Strategies for Multi-Grade-Level PBL Projects

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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When we get really excited by and really effective at implementing project-based learning, we start creating projects that become much more complex. We integrate multiple subjects, leverage more technology tools, co-teach classes, and have projects that last many weeks or even months. These projects are exciting, but a complex project brings more complex challenges. One of those challenges is integration and implementation across different grade levels. Such PBL projects are uniquely complex because schools have different learning outcomes and standards (sometimes drastically different), and also physical structures that create walls against rather than opportunities for collaboration. Here are some strategies and ideas to consider when planning and implementing multi-grade-level PBL projects.

Similar But Different Learning Objectives
Although there will be different learning outcomes because there are different grade levels involved in the project, many learning objectives and standards are similar from one grade level to the next. Learning is always recursive. We learn writing skills one year and get better at them the next year. We learn a science concept in middle school and then learn it again in a more complex way in high school. These are opportunities to integrate across grade levels in a more manageable way. Look for recursive learning outcomes and standards to make manageable assessment choices.

Same Focus, Different Driving Questions
As we know, creating the “just right” driving question can be really challenging, and that challenge becomes greater the more you integrate. With a multi-grade-level project, the complexity of the project may be hard to fit into a single driving question, especially since the learning outcomes are different across the grades. A multi-grade-level project might have a common theme or topic, like water quality or community issues, but the driving questions will vary for different teams or grade levels. In order to focus on specific learning outcomes or standards, be open to similar but different driving questions.

Multi-Grade-Level Collaborative Learning
It can be powerful when students learn together, and we can have students learn from their peers in different grade levels. We all bring our expertise and passions to learning. Younger students can learn from older students and vice versa. Know your students and their strengths and challenges. Form teams or help students form teams based on these strengths and challenges. Don’t let age or grade level get in the way. You know your students best, but while considering age difference and the complexities it brings, don’t let that hold you back from exploring other possibilities. As students work and learn across grade levels, have them contribute to group products or investigate different foci. Multi-grade-level learning also presents an opportunity for teachers to assess collaboration skills and for students to learn these skills from one another.

Individual Products
In terms of assessment, it’s crucial that students are assessed individually. We all want to know what our children know, which may mean an individual product to showcase that learning. Remember, these products can show learning itself or a variety of learning outcomes, some of which may be different than a collaborative product. Teachers and students can decide on the level of voice and choice for these products as well. When implementing a specific multi-grade-level project, an individual product can ensure a laser-like focus on specific grade-level outcomes for an individual student. This also allows students who prefer to work alone the chance to do so. In their case, make sure that they’re able to create an individual product.

Flexible Learning Spaces
Instead of a third-grade classroom here and a fifth-grade classroom there, treat classrooms as open spaces where collaboration and purpose, rather than grade level, is the focus. What could each room have that would make it a unique and powerful place to learn, and how will that support elements of the PBL project? Perhaps one classroom would focus on science content and labs, with materials to support the inquiry. Another classroom might be set up with technology tools for learning. Maybe there can be a “feedback” room where students give and receive feedback from others. With flexible learning spaces, teachers become flexible as well, and they help facilitate learning based on the purpose and unique setting of the room. Don’t forget hallways and other non-traditional spaces — they can be ripe places for learning, especially when it comes to PBL projects.

Many of us have already tried these multi-grade-level projects with success. They are rich opportunities to have students learn from other students of different ages, and they present a great opportunity for us, as educators, to learn and grow in our own implementation of PBL.

In the comments section of this post, please share your own thoughts about and experiences with multi-grade-level PBL.

Using Assessment to Create Student-Centered Learning

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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Assessment is key to creating a more student-centered classroom. Before proceeding, though, I want to clarify what I mean by assessment. I don’t mean testing, nor do I mean grading. Unfortunately this term (as well as other terms like data-driven instruction) has been hijacked to mean more testing and knowing students only in terms of their test scores. We know this is unacceptable and does not meet the needs of all students.

Yes, data such as test scores can give us a window into better serving our students, but it’s not the whole window. If we truly want to know our students, we must view them as a stained-glass window with test data as only one of many pieces. Assessment can allow us to know the whole child as we create a more student-centered classroom.

