Empowering Students with Strong Collaboration Skills

What really is Collaboration?

Collaboration is an important 21st Century skill that is of critical need for our students as the future participants of industry, entrepreneurial opportunities, education, and government. Collaboration is a valuable commodity that in its appearance seems more art than science, when the opposite is just as true.


Here are three definitions of Collaboration:

[T]o work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor” – Merriam-Webster

The action of working with someone to produce something.” – Oxford Living Dictionary

Conflict resolution strategy that uses both assertiveness and cooperation to seek solutions advantageous to all parties.” – Business Dictionary

 

Partnership for 21st Century Learning, an organization that addresses a variety of areas, including Education, defines Collaboration as:

  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams
  • Exercise flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member

Working together for a common goal can be more challenging than it would appear. A common example is group work. One or two team members  do the work while other teammates are either not included in doing the interesting tasks; or they choose to stand aside, content to let the others do all the work, before showing up to share in the credit.

These occurrences are not unique to student teams. There are many stories where adults felt excluded from doing the interesting work, or having a voice in the decisions. There are also people who take credit for the work done by others. One solution is to teach the Science of Collaboration to students so that they become skillful users by the time they enter colleges and careers.

Science of Collaboration

Often collaboration is presented as something that we just do. Put students into groups. Some how, sometimes magically, they work together. If there are no arguments, everyone takes on tasks, and work is completed, collaboration must be going well. This is not collaboration. It’s parallel play.

Collaboration is at its best when decisions are not easily made because there are a diversity of ideas. Everyone wants their voice to be heard. People are effective cat herders. Functioning in this environment and coming out with ideas larger than the group and decisions are made with complete support and understanding by the team requires explicit tools and skills for effective collaboration.

Collaboration, as with all 21st Century Skills, should be taught, coached, and assessed with the same thoughtful considerations as done with content of an academic course. Putting students into teams an expecting effective and thoughtful collaboration is like rolling a ball to new recruits and expecting them to play football or basketball at a high level of skill and strategic thinking. Not likely meeting expectations.

1st Steps for Classroom/School Culture of Collaboration

The methods and decisions for creating a Collaborative Culture in a classroom, school, and organization are many, and difficult. One major obstacle is building buy-in for a common understanding. Before implementing strategies that support collaboration, a common path must be chosen and followed. Here are three practical steps towards moving in a common and collaborative direction =>

Step One: Establish a working definition

Take time to research the purpose and value of Collaboration. Explore different definitions, such as from the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, and then adopt or craft one with all relevant stakeholders.

Step Two: Adopt a guiding structure and/or guide that defines quality of practice

There are resources to be found, evaluated, and used to design how a culture of Collaboration should look like in a classroom or school.

  • Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21)
    Find many resources here from blog articles, such as this one, to rubrics. There is much to explore and consider for use in designing an approach to collaboration:
    FrameworkBlog PostsResources: 21st Century Skills Map – PDF doc
  • Henrico TIP Chart (PDF –Download)
    Henrico County Public Schools created a framework guide for how they teach, coach, and assess effective use of Collaboration and other 21st Century Skills. The TIP Chart is used by teachers to reflect on how they are teaching and coaching Collaboration, and how students should be applying the skills as part of the learning experiences.
    The progression from left to right moves from teacher directed to student-led. Because of the depth in application of collaboration, the learning cycle from Developing to Target is continuous.

Step Three: Design a Coaching Chart that defines observable behaviors

Coaching Collaboration is a Three-Way street. Growth occurs based on feedback from the teacher, peers, and self-reflection. Using a rubric might help by describing what Collaboration looks like and does not look like. This approach can lead to assessment of the practice. I’ve noticed from experiences with many schools that teachers and students struggle with how best to use rubrics without other supports.

Coaching Charts is such a resource that supports skill development with concrete and observable descriptors of behaviors. Here is one example from a school in Michigan:

The Coaching Chart can be used by students for independent self-reflection, and for supporting and giving feedback to their peers. Teachers use the chart to coach students on how to use the chart as a support tool for the team, and to give feedback on how a student is progressing. Once in place, strategies that depend on Collaboration can be monitored and evaluated for success by the teacher and students.

