Sandy Warner

Teaching with technology


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Differentiation in the classroom

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Image from Carroll K-12

During my last performance management meeting, my line manager asked me how do I differentiate in my classroom. I was completely thrown by this question, not only because I wasn’t expecting the question but also because I hadn’t really thought about what it means in the context of my teaching. I have certainly heard the word bantered around many of the PD that I have been to in recent years but had thought it meant individualised learning plans for every lesson for every student in my class which then catered for their every learning need. I have certainly tried to do this in the past and ultimately abandon it because it is so time consuming and exhausting. I had a real sense of guilt that I wasn’t doing enough for my students.

So I mumbled a response that basically went along the lines of grouping students and getting support for those that were struggling and hoped that it would be a satisfactory answer. I’m not sure that it was but the conversation moved on and I had a sense of relief that that part of the meeting was over.

Fast forward to today and our school had a student free day so the staff could work on developing their understanding of student differentiation.

Initially we had to complete the following chart to get a snapshot of our personal understanding and beliefs on what we knew about differentiation.

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We also explored the myths  around what people thought differentiation is or isn’t by completing a simple group activity which created great conversations around our own beliefs.

 

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The staff then looked at the work Carol Ann Tomlinson has done on responding to the needs of all learners from her book titled “The Differentiated Classroom”. I really like the chart below that Melanie Jones created by adapting Carol Tomlinsons’ chart.

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You can get a snapshot of Carol’s work on differentiation in her video below;

The questions were then posed to us around What are your learners strengths? and What are your own strengths? We completed a Multiple Intelligence Quiz to establish our own learning strengths. My results indicated that I was highest in interpersonal skills which surprised me and interestingly was the highest percentage result for our staff. I also came out strong in verbal/linguistics and visual/spatial which I think is more like my strengths. I was not surprised at all that musical was my lowest. I think it would be really interesting to get someone else’s perspective to gauge a point of reference.

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I would really like to do this with my students to get a stronger understanding of their strengths as well.


 

“Formative assessment doubles the speed of student learning”

Black and Wiliam


We then looked at what kinds of assessment we are using to inform our student’s learning and provide feedback to improve their learning and understanding.  We were given the opportunity to reflect on our own recent assessment strategies;

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This task clearly showed that whilst I used a range of summative and formative assessments in my classroom, I am stronger in the formative assessment of my students. However I think there is a place for both as students need to be exposed to summative assessments to develop the skills they need to participate successfully in Mandated tests such as Naplan. There is always room for improvement. I would still like to broaden the way I do formative assessment in my classroom and I really like this post on Edutopia on 53 ways to check for understanding.

So what is the differentiated classroom? I think Carol Tomlinson summarised it perfectly in her “Line of logic for Differentiaon Instruction” below;

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For me the day was both a fundamental shift in my understanding of what differentiation was, as well as reaffirming, in that it made me realise that I am on the right track and that I do differentiate in my classroom. I do have high expectations for all my students, I provide continuous assessment for my students, I use flexible grouping and develop tasks that have a range of intellectual demands (although not as often as I would like!), I do ‘teach up’ rather than dumb down, I provide opportunities for students to develop inquiries and problem solve. I provide opportunities to celebrate individual successes and negotiate with students how they will present a product of learning. I establish my classroom so that it provides structure and routines with a variety of working areas that foster a supportive and engaging learning environment for all my students. I do so much more.

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My “New Classroom”~ embracing Flexible Learning Environments

This term has seen a major change in the physical environment of my classroom. Inspired by Stephen Heppell, the recent EduTech conference in Brisbane and Sinan Kerimoski  from Margaret River P.S., I decided I wanted to create a more flexible learning environment in my class that enabled the students to work more collaboratively together and catered for the various learning styles in my class more.

I wanted to increase the learning opportunities and options available to my students and give them greater control over their learning through a variety of learning modes and interactions, thus providing them with greater choices on where, and with whom, they learn. I also hoped that by giving the students more choices of where and with whom they worked,  it would increase student engagement. I wanted the classroom to feel more comfortable for the students and for it to be a place where they wanted to be rather than where they had to be.

In the later part of term two, I spent a lot of time talking to my students about what their ideal classroom would be like. We talked about what they liked and disliked about our current classroom and what we would change if we could. I then asked them to design their ideal classroom.

 

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While some of their ideas were a bit innovative, (I’m not quite sure a rocket ride would fit and a chocolate fountain would be yummy),  most of the students were able to contribute some viable ideas. I then asked them to tell me what would they take out of their current class and what would they put in if they could. I collated all their ideas and started making a list. Most students wanted some rugs/ or mats for the floor, a comfortable relaxation area, less traditional desks, more computers, more pillows and a classroom pet. They even wanted a naughty area/chair which is something we didn’t have in our classroom already, (and still don’t!)

