My D.I. Binder

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This is my DI binder for this past school year, even though I noticed it stated: 2012-2012!!!! I never noticed! I will share my templates on Google Docs.

Chapter 1: Understanding Differentiation in Order to Lead

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This week we will read the 1st Chapter of our book study. Use these answers to help you reflect on your perspective:

  1. The chapter presents several common misunderstandings about differentiation. Why do you think such misunderstandings arise? Do you encounter any of these in your own thinking or as you interact with colleagues? Can you identify other ideas about differentiation in your district or school that you believe are misunderstandings?
  2. Discuss your understanding of the terms content, process, and product. What do you think it means to differentiate each of these elements based on student readiness, interest, and learning profile? You might find it helpful to refer to Figure 1.1 on page 18 as a check for your understanding.
  3. In what ways does classroom environment impact instruction? In what ways does instruction impact environment? How do you think assessment can influence environment, curriculum, and instruction? Try to think about the experiences of specific students as you talk about the interrelatedness of these factors.

Copy and Paste into your blog or reply below. Remember there is no specific format required, just share your experiences.

Mrs. P

CREDITS: ASCD Provided Study Guide

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When reading this chapter I kept having flashbacks of my past year. There were many instances in which I was right on target with the author’s perspectives, but not always. As a SPED teacher I feel that I’ve always had to differentiate instruction, so I was not intimidated with the process of differentiating. However, the administration at my new school had a much more formal approach to D.I. than what I had experienced and I was apprehensive about carrying it out this year. Hence, my misunderstandings about D.I. began to arise very early in the year for me.  At the beginning, it was definitely about instructional strategies: how I lectured, re-taught and produced lesson plans considering all learner’s abilities, interests and learning styles. As the weeks passed, I realized that D.I. was much more than the “How To’s” of teaching. It required an awareness of the content I needed to teach and the needs of the students. Needless to say, I gradually developed the D.I. philosophy  as I saw the results and planned for their small groups.

Some colleagues seemed to have it all under control and had developed their bag of tricks to their small group routines. I was jealous! I had to grapple with the daily lessons, limited schedule and daily interruptions during my literacy block. Honestly, it was very hard for me to acclimate myself to a new class routine. I had always thought that I was already doing D.I. through my lesson and tiered assignments, the use of electronic resources and meaningful class and home work practice. I felt that there was no need for additional focused small group instruction besides shared readings or guided reading.

This brings me to the next question regarding content, process and product. I was determined to create my own bag of tricks by gathering materials and activities that I could incorporate into my small groups. Some were great, and some were not and some sessions were a race against the clock. What I did notice many times was that it was the hands-on sessions (requiring more teacher planning)  that engaged students the most and that ditto’s (less teacher planning) promoted distracted students and discipline problems. I quickly learned that not only was the content important, but the process of differentiating was crucial if I wanted to capitalize on the small group sessions. For example, I remember an activity I did about figurative language in which the students had to sort short sentences by type of figurative language.  They had to read it and sort them by category. Nothing fancy, but it was a hit! The students were so excited to read their sentence aloud and place it in the correct category.  Most times they were right but when they weren’t, they corrected each other. In fact, I was thrilled to sit back and witness authentic independent learning happening without the need to intervene to re-direct anyone!

Now, not all the groups went the same way of course. The students with less readiness needed more guidance from me and that’s how the processes developed; I adapted accordingly.  Sometimes the students needed a teacher led mini-lesson, and sometimes they led their own lessons through their interactions. The end result was not only increased scores in assessments, but an increase interest from the students to gather for Differentiated Instruction. My students liked coming to our kidney table and have this intimate time with me and were often disappointed if I didn’t get to meet with their group.

I also wanted to address the last question regarding how the classroom environment impacts instruction and visa-versa. I know that our class environments are more than having a visibly appealing room. It also includes the mood a teacher creates and the exchanges that foster enthusiasm for learning. But I have to say a word or two about how we prepare our classrooms for our students.  It has been my experience that a clutter-free, organized and visually appealing room does have an effect in learning. Students like it when I have a new bulletin board or display their work in a creative manner. I also have seen how rooms with less student appeal seem cold and disconnected from the students and their learning experiences. Now what I mean about a visually appealing room is not that everything needs to be brand new or color coordinated, but rather, the room should promote order and focus. I know that my students can sense my enthusiasm and desire to connect to them by offering them a welcoming learning environment. I want them to see that I take the time to make it a happy place, that they are important to me and that I’m willing to plan and present them with a pleasant place designed for their learning. In the same way, my students can tell by the way our classroom looks and feels that I expect order and focus when learning together.