Strategies

There are many strategies that rely on effective use of Collaboration skills. Defining and building a framework for Collaboration, and implementing a guide and a Coaching Chart all create a context for students to work with others that intentionally teach, coach, and assess Collaboration.

Below is a list of various strategies and tools that when used within this intentional context, the learning experiences can be deeper and more productive. Students are no longer going through the motions of an activity. They are empowered to monitor and support the success of the learning experiences.

  • Communication for Collaboration
    • Elbow Partners
      This tried and true activity is a quick way to get students into discussion pairs, maximizing time on task. If students sit in pairs or quads, they can conveniently turn to their neighbor who is their designated partner. There can also be a “Left” and “Right” Elbow partner with quads.
    • Mediation Process
      This 4-step guide teaches and supports conflict resolution by students. Teachers do not intervene until the 3rd step. Read this article for details.
    • Talk Moves
      Provide learners with this list of talking prompts that address a variety of conversation responses. Some areas include framing a respectful disagreement or agreement to asking clarifying and probing questions. Explore the options in more details in this article.
  • Feedback Prompts
    • “Be Constructive, Specific, and Kind”
      This is how critiques of work products should happen. Yet without guidance, the feedback can turn into an open dumping of disconnected ideas. The receiver can become overwhelmed and be unable to hear anything useful. Clear starter stems, as seen with Talk Moves, helps set the frame for the feedback. The following starter statements teach how to give feedback that is constructive, specific, and kind.

      • I noticed… (or I like…)
      • I wonder…
      • What if…
  • Reading for Understanding Protocols
    • Say Something
      This reading protocol is a structured conversation for unpacking understanding of reading assignments. Learners dig into passages to share their thinking about the content.
  • Deeper Thinking/Reflection
    • Pause Time and Think Time
      Give learners time to collect and organized their thoughts before answering questions or sharing ideas in small groups and whole class. Explore this article for ideas: Extending the Silence.
    • Chalk Talk – Example OneTwo
      Use this silent activity for learners to explore their thinking along with others. The experience enhances awareness of ideas by others. The silent task of posting and responding to posted comments and questions promotes every voice to be heard.

For a more comprehensive list with details on strategies and tools,  go to this resource section on Collaboration.

PBL Resources to Build and Sharpen Practice

I was asked recently for some recommendations for books and articles to read about Project Based Learning. Sharing the list, I thought it would be beneficial to share the same list to everyone. This is not an exhaustive list. The intent is to provide one to give a range of access from those just starting out to others who want to deepen their understanding of PBL. If you have recommendations to add, please tweet them to me @JMcCarthyEdS or post in the comments below. Also, find many more PBL and ALE resources on this site as well.

Bonus resource for PBL Management: Extending the Silence

Resources on my website: http://openingpaths.org/blog/pbl-guide/
Below is a sneak peak of just some of what you’ll find:
 Also, for deep support of Differentiation, check out the book and companion site for So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation.

Talk Moves: Students Learn to Own Learning Conversations

Follow John McCarthy, EdS on Twitter at @JMcCarthyEdS. Check the resources on this site and here as well for So All Can Learn.

Talk Moves: Students Learn to Own Learning Conversations

In a science classroom at Marysville Middle School, the students in Amy Busen’s class are participating in an active conversation where they respond to each other’s comments. The interaction is not a traditional approach, where the conversation moves between the teacher and a handful of students like a ping-pong match, while everyone else watches. The dialog moves among the students, with the teacher picking up the thread with an insight sparked from a student or a question to shift the conversation. The topics are Science-based. I’ve also seen this same tool used in a Texas school district.

The process remains a work in progress. The students have a collection of conversation prompts taped to their tables as reference. They are called, the Talk Moves.

The Science teachers at Marysville learned and developed their practice around the Talk Moves through support by St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency, one of the ISDs in Michigan, as part of work on the Next Generation Science Standards. The way that Science teachers in Marysville are using them are as prompts for the students to use. This is significant. Having researched the Talk Moves, the various resources and references appear to focus on prompts for the teacher to ask students. Whereas the questions above are being framed for use by students.

