By G. FAITH LITTLE
The sunlight is still Summer while the breeze feels like Fall. Teachers stream in, eager to find their names at check-in and chat with colleagues on their way to hear the keynote speaker frame the day, “It’s not that differentiation is part of the work. Differentiation is the work itself. We all can make progress and we can all grow. Each student deserves a goal that they can work hard to achieve!"
This excerpt from a previous post about bringing a series of in-person professional development workshops to life evoked memories that seemed to stand in stark contrast against our current teaching and learning situation.
Adapting our plans
We began our Spring 2020 workshops series on a cold day in February. At the end of the day-long sessions, facilitators reviewed feedback from participants, noted adjustments they would make to their plans, and tucked away sign-in sheets in folders, ready for their next session — a month away. A few weeks later we found ourselves siloed, setting up spaces at home where we could work, on screens, day and night. It felt as if we were living in a snow globe that someone picked up, shook, and set back down, leaving our environment sloshing around us, debris floating through the air, settling at our feet.
We moved quickly, collaborating from our siloed spaces, pushing one another to reframe our thinking:
Through connection and communication, we were able to find ways to support teachers who were going through the same process themselves: expanding their classroom from inside the walls of a school building out in the city, across the state, and around the world.
The phrase we're in this together became a mantra not only when it came to wearing masks, washing our hands, and social distancing, but also when it came to our own teaching and learning. Stay-at-home restrictions created an environment in which we needed to open our minds to as many options to meet as many students in need as possible.
As teachers — from early childhood education to graduate school — revised and remodeled their plans, many began to ask, “Why didn’t I think of this before? I could have a distance learning component for each of my lessons.” At CPET, we realized that we could not only offer each of our workshops in an online space, but we could make all of our offerings available at no additional charge to our participants. The limitation of being in a specific session at a specific time was gone, and what was left was the opportunity for teachers to experience as many of the asynchronous offerings as they cared to.
Our Spring 2020 asynchronous offerings; view upcoming opportunities here
Utilizing practical strategies
Of course, after plans are adapted into a new space, the work again becomes customizing to our students. What do our first graders need to connect during distance learning? What about our sixth graders? Our seniors? As our snow globe settles and our vision clears, we see that trusted strategies are a foundation we can still hold on to. We can identify practical and adaptable tips we’ve used in the classroom and integrate them into our remote teaching and learning.
So, we end where we began: differentiation is not simply part of the work — it is the work.
Each student deserves the opportunity to grow, demonstrate progress, and work hard toward an achievable goal.
Each teacher deserves the same.
TAGS: DIFFERENTIATION, G. FAITH LITTLE, INITIATIVES, REMOTE LEARNING, RESOURCES
By G. FAITH LITTLE
In a recent letter to the community, CPET Director Roberta Kang shared her childhood memory of the Challenger Space Shuttle’s explosion, and her experience as a teacher in the classroom during 9/11. She wrote, “As educators, we are not unfamiliar with working through a crisis. We know that some crises are visible, and some are invisible. We know that some are explosive, while others are slow burns that dismantle a sense of safety bit by bit. We know that some have villains attached, and others are just, well, science.”
Our children will have strong memories of this time. They will recall what it was like when their school closed, when they had to wear masks, stand far away from people, or when open air parks were locked to visitors. Already, children are telling stories about when they went to school, “before the virus came” and what they want to bring to school, “after the virus is over.” Having conversations with children about what is happening around them and within them will support their growth and learning during this challenging time.
Although COVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus, talking with children about scary situations is not new. To support our conversations, we can lean on reliable resources and use age-appropriate methods. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) connects their general principles for talking to children to the National Association for School Psychologists guidelines:
There are many resources online to support our conversations, and it can be overwhelming to sift through for “the perfect one.” During this time of emotional, mental, and physical overload, it’s important to remember there is no such thing as perfect. Using a reliable, science-based option will give you a starting place for you and your kids to generate questions and keep the conversation open.
Pre-K — Elementary
Support your younger students with ready-made resources from PBS. Sesame Street’s Caring for Each Other page has informative, age-appropriate videos and free e-books to support your conversation about what COVID-19 is and what we can do about it. Use their infographic to prepare for your conversation if you are feeling concerned about what to say.
Older elementary students can learn more about germs and build their vocabulary by reading an article together, like What are Germs? — available in English and Spanish, with an option to listen to the article while you read.
Middle school students are moving into a space where they question the answers they are given. Use this natural developmental stage to engage kids with inquiry cycles. Consider not only a focus on COVID-19, but a student exploration into a simple history of viruses.
