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Formative Assessment is the Cornerstone for Differentiated Instruction

Posted by on Feb 23, 2015 in ASCD, Blog, InService | 0 comments

 

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

Teachers often want to know where to start with differentiated instruction as it can seem overwhelming and daunting. Questions like the ones below go through the minds of all teachers, especially those new to the teaching profession.

How can I manage small-group instruction?
How can I organize learning for students at different levels? How can I make time for one-on-one instruction?
How can I meet the needs of all students?

I think these questions come from a lack of preparation in terms of assessment practices. When I first started teaching, I know I was not given enough tools and practices to both assess well and use assessments effectively. Assessment, as it turns out, is really the cornerstone for differentiated instruction. That being said, it totally makes sense that I was unable to differentiate effectively when I first started teaching. However, as I gained the necessary skills and practices to effectively assess my students —through self-directed learning and formal professional development—I started to realize that I could in fact differentiate. I believe that if teachers leverage formative assessment best practices more, differentiation will come naturally.

Setting Purpose and Feeding Up
In their book The Purposeful Classroom: How to Structure Lessons with Learning Goals in Mind, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey explain that the first part of formative assessment is for teachers to know what they’re setting out to do with their students. Teachers should ask themselves this question every day: “What are we learning today?” (with the keyword being today). If teachers have specific and manageable goals for learning with their students, they know what they need to check for understanding on. The first step to differentiation is to have a clear daily purpose for learning.

Checking for Understanding
Teachers need to remember that there are many ways to check for understating. Questions, prompts, and cues can allow them to truly see if students understand what they have set out to learn. Teachers can use questions to see if there are errors in student understanding. In addition, teachers can use writing tools, performance tools, quizzes, technology tools, and more to check and see where students are in their path of learning. They can use formal assessment tools that require time for feedback, or they can use quick assessments tools like student-response systems and exit tickets. Teachers need to check for understanding to successfully plan for differentiated instruction.

Feeding Forward
In their book, Fisher and Frey also explain that formative assessment allows teachers to “feed forward”—that is, to use assessment data to plan the right types of instructional activities to use in the future. By checking for understanding and using error-analysis tools to look for global and individual errors, teachers can work smarter to plan the right type of instruction. They can create learning activities to challenge students further and plan learning to support for students who are struggling. In addition, teachers can effectively plan individual, small-group, and whole-class instruction because they know where their students are and what they need. This is the key to differentiation.

Student Engagement
When teachers use formative assessment to drive differentiation, student engagement inevitably increases. Think about it. If teachers improperly feed forward and plan whole-group instruction when only half the class needs it, they are actually setting themselves up for failure in terms of student engagement. On the flip side, if teachers use formative assessment effectively, they can differentiate to provide “just-in-time” instruction that students truly need and find relevant. Timely and relevant instruction produces higher student engagement.

Teachers looking for new ways to improve their differentiated instruction practices should start with formative assessments. Formative assessments allow teachers to know their students better and, therefore, to make the best decisions to challenge them appropriately and engage them in the learning.

Meshing GBL With PBL: Can It Work?

Posted by on Feb 9, 2015 in Blog, Edutopia | 0 comments

 

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >

 


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Project-based learning has essential components that make it unique to other models of instruction, such as public audience, voice and choice, driving questions, and teaching and assessing 21st-century skills. PBL requires that all of these components be present in a truly great “main-course project.”

Similarly, game-based learning has elements that make it unique, even in its many implementation methods. GBL can look like gamification, where game elements such as quests and incentives are used to make the unit of instruction into a game of sorts. GBL can also look like using games for instructional purposes, such as the popular Minecraft or even Angry Birds, to support student learning. Many educators may wonder how they can leverage GBL practices within a PBL project and combine them to form a powerful learning experience. It is possible, but only with careful combination and intentional implementation.

GBL to Teach 21st-Century Skills
An important component of a PBL project is teaching and assessing a 21st-century skill (or skills) within the project. This is frequently an area of growth for new PBL teachers, because it’s not often that we’re asked to do this in the classroom. GBL leverages using games in the classroom, and these games can be targeted to help scaffold collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity. We all want our students to be risk takers, so introducing games that create a safe space to take those risks can support student learning a PBL project. While many games are individual in nature, many are also collaborative. Some games like Pandemic even require collaboration to solve problems together, rather than being competitive. Educators can select games aligned to one of the 4Cs to create low-stakes, fun opportunities to practice working together, communicating effectively, solving problems, and being innovative.

GBL as Content Lessons
You might use a game to teach students content, or have them practice with the content. Perhaps students are making recommendations to a senator about policies surrounding a local or national issue. In order to do that, they might play a specific iCivics game to support them in learning that content. There are already great games out there that can help students practice with the content or learn to apply it in a new situation. As educators plan a project and backwards-design the content and skills they want to teach, they can identify appropriate games that will scaffold the content. Remember, these games can be digital, board, or card games. If you, as an educator, want to make sure that the game will support learning, the best way to see for yourself is by playing it.

Games as Products of Learning
Many educators are leveraging games as products of student learning, whether as the content itself or as a demonstration of coding and programming skills. A game product can be a great choice as a demonstration of student knowledge. It’s important, though, that this choice fits the purpose of the project. Voice and choice aren’t arbitrary elements of a project — they align to the “why” captured in the project’s driving question. If making a game that wrestles with the content aligns to the purpose of the project, then it can be a great choice! In addition, a game could be a collaborative, team product, or an individual product. Paired with an excellent rubric, a game can align content and skills to learning outcomes and standards.