These conversation prompts could be used in any discipline for subject area conversations that are student led. Consider the possibilities for how these tools could support student-run protocols like Socratic Seminar, Harkness Discussion, Tuning Protocols, and others.

Teach students the purpose, intent, and how to use these prompts. As students practice them, coach on the quality and choice for when they are used. Have students reflect on their own usage so that they internalize the appropriateness and effectiveness of these conversation tools.

How might the conversations in your classroom or meetings evolve by using the Talk Moves?

Presentations for AdvancED 2017-18

John McCarthy, EdS – follow on Twitter: @JMcCarthyEdS

View resources from book: So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation

Please explore the resources from my sessions for AdvancED at their international conferences. Please contact me if you have any questions or want to share ideas.

Managing Innovative Authentic Learning Experiences

Follow on Twitter @JMcCarthyEdS and subscribe to this website and the Youtube Channel for access to the latest in instructional design and developing and empowering Student Voice.

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Planning and implementing innovative learning experiences at the unit design level can feel like a daunting task. If you’re reading this then I applaud your courage and growth mindset approach to “figure it out” so that learner interest stays at the center of all decisions. There are many innovative practices to implement such as Authentic Learning Experiences, Project Based Learning, Deeper Learning, and Design Thinking. Including each management component will support these innovative practices.

Yet a traditional unit design can be transformed, by parts, through using the management components listed below. Go slow to become smooth in these skills. Include some components, and then add to them unit by unit. The results will be students having opportunities to actively engage in the learning experiences, with greater access to curriculum complexity. Get comfortable with these management components so that students can experience engaging and substantive experiences.

Management Components

1. Driving Question
A DQ or Challenge statement is at the heart of an effective unit. Introduce the question on day one of the unit. The question posed is open-ended, requires higher order thinking to answer, and is answered by the final product(s) of the unit. A driving question is an integral part of Project Based Learning and Authentic Learning Experiences units. Review these articles for effective crafting of your DQ.

  1. Driving Question Basics
  2. Concept-Based Driving Questions

2. Entry Event
Units should be started with students becoming invested in the outcome and the experiences that lead up to the finale. A good entry event helps students see purpose and value in the academic unit, beyond that it’s required learning, or also known as “the Game called School.” Introduce the unit with a real-world connection and authentic audience. Connect the final unit product to the authentic purpose on day one.

  1. Video Conference with a client, expert, or witness
    Use Google Hangout, Skype, Zoom
  2. Conduct a field trip (in-person or virtual)
  3. Run students through a mini-scenario or case study that connects to the concepts.
    The Window Activity (Entry Event/Writing strategy) is one way to encourage connections.
    Here is a different example: Making the Declaration of Independence Come Alive: Break up Letter (Video)
    Strategy: Use Invisible Theater to get students to make important and/or startling connections.
    Watch the 1st 3 minutes for this Entry Event:

3. Need to Know (N2K) activity & related formative check-ins
Launch the N2K at the start of the unit so that students can share what they already know, and what they are interested in learning from the unit. This initial feedback session is revisited throughout the unit, as posted questions (need to knows) are answered, and new (and deeper) questions are submitted. Read this article for an in-depth look into N2K.

4. Build Real World Connections
Authentic Learning Experiences (ALE) is important for students to see the value of the curriculum. Real world connections builds context for understanding and deeper learning. There are several layers to effective ALEs:

  1. Authenticity = Lifelong Learners
    Authentic Learning practices are a necessary part of of learning. Here is a framework to help teachers thinking as they plan learning experiences.
  2. 4 Paths to Engaging Students: Authentic Purpose = Audience
    Edutopia Article and OP Article
    Step Two is deciding on the Authentic Purpose for applying the learning outcomes. These two articles explain a powerful way to connect real world purpose to content.
  3. 3 Degrees of Connecting to a Real World Audience
    A common request is how to find community members, organizations, experts, mentors, and clients. Here is a strategy used by a group, department, or whole staff to generate a list of networks. Also, keep in mind that another solution is to send out a short survey to parents. Find out their skills and experiences that they have to offer.
  4. 21st Century Skills Anchor Charts for Behavioral Norms

5. Learning Wall
Making learning transparent helps students know what is expected at the start. This is done with daily lessons when teachers post and read aloud the learning outcomes for that day’s lesson. A Learning Wall communicates about the entire unit. Refer to the appropriate components to students on a daily basis, whichever components is appropriate at the time. Making daily references makes the Learning Wall useful to connecting “that” day’s work to the unit big picture. Read this article for more about Learning Walls. Also check out this photo gallery of Learning Walls.
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Post the following components in the area where the teacher starts instruction.

