Posts Tagged ‘Differentiation’

Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 1

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:  Lori Reemts, Elementary Generalist

 

There is a place where the learning process, fueled by pure motivation, engages everyone in the room and authentically integrates critical thinking with content concepts. This place operates beyond barriers, perceived or otherwise, and capitalizes on the efficient and effective use of talent and time.

Although this may sound unattainable to some, the reality is that this place can often be found within our own instructional choices.   Of course we, as professionals, operate within larger systems and, of course, these systems each have their own issues, but when it comes right down to it the largest influencer and indicator of student success is the classroom teacher. (Stronge,  2010)  While respect should be given to the realities of life and teaching in today’s world, it is imperative to acknowledge and appreciate that educators do not have a simple or easy task;  it benefits no one to dwell on daily challenges when our energies could better be spent upon enacting change in our own classrooms.  Educators everywhere collectively cry out for the path and the simple answer to integration.  The goal of this series is to focus on this desire and suggestions for steps toward accomplishing this as we journey to this place we so covet.

In this first installment, it may be an excellent time to try to define “integration” so that our conversations center on similar ideas and starting points.  Believe it or not there are many variations in how we use this word which are quite dependent upon the person using the term and in what context.  Obvious historical examples exist referring to actual student integration during the Civil Rights movement, but in this context we are referring to skills and concepts addressed  in our classrooms.  The term itself has been thrown around for a number of years and has recently regained momentum; unfortunately for some, it has become a symbolic “buzz word” without substance.

Humphreys (1981) offers a basic definition: “An integrated study is one which children broadly explore knowledge in various subjects related to certain aspects of their environment.”  That is a wonderful academic definition of integration but let’s get to the practicality of the concept. Curriculum itself is the relationship between three main components: the written curriculum, the taught curriculum, and the tested curriculum.   Ideally this triad operates in balance and responds to each of the other sections.  The written curriculum would be that which we find on our documents. Components such as scope and sequence, vertical alignment, and unit guides exist to help teachers identify and define the “what,” the student expectations.  While important, this written curriculum exists and is effective only when brought to life through the taught curriculum, or instruction. This speaks to the art of teaching. These are the two areas with which to begin the conversation.  As written curriculum is built from the state standards, it is dependent upon those standards. Content area standards do change and not at the same time.  Aligning and integrating them within a written curriculum, therefore, takes time and may be at a slower pace than the call for it would like it to be.  One must know and understand the separate content areas’ requirements in order to accomplish the task of integrating them effectively.  This is not to say it cannot be done, but the reality is that written curriculum, as dynamic and living a document as it may be, is not equipped to change on a daily basis when classroom teachers must make instructional choices and connections, nor could it and remain credible and consistent.  What, then, is a teacher to do?

We turn to instructional integration.  This is where educators can capitalize on the information a written curriculum provides to them by seeking commonalities.  Learning does not occur on a bell schedule or subject shift during the day. Children and adults alike learn throughout the course of experiences rather than isolated skills or facts.  By embracing this continuous learning idea, even when operating on a much-needed school schedule, we can build transferrable skills in a more effective manner rather than feeling the need to “close out” Subject 1 in order to begin Subject 2.  These same real-life skills can be found within every content area as can almost endless content/concept connections. The key to locating these areas lies in working toward a core and solid understanding of what the most recent and required student expectations actually communicate.

Our next conversation will continue with this idea and explore how to use the required state standards and other information found within our written curriculum in order to effectively utilize and maximize the integration potential.

Humphreys, Alan, Thomas Post, and Arthur Ellis. Interdisciplinary Methods, A Thematic Approach. Santa Monica:

Goodyear, 1981.

Stronge, James. Effective Teachers = Student Achievement: What the Research Says. Larchmont: Eye on Education, 2010.

Math with Mary!

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Mary Headley – Elementary Math Specialist

The introduction of new math concepts can be described using three stages:

I. Concrete (the “doing” stage) – This stage involves both teacher and student modeling.

II. Pictorial (the “seeing” stage) – This stage transitions the concrete model into a representational level such as  drawing pictures or using dots or tallies, etc.

