Chapter 7: Yes, But …

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This week we have read Chapter 7. Respond as you did last week and reply to someone’s reflection on their blog or below as you wish.

  1. What are the key questions you believe students would ask you about differentiation? What specific responses and steps might you take to help them join you in establishing and maintaining an effectively differentiated classroom?
  2. What key questions do you believe parents would pose about differentiation? What responses and steps would you need to take to help them understand your goals initially? As the year progresses?
  3. What might you do to rebuild the trust of parents who feel their students have frequently been ineffectively served in school?
  4. What might you do to establish the trust and partnership of parents who stay away from school because they themselves have not felt welcomed or accepted in school?

Mrs. P

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Chapter 6: Routines in a Differentiated Classroom

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This week we have read Chapter 6. Respond as you did last week and reply to someone’s reflection on their blog or below as you wish.

  1. This chapter is organized around seven topics that teachers often cite as “hot spots” or areas of concern in managing a differentiated classroom. Take time to discuss each of the seven topics in detail. Consider generating a three-column chart (on chart paper, an overhead, a computer, or a white board) that lists each topic, the concerns group members have about that topic, and some strategies for addressing those concerns.
  2. The authors assert that teachers are learners who, just like their students, become discouraged if work seems overwhelming. They suggest that teachers should start with design and implementation of a few key routines and add others as they and their students become comfortable with existing routines. Discuss which routines you think would be most powerful to introduce early in terms of student success.

Mrs. P

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Chapter 5: Classroom Routines

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This week we read Chapter 5. Respond as you did last week and reply to someone’s reflection on their blog or below as you wish.

1.  This chapter begins by stressing the need for teachers to determine routines, clarify the rationale for them, teach them to students, apply them in daily classroom work, automatize them with students, and revise them as needed. Examine these steps one by one. What happens when a step is skipped or skimmed over?

I have always made it a point of teaching class rules and procedures the first days of school. In fact, I make a big deal about how important it is for our class to work in unison in order for everyone to succeed, thus I explain, clarify and practice them.  I tell my students that we are a room full of rock stars and that we have been put together by our principal to make the newest best selling album of the year. I elaborate on this concept about each of us having a “job” in order for us to make beautiful music together. If a student is not following along, (yes, there’s always one!) I use them as an example to demonstrate how important it is to get back to the rest of us, so he (or she) stays “in tune” with the rest of the band. It’s usually a very inviting scenario and mostly all students understand it right away.  Without such guidelines a teacher cannot have the automaticity needed for a smoothly managed class.

2. What characterizes the classroom rules or guidelines proposed on pages 102–103? How might these guidelines benefit student behavior? In what ways are they aligned with a philosophy of differentiation and with the goals of differentiation?

These guidelines give students clear parameters as to what is expected of them as learners and peers.  Furthermore, the students benefit because they (rules) are encouraging to the individual and allow for making good choices.  The rules by default give the responsibility of learning to the student; thus, the teacher gains the opportunity to differentiate according to those needs.

3. Take a look at the ideas for starting and ending the day or class (pages 104–107). Which of these ideas have you used effectively? Why do they seem to be helpful? Which of the ideas might you try? Why does a particular suggestion seem worthwhile to you?

After teaching so many different grade levels I have had the need to change my welcome and end of the day routines several times! I love welcoming my students in the morning, albeit in the pick up line or once we get into the classroom and begin our day. It has varied depending on whom I am teaching at the time. For example, this last year, I rarely picked up the students in the morning. My co-teacher would have that duty as I got ready for the morning lessons, but I always had bell work (sponge work) on the board for them. I always started the day with the pledge of Allegiance in spite we did not have a TV monitor to do it with the rest of the student body and I always told my students what was “on tap” for that day.

I like the suggestions in the book but I especially like the quadrants suggestions for labeling the room into four distinct areas for gathering for different tasks. I’ve used pocket charts and a a Velcro schedule and they work so well that sometimes when I forget to change it for the next day, my students are quick to remind me who goes where next!