Whether you adapt lessons from online sources, like three lesson plans for science, math and media literacy focused on COVID-19, or you set students on a path to conduct their own research, trying out an inquiry cycle can help students gather information and generate real questions that lead to deeper exploration.
Don’t have a template of your own? Give ours a try — within this template, students can share their findings in discussion groups while you use the written information as formative assessments, make adjustments to lesson plans, and provide supplemental materials or advice for students as they explore.
During this time of distance learning, we have the opportunity to see what happens when self-discovery and experimentation places learning in our students’ hands. As students get more autonomy, we get to see firsthand what teaching looks like when students are at the front of the class.
Students at this age can do their own research on the topic starting with the CDC’s Coronavirus-19 page (available in at least five languages), which covers symptoms, how to protect yourself, slowing the spread, daily life, and coping and is updated regularly to include subjects like cloth face coverings.
As new questions arise, students can create a simple art project, like an infographic. With them, you can research to find answers, add them to your infographic and draw, color, or paint for emphasis. If infographics aren't your thing, consider having kids create one of the following to illustrate their research:
By G. FAITH LITTLE
Fear of change is real and challenging.
Fear manifests itself in different ways for each of us, whether it means becoming defensive in the middle of a coaching conversation, avoiding a colleague you’re paired with, or becoming paralyzed at the prospect of dealing with conflict directly and openly. As Roberta Lenger Kang noted in Don't take it personally: de-escalating conflicts in the classroom, “The more fear we have, the more likely we are to become hyper-vigilant micro-managers in the classroom, which can sometimes magnify small issues and escalate conflicts…”
Whether you’re affected by a change taking place or you’re implementing change that will affect others, treating the process as if you’re training for hurdles is a practical way to address and overcome fear of change in yourself and as you lead others.
This training can be broken into three parts.
Before change: flexibility and preparation
Before enacting a change, stretch, practice, and count.
Stretch: Whatever the change, find where you already have some flexibility and elongate it.
Practice: When preparing for a change, implement small steps on your way to the starting line or implementation date.
Count: When leading change, you know your teachers will have some level of anxiety or fear of change. It’s normal.
During change: keep moving forward, but pace yourself
During a process of change, speed up toward the first hurdle, run steady through the middle, and finish strong.
Speed up: After laying the foundation for the change ahead, consider taking the first hurdle of actual change with excitement, energy, and speed. With a little extra energy, you can leap through the discomfort and make it over the first goal.
Run steady: After the initial hurdle, move forward steadily, pacing yourself as you go. You’ve already entered into a new way of teaching, so keep the changes to a minimum.
Finish strong: As you round the corner toward a natural check-in point, gather some energy.
After change: celebrate and reflect
After implementing change, allow yourself time and space to reflect on your experience and celebrate your successes.
Celebrate: Pick a finish line. The finish line may be obvious, like the end of a unit or the semester. It may be decided by administration based on an outside deadline. It could be ongoing, like making a change that lasts the entire school year and beyond. If that’s the case, choose a check-in as your finish line. When you get to the finish line, celebrate. You did it! You engaged in change.
You may or may not feel like it went well, but that doesn’t affect the celebration. To celebrate, you simply share with yourself, and others if possible, that you made it to a finish line! Find a way to concretize the celebration, whether in writing, capturing your success using social media, or sending an email to people who care about you. If you’re leading change, consider making a well-deserved certificate for your teachers or students to commemorate their progress.
Reflect: To make the most of your experience, find the time to reflect. Find ways to adjust your practice going forward, and ask more questions about what is possible. What went well? What would you like to see more of? What questions came up that you’d like to explore? Journal, use a template (create your own or download our What, So What, Now What tool), or make a list of what you want to talk about with your academic coach or colleagues.
Hurdle after hurdle, make a habit of attempting your jumps. Whether you sail over them, tip them, or knock them over, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to learn from every leap and fall.
“The importance of good parent-teacher relationships has been well documented. Research has shown that parent involvement in education benefits not only the child but also the parents and teachers.”
We want our students, parents, and teachers to experience these benefits.
Challenges are easy to list, and we likely have a long list beyond these, but here are some of the big ones.
Start by planning
Strengthening your communication with students and families can start as simply as organizing your approach. Whether you’re approaching the beginning of the year, a new term, or are in the middle of a course, trying a new tool that can be customized to your unique communication style and your school’s expectations for family contact will support your work.
In the example below, our first goal was to start with listening, in this case using a baseline survey to the student’s parents that establishes a connection and supports us in understanding our student from the parent’s perspective. Our second goal was to have three positive contacts with the family, in addition to any contacts necessary to discuss issues that may arise in the classroom.