III. Abstract (the “symbolic” stage) – This stage uses numbers and mathematical symbols.

Using concrete models is the first step in building the meaning behind mathematical concepts.  These models include a variety of math manipulatives, measuring tools, and other objects that students can handle during a lesson. Research-based studies show that students who use concrete materials develop more precise and more comprehensive mental representations, often show more motivation and on-task behavior, understand mathematical ideas and better apply these ideas to life situations.  (Harrison & Harrison, 1986; Suydam & Higgins, 1977)

Pictorial representations help teachers provide the perfect bridge between concrete representations and abstract algorithms. Pictorial representations include drawings, diagrams, charts and graphs that are drawn by the student or provided for the students to read and interpret. Pictured relationships show visual representations of the concrete manipulatives and help students visualize the mathematical operations. It is imperative that teachers explain how the pictorial examples relate to the concrete examples.

“Up the Hill” Manipulatives stmichaelschool.us

Connecting the dots between the concrete, pictorial, and abstract is the glue that cements the learning for students. This connection provides the understanding that students need to demonstrate a problem or operation using symbolic representations such as numbers. The meaning of symbols and numbers must be rooted in experiences with real objects (concrete) and pictorial representations. Otherwise the symbolic operations (abstract) become rote repetitions of memorized procedures with no understanding.

The gradual movement from concrete to pictorial to abstract benefits all students and helps to prevent the frustration that some students feel when instructed only with abstract processes and procedures.

Perhaps this article has caused you to think about exploring multiple ways to teach math.  Would you like to observe and experience the conceptual development of content? Do you want to give students multiple strategies for success? Would it help you to see how manipulatives can be used to build the meaning behind math concepts?

If the answer to these questions is yes, you may be interested in Math with Mary, an online resource tool that offers professional learning modules designed to build teacher content knowledge and teacher confidence with the use of manipulatives. These modules are hosted by Mary Headley, Education Specialist for K-5 Mathematics at Education Service Center Region XIII, and will walk participants through the use of a specific manipulative which will allow students to explore and develop a variety of math concepts. Using the strategies presented, students will be able to visualize the math while engaging in strategies that build conceptual understanding.

The first course module, Math with Mary: Multiplication with Base Ten Blocks (FA1224478), is appropriate for grades 3-6 and is currently available on E-Campus. This course lays the foundation for understanding multiplication of 2 digit numbers and beyond. Student expectations related to Number and Operations emphasize the use of concrete models and visual representation of numbers and operations. The Multiplication with Base Ten Blocks course supports student expectations outlined in the TEKS and will help teachers build the bridge between concrete models, pictorial representations and the abstract multiplication algorithm. (2 hours CE credit)

 

Sources

Harrison , M., & Harrison, B., “Developing Numeration Concepts and Skills,”  Arithmetic Teacher 33 (1986): 1–21.

Suydam, M. N.; & J. L. Higgins,  Activity-based Learning in Elementary School Mathematics: Recommendations from Research. Columbus, OH: ERIC Center for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education, 1977.

Flooding the Gap

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:  Kathy Clapsaddle, Coordinator, Special Education

Vocabulary matters.  We know that children from poverty come to school with a significant vocabulary gap.  Make that a 30 million word gap in words heard by age 4 (Hart and Risley, 1995).  Similar statistics hold true for children with language learning difficulties.  Those oral language gaps can translate to a 5 year difference in reading age level by kindergarten.  So how do we bridge the gap?

Brabham and colleagues (2012) suggest a strategy called “vocabulary flooding.”  Traditional reading programs only teach around 400 words a year, but typical children learn 3,000 words or more a year.  That’s 10 words a day.  But it’s not just increasing the number of words taught.  We also need strategies for organizing and teaching words so students don’t drown in the flood!   Here are 2 ideas.

Concept eggs help students understand relationships between related words and learn new words for known concepts.  Consider organizing a word wall with concept eggs to allow students to make connections between words.   As students read new texts and learn new words, they can add additional words to the egg.  This also translates to a vehicle for finding new and better words for writing.