Mrs. P

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Chapter 4: Learning Environment

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This week we read Chapter 4.  Respond as you did last week and reply to someone’s reflection on their blog or below as you wish.

  1. What is the likely relationship between management style (dysfunctional, adequate, and orderly) and (a) teacher philosophy, (b) quality of student thinking, and (c) grouping practices?

I have to admit that as I read this chapter I felt proud to be a rather strict teacher with the frequent release of a smile to release tension in the class. In fact, I use this as one of my “tricks” inside my “Teacher Bag of Tricks” that is very effective in keeping my students engaged in the moment. Unfortunately, if I was to rate myself on my management style I would fall somewhere between orderly restrictive and orderly enabling. I wonder if there’s a sub-category? There are days that I know lots of learning took place and my students were busy enjoying an activity of collaborating. Other days, I’m caught up disciplining and ruin the fun in learning because something or someone interrupted the “mojo.”

As far as a relationship among management, teacher philosophy, quality of student thinking and grouping I feel that each compete against each and the outcomes can vary. I’ve had years that the quality of a student’s ability has influenced the classroom both positively and negatively. No one likes a “Show Off” but no one likes a “Class Clown” either. It’s up to me, the teacher, to curve both extremes and meld the situations into an orderly but also enabling classroom where all students feel that they are part of something greater.

2. The chapter offers several suggestions for getting to know students and building trust between teacher and students. Identify the suggestions and discuss how they might work—or already work—in your classroom.

I have always started the year with an activity to get to know my students that seems to work really nicely. Since I have a “Rockstar” theme I give my students a guitar cutout, which they decorate and return to class by the end of the week. This activity is tweaked according to the grade level and/or subject matter that I’m teaching that year. For example, if I’m teaching math, I have them write their names in numbers by making an alpha-numeric representation of their name. I have even used place value for this activity since it’s one of the beginning lessons of the year. Sometimes, I’ve done an “All about Me” theme that they have to incorporate into their designs. Either way, I can always be assured that they will love the activity and I get to see who my creative students are, which students have too much (or too little) parental support, and which students will benefit from extra encouragement.

3. Identify some of the strategies teachers have used to build a sense of community among students. From these examples, how would you assume students function in these classrooms? Why? What are these teachers trying to accomplish through the community-building approaches they use in terms of student outcomes?

Since the first day of school I tell my students that we are a “Rock Band” and that together we will make great music. And just like all bands, the musicians depend on each other doing their part and knowing their instruments really well to get the sound just right. They practice and practice together in order to get better at what they do. Sometimes a band member is out of sync and it takes the bandleader’s expertise to help that musician to get the sound better. That’s my job! Not easily done I admit, but I see myself as the catalyst behind the “groove” we get and it begins on day one. I tell my students that they are safe to be themselves and to learn how they can become better people, not just better students. If a child can leave my classroom knowing something about themselves or about treating others, then they learned an invaluable lesson.

4. The authors present six principles of effective grouping (pages 90–91). Discuss each of the principles in terms of the likely outcome on learning when the principle operates consistently versus when implementation is lacking or sporadic.

  • Flexible Grouping– Requires the teacher bases her grouping according to a specific data. Whether it is based on baseline testing or other assessment, or performance band, the teacher must remember that everyone is an individual and testing alone is not the sole indicator of the outcome in gains within groups.
  • Teach Up: A must in every classroom! I experienced that this year with my 3rd graders and the result were evident in the state’s FCAT test. I incorporated Common Core standards and used vocabulary in dialogue that kept my students intrigued. If someone in the class didn’t know what I was talking about, I stopped, clarified and moved on. I knew that there were more students sitting there wondering, so after clarifying the info, I had also managed to add substance to the lesson.
  • Multiple Ability Tasks: Reaches all learners. I’ve never understood why everyone had to do the same tasks to practice. I allow for some students to do some, not all of the problems.
  • Individual Roles: Team leaders are good, but everyone should feel like they are leaders. I like giving my students jobs in the classroom that make them responsible for the collective group. This year, I’ll focus on adding more roles into my D.I. group gatherings.
  • Accessible Content: As a bilingual teacher, who also has taught students with special needs I recognize the importance of this. Everyone can be exposed to the curriculum! Even if mastery and proficiency is difficult, I cannot deny my students to access what is being taught.
  • Competency Levels: This sort of ties into accessible content and curriculum. It is important for us as educators to recognize that ALL students learn, despite ability or circumstances. Although we are tied into testing results, I keep a part of my evaluation on student performance based on where they started. Many times parents will ask why is it that their child’s grades are not improving even though they’re being tutored or are using extra curricular software to enhance their learning and I always point out that that may be true but have increased their proficiency and competency levels and that’s progress.

