Resource Review: Making Differentiation a Habit (2009) by Diane Heacox

Resources that provide support on how to practically apply DI in the classroom are extremely useful, as most resources are more theoretical and do not actually show you what DI looks like in the classroom; in my opinion, Diane Heacox’s latest book is the best resource I have encountered to provide teachers with the tools to use DI daily. Making Differentiation a Habit (2009) is an excellent resource as it takes explains the process of how to differentiate, it addresses challenges and concerns that you may face, and it provides an abundance of practical resources that teachers can use in the classroom.


Making Differentiation a Habit: How to Ensure Success in Academically Diverse Classrooms

 

 
Making Differentiation a Habit: How to Ensure Success in Academically Diverse Classrooms

The first part of the book answers the question, “How do I differentiate?” A key component of this resource is that it takes you through the process step by step. First, Heacox helps you to identify your learning goals by identifying the KUDo’s for the unit by asking yourself the questions: What do I want my students to know, understand, and be able to do by the end of the unit? (p. 6). Specifically, know incorporates facts, rules, and vocabulary, understand encompasses the big ideas of the unit and the essential concepts to be learned, and dodescribes the skills and processes that students should be able to perform independently (p. 6-7). These three components directly relate to the Ontario Science Curriculum document (2007) for Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment (understand), Developing Investigation and Communication Skills (do), and Understanding Basic Concepts (know). Heacox states that the unit KUDo’s should be shared and posted in the classroom to provide students with an understanding of the goals of the unit and how to be successful on assessments (p. 8). Sharing the learning goals and success criteria with students is connected to the Growing Success Document (2010) which states that teachers need to “share learning goals and success criteria with students at the outset of learning to ensure that students and teachers have a common and shared understanding of these goals and criteria as learning progresses” (p. 28). I would suggest that teachers write out the KUDo’s for themselves first and then work with their students to co-construct the learning goals and success criteria in student-friendly language; thereby, ensuring that students are actively involved in constructing meaning through the unit.

Heacox provides several examples of assessment for learning that can be used to help teachers recognize the preconceptions their students already have regarding particular concepts:

· Topic webs (similar to the concept maps) can be used individually or in groups to determine facts and ideas about a topic and then these ideas are written onto a sticky note and placed onto a chart paper. Several topic webs are then merged together and the sticky notes are moved around to create a large class topic web with interconnected ideas and relationships between the concepts are discussed (p. 31-32)

· Walkabout charts (similar to a gallery walk) are used to have groups answer an open-ended question. Charts are then posted and groups walk around and record comments/questions on other groups’ charts (p. 33)

· KWI chart (similar to KWL charts) that asks students what do you know, what do you want to know, and what are you interestedin learning? This allows teachers to include topics/questions into the unit that they may not have thought of, but will increase the interest/motivation of the groups (p. 35).

Once teachers have conducted self-reflections of their teaching practice and conducted pre-assessment of their students’ preconceptions and interests, they are ready to begin using a Differentiated Learning Plan (DLP), which provides students with choice of assignments and tiering to meet diverse needs. Heacox (2009) states that there are nine parts to a DLP:

· KUDo’s based on expectations

· Pre-assessment notes (preconceptions and interests from student surveys)

· The hook to get kids interested and motivated (e.g. artwork, article, anecdote, timeline)

· Content delivery (the actual lesson itself) which may include differentiation of resources or learning goals dependent on the needs of the students

· Application activities which show how students will learn the concepts, skills, or processes presented in the lessons (this is where teachers can use choice boards or tier assignments for diverse learning needs based on multiple intelligences, readiness, or complexity)

· Independent activities which allow students to demonstrate their learning

· Closure to reinforce the concepts that they have learned (e.g. Think-Pair-Share, Exit Cards)

· Teacher reflection and next steps (p. 58-62)