  1. Driving Question
  2. Need to Knows
  3. Calendar
  4. Learning Standards, Rubrics and Major Assignments
  5. Possible others: Norms, Mediation Process, and GSS Anchor Charts

6. Structures for coaching and supporting Teams
Teamwork both as an entire class and in small groups is important to academic learning and development of important professional skills of Collaboration and Communication. The following resources addresses several tools that can support a classroom professional learning culture (Norms) and strategies to develop a personalized system for empowering students to advocate for themselves with their peers and with teachers.

  1. Classroom or group Norms
    Norms exist informally, and typically do not support how classroom learning should be. Facilitate student-developed norms that support the classroom. The result are guidelines that students and teachers can hold each other accountable, because the students created them.

    1. Establishing a Culture of Student Voice
    2. Empower Student Voice Through Collaboration and Communication
  2. Mediation Process & related supports
    Adopt or adapt this Mediation Process at the start of school or new marking period. Teach and coach students on how to follow the steps. After early direct coaching for the initial issues that occur, students should be able to follow through with team members without assistance. This strategy is a proven process used in schools across the United States.
  3. Team formation support strategy
    Use these strategies to gather student-reported information about themselves. The depth of knowledge can help influence creating a balanced group assignments.

    1. Learning Preferences Cards
    2. How Learning Profiles can Strengthen Your Teaching
    3. Roles
      Include descriptions for each role. Ensure that each role has an academic responsibility. Include a supervisory responsibility for each role so that a student in not solely responsible for a portion of the work. Maintain “shared responsibility.”
    4. Contracts
      These sample contracts offer a variety of methods for student groups to agree on common practices, and hold each other accountable.

Activating student voice empowers learning via Volume 5.3 of Creative Teaching and Learning

7. Plan for incorporating student development of 21st Century Learner Skills

  1. Classroom Norms and GSS Anchor Chart(s)
    1. Empower Student Voice Through Collaboration and Communication
    2. The Skills Colleges and Employers Are Looking For
    3. GSS Anchor Charts examples, plus a Strategy Guide List (pdf)
      This is a treasure chest of models and strategies to make real a 21st Century professional learning classroom culture.
    4. Use the TIP Chart for teachers to reflect on “their” implementation of Global Success (21st Century) Skills
  2. Student reflection on practice and thinking activities
    (i.e.: protocols, journaling, and partner talks)

    1. Make Learning Last: How Diverse Learners Can Process Their Understanding
    2. Establishing a Culture of Student Voice
    3. Fostering Student Questions: Strategies for Inquiry-Based Learning
    4. Practice and reflect using team builder activities (i.e.: Teampedia)

For more information, read about Authentic Learning Experiences, and explore additional strategies.

Authentic Learning Experiences Tool Box – New resources available

 

Picture students making frequent connections to curriculum outcomes in deep and meaningful ways. Imagine them caring about the academic tasks as if someone important to them is counting on their success. Authentic Learning Experiences (ALE) transforms this picture into reality. ALE is a growing practice in 40 minute lessons to units that go one to five weeks, and much longer ones.

Explore different aspects of ALE from concept to practices to implementations with links at the bottom. Let’s start with exploring the why of Authentic Learning Experiences.

 


 

The concept of ALE is simple:

Immerse students into real world situations and/or challenges to make meaningful connections to curriculum.

Here are some examples:

  • interview a water quality employee to better understand the science and community impact
  • publish a position paper about a social or political issue
  • teach 2 and 3 digit multiplication and informational writing by having students create a budget for curriculum night event. Have a panel stakeholders decide which one to implement.
  • invite a business owner to share their marketing problem of promoting their business. Students are tasked with devising a persuasive multimedia marking campaign for review by the business owner.
  • devise an idea for more ADA compliant supports to be used to improve daily life, ie. store access, hotel room design, or use of gadgets like phones and other digital devices.