Assessing Student Passions and Learning Styles
One key way to create a more student-centered classroom is by assessing students for their passions and interests. All of our students come with powerful experiences that have driven their lives, such as family stories, favorite books, hobbies, and trips. We can use a variety of assessment tools like one-on-one conversations, journals, and graphic organizers to learn more about our students and what drives them to learn. Tools like learning profile cards can allow us to differentiate appropriately, leverage our students’ strengths, and push them to learn in different ways. Assessing for passions and interests can also push us to know our students more deeply and create a classroom designed for them.

Assessing 21st-Century/Success Skills
We know that some of our students collaborate better than others, just as some students have more global empathy that others. If we assess for these success or 21st-century skills, we can provide experiences and instructions that foster those skills and allow our students to grow in areas that are more than simply content knowledge or skills. Teachers can use rubrics and other assessment tools to let students know what these success skills look, sound, and feel like. In addition, they can use these assessment tools for self, teacher, and expert assessment. While some students may really know math content, for example, they may need support in building their grit, and we can make the classroom meet their needs in a targeted way.

Formative Assessment of Content and Skills
Test data lets us know how students are progressing toward learning content and skills from the standards. However, these standardized tests may only assess the bare minimum (if that) of the level of rigor that we want and expect from our students. Also, these assessments do not provide us with just-in-time data that we can truly use. What we get from them often comes too late for our purposes. While we can look at the data for trends, we may not be able to use this information in the immediate moment to meet the needs of individual students. Teachers instead should use low-stakes formative assessments to assess students’ content knowledge and skills. This way, we can learn which concepts and skills need to be retaught, and which ones students have mastered. These assessments are not graded. Instead, we can use them to create a learning environment that is more student-centered.

Assessing for Instruction
All of these data points and assessments should primarily drive instruction in the classroom, and they are all examples of powerful formative assessments. The intent of formative assessments is to feed forward in the instruction, and create learning activities that individual students need. Yes, this may mean whole-group instruction, but it often means small-group or individual instruction. When we use formative assessments carefully, we can discover whether students need a think-aloud or model, or if they are ready for independent practice and application. In addition, formative assessment can tell us if students need more collaborative learning. Whenever we plan instruction, we know it is never set in stone, and we use on-the-spot assessment to make immediate decisions for instruction, as well as using these assessments to feed forward for future instruction. If we use assessment to provide the right just-in-time instruction, we can increase student engagement in a more student-centered classroom.

Truly, assessment can be a powerful force for knowing our students and creating a classroom that can meet their needs. We simply have to move past the baggage that comes with the term assessment, and understand that it can mean a lot of things. We can assess for content and skills, yes, but we can also assess for passions, interests, success skills, and the like for the purposes of the right instruction at the right time.

Four Steps for Working Smarter For Your Students

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 >


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In working with teachers to implement the Framework for Intentional and Targeted Teaching® (FIT Teaching®) strategy and other instructional practices with schools that have partnered with ASCD Professional Learning Services, I find that a key theme keeps emerging: working smarter, not harder. We, as educators, have a lot on our plates, both in and outside of school, so we need to approach effective instruction with a purpose—to work smarter for ourselves and for our students. Sometimes we work ourselves too hard and we don’t even know it. We make mistakes and provide whole group instruction when small group instruction is needed. We try to increase engagement but we forget to create a climate where all students can learn. Let’s try to avoid such mistakes by following these four steps for working smarter.

Build The Culture
We know that great learning can’t happen without a great climate and culture—both within a classroom and throughout an entire school. Students and stakeholders need to feel welcome when they walk into the building. This happens with a warm reception at the front office, school tours, celebrations of learning, and the like. It’s important that we not forget this. Great instruction needs a great climate, and it can also help build a great culture of achievement for all students.

Know Your Purpose
If we don’t know where we are going, we may not get there. Students should know what they are learning and why they are learning so that they have a focus. Teachers should also have a clear understanding of what and why students are learning so they know what to scaffold and what to assess. After observing a history lesson with a teacher at Anaconda High School, I noticed there was an activity at the end of the day that, while interesting, seemed disconnected to the purpose of the lesson. In fact, the teacher was concerned about having enough time for everything that day. We reflected and talked, and she came to the realization that this activity wasn’t needed that day but could be used on another day depending on the purpose for learning. By knowing our purpose, we can ensure we are working smarter to plan and implement instruction.

Assess Your Students
Let’s be clear here: I said assess, not grade. Assessment can vary significantly, from low-stakes exit tickets and “clickers” to drafts and RAFT (role, audience, format, and topic) projects.
If we assess our students and their learning, based on our purposes and objectives, we can determine where they are on their journey and plan accordingly. We can give students the right feedback. We can delve deeper to find out if there are errors in student learning or if students simply made mistakes. With assessment, we can decide whether instruction is needed or simple prompting, cueing, and questioning will move students toward mastery.