 

Students often struggle with understanding broad category words (e.g., furniture) and how exemplars fit into that category (e.g., couch, table, dresser), specifically how those different-appearing items are related.  Semantic feature charts visually show those relationships.

Legs

Cushions

Place to Sit

Shelves

Drawers

Couch

x

x

x

Dresser

x

x

Bookcase

x

x

Chair

x

x

x

Table

x

 

Think of other tools in your toolbox for helping students make connections between words.

Resources:

E. Brabham, C. Buskist, S.C . Henderson, T. Paleologos, and N. Buagh, “(2012).  Flooding Vocabulary Gaps to Accelerate Word Learning,” The Reading Teacher 65(8) (2012), 523-533.

B. Hart & T. Risley, Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. (New York: Paul. H. Brookes Publishing, 1995).

Getting to Know your English Language Learners

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:   Janet O’Keeffe  Project Coordinator, ESL/Bilingual Programs

Another school year is beginning and there are so many things teachers are responsible for as they prepare for a new group of students.  Teachers are anxious to get their class rosters to find out which students they will be working with during the new school year.  As you review your rosters, you may subconsciously group them into two categories:  students that are easy to work with and students who are difficult.  It is important, regardless of the category in which you place them, to get to know all of your students so that you can meet their needs and help them be academically successful.  This article is going to focus on getting to know your English language learners (ELLs) and provide some tips for welcoming these students, promoting English language development and promoting academic achievement.

One of the most important things to know about your ELLs is their level of English proficiency as this is the key to meeting their needs.  ELLs can be classified into four categories of English proficiency:  beginning, intermediate, advanced, or advanced high.  Students who have previously attended Texas schools have taken the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment (TELPAS) and will have results of this assessment in their permanent record file.  Students who are new to the United States are given language proficiency assessments that are also located in the student’s permanent record.  These assessments are scored a little differently from TELPAS but can still provide you with information regarding the student’s English language proficiency.

There is some basic information about the different levels of proficiency that is important for you to know as you begin to plan instruction.  Let’s take a closer look.

Beginning Intermediate Advanced Advanced High
Beginning ELLs have little or no ability to understand English used in academic and social settings. Intermediate ELLs have the ability to understand simple, high frequency English used in routine academic and social settings. Advanced ELLs have the ability to understand, with support, grade-appropriate English used in academic and social settings. Advanced high ELLs have the ability to understand, with minimum support, grade appropriate English used in academic and social settings.

 

As you can see, there is tremendous difference between the beginning student and the student at the advanced high level of English proficiency.  So let’s explore some ideas that will help you get off to a great start.

Welcoming ELLs

First impressions are lasting and so it’s critical that you ensure students feel welcome and that they are in a safe, friendly and supporting environment.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Be aware of your body language.  Greeting students with a friendly face will remove some of the student’s anxiety about being in a new environment.  Negative body language can instantly create a barrier between you and the student that may take a long time to remove.
  • Be prepared for students who may not come equipped.  Having a welcome kit available that has pencils, pens, crayons, paper, etc., will ensure students are prepared to participate in activities you have planned.  Also, including a map of the school or taking the class on a school tour can be helpful.
  • Find out about the students’ families, home life, and personal interests.  This may provide information that will help you know how to address future situations.  For example, a student may not complete homework assignments which can lead to frustration from both you and the student.  But if you are aware that there are many people living in the house and there is no quiet place for the student to complete assignments, you can problem solve beforehand to find alternatives that make a win-win situation.  Learning what interests your students can also be a connection you can make when teaching academic content.
  • Provide multi-cultural literature at different reading levels and display artifacts from your students’ cultures.  When your class sees you are inclusive of all cultures, they view the class as one community that embraces cultural similarities and differences.

Developing Language

The English Language Proficiency Standards, ELPS, require all content and special area teachers to take steps necessary to develop English for ELLs.  As you know, developing a second language takes time, energy, and practice.  Helping ELLs develop English can be done without a great deal work by following some of the suggestions below.