With regards to how assessment influences environment, curriculum and instruction, I believe that we are over testing our students. A cartoon on the Internet best described this reality with this line:

“Is this the test, to test us for the test  to see if we are ready for the test?”

No matter what your opinion is regarding data-driven instruction, I think most educators will agree that there’s a testing frenzy that has taken over the purpose for instruction. Are we teaching our students content that will prepare them for higher education or are we teaching our students how to survive higher education without the joys of learning?

This year I adjusted my groups according to the district mandated testing results coupled up with my own professional judgement.  I’m not sure that always worked out since I had students that performed poorly (due to apathy) but were good students, and students that were below grade level, but scored within normal limits. It was critical that I selected students for each group that could collaborate and contribute to each other’s learning and benefit from D.I. Sometimes the grouping worked well and sometimes I re-adjusted the groups to make it a more cohesive experience for the students.

Before WE Begin…

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DI PIC

Before we get started, I wanted to make sure that we all took a few minutes to read the preface of the book. It was written simply with a pen and lots of HEART! If you don’t have your blog up and running, or need help with that, just message me and I’ll help you. If you rather not add the blog effect to your experience, then just post directly below! I hope that this little book study becomes as addictive to you all as it has become for me!

Follow these instructions:

Read the preface written by the author and respond to it as you felt it related to you. You do not need to follow any format at all, just respond to anything written as they apply to you personally as an educator. You may write these thoughts into your blog and share the link or if you would rather, reply directly on my blog. Remember, the most important part of the book study is to share YOUR experiences with each other. We all learn when we can collaborate and indulge ourselves in our reflections.

Happy Learning!

Mrs. P

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I began teaching in 2008 filled with passion and enthusiasm to make a difference in a child’s life. That passion and enthusiasm was quickly watered down after my assignments changed so frequently that I was learning curriculum and moving two or three times a year! I came into the school system during a difficult financial year for the district and a strict hiring freeze. I was unable to secure any permanent contract and had to hope for another temporary assignment as one was ending. I was very fortunate that I worked every month for the first four years, but it was at a great cost. Just like the author, Ms. Tomlinson described her naiveté  regarding her early years, I also endured my first four years. She wrote about specific students and circumstances that helped her sum up how she earned her stripes and I related in a similar way. I remember my first day, in my first class, and a special needs student punching me right on the face, knocking my reading glasses right off. At the time I wasn’t surprised or shocked by what had happened; so willing to educate her and teach her. About six weeks later I found myself on the floor after another physical confrontation vowing never to return to that classroom, even if it meant that I would never get hired again by the district!

After several calls from the district’s support staff offering me a permanent contract if I would return to that assignment, I remained steadfast to my desicion.  Fortunately, I was able to substitute teach for two weeks before my second assignment teaching a general education 4th grade class. It was a short stint, but by December of that year, I was finally on my way. I felt guilt at first, thinking I wasn’t worthy of my degree (I have a B.S. in Exceptional Student Education) but somehow I was slowly learning the skills to plan and manage a classroom. My second assignment started in January of 2009, teaching another Gen-ed class, but this was in the primary grades. I had to re-adjust again! During the fall of 2009, I was blessed with another four month assignment teaching in a Resource Room to 6th, 7th and 8th Grade SPED students. Here it was, my opportunity to develop as a teacher for students with special needs! It started and finished marvelously! It was wonderful to see that I was effective and was making a difference in the classroom. The next few months after that included teaching Middle School Earth Space Science to the Gen-ed and Gifted population at our school, Inclusion Teacher supporting the Gen-ed teachers during their literacy block and substitute teaching, but the opportunity to return to my Resource Room opened up again and I finished 2010 with my class! I did it, I got a permanent contract! I earned it back, so I thought. But the following year, more budget cuts and I was once more a temporary instructor in another Resource Room in the upper elementary grades.