Why is ALE important for learners?

Authentic Learning Experiences help students connect curriculum with real world meaning. Academic subjects can feel abstract to some students, resulting in a belief that the “knowledge” is only relevant in the classroom as part of work to be done, and not remembered. This belief is far from the truth about how content builds to many applications and uses in the world beyond the school walls. When students grapple with the connections between concept and authentic applications, the skills gain value because job purpose is provided.

Additionally, authentic audience participation is valuable. Such a participant can support the lesson or unit by participating in a Q&A, mentoring, acting as a resource, or posing a genuine problem or question that they need an answer. From my experiences, and those of teachers and administrators I’ve helped, students were more likely to step up to the challenge. An genuine audience or client puts a “face” to the tasks. Confronted with that person or organization, students tend to raise their efforts for deeper quality of work, because someone is counting on them. An audience that is not the teacher seems to communicate that the work is not just an exercise. It’s impact is real. Students have a voice in the global community.

Navigating a Global Community

The world is smaller in the sense that technology such as social media has sped up the flow of information and communication access to anywhere. No longer can students work on academics for the sake of curriculum, with justifications that the work will prepare them for the “real world.” Such assertions are simply not true. Traditional instructional practices alone might develop students with a deep understanding of content, with little or no connection to the rich applications and implications in the world beyond school. Traditional instruction that are effective practices do have a place in today’s teaching and learning–if those practices are incorporated, and sometimes reinvented, into connections and applications in the global community.

Video conferencing, virtual worlds, digital collaborative spaces and tools, and apps provide a variety of ways to bring the world inside the classroom, and the students entrance into the world. Publication of ideas as comments to articles, to videos are literally at our fingertips. Access to experts, professionals, enthusiasts, and explorers has become so easy that a real challenge is how to communicate with them, and effectively sift through what is evidenced-based to agenda-driven. These are the experiences and 21st Century Learner skills that students need experience with as they learn curriculum.

Now What

Authentic Learning Experiences are not a new idea. It continues to evolve based on the world that we live in. In the late 1990s, cell phones were a tool that was not a common tool, nor as useful, as it has become today, with the merging of computer technology and the internet. As the global community shrinks and careers evolve, students need more experiences that applies curriculum in an authentic context beyond school.

Start simple with one lesson or a collection of 2-3 learning experiences. Build your comfort level, while giving students new interesting challenges. Expand to a unit focus, where students tackle a problem or puzzle. Their final product should demonstrate their understanding of content outcomes through their creative solutions. PBL is one such unit structure that supports this approach. Explore the possibilities through these resources below.

Why ALE | Examples | Strategies | Articles

The 1st Truth about Differentiation

In the past, I’ve written several articles about the myths that prevents many teachers from using Differentiation as an integral part of how they meet learner needs.

They have resonated with educators who comment and share these articles with colleagues. I often hear how the articles empowered or gave teachers permission to do more. Best of all, most express finding affirmation for what they are already doing, which is one intention of these articles: Teachers do differentiate, whether unconsciously or with deliberation.

It’s time to change the focus from the myths to the truths. What are the realities for Differentiation?

There are many. Here is the first:

Differentiation starts with learners.

The standard language for Differentiation was introduced early on by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Susan Allan in books in 1999 and 2001. It’s a language that continues to work today, as I note in So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation.

Teachers often start with Content, Process, and Products as those are the vehicles for differentiating learning experiences.

It makes sense to begin with these three elements because they are most familiar to educators when it comes to planning instruction. Richard DuFour, among many respected education thinkers, described these steps as:

  1. What do students need to know, understand, and do?
  2. How will students demonstrate what they’ve learned and not learned?
  3. What will we do for students who fail?
  4. What will we do for students who’ve already learned the content and concepts?

Despite all this information, instruction begins with the learner through Readiness, Interests, and Learning Preferences.

The student is best equipped to make connections or determine if the lesson is best for them. They do this all the time through expressions of engagement to disengagement.