If teachers were to simply read all these steps, it would seem daunting, but Heacox provides several sample DLPs from a variety of grades and subject areas. The plans are relatively quick and only have a few points written under each heading. DLP: Example #3 is based on Desert Ecosystems (Middle School) and shows the use of graphic organizers, websites, group tasks, and exit slips throughout the lesson (p. 67-68). In this case, the independent activity is a choice based on interest: choose an animal or plant from the food web and explain what would happen if it disappears. Students are to either illustrate the effects on the ecosystem by either writing an article (Verbal/Linguistic) or creating a chart/diagram (Logical or Visual/Spatial) (p. 68). By seeing the actual sample DLP, I see that they are similar to lesson plans that I am familiar with, but incorporate choice boards, tiering, and reflection.

Heacox (2009) then takes the reader through the process of creating choice boards and tiering assignments. Chapters 5 and 6 are dedicated to this process and contain an abundance of examples to show readers how simple this process can actually be. I would be stumped if I did not have this many examples before my eyes. Heacox does a good job of taking a potentially difficult task and breaking it down into something feasible by providing examples and explanations along the way.

There is also practical advice on how to differentiate tasks by tiering assignments for various learning groups. When reading through her work, I thought that this strategy would not work well because students would realize that they were being “leveled” into groups and might feel resentful. When looking over the samples she provides, I saw that she does not make a distinction between students who “get it” and those that do not; instead, the basis of the task is the same, but one group may receive additional support or more scaffolded directions, while the other group may have a chance for enrichment and exploration. Heacox (2009) states that “tiering by degree of structure provides some students with more support or direction for their work while other students engage in a more open-ended task.” (p. 91). For example, the Tiering by degree of abstraction example for high school English has both groups providing 10 artifacts to represent a character in the novel. The first group is to choose 10 items and represent the connection to the character, while the second group chooses 10 items to symbolize the character and connect these items to the theme of the novel (p. 91). A slight change in wording, but a dramatic change in complexity as both groups will have 10 items, but one group has the chance to extend their understanding and make more sophisticated and abstract connections. Heacox (2009) provides step-by-step instructions on how to tier assignments and suggests a three tier approach: task one is for some students (more scaffolded for those who struggle), task two is for most students (on target), and task three is for some students (more abstract and open-ended for enrichment) (p. 88-97).

The best part of this resource is that she has worked with teachers mainly in the U.S. and Canada, but has also studied teachers in Great Britain, Germany, India, and Singapore, so she understands the questions and concerns that teachers have regarding differentiated instruction (p. 1). Throughout the last few chapters of the book, she provides more sample DLPs, strategies, choice boards, and charts to provide teachers with tons of resources to get started with incorporating DI in their classrooms on a regular basis. This resource was created for teachers in mind and includes practical strategies, step-by-step directions, a CD of blackline masters, and answers any questions you may have on DI in the classroom. There always seems to be a new government mandate for education; however, teachers are not always provided with the tools and strategies to apply these theories in practice. Diane Heacox does an excellent job in making teachers more comfortable with applying DI in their classrooms. If teachers are confident in their abilities and in the tools they have, then both teachers and students will benefit.

 

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Using Famous Speeches

During the month of January, I usually begin a public speaking unit with my students. Public speaking is an excellent method of integrating various curriculum expectations into a single unit. How does this happen?

  • Media Literacy is addressed as students begin the unit by viewing three important speeches on YouTube and discussing the importance of the content and the effectiveness of the delivery
  • Students practice their narrative/expository/persuasive writing skills by going through the writing stages for their speech
  • Oral Communication is addressed when students deliver their respective speeches to the class in an effective and engaging manner, while also addressing  listening for understanding (as an audience member).

My students usually are very apprehensive about writing and delivering a speech, but they all end up doing a fabulous job!

To start off this unit, we watch three speeches on YouTube:

 

Severn Suzuki

Severn Suzuki “ECO’s Address to the U.N. Earth Summit”

Why is this a great choice? What Canadian doesn’t know who David Suzuki is?! Well, Severn is his daughter and in 1992 (at just 12 years old!) she addressed the United Nations at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.   Her powerful speech presented environmental concerns from a youth perspective at this U.N. Summit.  Her message still resonates today.