5. Consider the suggestions for arranging furniture, using wall space, and organizing materials and supplies. How do these tie back to the goals of differentiation and to teacher beliefs?

In a perfect world and albeit, a perfect class, I would have many areas for my students to gather for both independent and group work. I would add, that these would include an area for me to meet with one or more students as well as an endless and bountiful area where supplies are readily available. The reality is that I usually have too many students (34 this past year) and I co-teach which limits the floor and wall space.
In spite of these challenges, I do keep a Word Wall current all year long for students to use to enhance their vocabulary. In addition, I keep a Focus Wall (for all subjects that I teach) with the strategies and skills being covered for the week. I like displaying anchor charts for my students as we create them and those stay up as the year passes. They make great visuals and I refer to them often. Another habit that I have is to re-arrange the seating in the class at a minimum of once or twice every quarter. I call it musical chairs! I also keep lots of supplies handy so that no one that needs something finds an excuse to not participate.

All these allow for differentiation in the class in many ways. Firstly, you can gather your groups and meet in an area that has been defined by what takes place there. Changing the arrangement of the class keeps things fresh, like the beginning of the year and also allows for the students to collaborate accordingly. Another reason that these things improve literacy in the class is that by default they serve as scaffolding. Whether it’s accommodating a student that gets easily distracted, or gives students hints to do independent work, or simply allows the flow of the classroom to be easy and comfortable. Lastly, I believe that if our classroom is inviting, clean and organized, the students will be able to appreciate being prepared for the learning that takes place daily.

Mrs. P

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Welcome Mila!

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My New Grand Daughter

Mila Victoria

I have been so busy lately that I’ve not been able to read or blog as usual. For those of you that know me personally, you know that I’m a new grandma to a baby girl named Mila Victoria. She was born healthy on the 28th of June, weighing 8.12 oz and measuring 21 inches long! I have been trying to stay away and on “stand-by” for my daughter and son-in-law as they bond and become a family of three. However, I so desire to be there every day with my new grand baby! She’s absolutely just scrumptious!

We live in the same city and about 15 miles away from each other, but in South Florida traffic,  that’s a good half-hour drive. So planning visits is a must! Let me make it clear it’s NOT that I’m not willing to drive to their home, but I’m giving them time to become their little family. I remember those early days when I had my own babies and loving the quiet time when it was just “us” and how special it was.

In the mean time, I am blessed to get a daily picture of her and text through out the day back and forth with my daughter, making it easier for me to STAY AWAY!!!!

So please excuse my late postings, but as the poem says,

*Cooking and cleaning can wait for tomorrow, for children grow, we’ve learned to our sorrow, so wipe away cobwebs, dust go to sleep, I’m cuddling my baby cause babies don’t keep!

*In this case, I’ll change cooking and cleaning to reading and blogging!!!!

Chapter 3: The Invitation to Be Part of a Vision

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This week we will read Chapter 3. Respond as you did last week and reply to someone’s reflection on their blog or below as you wish.

  1. The authors structure much of this chapter around six questions (listed on pages 45–46) that teachers can use to guide classroom discussions about differentiation. Through this, teachers can work with students to develop a shared understanding about the purpose and nature of differentiation—in other words, they can act as leaders to enlist the support of students in creating a classroom that works for everyone. Discuss the line of logic that these questions reflect. Why these questions and why in this order?
  2. These questions seem to reflect many of the usual first day discussions most teachers have with their new students in order to set goals and parameters in managing their classrooms. I believe that these questions do follow a natural progression for good discussions between the student and the teacher. These help them get acquainted with each other and help them come to a consensus of how the class will be managed. Furthermore, they help the student make a personal connection and gain the sense of the implications of being an integral part of their learning.

