Using Book Clubs to Differentiate Instruction

3. Differentiation – The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning.

3.1 Demonstrating Knowledge of Students – Teacher recognizes the value of understanding students’ skills, knowledge, and language proficiency and displays this knowledge for groups of students.

The third standard of the Internship Performance Criteria emphasizes the importance of differentiation. It is important for teachers to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each student so that instruction can be tailored to groups of students on a similar level or even individual students. Every student is at a different intellectual level and differentiation allows for better instruction geared to exactly what the student needs. If teachers simply teach the same content to all students, regardless of ability, interest, or cultural awareness, students may be left behind.

A few weeks ago during my internship, I used the Teachers College Reading Level tests to determine the current reading level for several student in my class. This assessment analyzes a students’ reading ability, including oral reading rate, fluency, and comprehension. My mentor and I have used this information in order to create four book club groups, each at a different reading level. Blair, Rupley, and Nichols (2007) assert that “effective teachers use assessment to select instructional strategies appropriate to the desired students’ learning outcomes in relation to the students’ existing reading capabilities” (p 434). These different book clubs allow us to differentiate our instruction for groups of students.

I am currently leading two of the four book clubs: one group is reading about Sojourner Truth and the other is reading about Elijah McCoy (Figure 1). Each time we meet, students bring their reading notebooks and texts with them and the group shares what they learned from the reading assignment. By examining each student’s notebook (Figure 2), I can quickly tell which students have read the assigned pages from the text and which ones haven’t. Most recently, the assignment included reading four pages of the text and taking notes. However, several students had only written notes from the first two pages and did not have enough class time to finish reading the assignment. I plan on using this knowledge to only assign up to two pages of independent reading and note-taking as opposed to four.

Figure 1 – Books for Differentiated Instruction in Book Clubs

Figure 2 – Sample Student Notebook for Book Club

Now that I have the awareness of the level of each student in each of the book clubs, I can better determine how big of a reading assignment to give them to complete before the next book club meeting. I have learned that dividing a classroom into groups of reading levels can be an effective way to differentiate reading instruction. I realize that some students in the class may be reading at a much higher level than others, so it is important for teachers to recognize and be aware of those differences so that we can appropriately challenge students to reach for the next level in their zone of proximal development. In the future, I hope to build on my growing differentiation skills and transfer my knowledge to other subject areas.

Reference:

Blair, T. R., Rupley, W. H., Nichols, W. D. (2007). The effective teacher of reading: Considering the “what” and “how” of instruction. The Reading Teacher, Vol 60, 5, 432-438.

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ISTE Standard 2: Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments

ISTE Standard 2 states that teachers must design and develop digital-age learning experiences and assessments. Specifically, teachers should incorporate digital tools and resources to promote student learning and creativity, enable students to manage their own learning and assess their own progress, as well as address diverse learning styles.

This complex standard has many facets and implies that digital tools are necessary for all teachers and students to use. One potential issue with this standard is that not all schools can afford to provide such expensive tools for each classroom or student. For example, iPads, laptops, Kindles, and other technology tools are incredibly expensive. However, according to a 2010 survey conducted by Grunwald Associates LLC and PBS, “teachers spend 60% of their time using educational resources that were either free or that they paid for themselves” (p. 6). Despite the cost and lack of funding, teachers seem determined to provide as many technological resources as possible for their students.

60% of teachers use free resources or pay for resources themselves

60% of teachers use free resources or pay for resources themselves

I have always enjoyed games and remember playing The Oregon Trail and Math Blasters in elementary school during computer lab period. This made me curious about how game-based learning could satisfy ISTE Standard 2. According to the survey, 56% of teachers value web-based interactive games or activities for student use in school and 54% of teacher report using Web-based interactive games (PBS & Grunwald Associates LLC, 2010).

Teachers Value Many Types of Digital Resources

Teachers Value Many Types of Digital Resources

I found an article on edutopia that discusses ways to use games to enhance learning for upper elementary and middle school students. Game-based learning isn’t simply students playing games in your classroom for fun. Nor do games substitute for the teacher. Games can be a useful AND fun activity that helps students get engaged with learning and relating games to the real world and real life events.