The assignment was another good fit for me. I was given another chance to learn curriculum for varied grade levels and I was adding more experiences to my resume. I was ready for another good half-year and it was as wonderful as I expected.  In January I returned to school after the winter break, but now I would be teaching a 3rd grade Gen-ed class. Here I go again, I thought to myself on that very first day in 2011. Indeed more hours to invest after school in order to learn the new curriculum and the expectations of the results of the infamous FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) that spring. I worked 12 hours a day, I worked on weekends and I was drowning  to keep up! I was getting weary and wondered if it was all worth it. I was jealous of other teachers that had taught the same grade and subject area year after year. Why couldn’t I just learn one and get really good at it? Why couldn’t I land a permanent contract when there were so many unprofessional and unhappy teachers in the system? These are questions that I still have today, five years later!

The following school year brought yet more changes. I would again be an interim teacher, but I would be back in the 4th grade and with the same students from my 3rd grade class from the year before. This would be great! Half the battle is acclimating the students and parents and we had ended on a very positive note, so I was very happy. As it turned out, I was with my students all year as the interim teacher. It was the first time that I did not move classes, or grade levels, or assignments in four years! I had made it! I was a real teacher! At the end of the year, in spite of volunteering for the after school computer lab supervision and working the dismissal duty every day, rain or shine, attending all school meetings and events, I was told that I would not have a job in the fall.

Devastated!

How can I have given so much and not have a job to return to? I would have to start looking for a new school. It was a scary and nerve-wrecking time for me both professionally and personally. In the midst of this job search, my youngest daughter graduates from college and is also looking for a teaching position, my mother becomes gravely ill and I myself begin to feel that I will never find a teaching job again. Needless to say, it was a long and painful summer break. One day, just a week before the opening of the new school year, I  was standing at the check-out line at our local grocery store and a friend tells me of a position opening up in the school where she worked. I was so excited at the hope of working that fall! I went right home and composed an email directly to the principal and attached all my credentials; being proactive, I thought. Two days later, I received a call from the principal and learned that I had left out my resume! ARGH!!! How professional of me! What a way to make an impression, “the absent-minded professor” comes to mind.

Although I had left the resume out, I had included my Website, Twitter, Facebook Page and Blog links and these had been enough to have impressed her. WHEW! I thought I had blown it! When we spoke she seemed gracious and something told me that I was going to like working under her direction very much, but I still didn’t have the job, I would have to wait. The call finally came three days before the 1st day of school. I had two days to set up, write lessons and attend faculty and grade level meetings!

OH! MY!  “Here I go again!”

This was the fall of 2012 and now would be at a new school and a new grade level. In the past five years I had taught,1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades and I never taught any of them more than four months at a time! Here I was assigned to a 2nd grade class, another new curriculum to learn, but it didn’t matter, I had a job! Now- it was a rough start for me. I didn’t get my groove until October of that year for many reasons.  First I became ill, then I was re-assigned and would  be instead teaching reading in a Resource Room to 2nd graders and to a General-ed 3rd grade class. Finally, to make the adjustment worse, I also had to deal along side my husband who was also facing some serious health issues.

In January of 2013, I returned to school re-energized by the winter break and focussed on Student Portfolios and the FCAT. I was on a mission, I had to ensure that my students demonstrated growth and that I proved myself as an effective teacher who merited her position.

FAST-FORWARD: JUNE, 2013

The year ended and my students excelled. I successfully re-integrated to SPED students to an Inclusion setting, all but three of my students passed the FCAT and I received an excellent review. I renewed my certificate and I’m positive that I will have a job in the fall! Looking back at the past five years, I have realized that everything happens for a reason and for a purpose. The bible says:  “There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven.”

Indeed, the realities of the classroom and the challenges I have faced have only allowed for me to hone my craft and to develop as a person of faith. I am convinced that it has been part of the greater plan that the Lord has for me. I cannot say that I wished everything had been different, for I have learned so much! …and yes, I beat the statistics of teacher retention data! I am beginning my 6th year with more enthusiasm and passion that I had on that very first day back in 2008!

Now click here for a musical treat!

Summer Learning Begins!