  3. What are your preferred ways of getting to know your students as learners and as people? What ideas do you think your students might suggest if they were asked how you could address their varied learning needs and preferences? What do you think your students would say they want you to know about in order to teach them best?
  4. I usually have a craft prepared that invites the students to share about themselves and their families that gets completed by the end of the week with a short little presentation. It gets harder and harder each year because of base-line testing and schedule changes, but I still make it a point to send home a letter and questionnaire that helps me get to gain insight to the student and their families.
    If I ask my students about their preferences, I think most would agree that using technology is their preferred method of instruction. Since I do assign a short Student Inventory as part of the first week’s activities, I know that most of my students like sharing with me about their pets, or activities or hobbies. I try to read all of them early in the year and incorporate them in my lessons as “examples.” This of course, makes them smile and feel important because I remembered something about them personally.

  5. In what ways would addressing the first four questions prepare students to answer the fifth question? How might student perceptions about fairness in the classroom change over time in an effectively differentiated classroom?
  6. Interestingly enough, kids always seem to demand fairness but none of my kids felt that I was being un-fair. I think the questions are a natural and logical way to get the students to accept responsibility for their own learning and the questions all expand their awareness of that.

  7. What are realistic indicators of success in an effectively differentiated classroom? The authors pose several possible indicators of success that we might pose to our students, including hard work, willingness to take intellectual risks, willingness to revise work to make it better, and seeking help in order to grow and succeed. What might change in classrooms if these were commonly held indicators of successful teaching and learning?
  8. I have been using an old proverb, “The proof is in the pudding.” (Circa 14th Century) to help my students understand that they have to try out food in order to know whether it was good, therefore, they have to try my recipe for success in order to decide whether it is worth for them to achieve success. Some learn the phrase well, but don’t buy in to the invitation, others accept it and make it part of their learning philosophy during the year, but the proof often comes when interim testing scores come and the students see it in the

  9. What do parents need to hear and see from you to believe that you are working with their children’s interest at the heart of your decision making? In what ways do your responses relate to a philosophy of differentiation?
  10. I have always been very interested in including my parents as part of out learning community. I make it a point to give them many different ways to contact me and stay well informed of what is happening in our classroom. This is partially directly aligned to my attitude towards D.I.. You might be thinking,“How is that? Well, in the same way that I cannot teach all students in the exact same way, with the same curriculum, I find that I must offer parents different opportunities to connect to our classroom besides sending home flyers or emails. Therefore, besides my teacher website, I use social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Some parents, especially the younger ones (I’m not one of them!) prefer it to the more traditional ways. I’ve been criticized by some that think I work too hard to connect to my parents, but honestly, I find it to be very helpful in not only in keeping parents informed, but also in reaching my students. It really amazes me how I get the support from home that I need in order to help my students succeed.

Mrs. P

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Chapter 2: Teaching What You Believe

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This week we will be reading Chapter 2. Respond as you did last week and reply to a participant’s reflection directly on their blog. Leave your link above so that I can join in your discussions as well! Remember you can answer one or all the questions. The format is not important, but our interactions with each other make it more meaningful. Happy Learning!

  1. The authors suggest that few teachers enter the profession with fully developed philosophies of teaching. How have you seen your philosophy of teaching change over time? If you are an experienced teacher, what is a central belief about your work that was less clear to you when you began to teach? If you are a new teacher, what is a central belief about teaching that guides your work now?
  2. I have definitely seen my teaching philosophy evolve in the past 5 years, but not too far from my early days at as a teacher. In fact, I have deepened by Constructivist beliefs and recognize that my students need me to bring the knowledge to them but it is up to them to explore and make it theirs. I believe that learning is a social activity and growth over time helps us all achieve. I liked how the authors categorized two principals regarding the educational mind set that we develop when we are young. Fortunately, I developed a growth-minded (Fig. 2.1, pg. 34) attitude and never believed that my struggles in my schooling would prevent me from being a successful individual. Furthermore, I never doubted that I would get a college degree and excel in my career.