What motivates learners to participate? What engages students to dedicate time and energy into the lessons? The answers can only come from them. The solution for teachers is to make the conscious decision to communicate and collaborate with students, including them in the planning and decision-making of the learning experiences based on Readiness, Interests, and Learning Preferences. If this feels uncomfortable, or the voice in your head is giving excuses for why this cannot be done, then you understand what your struggling learners feel about your lessons.

Starting places:

  1. Use a Learning Preference inventory to help craft 2-4 choices that students might opt to complete tasks. Bonus points if you then get their feedback about the choices, and make revisions based on their input.
  2. Collect formative assessment data and use it to craft variations of the same task so that students can be assigned or choose the appropriate level. Make sure that each task includes critical thinking and is respectful to the learner. Every student can analyze, evaluate, and synthesize, even with very basic understanding. Over simplifying work that’s stuck at the comprehension and fact-base level for struggling learners insults their intelligence. Again, bonus points if you get their feedback about the choices, and make revisions based on their input.
  3. Clearly explain and coach the learning outcomes so that students understand them and what is expected of them. Then support students as they construct products of their design that demonstrate the learning outcomes.

Find more related resources from So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation.

Stay tuned for more Truths about Differentiation and Learning…

Repost from JohnMcCarthy.net

Review of Ron Berger’s Beautiful Work

Guest Author: Tracy Williams – Follow her on Twitter: @trawill14

She’s an elementary teacher who has a passion for developing student writers, and empowering their voice through quality feedback. She has developed a related resource to help other teachers in their thinking to support their students: Feedback Screencast. Here is what she has to say, inspired by an important education thinker, Ron Berger:

Review of Beautiful Work

In the article Beautiful Work, author and educator Ron Berger paints the picture of his classroom where beautiful, quality work is expected. Berger gives readers many examples of how he encourages his students to create important, aesthetic work for real audiences.  Regardless of subject area, his students learn they must strive for quality and beauty through class culture, crafting, and authentic critiquing. No matter how simple the assignment, the quest for valuable work is the goal.

Right away, Berger confronts the main perceived obstacle of teachers when they envision a classroom such as his. “The new national focus on ‘standards’ seems to be less about high standards than about covering required material, and there is little time left in most schools for the quest for real quality.” Today’s teachers face rigorous curriculums where they feel little time for elements such as aesthetics.  They are foregoing quality for the sake of quantity. One consequence of this is students feel more and more like there isn’t time for mistakes or revisions, or editing.  They are often in a rush to complete assignments and they are missing the value of the work. And when one doesn’t understand the value of the work, maintaining true pride in successes and a growth mindset in failures are difficult to own.

In order to experience real growth, students must know what it feels like to recognize their own mistakes, and want to improve upon them.  This implies that a growth mindset should be fostered within the classroom and through the work.  One cannot achieve real beauty without struggle, or quality without mistakes. So students must be made to believe that these things are not only accepted, but valued.  In the past, one of my struggles as a writing teacher was trying to get kids to revise and edit.  They much prefer the idea of one and done.  I can now see that my challenge – my job –  is to help students see the value in the process, as well as the work itself.  This means assigning less work, but more valuable pieces. It also means providing positive yet authentic goals and feedback, which allow student room improve and grow.  In addition, creating a classroom culture is critical. Berger refers to working with professionals, daily discussions, multiple drafts, a classroom gallery, as well as formal and informal critique sessions.  All of these ideas would be excellent implementations to help students understand and value high expectations.

Berger touched on another important piece in regards to creating valuable work. He presents his students with models of the type of work he wants them to create. “We use models of excellence to set the standards for our work – models from former students in our school or other schools, and models from the professional world.  What in many schools might be called cheating is considered wise practice in our classroom: studying great work to learn what we can borrow and what strategies we can learn.”  This really struck a chord with me.  Several years ago, I started following Study Driven (2006) by Katie Wood Ray.  In this writing program, one of the first steps of writing meaningful pieces involved immersing children with models of the kind of work we wanted them to emulate. Students were then able to analyze the elements of those pieces and then put them to practice.  I saw growth in my student writers using this program, and I strongly believe in the value of modeling. This is a practice that I plan to continue.  Presenting students with several high-quality models is key.