 

Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch “The Last Lecture”

This 10 minute clip from Oprah is an abridged version of the popular “The Last Lecture” by Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch that answers the question, “what wisdom would you try to impart on the world if you knew it was your last chance?”  Randy Pausch had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer when he delivered this inspirational and emotional speech.  he passed away on July 25, 2008.

 

Martin Luther King Jr.

“I have a dream…” by Martin Luther King Jr.

Many students have heard the famous line “I have a dream…” by Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. during the American Civil Rights Movement, but they may not have heard his full speech.  Although this clip is long (coming in at over 17 minutes), students remained captivated by both the delivery and message of this powerful speech.

The following chart helps students jot down the ideas that resonate from the three speeches they watched.  Students are to focus on the importance of both the content and the delivery of each speech because it doesn’t matter if you’re a great speaker if your message is unclear, just as an important message is lost if the delivery is ineffective.

Resource Review: Spaces & Places by Debbie Diller

“Classroom space impacts everything: instruction, behavior, and our (children’s and teachers’) sense of well-being” (from Spaces & Places by Debbie Diller)


Spaces & Places by Debbie Diller

Debbie Diller’s 33 years in education spent as a preK – gr 10 classroom teacher, reading specialist, literacy coach, workshop leader, classroom makeover specialist, consultant, and author of books and DVDs provides her with both theoretical and practical knowledge of effective classroom design and organization.

Although other resources provide information on classroom organization and design, Diller’s book actually has before and after pictures taken from classrooms she has made over, along with analysis as to why it did not work before and why it now does. The layout of the book is visually appealing, as Diller uses point form notation, colours, graphic organizers, large colour photographs, “post-it” notes with key points, and captions to make the pages clear and readable.  Since Diller is a literacy specialist, the book has a clear focus to make the classroom conducive to literacy; however, she also addresses specific issues like ESL/ELL learners, preK, special needs, open classes, and technology.

A few key points that are addressed:

· A cluttered classroom is detrimental to learning and creates a negative atmosphere that may lead to discipline problems.

· Backwards design principle: think about instructional goals, then design your classroom to achieve those goals.

· The components of a well-organized classroom (e.g. large-, small- and independent-work areas, word wall, library, writing and math centres) support instruction, provide opportunities for student independence, reduce discipline problems, and engage students in their learning.

· Teachers should not decorate their classrooms with store bought bulletin board sets; instead, they should plan their instruction and leave space for displaying student work!

· Teachers should plan spaces for students to become independent learners and thinkers—teachers provide the structure and then give students the opportunity to provide ownership. Instead of being “the teacher’s classroom,” it becomes “our classroom.”

Spaces & Places is an awesome organizational resource, as Diller provides guidance for every area of your classroom…she even has suggestions about where to keep your office supplies so that you never lose your stapler!  What I love best about this resource is that I can see myself succeeding!  The suggestions are realistic, the before and after pictures are inspiring, and the suggestions are broken down into easy to follow guidelines.  I love the simplicity and practicality!

I loved this book so much that I lost focus many times, as I kept formulating plans to reorganize my class!  I’m so excited to use the realistic and easy to follow plans (and the helpful worksheets at the back of the book!) to reorganize my classroom to make it more conducive to teaching and learning.

 

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Science Organizations

As a science teacher, I am always on the lookout for science websites that will either help me improve my teaching practice or provide excellent classroom resources.

The following is a list of some science organizations and the resources they provide.

Science Teachers Association of Ontario (STAO)
http://stao.ca/

Overall, I found the STAO website to be valuable to me as a science teacher in an elementary school.  This last point is of particular interest to me as my elementary colleagues and I are constantly searching for cross-curricular resources, lessons, and activities.  Although many of STAO’s resources are only for members, the public access material is quite abundant and pertinent to my teaching.  Another interesting point is that it is an Ontario based science website so it is directly connected to the Ontario curriculum documents.  I did notice, however, that several of the resources were still based on the previous Ontario curriculum documents, so this is an area that needs a bit of an update.