  3. This chapter proposes six key beliefs that are core to the philosophy of differentiation. Ask six individuals or small groups to present one of the beliefs for discussion. Have the whole group consider some of the questions each belief prompts educators to answer.
  4. The 2nd question asks us to delineate individually the beliefs that are at the core of D.I. so I’ll discuss, Belief #5: Each student should have equity of access to excellent learning opportunities.

    The belief assumes two points, first, that every student must focus on what is essential and second, the curriculum offered must be relevant so that the students can experience both learning and transferring of that knowledge (Tomlinson & Imbeau, 2012, p. 34) . In an ideal world, learning would be that easily achieved, sadly, many students still don’t see the value of learning algebra when they are not going to be using it later on as adults. So how do we change that mentality? I have found that when I connect what I am teaching to a scenario that may have (or not) happened in my life. For example, if I’m teaching a particular math skill, for instance, area and perimeter, I’ll interject a little story of how I accidentally miscalculated and didn’t buy enough tiles for my bathroom. Although I have to be careful not to go off on a tangent, this usually helps the students connect why it is important to learn the formula: A= l x w.

  5. Consider the list of traits on page 41 that are evident in students who were “wounded by school.” How do they reflect a mismatch between student needs and teacher responses that the authors discuss in this chapter? Then consider the traits of teachers who heal wounds (pages 41–42). How do these traits reflect a match between student needs and teacher responses? What does all of this have to do with a philosophy of differentiation?
  6. Interestingly enough, I was one of those “wounded students” in my schooling years. I remember being in the 4th grade, having a with my math teacher, Mr. Felder (not his real name), about my grades that I’ve never forgotten. I don’t know if his intention was to scare me, or wake me up, or to permanently keep me from trying, but he said, “Cecile, face it! You can’t do math.” What an idiot! To this day it resonates in my mind and I doubt myself when I teach complex math lessons. In spite of graduating with 5 math courses with nothing less than a B, I still think I can’t do math. So what led to this? What were the reasons that I felt this way and kept myself from any God-given potential to excel in mathematics? Certainly a belief that I didn’t have what it took to learn it and shame for this lack of ability that naturally produced anxiety.

    It was nearly 20 years before a teacher came along to heal those wounds and helped me realize that I was intelligent and I was capable to learn math. Her name is Professor Quesada, aka, Didi (her real name!) I met her back in 2000 when I decided to finish my college degree. I was determined to take all the pre-requisite courses first and would begin with my nightmare, MATH. That first day in class was awful! I was early and waited in my car until I saw other students walking around. After locating the room (with help from the young college kids) and sitting in the first row, we waited for the professor to arrive. A few minutes passed and no teacher, a few minutes more and in walks a frazzled, loud and overly enthusiastic teacher apologizing for being late, but she had left her materials in her office and would return in a few minutes. GREAT! I decide to take my first math class and I end up with a nutty professor!!! “Oh! Boy! This will be interesting,” I thought.

    As it turned out Prof. Quesada was the best math teacher I ever had. She had such a simple way of explaining things that I slowly became less fearful and actually enjoyed learning again. Even when she wasn’t teaching the course I was enrolled in, I could always stop by her office and ask a question or two. As part of my final project, for my final math course (I took 5!) I had to write about a famous mathematician and I chose to write about Jaime Escalante (magnificently portrayed by Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver in 1988, Warner Bros.) I did this so that I could refer to Didi and how she was my “Jaime Escalante.” Like him, she helped me understand math and even more importantly; she encouraged me to believe in my abilities to learn it well.

    She helped heal my wounds left behind by my failed attempts at mastering math. Jaime Escalante is immortalized by his actions towards his students and he often referred to a word to encourage his students. This word was, “Ganas.” He would say, …that’s all you need. The desire to learn.” Prof. Quesada healed my wounds and helped me believe that I could do math and excel. And I had the GANAS!

Mrs. P

Credits: ASCD

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