Games and Quests for Differentiation
Often in a gamified unit, students are given quests to accomplish that will help them learn content and skills. A PBL project might have some similar quests or mini games, and students may even have voice and choice regarding which ones they can or need to do. Through effective formative assessment practices, educators can help students select the most effective quests and games within a PBL project. Not every child may need to do the quest or game that you think he or she needs. Differentiation through quests and games is hinged on effective formative assessment.

Badges for Formative Assessment and Feedback
Badges alone will not create sustained engagement. However, there are some students who love to “collect,” and many of our students play games that support the gamer mindset. I know students who love to get the best armor on World of Warcraft or collect every single Pokémon possible. Badges can support this engagement. We also need to remember that not all of our students are collector types, so badges may not be the best tools for them.

If you do intend to use badges and incentives, ensure that the badges align to meaningful rewards, not just completion. Have badges that specifically address a 21st-century skill, giving or receiving feedback, or presenting to a public audience. These are all important aspects of project-based learning. Create badges that align to PBL best practices so that they support a better PBL culture and aren’t simply a way of saying, “Good job!”

Remember, there may be some elements of GBL that might take away from a PBL project. For instance, completely gamifying a unit could make it just a gamified unit and not PBL. Educators should use their professional judgment about when and where to leverage GBL elements in a PBL project, and they should be perfectly fine saying, “No, it doesn’t fit right now,” or “Yes, this can work!” Instead of trying to squeeze all aspects of GBL into PBL, find the right fit that will make your PBL project more engaging.

Have you blended game-based learning with project-based learning? What was your experience?

Homework When Students Are Ready For It!

Posted by on Feb 2, 2015 in Blog, Edutopia | 0 comments

 

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >

 


homework
We all struggle with homework and how to use it. In fact, many have said no to homework for good reason. It’s often just busywork, boring, or not clearly connected to the learning. Many times, students come home and can’t even articulate why they have a homework assignment. This is a problem of relevance. Worse yet, students receive hours of homework each night. They are required to read and take notes on material, produce papers, or more. This is what you might call “Do-It-Yourself School.” If you are assigning work where students are learning a large amount of completely new material on their own, then you are actually doing a disservice to your students.

Students should not be required to be their own teachers outside of class (the keyword here is “required”). Instead, homework needs to be designed for intentional purposes that support student learning. Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, in their book Better Learning Through Structured Teaching, articulate many of the points that I try to make here. When we focus on some of these examples and principles below, we can actually make homework a useful tool for learning, where students see the relevance and engage in it.

When Students Are Ready
We often assign homework when students are not ready for it. We’ve all been in a situation when we run out of time in a lesson, and mistakenly assign the rest of the work as homework. This is the wrong way, as it becomes DIY School. Instead, teachers need to know, through formative assessment, whether or not their students are ready for the homework. This could mean that not all of your students will get homework that night. Some students may not be ready, while others will be. While every student will get to that homework, they won’t all get there at the same time. For those not ready, the assignment would be an unproductive struggle. When students are ready, meaning that they have the skills and background knowledge, that homework will be successful. Practice doesn’t make perfect — it makes permanent! If students do not have requisite skills or knowledge to complete the homework assignment, then they will make permanent errors that are harder to unlearn. Focus on assigning homework when students are ready.

Choice
In addition to assigning homework when students are ready, you could let students pick the assignment they want to do. Allowing voice and choice in homework assignments can increase engagement. Through reflection, students can self-identify content or skills they want to build or work on, and then choose the appropriate homework assignment. When they own the process of learning, then even homework can feel meaningful to them.

Limited Time
This is key! Students should not be assigned hours upon hours of homework. Homework time should be limited. Many argue over exact time, from ten minutes to an hour. This all depends on the age and grade level of the student. Although older students may be able to handle hours of homework, it doesn’t mean they should do hours of homework. Teachers also need to have collaborative conversations about the shared workload for students and limit that workload appropriately. We have students that are actively involved in extracurricular activities, family duties, and the like. We need to be responsive to this, which means that time devoted to homework will be different everywhere.

Spiral Review
Learning and standards often spiral themselves in the learning and instructional year. Something that was learned earlier in the year or unit can be reviewed through homework to remind students of what they should have learned or help teachers identify what may have been lost. Just make sure the homework is based on something already learned, and that you know the student already learned it from you.

Application
If students are ready to apply their learning in an appropriate new context, then homework can be used for that as well. Again, the teacher needs to know that students understand the content and have the skills to apply themselves to the material. When this is done appropriately, students are stretching their thinking and feeling success in the learning process.

Fluency Building
There are some skills that students should practice to build their fluency. Homework assignments to build this fluency can help reinforce skills that students have already learned. Again, practice makes permanent, so fluency-building homework should be assigned only when teachers know that students have the needed skills.

Extension
We all have students who are ready for assignments that will allow them to be creative or take the learning to a new level. Extension assignments are also a great way to differentiate. Teachers need to know where their students are through assessment, and allow the students ready for an extension assignment to give it a try.

Homework as Formative Assessment
Remember that homework itself can and should serve as a formative assessment of learning. It can be a useful check for understanding, which means that it doesn’t need to be graded. This view of homework can help tell the story of the student’s learning and also inform you how to adjust instruction to ensure success for all students.

You can of course choose not to assign homework, but you can also have homework as a meaningful and useful part of your instruction. And you don’t have to assign it all the time. If homework isn’t working for you, reexamine and reflect upon your implementation. Do you assign it too early in the instructional cycle? Does it not focus on spiral review, fluency, and the like? Do students have choice in their homework? These are just some reflective questions to consider. Remember, homework shouldn’t be assigned when you want it, but rather when students are ready for it.