According to Farber (2016), games can be a shared experience, similar to taking the class on a field trip. An example is the game Minecraft and how students learn the mechanics of the game in order to survive. This can be related to how pilgrims had to understand their new environments when settling in a new area. Next he discusses games as text where the student would make choices that affect and tell a story. These stories can then be related to historical events that are similar. Finally, Farber (2016) talks about games as models. For example, the board game Pandemic illustrates how disease can travel via networks all around the world, which relates to how disease spreads during plagues like the Black Plague.

This article led me to search for benefits of game-based learning. In addition to games providing a different learning tool for addressing different learning styles, games provide motivation and engagement for students. Peters (2016) asserts that games include rules, definite objectives, measurable goals and competition, and promote a sense of achievement for all participants. Students have goals that they try to accomplish and assess their progress over time. Games also provide immediate feedback for students about whether or not they made a good decision. Peters (2016) also discusses how games promote cognitive growth, digital literacy, and skills development such as hand-eye coordination, spatial skills, and fine motor skills.

Another colleague suggested using a whiteboard called a Promethean board for interactive “calendar time” each day in order to satisfy ISTE 2. This whiteboard would provide students with a collaborative way to discuss the date and weather, as well as talk about the calendar and planning. While not a game by itself, I could see this tool benefiting student learning by providing a stable and predictable environment.

I think that games, whether web-based or not, can be an engaging and helpful tool for students to learn. It is important for game-based learning to incorporate all aspects of the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework in order for the activity to be as beneficial for students as possible. I will need further research to determine how to incorporate assessment methods into game-based learning.

TPACK Model

TPACK Model

References:

Farber, M. (2016). 3 Ways to use game-based learning [web article]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/3-ways-use-game-based-learning-matthew-farber

PBS & Grunwald Associates LLC. (2010). “Deepening Connections: Teachers Increasingly Rely on Media and Technology.”

Peters, J. (2016). 5 Main advantages of game-based learning [web article]. Retrieved from http://www.brighthubeducation.com/teaching-methods-tips/129304-advantages-of-game-based-learning/

Special Education

Special education has always been foreign to me. I remember being separated from the kids who needed special education in elementary school. The special needs kids rarely interacted with kids in the general education classrooms. However, in the 1990’s, full-inclusion became the norm in public schools. There are so many factors, including individual, environmental, and social, to consider when discussing whether a special needs student should be included in the regular classroom and for how much of the school day. The individual education plan (IEP) team for that student should be well aware of the student’s strengths and weaknesses and what would be ideal to help the student grow, learn, and become as independent as possible.

In the end, what is best for the special needs student is what should be most important. This includes not only how well we can boost their intellectual performance, but also their social and emotional health. Being separated from other students can be detrimental to their social development. According to Noddings (2006), “Building relations of care and trust in the classroom is part of an ongoing critical lesson in human relations” (p. 103). This should include special needs children. It is also important for kids in the general education classrooms to be exposed to a variety of individuals so that they can learn how to accept and learn from others who are different.

However, the special education system is not without its own controversy and abuse. Some students will attempt to abuse the system by avoiding classwork or homework and claiming their disability as a cop-out. Unfortunately, parents of special needs children are also not without blame. According to Evans (2008), “Some parents confuse making life easier with making life better for their children. Too often, parents feel that protecting their child from the rigors of academic demands is in his or her best interest” (p. 330). It can be difficult for IEP teams, teachers, and counselors to argue with the parents of special needs students.

A special needs student should be given every accommodation necessary in order to have equal access to an activity. I intend to work to the best of my abilities to accommodate any special needs children placed in my future elementary classroom.