  • Provide opportunities for students to engage with one another.  Group activities can always get students talking.  Students at the beginning or intermediate levels of English proficiency may not be able to engage in conversations like students at higher levels of proficiency, but don’t think they are not benefiting from these types of activities.  It provides opportunities for them to hear the language and acquire language naturally when they interact with English speaking peers.
  • Develop key vocabulary using Total Physical Response (TPR).  Total Physical Response uses commands that require a physical response from the students.  For example, think of some key terms that you use routinely in the classroom (line up, open your book, sharpen your pencil, etc.).  You can demonstrate these terms or phrases and have the students practice the responses with you.  Eventually, the students will be able to respond on their own and over time will acquire such phrases.  The same method can be used to teach academic vocabulary, too.
  • Implement alternative responses.  Students at lower levels of English proficiency will only be able to respond with one or two words, short phrases, or sentences that are made up of broken English.  Using colored cards to indicate their response to a question is one way you can support ELLs.  Green could represent “yes,” red could represent “no,” and yellow could represent “I don’t know.”  Thumbs up, thumbs down or sideways might be another alternative.  This is also helpful because some newcomer ELLs may go through a silent period where they don’t respond because they are taking in the new language, so the more comfortable you can make them feel the faster they will get out of the silent period.
  • Allow more response time.  Students who are learning a new language need time to process questions and their responses.  Using a think-pair-share strategy gets the entire class engaged and ensures ELLs have time to process.  With this strategy, pose your question, allow time for students to think on their own, have them share their response with a partner, then solicit responses from the class.  This strategy will help you avoid those awkward silent moments.

Content Area Learning

One of the greatest concerns you’ll probably have about ELLs in your class is how you are going to teach them the required content.  This is when you want to walk a mile in their shoes.  Asking yourself what you would like for the teacher to do for you if you were learning a second language is where you’ll find the answers.   To foster content learning, try some of these ideas.

  • Implement the use of journals.  Allow students to draw or write in their native language to make connections to new content.
  • Utilize structured note-taking.  Provide notes for students that have key words or phrases missing.  Students listen for those missing parts and fill them in as they go.  For some students, you may need to provide a word bank to assist them.
  • Develop word walls for content vocabulary.  Including images or the native language term can also make content more accessible.
  • Use visuals and gestures during instruction.  Showing an image, video clip, or a real object makes understanding new terms clear to students.  Gesturing by pointing or acting out a new concept can also help clarify new or difficult content.
  • Engage students using hands-on activities.  Many students learn by doing and will retain the information for a longer period of time.
  • Provide bilingual dictionaries.  Having bilingual dictionaries in the classroom is one way to provide a tool for students that can be accessed independently; however, for this to be effective, students must know how to use them.

Celebrate Success

Celebrating our students’ successes is often a process we overlook because we get so caught up in moving to what’s next.  Learning a new language is very challenging and by getting to know where your students are and frequently monitoring their progress to find something new they have learned, no matter how small it may seem, is critical when it comes to keeping students motivated to continue this difficult process.  Students frequently are criticized for their inadequacies both at school and home so celebrating in your classroom may be the only place students hear words of encouragement.  Here are some ideas for recognizing students’ accomplishments.

  • Provide meaningful praise.  Be specific about the student’s accomplishment rather than “good job” or “great work.”
  • Send a letter or card to parents.  Students want their parents to be proud of their accomplishments, too.  Parents are not always use to receiving notification about something positive their child has done and will appreciate your effort.
  • Ring the bell.  Have a bell that you can ring to capture students’ attention then share the news with the entire class.

As you begin to plan, consider by getting to know your students. You’ll improve communication, establish trust, have a better understanding of how each student learns, and help students grow intellectually and socially.

 

Administrators: Focus on Supporting Differentiation

Monday, December 12th, 2011

As an administrator, you understand the importance of differentiation in the classrooms of your school as a way to improve student achievement for all students.  You know that, as the instructional leader, your role is to make sure that differentiation is taking place consistently in every classroom.