From here, we would continue to add our notes and check in on communication that may be needed in order to meet our goals. This template can continue to be streamlined or expanded as practices change over time.
While the content of parent/teacher conversations may not always be easy, simply getting started can give you confidence and increase the ways in which you can connect with families.
By G. FAITH LITTLE
We check for understanding constantly, don’t we?
“Does that make sense?”
"Know what I mean?”
When it comes to our classrooms, we’re looking for more precise ways to check for understanding. Here are some simple ways and a few tools to use in your class as soon as tomorrow!
A simple and positive hand gesture can check to see who is hearing your instruction and who needs more support to move forward. You can use this:
Choose your emoji
Expressions are a helpful way for students to share how they’re feeling or thinking about new or challenging content. It is especially useful for English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities. Using emojis (which can be individual cut outs or together on one piece of paper), ask students to choose the emoji that best represents their current experience.
As you move around the room, you can customize your questions and support. Find out more about what the happy faces understand, what the thinking faces are working out, and what the sad faces need to make their struggle productive.
See how the homework informed thinking or where yesterday’s mini-lesson landed by collecting a little data at the beginning of class. You can even combine this tool with the emojis you've used previously:
Whatever the tool, getting clear feedback is key to differentiating your instruction and increasing communication with your students!
By G. FAITH LITTLE
An exit ticket is like an Instant Pot. You hear about how great it is — it saves time, it’s simple, it’s flexible, and it doesn’t need many ingredients. It seems to be a staple tool at this point, so you pick one up and start using it. So it goes with exit tickets. When we start using them, it may be because of both convenience and necessity. They’re quick and easy, and they allow you to breathe for a couple of minutes before your next class period starts or you need to switch over to the next subject you’re teaching.
Exit tickets also provide a supportive rhythm to your class. They signal to kids that they will be transitioning soon, and this is invaluable to many students — especially if they struggle with change during their school day. Exit tickets provide a natural way to move from one space into the next, figuratively (if students stay in the same classroom) and literally (if students move to a new room).
Sometimes that’s as far as we get with using exit tickets. It feels like enough, especially at the start of the school year or in the first year of your teaching career. But we can improve our use of exit tickets by taking them from simple (and valuable!) classroom tools and morphing them into invaluable formative assessments.
“The power of exit tickets lies not only in informing instructional decisions — it includes the public acknowledgment of students' ideas and making adaptations of lessons, based on these responses, transparent to students (Marshall 2018). Importantly, exit tickets can also give voice to students who are otherwise silent in class, including English language learners and students "on the margins" of classroom life, and can draw your attention to who is being served in which ways, giving you critical information for shaping your practice to enhance equity and inclusivity.”
What is an exit ticket?
Backing up for a minute, let’s define an exit ticket. An exit ticket is a task that typically requires a short response from students. Teachers use exit tickets after an activity or learning period, and it can literally be the ticket to exit the room at the end of a period or a way for students to exit a part of the lesson. Exit tickets are not graded. Because they are not associated with a grade, students take on very little risk and can be honest about what they do and don’t understand, and may be more likely to ask questions they wouldn’t on a graded piece of writing.
Using exit tickets as formative assessments
Exit tickets can be used in any subject area at any grade level as formative assessments to provide teachers with authentic data, in real time.
“To be effective, an exit ticket should have specific prompts for students and take only about five minutes to complete. Students can record their responses on index cards, sticky notes, notebook paper, or online (e.g., Google Forms, Padlet, Schoology, etc.). Ideally, student responses inform the next stages of learning by highlighting whether teachers should clarify ideas, reteach them, extend them, offer practice, introduce new ideas, or restructure future instructional activities (Marshall 2018).”
Making exit tickets your own means designing (or using templates) for short responses that you can read fairly quickly. This can be as simple as a sticky note on which students respond to a prompt with a few words or a What, So What, Now What chart.
At the end of a day, class period, or activity, you can engage in a quick cycle of inquiry with the data.
1. Sort the data based on your own criteria from the lesson or for your specific students.
2. Examine each set of data. What do you notice? What needs attention?
3. Identify areas that need to be taught, retaught, or further investigated.
4. Adjust your next lesson to accommodate your findings.
5. Revise your next exit ticket (if needed) if you see that your prompt isn’t yielding useful data.
Using exit tickets as formative assessments is a promising practice that can be quick and can also support deep and differentiated learning in your classroom. Share with us your exit ticket practice below. Similar to Instant Pots, when you learn new ways to use them, it’s fun to share your findings with others!