References:

Evans, Dennis. (2008). Taking Sides: Clashing Views of Controversial Issues in Teaching and Educational Practice. 3rd Ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Noddings, Nel. (2006). Critical Lessons: What Our Schools Should Teach. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Academic Standards and Technology in the Classroom

The United States education system and academic standards have been a hotly debated topic the last several decades. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, attempted to hold all states accountable for the performance of their schools with little assistance in determining how to improve poor-performing schools. NCLB expanded the federal role in public education through annual testing according to state standards, annual performance tracking, improving teacher qualifications, as well as changes in funding. The responsibility to develop academic standards and assessments was left up to the individual states. Fifteen years later, NCLB has been replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act, and many states have adopted the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Math.

I have yet to fully understand the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and how they differ from prior standards. CCSS seem to be the closest thing to national standards the United States has ever had. I think it’s a good thing to be able to evenly measure academic abilities of the majority of students in the U.S. (some states have not adopted CCSS, including Texas). At the same time, teachers need to quickly become familiar with the new standards so that they know what their students are responsible for learning. I struggle with knowing how much flexibility I will have as a future teacher. On one hand, I like the idea of knowing what I will need to teach, but on the other hand, enabling students to have a choice in what they are learning can be beneficial. According to Noddings (2006), educators have a choice to either work with the student’s internal motivations and interests with proper guidance, or to externally motivate them to provide incentive for them to learn what we think they should learn that will benefit them in the future. It is important for teachers to recognize student interests and encourage them, but at the same time make sure students learn critical academic skills that will open up more possibilities for their futures.

Another controversial topic is the use of computers and other electronic devices in schools. While computer games can help build social skills including collaboration, team work, and being part of a community, they can still be misused and deprive students of more enriching activities (Evans, 2008). According to Evans (2008), “as a result of increase time spent with computers, video games, and TV, the current generation of elementary students will experience an estimated 30 percent fewer face-to-face encounters than the previous generation” (p. 308). Learning through human interactions is so important, especially for preschool children. It is also important for older children to know how to use technology responsibly and ethically. Just a few weeks ago at a school I’m volunteering at, I saw students abusing their access to iPads in their math class. They were supposed to be playing math-related games, but several were on YouTube listening to music or generally wasting time on other applications. If not monitored, students will abuse electronic privileges, and it is our job as educators to teach them appropriate ways of interacting with them.

References:

Evans, Dennis. (2008). Taking Sides: Clashing Views of Controversial Issues in Teaching and Educational Practice. 3rd Ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Noddings, Nel. (2006). Critical Lessons: What Our Schools Should Teach. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

EDU 6526: Survey of Instructional Strategies Meta-Reflection

Over the past quarter I have learned about multiple instructional strategies I can use in my future teaching career. Through the use of information processing models, social models, personal models, and direct instruction, I will have many tools in my toolkit to teach my students the best way possible. According to Adler (1982) children must acquire three different types of knowledge: organized knowledge, intellectual skills, and understanding of ideas and values. Certain instructional strategies fit with these types of knowledge better than others. I believe a good mixture of strategies can create a creative, exciting, and interesting environment for my students.

Being able to transmit information is the basis of education. Information processing models such as scientific inquiry and Picture Word Inductive Model (PWIM) are good general examples of how to structure information so that students successfully understand the main concepts. Advance organizers are an excellent tool to use to set the stage for lessons and gain the student’s interest. The more compelling and relevant the information is to the student, the more interested they will be and therefore the better they will learn and remember.

Teaching social skills is another important aspect of education. Cooperative learning, group investigation, and role playing can teach important social skills including team work, collaboration, negotiation, and having respect for others. “If anything is genetically-driven from birth, it’s a social instinct. If it weren’t for each other, we wouldn’t even know who we are” (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2015, p. 231). Encouraging social interaction between my students can foster positive feelings and encourage them to manage conflict in a productive way. Working together is a crucial skill that is highly valued in our society and it is important for teachers to recognize that.