But HOW?  Below are some suggestions that you may have overlooked or forgotten!

  • Talk the Talk.  Do you really know what differentiation looks like in the classroom?  If not, make the opportunity to educate yourself. Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson and her website, www.caroltomlinson.com, are a great place to start.  Besides her books and presentations, Dr. Tomlinson’s website has links to ASCD articles and materials on differentiation.  They will help ensure that you can “talk the talk” with your staff.
  •  Now, Walk the Walk.  How often are you getting into classrooms?  Are you scheduling the time on your calendar?  This is the best way to let teachers know that what is happening in the classrooms is a priority for you.
  •  Discover Ways to Demonstrate Differentiation Yourself.  Professional development, even staff meetings, can hold elements of differentiation for staff members.  Be sure to take a few minutes to debrief, so that staff knows that what they have just participated in is differentiation, and give them the opportunity to talk together about how they could incorporate the techniques into their classrooms.
  •  Finally, Feed Them!  Walkthroughs and classroom observations are nearly useless without the final piece….feedback for the teachers!  Send a written note or email compliment when you catch them differentiating; make time to ask a probing question when you consistently don’t find differentiation in a classroom.  You’ll find out what your teachers need, whether through opportunities to watch someone else differentiate, a book study, a workshop, or online resources.  Start the conversation! 

Grouping for Learning

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Placing students into smaller groups can help ensure student achievement.  Grouping practices not only impact achievement, but also improve attitudes toward peers and the subject matter.

Instead of this:

found at http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2011/02/passion-based-learning.html on 12-6-11

We could have this:

found at http://jpacte.learningcentered.org/photo_gal/photo_gal%20fall%202006.htm on 12-6-11

This level of engagement can be achieved through the use of grouping.  There are various reasons to form groups.

Situations that can be opportunities for grouping include:

  • Inquiry-based projects and investigations
  • Activation of prior knowledge
  • Exploration and expansion on subject matter
  • Reflection, review and reteach
  • Intervention
  • Enrichment

While students are in groups, the instruction can be centered around the teacher or the students.  A small group of students may be working in a teacher-centered group while the rest of the class participates in student-centered learning.

Teacher-centered instruction enables the teacher to differentiate student learning.  You can differentiate by re-teaching, providing enrichment and/or feedback or reinforcing a recently taught skill.

Group

Instructional Focus

Group Formation

Small Group

(same ability)

  • Instruction targeted to specific student  needs
  • Intervention
  • Enrichment
  • 3-5 students
  • Based on assessment data

Small Group

(mixed ability)

  • Practice concepts already introduced
  • Reinforcement
  • 4-6 students
  • Based on students’ learning styles or interests

Student-centered grouping allows for students to co-construct knowledge with their peers, thus allowing for teachers to pull small groups.  These student-to-student interactions also improve student engagement and retention.

Many options exist for carrying out student-centered groups.  The two listed below represent two ends of the spectrum, but a combination of both could be used depending on the content, age of the students and the intended outcome.  The key is students working together in a self-directed fashion to achieve a learning objective.

Group

Definition

Workstation

  • 3-4 students per group
  • 3-5 stations designed to support the TEKS and learning objectives
  • Explicit instructions given at each station to enable self-direction
  • Students may do all or a few of the stations. Work may be completed in one period or across multiple days.

Collaborative Group

  • 2-5 students per group
  • 1 inquiry-based project or activity designed to support the TEKS and learning objectives (may be tiered to adjust for student ability and prior knowledge)
  • Each group is working collaboratively to complete the activity

When educators hear the term “grouping” often we visualize an elementary classroom, but research strongly supports the use of many grouping strategies across all content areas and grade levels.  Students of any age benefit from the opportunity to discuss content with their peers, co-constructing a deep understanding of key concepts.  In addition, grouping builds habits of mind necessary for college and career success.

It may take many forms, but student grouping, in any iteration, is a valuable tool for increasing engagement, retention of content and overall achievement.