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What a wonderful year it has been! I was very fortunate to have added another grade level to my repertoire and discovered what “Differentiated Instruction” in a general education setting can do for your students! Thank goodness for last year’s Book Study of the Daily Five and Cafe, I was able to manage 32 students during a chopped up reading block! It was challenging to say the least, but after all the data analyzing and looking at the student’s performance, I am one-happy-camper!

This summer, I’ll be reading:  Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom, by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Marcia B. Imbeau. I have managed to invite three other fellow teachers to learn with me and I’m very excited to share our experiences in the classroom with each other! I will add their blog links here once they have set them up! 

On a personal note, let me share some great news! Last summer I announced that my youngest daughter had graduated from Florida International University with a degree in Early Childhood. I titled the post, “New Beginnings” because it was another milestone for our family. This summer’s first post is titled, “Summer Learning Begins” for another reason besides the book study. This summer my husband and I will be welcoming our first grandchild! We will be learning about our roles as grandparents and relish in all the blessings that are to come! 

Grandparents are a family’s greatest treasure, the founders of a loving legacy, The greatest storytellers, the keepers of traditions that linger on in cherished memory. Grandparents are the family’s strong foundation. Their very special love sets them apart. Through happiness and sorrow, through their special love and caring, grandparents keep a family close at heart. ~author unknown

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Mrs. Pelaez, AKA, Grandma Cessy

New Month, New Beginnings and a New Teacher

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From this sweetness…

To this awesomeness!

Today is my youngest daughter’s 22nd birthday, a day to not only celebrate another year of her life here on this Earth, but to celebrate a new milestone for her. You may think to yourself, “You said she’s 22…isn’t 21 the milestone year?” But for me as her mommy, this milestone is not about legalities, this one is about seeing your fruits mature and seeing her as she begins her first year of teaching. I’m so very proud of her and her accomplishments and I wanted to dedicate this post to her in honor of her birthday!

We always knew Tesi was a little mommy. She had this ability to engage kids; even those who were close in age to her. Tesi was and continues to be SUNSHINE to all who know her. She genuinely can light up a room with her smile! She is a hard worker and fiercely dedicated to enriching those around her. Miss Tesi, as she is known by her students and parents, is relentless and does not give up easily. After graduating from high school she set off to study graphic design, ignoring her desire to pursue an education degree. A year later, I recall her coming to us with a very serious look in her face. [You know the one you see when your kids are about to confess a great sin?] Thankfully the confession was to tell us that she was switching majors and was going to be a teacher. Imagine my relief when I heard that! I was partly alleviated from knowing that she wasn’t in any trouble, but mostly, because she was going to be a teacher just like me and my own mother!  Of course, I couldn’t scream and shout for joy immediately, after all, I had to think of how little money she would be earning as well as the difficultly she would have in getting a job in this bad economy. Nevertheless, I was overjoyed! My little Sunshine, my little Mother Hen was finally accepting the fact that she was born to teach others!

Miss Tesi went on to finish college “on-time” going through each semester with a full load of classes and working three part-time jobs the entire time. She graduated with several honors, ranked Magna Cum Laude and after a long summer searching for a teaching position, she is about to begin her teaching career in a wonderful Charter School teaching Kindergarten! How awesome is that?

So today we have big plans!!! Sleep in, manicures and pedicures, lunch and a little shopping….for what else? TEACHER GOODIES!!!! After all, an apple never falls far from the tree!

Happy Birthday Tesi! May you continue to be blessed with good health, peace, love and the joys of teaching!

With much love always,

Mooma AKA Mrs. P

D5-Chapter 7

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Happily Ever After?

 

Putting It All Together and Troubleshooting

And just as it started, it comes to an end. The D5 Book Study has wrapped up and I’ve learned so much! I’ve connected with some amazing blogger-teachers; learning from their experiences. It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to get “fired” up and get my “groove” going.  I’m a little nervous of the implementation of D5 and I wonder if I can get away with it next year…it’s out of the norm, especially with so much district mandated testing happening in our schools in South Florida. Between the base lines, the interims, and of course, my own assessments, when will I fit in the practice needed for the students to be successful at D5?