Personal models that promote learner-centered activities and teach students to develop positive self-concepts can be used to enhance self-esteem and self-efficacy. Teaching our students to be lifelong learners can lead to rich and personal fulfillment. I want to be a good role model for my students and teach them to have confidence in themselves and know that they can succeed if they put forth the effort. Self-actualization is the ultimate goal in the personal models family and every child has the ability to become a successful learner and productive citizen.

Finally, direct instruction, providing practice, and giving feedback are important skills I will need as a teacher. Effective teachers spend more time explaining new material and providing timely feedback than noneffective ones (Joyce et al., 2015). Structured practice, guided practice, and independent practice are all important for students as they learn. Practice is more likely to be effective when it requires students to practice more than one skill at a time and when practice is distributed over time (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone, 2012). Timely feedback lets students know what ideas they are struggling with so that they know which areas to work on. Assigning appropriate amounts of homework that have a legitimate and useful purpose can enhance student retention of skills, ideas, and concepts. Below is a summary of the direct instruction model.

Direct Instruction Model

Direct Instruction Model

I hope to use a variety of these practices and models to promote an enriching and compelling curriculum for my students. Lifelong learning is important for us to grow as individuals. I hope my future students become lifelong learners, good people, and respectful citizens.

References:

Adler, M. (1982). The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto.

Dean, C., Hubbell, E., Pitler, H., Stone, B. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. 2nd Ed. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Joyce, B., Weil M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching. 9th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

EDU 6526: Fostering Student Self-Esteem

Teachers can have a profound effect on students’ well-being, self-confidence, and self-esteem. According to Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015), “our primary influence on our students is what we model as people” (p. 310). When expectations of behavior or learning are clearly communicated, good behaviors are modeled by the teacher, and students are taught to self-monitor, self-evaluate, and self-reinforce, they can be more confident and have higher self-esteem. Social-cognitive learning theory is based on the assumption that we learn through the observation of others. Students learn by watching their parents, peers, and teachers model behavior. According to Joyce et al. (2015), schooling can have a significant impact on how successful a student is and how they grow as people. First, all students can learn how to learn if we provide them with ample opportunities and multiple types of environments. Second, “the more skills students develop and the more they widen their repertoire, the greater their ability to master an even greater range of skills and strategies” (Joyce et al., 2015, p.301). Finally, the community developed in the classroom can influence how students feel about themselves, how they interact, and how they learn (Joyce et al., 2015).

Making sure students’ physiological, safety, acceptance needs are met is crucial before a teacher can hope to foster student self-esteem. According to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (see Figure 1), people are motivated by their needs and progress in to more profound needs as other basic needs are met. The first is physiological, which includes water, air, food, sleep, and other bodily needs. In the classroom, should could mean allowing students to take a restroom break when they need them, allowing students to have a snack mid-morning, or giving them a chance to stretch their legs by standing at their desk for a minute.

Figure 1 - Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Figure 1 – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Image Credit: J. Finkelstein via Wikimedia Commons

The second basic need is safety. Students need to feel safe and secure before they can even begin to learn. According to John Medina (2014), students who are stressed due to a troubled home life, one or both parents in legal trouble or worse, do not learn as well. Stressed bodies have higher levels of anxiety. Teachers can help students feel safe by assuring students they are important and that if they are afraid of something, they can talk about it with a teacher or counselor. Another idea from a study by Carl Rogers is to allow students to individually talk to the teacher about anything they wanted them to know – something they are worried about, something on their minds, or even something exciting they wanted to share. This can help relieve any anxiety the student might have that prevents them from learning efficiently.

The third need is love or a sense of belonging. Teachers can help students feel like they are a part of the classroom community by including them in decisions about what they would like to read or learn about. Allowing students to voice their opinions and work with others can improve their sense of belonging. Ideas include signing up for a classroom service project or having students work with a partner on classwork in a cooperative learning setting to foster more friendships. Teachers should also model empathy for others and provide opportunities for students to practice.

