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What You Need to Know About Differentiation


Get to the brass tacks on differentiation in the classroom with an exciting sneak peek of something new!   #teaching #middleschool #languagearts


I've spent a good amount of time this summer reading through various books on the subject of differentiation.  


What I'm reading these days for my own personal teacher summer PD!  #teaching #middleschool #languagearts #differentiatedinstruction


It's become a hot topic in my neck of the woods with teachers being required to show examples of how they have differentiated instruction for students with special needs and those learning English.

Of course, my research has shown that to differentiate, teachers must modify the content, process, and product.  But what does that really mean?

Well, it actually all started out in 1984 with a non-profit organization called CAST - The
Center for Applied Special Technology.  Their primary goal was "to explore ways of using new technologies to provide better educational experience to students with disabilities."  

(source)


"As CAST researchers tested and refined their principles, priorities, and vision over that first decade, they came to a new understanding of how to improve education using flexible methods and materials.  They called this approach Universal Design For Learning." (source)

In Universal Design for Learning Theory and Practice,  Anne Meyer, David H. Rose, and David Gordon suggest that the curriculum is the problem, not the students.  It is the curriculum that needs to change to meet the needs of the students and not the other way around.  This means minimizing the barriers to learning yet maximizing the levels of challenge and support.  
With this mindset, lessons would be designed to meet the needs of the broadest range of learners from the start.

That's the heart of differentiated instruction.

Diane Heacox, Ed.D. explains in her book Differentiating Instruction in the Regular Classroom: that "Differentiated instruction is the best response to standards-based education."  "Differentiation, in fact, may be the key to your students' success in a standards-based education system." (p.14)

Why?   Because your goals are defined - they are the standards.  How you get students to the standards is where the art of teaching comes in.  Art is not one-size-fits-all and neither are our students.

Carol Ann Tomlinson explains it best in her book How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms by reminding us that "we go about learning in a wide variety of ways, influenced by how our brains are wired, our culture, and our gender (Delpit, 1995; Garner, 1982; Heath, 1983; Sternbertg 1985; Sullivan, 1993)." (p.9)

So if we want the students to meet the standards, we have to be willing to give them multiple pathways to that standard.


Differentiated Instruction in the Middle School class explained with the research and a sneak peek of something exciting and new!  #teaching #languagearts


Diane Heacox offers a way to get started:
"...start small, differentiate one subject or target specific units for revision.  ...and then design additional activities for reteaching or extending learning as necessary." (p.14)

Carol Ann Tomlinson says in her book How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms that this process could take up to four or five YEARS.

The problem is most us teachers are being asked to do this RIGHT NOW - not in four or five years.

So, what can we do right now?

Based on this research, I have come to the conclusion that differentiation can be achieved if one follows a "Teach - Reteach - Enrich" pattern in teaching their lessons.


Teach:  Offer multiple opportunities for taking content in and multiple ways to process or practice that content.

Reteach those who struggle:    "If struggling learners can't learn everything, make sure they learn the big ideas, key concepts, and governing principles of the subject at hand." (Tomlinson, p.13)  

Enrich the advanced learner:  "Continually raise the ceilings of expectations so that advanced learners are competing with their own possibilities rather than with a norm." (Tomlinson, p.12)

Now if you're like me, you know in your teacher's heart that this would work and is what real education should be.  However, back in the real world, you're not sure this is something you could totally make happen in the classroom.  After all, you probably already have at least 100 pins of differentiation lists, strategies, and ideas but you never have time to go through them let alone make the things they suggest!

But what if I told you that I had been developing lessons that are standards-based, differentiated and ready to use using the 
Teach-Reteach-Enrich pattern which is clearly a "Smart" way to teach?

That all you need to execute these kinds of lessons is all in order, ready to print, and ready to present?

Check out this sneak peek and then join my newsletter to be among the first to know when the FREE trial of TRESmart is released.





Thanks for stopping by!

The Trouble with Differentiation in Middle School


Differentiation is something all Middle School teachers want to do, but seem to have trouble with this one little thing. #intheclassroom


Differentiation is a buzzword that I hear a lot.  We Middle School Teachers understand that differentiation is important because our students have different learning needs.  As a result, we make changes to our instruction to meet those needs because we want our students to be successful.

But really, differentiation is more than that.

Carol Tomlinson, one of the most prominent differentiation experts,  suggests that differentiation actually means that teachers modify content, process and/or product based on a student's readiness, interests or learning profile through various strategies. 

That probably sounds like a lot so let me break it down for you.
Differentiation requires teachers to:


1.  Be clear on what students should know and be able to do at the end of a lesson/unit.

2.  Then consider the readiness, interests, and learning profile of all students.

3.  Finally provide multiple ways (based on #2) for students to achieve the same learning outcome (from #1) in terms of content, process and/or product.


That doesn't sound so bad except that we middle school teachers have around 130 students to consider.  This takes a substantial amount of time especially when you have to consider various class dynamics (what works for one class may not work for another), levels of behavior (some groups are apathetic and some are oppositional), and even maturity levels (some students can handle choices well, others not so much - which requires even more time).

Combine that with an eight hour work day that's filled with teaching as well as meetings, checking emails, grading, school duties, making copies and on and on and you have teachers who move into survival mode that hunt and peck through the lists of strategies they find on Pinterest then decide that those lists don't really solve their problem.

But what if there was a way to differentiate in less time?  What if there was a way to work smarter, not harder in terms of differentiation?  I'm on a mission to figure this out.  So, this summer, I'll be digging into the research to find the best ways to achieve a differentiated Middle School class without breaking the time bank.

Stay tuned and thanks for stopping by!

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5 Great Ways to End the School Year!


5 Great Activities and Ideas to End the School Year!  My favorites are #3 and #5!  #teaching #middleschool


Here in Florida, we are winding down the school year and I am always on the lookout for ways to make it meaningful and fun.  So I thought I would share what I found:


I like this idea because it's a way to have a stroll down memory lane and yet make it more important than just signing yearbooks with "H.A.G.S." (Have A Great Summer).

On a related note, in years gone by I've handed out out some of my favorite quotes on little pieces of colorful paper:


Looking for some great ways to end your Middle School year?  Try one or more of these 5 fun and easy ideas and activities!  #teaching #middleschool

It gives them just a little something to remember me by and hopefully inspires them in some small way.  You could also have students bring in their favorite quotes and do a quote swap.  :)

I also really like this next idea because it does "double duty" - it's great for reflection AND I can use it at the beginning of next year!




And wouldn't this be fun?  I'd love to do something like this with my students before the last day:




And what about this? 


What a great idea to get ready for summer!

If you've enjoyed these ideas and would like more, join the Teacher Troop!  Then you'll have access to all kinds of Members-Only Extras designed to give you Time-Savers to Reach All Learners:




Thanks for stopping by!

Reflecting & Recharging - #2ndaryELA Recap

  • Have you tried the #2ndaryELA Twitter chats yet?  Find out more about this great online professional development community!  #teaching #middleschool #highschool

  • Big News!
  • Starting next school year, I will be co-hosting the weekly #2ndaryELA Twitter chats!

Secondary ELA Educators meet on Twitter every Tuesday night for half an hour to discuss various topics.  

Below is the last chat for the 2017-2018 school year but my first as co-host.  Check it out and then make a plan to join us for next school year beginning in late July 2018!


Thanks for stopping by!  
Hope to see you in the #2ndaryELA Twitter chats next school year!