the two programs together, I can reach all levels in my classroom and remain confidential about levels and abilities.
The grades and rate of completion for this assignment are NOT in an acceptable range for my classroom. One of the major issues is that in the ReadWorks software, a student has to press submit on his/her/their test in order to have the response count. Even though I taught this concept and how to make sure it was turned in on two separate days (Thursday and Friday at the beginning of class), I still had many students fail to hit the submit button. This means that the functionality to grade their written responses was inoperable.
So, now I'm revising things to head into the next week. We will be forced to retry this assignment next week just to get the work submitted. It's going to eat into our Text Dependent Analysis essay lecture next week, but that's okay (especially since the curriculum for this quarter is very fluid).
I will post my corrections to this lesson as soon as I figure out what they are :-).
Thanks for reading.
I will admit it; this lesson is not for the faint of heart. As an educator, I'm used to a certain level of chaos in my classroom. This level of chaos was very close to my limit, but as Kami and I skated close to that edge, I saw an excitement and engagement level in my students that was both refreshing and exhilarating.
The lesson plan was simple enough. After playing with the drones over the weekend with my sons, I felt I had an okay handle on their functioning. Specifically, I could turn them off and on and generally make them function.
Then, on Monday, we started with this lesson. Below is a simplified outline. If you click on the picture of the chart, it will take you to the Google Document with hot linked resources that I used in the lesson.
The lesson was whole-heartedly enjoyable and I was amazed by how many objectives we were able to hit with our discussions and our experiences. The ones that namely stood out were:
LA 8.1.6.i Construct and/or answer literal, inferential, critical, and interpretive questions and support answers with explicit evidence from the text or additional sources
LA 8.1.6.j Apply knowledge of organizational patterns to comprehend informational text (e.g., sequence/chronological, description, spatial, cause and effect, compare/contrast, fact/opinion, proposition/support).
Most remarkably every single objective for LA 8.3 and LA 8.4--(Communication and Media Literary) was repeatedly woven into every aspect of the lesson.
What would I change? Extra batteries for the drones is the easiest fix to the limited time the flyers will run. For our Parrot drones, we were getting about 10 minutes from fully charged to won't fly anymore. They needed at least 20--30 minutes on charge to restart the cycle. Two sets of batteries would solve this problem.
The other thing is that I would work harder to understand the battery aspect of the project before getting in to the classroom. That was a bit of a crash and burn as on Tuesday, our drones failed to charge Monday night (the cart was not plugged into the wall--ops) and one of the drone's top time was 50 seconds (for two classes). I solved this by combining groups to work together on single drones. It was not ideal, but it was effective as everyone could still do their jobs in turns.
I was astounded by their teamwork and their ability to work in both their group and combined groups. The dynamics were powerful and interesting to watch. The regular classes were all self-chosen and group decided. I was fascinated to watch which kids waned which roles and who stepped up to lead the groups.
And here I need to have a BIG shout out to the awesomely amazing Mallory Peterson @malpete1010 our H.A.L. educator extraordinaire. She created the incredibly gorgeous safety presentation linked below. I'd also love to point out that Phillip Loomis @TeachLoomis helped dropping off equipment on the fly when we had trouble with the batteries and needed a backup plan! What a rock star team!
Finally, I need to thank Aaron Maurer @coffeechugbooks. Aaron is an Instructional Coach at Bettendorf Middle School. Aaron's article "The Top Five Unexpected Benefits of Robotics in the Classroom" from 2016 points out a great group of benefits that the students were able to infer and pinpoint due to the lesson. Thanks, Mr. Maurer!!
This had to have been one of my most successful projects in recent memory.
Last night was interesting.
My youngest son had a "bad day" at school (50 percent on his behavior report, argument with the teacher, lots of tears, and reading a book he doesn't like). It was then, as my husband and I tag teamed dinner, homework, and his paperwork that I realized exactly how much my co-teaching relationship is similar to the way my husband and I co-parent.
I am lucky in that I have two co-teachers, Kami Truax and Kali Truax. Kami is one of the most outstanding special educators I have met. She knows her stuff and is alway willing to go the extra mile for our students. Kali is Kami's service dog. She spends most of her time in my class getting belly rubs and comforting all of us in our day to day trials in middle school. I will admit, I visit Kali for comfort about as much as the kids.
Last night at Leadership Academy, we were lucky enough to host Dr. Matt Fenster who is the director of Special Education here in Bellevue. He nearly knocked me out of my chair with one fact. IDEA is [t]he Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.). Pretty much, that means that our special education mandates come from the federal government. The problem is that the federal government has simply said that the states have to pay for this. The states have no money. for this expense; therefore, our budget for special education was only funded at 56 percent last year. The rest of the money came from the district. This is the epitome of an "unfunded mandate" and it is attacking the most vulnerable of our society. That just stinks and, quite frankly, depresses me to no end.
However, there are people out there working here and across this great nation to help special needs kids achieve and succeed.
I should know. Two of my babies qualify for SPeD services and I couldn't be prouder. They are getting the help they need to achieve as much as they humanly can in life. The districts are doing this at a tremendous cost, but the benefits are exponential.
My mother used to tell me that the quote above was from one of the first women arrested for wearing an "unauthorized" bathing suit to a public pool back when women did not do such things as show their ankles or wrists.
Unfortunately, (as we have spent the last three weeks on expository essays), I cannot verify that source. Regardless, the quote has always resonated with me.
With that in mind, I'd like to share something my last handler (shout out to Jeffrey Bernadt--@jefferybernadt) said was unique about how I set up Schoology to grade introduction and conclusion essays.
Using the test feature in our learning management platform (LMP), I set up four questions to count as the rough draft of the introduction paragraph of our essay essay (which is expository this time). We use a system I call H.E.A.T. (Hook, Earth, About, Thesis) as a pneumonic to remember the sentences we need to have somewhere in the opening paragraph. Most of you writing people will know that the hook is there to reel in the audience (attention getter) and the thesis is our argument plus essay map. Earth means they need to have a global appeal in there, making their reader feel a part of the issue. I use the example, "All around the world, people need ______" as a template to show that their topic is universally critical. The about statement is the literal definition of the topic.
As you can see from the grayed out boxes under the questions, each sentence (or set of sentences) that they write then goes up against a rubric. The rubric judges two things--does the statement they wrote do what they were asked (is it a hook? is it a thesis?). The second box is grammar. If there are any grammar mistakes in the answer, they do not get points for the grammar component of the sentences.
Considering that I always invite students to redo their work for a better grade, I find this system pinpoints the potential problems or successes of their sentences. This leads to less confusion about why they received the grade they did and better understanding on how to fix it. They know immediately from looking at the rubric if they need to work on content or grammar (or both) in their next submission.
I will not suggest that this method of grading saves time; however, it does save a good bit of my sanity by having the bulk of the "why didn't I get a 100 on this?" questions taken care of without personal interaction with the student or handwritten notes/emails.
I'm a technology curriculum facilitator, and I'm excited about integrating technology in the classroom.