Select the Right Instruction
From assessment, we can decide next steps to “feed forward” in the instructional process. Although these decisions often happen after a lesson is complete, an assessment during a lesson can allow us to make on-the-spot decisions on what students will need. While watching a math teacher at Anaconda High School, I noticed that he recognized that students were not doing well with the independent practice during a lesson. He stopped and moved back to focused instruction to address the gap and build confidence in his students. This was a great example of the right instruction at the right time.
If we work smarter, we can avoid teacher burnout. If we work smarter, we are giving students what they need. If we work smarter, we can build relationships and know our students.

Reflect on these strategies and set some goals for next year. How do you (or will you) work smarter for your students?

Formative Assessment is the Cornerstone for Differentiated Instruction

 

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.

Six Strategies for Differentiated Instruction in Project-Based Learning

 

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 >

 


Project-Based Learning (PBL) naturally lends itself to differentiated instruction. By design, it is student-centered, student-driven and gives space for teachers to meet the needs of students in a variety of ways. PBL can allow for effective differentiation in assessment as well as daily management and instruction. PBL experts will tell you this, but I often hear teachers ask for real examples, specifics to help them contextualize what it “looks like” in the classroom. In fact, the inspiration for this blog came specifically from requests on Twitter! We all need to try out specific ideas and strategies to get our brains working in a different context. Here are some specific differentiation strategies to use during a PBL project.

1) Differentiate Through Teams
We all know that heterogeneous grouping works, but sometimes homogenous grouping can be an effective way to differentiate in a project. Sometimes in a novel- or literature-based PBL project, it might be appropriate to differentiate by grouping into reading level. That way, I can take groups that need intensive work and ensure they are getting the instruction they need. Pick appropriate times to break your class into teams to create a structure for differentiated instruction.

2) Reflection and Goal Setting
Reflection is an essential component of PBL. Throughout the project, students should be reflecting on their work and setting goals for further learning. This is a great opportunity for them to set personalized learning goals and for you to target instruction specific to the goals they set.

3) Mini-Lessons
This is probably one of my favorites. In addition to being a great management strategy to prevent “time sucks” in class, mini-lessons are a great way to differentiate instruction. Perhaps you “offer” mini-lessons to support your students’ learning. After reflection and goal setting, this is a great way to have them connect their goals to specific mini-lessons. Not all students may need the mini-lesson, so you can offer or demand it for the students who will really benefit.

4) Voice and Choice in Products
Another essential component of PBL is student voice and choice, both in terms of what students produce and how they use their time. Specifically to products, you can utilize multiple intelligences to create summative assessments or products that allow students to show what they know in a variety of ways. From written components to artistic or theatrical, you can differentiate the way students are summatively assessed. Again, it all depends on the standards you are assessing, but don’t let standards confine your thinking. Yes, you may have a written component if you’re assessing writing, but ask yourself, “How can I allow for voice and choice here?” Embrace possibilities for differentiated student summative products.

5) Differentiate Through Formative Assessments
Formative assessments can look the same for all students. They can also look different. We know that students can show what they’ve learned in different ways, as mentioned above in terms of products produced as summative assessment. In addition, as you check for understanding along the way, you can formatively assess in different ways when appropriate. Perhaps you are targeting collaboration as your 21st century skill in the project. You can differentiate a formative assessment of this through a variety of ways. Perhaps it’s an oral conference. Perhaps it’s a series of written responses. Perhaps it is a graphic organizer or collage.

6) Balance Teamwork and Individual Work
Teamwork and collaboration occurs regularly in a PBL project. We want to leverage collaboration as much as content. However, there are times when individual instruction and practice may be needed. Students learn in teams, and they learn on their own. Make sure to balance both, so that you are demanding a 21st century collaborative environment while allowing time to meet students on an individual basis. Often you can read the room during collaborative work time and work with students individually, but sometimes it is necessary to “take a break” from teamwork. You need to differentiate the learning environment because some students learn better on their own, and others learn better in a team.

As you master the PBL process in your classroom, you will intuitively find ways to differentiate instruction for your students. You will design the project to scaffold content and skills in a variety of ways. You will create formative and summative assessments to allow for multiple intelligences, and you will manage the process so that it allows you meet students where they are and move them forward.

Please share some of your successful strategies with us!

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