In conclusion, Beautiful Work is a reminder of the expectations we should hold students and ourselves accountable.  It is a reminder to keep the work we assign meaningful, so that students can set meaningful goals.  It is a reminder to strive for quality, instead of quantity. It is a reminder to create the classroom culture you envision. And finally, it is a reminder to both teachers and students to value the thinking and the process, as well as the work itself.

 

References

Berger, R. (Date Unknown). Beautiful Work. Buck Institute for Education. Retrieved from https://www.bie.org/object/document/beautiful_work

Ray, K.W. (2006). Study driven: A framework for planning units of study in the writing workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 4th Way to Plan for Diverse Learners

          Differentiation is…

more than a passion or calling in working with students of all ages. For me, it’s simply a necessity, like breathing. If life-long learning is to be what everyone does with care and thoughtful reflection, then differentiation experiences should happen early and frequent throughout one’s education.

I wrote an article for Edutopia, “3 Ways to Plan for Diverse Learners: What Teachers Do”, with a desire to show teachers that they do “do” differentiation. Meeting learner needs happens. I presented a structure based on language introduced by Carol Tomlinson and Susan Allan (ASCD) around the turn of this century.

The language, as I call it–the 6 Elements of Differentiation, is important for having dialog on how best to plan instruction that meets students’ needs (Content, Process, & Products), and includes student voice in the process (Readiness, Interests, & Learning Preferences). The article is one of many that I wrote, which seem to inspire much dialog and sharing of ideas through social media. It’s great to engage in dialog about Differentiation as something we just do, need to do. Instruction in this form is no longer a dream, but reality.

As teachers and other educators deepen their understanding of Differentiation, there are levels of implementation that go beyond the basics of knowing the six elements. Like a gamer, a martial artists, or someone earning multiple university degrees, there is complexity with where we can aspire to differentiate for learners (Chapter 5 of So All Can Learn).   The 1st three ways provide the foundation for stronger instructional practices and learning engagement.

         There is a 4th Way…

Learner Agency, based on developing and encouraging student voice. In So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation, four chapters—almost half the book—are dedicated to understanding and coaching agency through student voice. Readiness, Interests, and Learning Preferences are how students determine if the instructional experience is inviting. Including students in learning construction based on these three elements sends a message that their thoughts and ideas matter.

It’s easy to get started in this process. Here are a few starting places:

  • Interest Surveys
  • Learning Profile Cards
  • Student interviews and focus groups
  • Journal entries like #IWishMyTeacherKnew on Twitter and Facebook

Based on the learning outcome that students must gain from the lesson, make instructional planning decisions using the information learned about students based on their Readiness, Interests, and Learning Preferences. The information should influence the Content delivered, Processing experiences (how students check for understanding and make sense of the content), and the product options that students choose or design themselves to demonstrate the learning outcomes.

Differentiation happens in the ways that teachers adjust based on how students “react” to the lesson that’s in progress—Intuitive Differentiation. More effective Differentiation happen when teachers anticipate student needs during the lesson planning prior to implementation—Intentional Differentiation. Higher levels of Differentiation occur when students become active co-planners with teachers during planning and implementation—Collaborative Differentiation.

Learn more from the chapters and reflection questions found in the book, So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation by John McCarthy, EdS.

Rowman & Littlefield | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Amazon UKBarnes & Noble

So All Can Learn – Preorders Available

So All Can Learn: A practical guide to Differentiation

Launch Date: February 28

Pre-orders Available:

R&L and Amazon

Teaching to all learners feels like an enormous challenge. Add obstacles such as class size, time, and top down mandates, and it’s not surprising that teachers may succumb to the temptation to just survive.

The reality is that all of those obstacles are very real, and can get in the way of what is needed for students. But, what is also true is that those obstacles impede teaching and learning, not Differentiation itself. Without Differentiation, the problems remain for “teaching” and “learning”.

Differentiation is a lens and a toolkit of processes that help teachers meet the needs of all students, and overcome the obstacles that threaten learning.

Here are some of my articles that provide approaches to tackle these obstacles, while you await your preorder 😉 of So All Can Learn: A practical guide to Differentiation, which provides more in-depth answers and guidance for addressing how to effectively and efficiently teach So All Can Learn.

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