I admit, the stories that I read from inside the classrooms  of the book study participants sound so “dreamy.” Just like I envisioned my own class to have functioned when I started teaching four years ago. The ugly truth is that although I have seen some amazing teaching and visited several classrooms, I haven’t seen a D5 classroom in action yet. Of course there are D5 classrooms out there, I’ve just haven’t seen one yet. I  personally know some teachers that work for Charter Schools (Thanks Elizabeth!) that have implemented D5 and are being very successful at it. In fact, they (teachers) are highly encouraged by their administrators to run their literacy blocks D5 style.  Nevertheless, I haven’t heard of  or seen this happening in my own school community. Perhaps, this means that I’ve got to light the fire?

Now here are my thoughts on Chapter 7 and putting it all together:

This week’s  two hostesses were, Kim from Funky First Grade Fun and Corrina from Surfin’ through Second. I read Kim’s post first and decided to reflect on her perspective, but Corrina added some great insights too, so make sure to read both blogs!

Check In Time

I have a jingle in which I count backwards from five- that I use to get my student’s attention and it seems to work rather well.  However, I think I need a different one to use during the literacy block and Kim finally affirmed it. I’ve always wanted to invest in a rain stick and a yoga chime to use during transitions and this is the perfect excuse to so. In fact, I can justify purchasing both to use at different times and for different purposes. The sounds and rhythm they produce are calming and do not cause nerves to frazzle, yet allows everyone to become aware of the changes happening. I can’t wait to get mine!!!

Now, I think Checking In is a vital part of D5 for several reasons. For starters, there’s a bit of accountability behind it that reminds students that they even though they’re independent learners, they have responsibilities for which they are accountable. Kim shared these questions that she asks her students during Check In time:

What kind of story were you reading?
Were your partners good listeners?
Who is your audience for the writing you did today?
What stage of writing are you working on?
Did anyone enjoy a nonfiction book?

These are good questions and I’m sure that I will think of others as different situations arise in my own class.  All students need to have a sense of ownership for their work and the activities need to provide the urgency for them to comply with the expected outcome. I’m sure that without any checking in procedures many students might feel less compelled to be actively engaged in their centers. I also know from my classroom experience, that there may be some students that don’t use the group or shared work time to complete their assignments to benefit from the collaboration with their peers. These are the ones that may require some extra practice and a closer eye. Below I have some thoughts on how to accomplish that.

Schedule

This past year my literacy schedule was interrupted greatly. In fact, I’d say that it was BROKEN, and not interrupted! Our day began with the Pledge of Allegiance and school wide announcements, followed by a computer based intervention program required for my students. “What’s the problem?”,  You might say…announcements usually dragged on well into my block shortening it by nearly 15 minutes every day. This is crucial time that I could rarely make up later in the day. I’m thinking that if something similar happens again, I will have to have the students get their materials ready and set up (a few at a time) during this time so that once the announcements are done, they will already be in place to start at their centers.

Assessment

Due to another intervention program that I was required to teach, I was able to log reading errors and fluency gains on a weekly basis. The problem was that the program required me to work with small groups and I didn’t have an aide to help me squeeze everything in on a daily basis, so it was a challenge for me to include it in my already chopped up literacy block. Trying to do it in the afternoon only made it more difficult because I struggled with student services pulling out my kids during other instructional times that were just as important as reading and writing. Go figure…if I allowed for them to be pulled out during reading then they missed out on that, if I allowed for them to be pulled out at any other time, then they would miss Math or Science, or even Social Studies. I had very little choice in this and felt that I had to “go with the flow.” ARGH!!!! I’m not sure how I can overcome this in the future, but I know the importance in keeping data in order to drive my instruction, so maybe including the intervention data log as part of my on-going assessments within D5 may actually help me improve in this area.

Making the Daily 5 Work When You Get New Students

One of the greatest privileges in working in such a big district is having such a diverse population represented in our student body, and it is also one of the greatest challenges. The students are very transient as the regional school boundaries get shifted rather often and new families come from and go to other districts. This year I had a student enrolled the week before our FCAT (State Test) testing was scheduled to begin! Although I provided one-on-one instruction in learning our class procedures and sent home my “Welcome to Our Class” packet, and provided peer helpers, the student proved to be a handful and required much more proximity control than I expected. All this at a critical point before testing. NOT FUN AT ALL! I will have to include what the “Sister’s” recommend on pages 102 and 103 to build muscle memory.