Self-esteem can be fostered by teachers by modeling behaviors that lead to success. The skill should be as personally relevant to the student as possible in order to increase attention. According to Carl Rogers, “when students’ feelings are responded to, when they are regarded as worthwhile human beings capable of self-direction, and when their teacher relates to them in a person-to-person manner, good things happen.” This allows them to learn about themselves and in effect, they grow as individuals and can become more successful. Another way to help a student’s self-esteem is to make sure they have the tools necessary to be successful with a moderate amount of struggle. One particular danger to help students avoid is comparing themselves to others, which can be especially toxic if they are significantly underperforming compared to other students.

When students are equipped to overcome obstacles they face, they will have a greater sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. Being able to learn from mistakes and failures instead of obsess over them is crucial to self-esteem. Teachers should also model self-monitoring, self-evaluating, and self-rewarding. When teachers are clear about expectations and set appropriately difficult goals to achieve, students will be able to monitor their progress and correct any errors along the way with feedback from the teacher. When teachers provide a safe, caring, welcoming environment, students can have high self-esteem and be successful in school and life.

References:

Joyce, B., Weil M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching. 9th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retreived February 27, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs

Medina, J. (2014). Brain Rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

Rogers, C. “Teacher Effects Research on Student Self-Concept.”

EDU 6526: Learner-Centered Approaches

As a future teacher, it is important for me to reflect on student personalities and emotions and how they can affect my instruction. I think what initially drew me to consider being a teacher was my desire to help all students with their personal and emotional struggles. I am a very nurturing person and building trust with my students is one of my top priorities. Sometimes a teacher is one of the main people a student can trust, especially when their home life is stressful or when they have few friends or peers to turn to for help. Carl Rogers proposed that there are six priorities for affective education:

1) Establishing a climate of trust
2) A participatory mode of decision-making
3) Uncovering the excitement of discovery learning
4) Teachers acting as facilitators of learning
5) Helping teachers to grow as persons
6) Promoting an awareness that the good life is within each of us

Carl Rogers believed that students were at the center and that learning happened when students found the information relevant to their own lives. Student personalities dictate how a student perceives information or experiences. According to Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015), Carl Rogers believed that “positive human relationships enable people to grow, and therefore instruction should be based on concepts of human relations in contrast to concepts of subject matter” (p.285). In the nondirective model of teaching, the teacher plays the role of facilitator and the student is given authority to express their feelings and emotions without fear of being judged by the teacher. This builds a sense of compassion, empathy, trust, and respect between the teacher and student. I think when a student feels free to express themselves without the fear of being punished or judged, they can truly take responsibility for defining their problems and planning ways to correct and learn from them.

Related to these ideas is Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence (MI) theory. Gardner suggests there are eight intelligences everyone possesses to a differing degree: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. This short video briefly describes each intelligence and provides a few examples for how to cultivate them in the classroom.

As an introverted person, I can certainly understand how personality and different intelligences can affect how one learns in the classroom. I am strong in intrapersonal intelligence and logical-mathematical intelligence, therefore I tended to work on my own and kept to myself for the most part. I also liked concrete answers and logical tasks, especially in math. But not all my students will be like me. How exactly can I take into account these differing learning styles and modify my instruction as a future elementary teacher? According to Howard Gardner (2009), “When child are young, we should encourage well roundedness. As they grow older, it becomes more important to discover and cultivate areas of strength. Livelihood and happiness are more likely to emerge under those circumstances.”

I need to understand that students have varying levels of all types of intelligences and that I may need to differentiate my instruction or homework assignments to accommodate for those differences. I believe that teaching in a variety of ways is the best solution to reaching the most students possible. That doesn’t mean I need to change up my teaching every hour of every days, but perhaps over the course of a semester I could incorporate music, exercise, nature, and personal activities into my lessons to encourage different intelligences. That way I can see what works for each student and learn to distinguish different intellectual strengths and styles on the fly (Gardner, 2009).

References:

Gardner, H. & Edwards, O. (2009). “An Interview with Howard Gardner, Father of Multiple Intelligence.”

Joyce, B., Weil M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching. 9th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

McKnight, H. (2011). Multiple Intelligences [Video file]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/cf6lqfNTmaM