I then went and spoke to my principal, who thankfully was very support and encouraged me to pursue these changes.  It was time to put some of these ideas into action!

After a few trips to Ikea and many, many hours of my school holidays, I finally transformed our classroom into a more flexible learning environment which was more comfortable for my students. I was also lucky to be able to bring in three computers from home for the students to use.

Below are the results. My only regret is that I didn’t take any before photos!

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It was great to see the faces on the students and parents when they walked into our transformed classroom on our first day back in term 3!   I was delighted to hear the positive feedback from the parents and students.

This is what some of the students thought of the changes after three weeks;

Tiana – ” I feel really good because the back corner where the bookshelf is, the big palm tree looks cool. You can sit under the leaves.”

Beau – ” I like the changes because it makes me feel more comfortable and it doesn’t feel so plain”

Kyle – “I love the new setup. It is so much better than it used to be . It’s nice and relaxing.”

Courtney – “I like the classroom and I like to choose where I sit.”

Maya – “I feel really happy.  I really like the way our class is now. (please don’t change it back Mrs Warner) because I like it this way.”

Saxon – “It is good because it is cool with the bean bags.”

Tihana – ‘I feel really comfortable and it is easy to learn in. I think the little tables are working and I really like the reading area.”

and my favourite comment…..

Esther – “I like the class a lot because it makes me feel happy and want to learn.

I am really happy with the results and have also received some positive feedback from my colleagues as well. The students are working really well and seating is rarely a problem as students have more choice of where and with whom they sit and work with. Students move between lessons easily and are more engaged with each other. The flexible seating allows for more collaboration, especially in areas such as science and mathematics.

I will continue to monitor our flexible classroom environment and will ask for student and parent feedback at the end of the year.

Meanwhile I would love to hear from other teachers who are using flexible learning in their classrooms.

Oh and I am still working on the classroom pet!

 

 

 

 


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Engaging with The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers

The Professional Standards for teachers has been developed “for teachers to guide professional learning, practice and engagement, … The key elements of quality teaching are described in the Standards. They articulate what teachers are expected to know and be able to do at four career stages: Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead.” (source Purpose of the Standards )

Recently I started to document my own teaching practice within the three domains of teaching; Professional Knowledge, Professional Practice and Professional Engagement. Initially, I found this process quite difficult as I do not see anything I do as anything more than what all good teachers do. And I am lucky to be surrounded by good teachers in my school!

However, I have found this process quite useful and I was suprised at how much I have achieved in my teaching career. The Standards at the career stages of Highly Accomplished and Lead will inform voluntary certification and I feel that I have started working towards this process.

I have now started to document my evidence and address each of the standards at the following page, Professional Standards. Mapping my progress on the Professional Learning Matrix has helped me not only track what I have documented so far but also helps me to plan what areas I need to focus on next. As you can see I still have a long way to go!

Mapping my documentation of the standards.

Mapping my documentation of the standards.

A good starting point for teachers is to engage with the AITSL Self Assessment Tool – click link below. This helps teachers to understand where their own teaching practice fits within the Standards and what areas they have strengths and weaknesses in. A great way to get feedback and guide future professional development and planning.

AITSL Self Assessment Tool

AITSL Self Assessment Tool

 

If you are thinking of applying for certification, my advice would be to start gathering evidence immediately. This may be in the form of lesson plans through to informal letters/ emails from parents, students and colleagues. More information about gathering evidence can be found on the DECD website.


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Lead or Follow? If I can’t be the leader then I want to be the first follower!

I recently came across this blog about what it takes to be  not only a leader but also the importance of being a follower and loved the analogies in the youtube clip. If you want to read the article click the following link.

http://blog.web20classroom.org/2013/08/5-questions-for-every-leader.html


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Lead Teachers Group ~ A Beginning!

On Monday, I hosted our first Lead Teachers Group meeting. It was great to see six teachers from our school and one teacher from a neighbouring school participate, with apologies from two other teachers.  To begin the meeting, I spoke about the AITSL website and how teachers can subscribe to the website to get regular updates and news from AITSL. We also looked at how to access the Self Assessment Tool (will need to register first) and where to find the Professional Standards on the website.

There was a general discussion around what people wanted to get out of the group and what direction it would go. The key points from this discussion were;

o Being able to engage in professional dialogue around the standards

o Helping develop a common understanding of what they mean

o Identifying ways in which we may already be doing this

o Supporting each other in collecting evidence

o Buddying up with a peer (that you may like to observe/support/ mentor you & vice versa)

Another teacher moved that we start looking at the Professional Standards to get us started and we decided to start with the domain of Professional Knowledge and looked at Standard 1: Know students and how they learn. Some key points were; Continue reading