What Do I Do When a Student is Not Able to Be Independent with the Daily 5?

Well I can’t answer this question as I haven’t implemented D5 yet, but I can anticipate it happening and based on the suggestions written by the “Sisters” and the other bloggers, I will have to set up individual conferencing to discuss and review the appropriate behaviors and guide them with close proximity. If necessary, I will need to arrange for the student to practice during recess, not as a punishment, but to deter them from getting off task during the literacy block. From personal experience, this usually needs to be done a couple of times before the students self-correct the undesired behaviors.

From Corrina…

I wanted to highlight a few freebies posted on Surfin’ Through Second Grade because they are really cute resources to have and share. Corrina shared a center scheduling system that she created for her class. She posted a picture of one she found on (where else?) Pinterest via responsetointstruction.net This is one of severals you will find in her blog, so make sure to visit!

If you’re not using Google Docs yet, then make sure you register to be part of a wealth of resources available for educators. Another cool medium she uses is Pinterest and well, if you have been reading my Facebook Page then you know how much I love my PINTEREST!

Well that’s a wrap! Feel free to post comments both constructive and motivational!!! Happy blogging and happy teaching to all!

Mrs. P

D5- Chapter 6

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This chapter is titled, “Work on Writing and Work Work.” Deb from Fabulously First hosted this chapter so make sure to stop by and read about her ideas in getting kids to write and enjoy becoming writers. I liked a few of her ideas like having a Sharing Chair and an Open Mic to have students read aloud their writings. If you are looking for more ideas then make sure to going the blog hop and read all the other bloggers posts. I’m sure there’s something for everyone!

Now on to my thoughts and ideas regarding writing.  As a 4th grade teacher this past year, I had to hone my craft and get my students ready for the Florida FCAT Writes Test required of all 4th graders in my state. I started the year introducing the students to basic writing skills by using Four Square Writing and daily journaling. I found it very helpful to them since many had difficulty writing a complete sentence at the beginning of the year. As the weeks passed and they developed as writers, I was able to release them from the confines of using the Four Square templates and was pleased with their pieces as they published them. Week after week,  I could see how they were developing from transitional writers to conventional and finally to become traditional writers. Truly- it was an up hill battle for many because most were ELL learners and SPED students, yet they all performed as well as many of their peers in other classes of the same grade level. I was very proud of their scores and feel that we learned so much together, but I know that there’s so much more that I could add to teaching the writing process and the focus lessons give me another layer to add.

Since this component of the D5 does not dictate any padagogical approach in particular, I feel that I can easily add it to enhance the writing experience for my students. I really like how the children get an opportunity to practice spelling, learn how to use high-frequency words, and develop a richer vocabulary. They key here is to establish clear guidelines for the routines and procedures that will promote independent learners. 

The Sisters again as in the previous chapters include three anchor charts (I-Charts) to launch Word Work  which will really help me teach the students what they are responsible to do while I work with students. As I’ve said before, “I can’t forget a thing if I follow these” and in turn neither will my students. These charts will not only create order, but if taught with fidelity, it will ensure that the students become autonomous and responsible for setting up and cleaning up centers.

In years past, I’ve collected Wikki Stix, Stamps, White Boards, magnetic letters and other specialty paper to promote writing, but I’ve had little success in getting students to use them without getting into trouble in the process. Even after this “gong-ho” book study, I’m a little skeptical if I can provide these to my students. Sure it’s fun and writing should be a fun activity, but I’m not sure if all students are ready for the freedom in practicing with such materials.  I think that I still prefer using the on-line interactive, Composition Notebook Free Writes, Video Writing Prompts among other activities. These are just a few of the many writing activities that I offer my students that are independent but can be used in small or whole group instruction that still engage them without causing them to “goof off.” Maybe I’m being narrow minded here, but I know that many of my students lack the self-control required to use the supplies and still stay on task. This is one I will have to ponder upon and see how I can gradually introduce to my students so that they can enjoy and benefit from the experience.

Until next week…

Mrs. P

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