Category Archives: Differentiation

I Want PD. I Need Time and Choice

The best teachers are learners.  They consistently seek ways to improve.  For me, blogging and connecting with educators online has been an inspiring source of daily professional development – until it became too much. Where is the time?

I want professional development, but what I need is  the time to do it (and I don’t mean while I am on vacation).  I want regular, weekly time to learn and grow as an educator.

There is a lot of talk about implementing Google’s 20% rule in the classroom, allowing students to spend 1/5 of their time working on projects of their choice. Eric Sheninger, principal at New Milford High School, is experimenting with the 20% rule with teachers.  In his recent post, Autonomy Breeds Change, Sheninger reflected on the first two years of implementing his program.  I recommend taking a visit and checking out the inspiring list of projects his staff undertook.  What struck me the most was the diversity of topics and media that folks used.  You want to read books – read books.  You want to build a website – build a website.

What would you do if 1/5 of your time at school was dedicated to your own personal/professional growth?  I’m thinking I might build a game in Scratch to learn how to best integrate it into the classroom.

Scratch with 2nd Graders

While you are over at Sheninger’s blog, A Principal’s Reflections, I recommend checking out his collection of Open Courseware resources.  Who knows you might just find the course that fits you.  

Differentiated Instruction: TAI Math

The intent of differentiating instruction is to maximize each student’s growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is and assisting in the learning process. – Hall, Strangman, and Meyer, “Differentiated Instruction and Implications for UDL Implementation

Choice is at the heart of my differentiated classroom.  There are times, however, when I limit the amount of choice the kids have.  A good example is in TAI Math, which is a math program I use twice a week to supplement my concept-based instruction.  TAI Math focuses on operations and solidifying basic facts.  It looks like a workbook.

It may not sound differentiated, but every child is working on different material based on their skill level.  At the beginning of the year, I assessed which skills the Magical Minds needed help on, and assigned them the appropriate unit in TAI Math.  Supported by a well-defined procedure, the Magical Minds progress through the units at their own pace, self-assessing at every step of the way.

Because the third graders can work independently at TAI Math, I spend my time moving around the room, supporting students when they encounter new and confusing concepts/operations.  I carry with me a set of place-value blocks, using them to guide students through challenging material.

Building Understanding with Place-Value Blocks

Sometimes my instruction is geared to a small group of students.  For example,  yesterday I noticed three kids were struggling with the same concept, and I invited them to work with me at our round table.  Not only did we use manipulatives to explore the troublesome topic, we talked about it and drew pictures.  As the kids explained their thinking to one another, I saw their eyes light up with understanding.