Alberta Teachers’ Association of Science Council (ATASC)

http://sc.teachers.ab.ca

Members are able to log into a secured database to access unit plans, assignments, tests, lesson plans, lab activities, teacher notes, worksheets, quizzes, and web links.  Unfortunately, I could not log in to view these resources, as I am not a member.  It does have an unsecured section with a variety of useful science and teaching links. There was however a useful section on Lab Safety that is available to all visitors.


The Science Teachers’ Association of Manitoba (STAM)

http://www.stam.mb.ca

STAM’s website is easy for teachers to navigate and the links are categorized according to the clusters for each grade.  I find this important as time is valuable and I do not want to spend all my time searching for classroom resources.  There is an extensive list of links under the “Resource Links” tab.  After exploring the grade 8 science links, I found that there was an excellent variety in the resources provided.  Most of the resources are links to various websites, so this would enable teachers to use technology in the classroom more effectively.  The resources listed under each cluster include: WebQuests, virtual labs, online guides, hands-on activities, teacher guides, unit plans, activities, videos, and worksheets.  I particularly liked the variety of resources because students respond so well to technology in the classroom and it really allows them to explore concepts that are not easy to grasp.  STAM’s well-organized website is user friendly and comprehensive.


National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA)

http://www.nsela.org/

NSELA appears to focus primarily on the development of science education leadership, educational reform, assessment, and systemic change.  Based on the previous PD Institutes described on the website, this organization would benefit science resource teachers, department heads, and administrators.


The Association for Science Education (ASE)

http://www.ase.org.uk

ASE has a fantastic website that is valuable to teachers and provides a variety of resources for use.  The website is user-friendly and meets the needs of a classroom teacher.  I found the teacher resources to be extremely valuable as they incorporated technology, activities, assessment, and theory.  The only problem with this website is that since it is based on the U.K. curriculum, teachers need to search for the curriculum units that align with those in Ontario.  This was very easy to do, however, and I found great resources on cells that I can use with my grade 8 students.  A critical eye is needed to ensure that activities and resources cover Ontario curriculum expectations. Fantastic overall!


Science Across the World

http://www.ase.org.uk/resources/science-across-the-world/

I believe that Science Across the World is a wonderful opportunity for both teachers and students.  There are a variety of topics listed for both younger and older students.  The whole point of the program is to exchange ideas and findings on the topic by groups of students in various countries.  Teachers are to find their own contacts either through Facebook groups, Factworld, eTwinning (Europe only), or English Language Teaching Contacts Scheme.  The easiest way for a Canadian School would be through Facebook.  Exchanges can take on many formats and be done in a variety of ways (Prezi, vimeo group, Blackboard, Moodle etc).  Teachers would be able to bring global perspectives into their classrooms in a way that other forms of media or study would not allow.  Students would be given an experience to communicate and learn from students from variety of cultures and backgrounds.  Not only would students have a new found appreciate for other cultures, but they will see how other children throughout the world live and learn.  Sounds amazing!


National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)

http://www.nsta.org/

NSTA has an excellent website that is easy to use and provides a tremendous amount of PD opportunities for teachers.  One thing that I like about this organization in particular is that they understand that teachers may not have the ability to travel to various PD opportunities.  These online seminars allow teachers to work at their own pace and choose from an extensive list of topics.  NSTA provides links to articles from several journals, including Science and Children, Science Scope, and The Science Teacher, that are thought-provoking and informative.  There’s a great list of “Freebies for Science Teachers” to check out!

Of course this list is not exhaustive, so I will be updating it as I visit new sites.

Teachers!  What are some great science organizations that I should add to this list?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

Updated to add:  Don’t forget to check out “10 Excellent Science Websites” for more resources!