Workshop Blog

Living the Gradual Release of Responsibility

When planning for my newest workshop on the Gradual Release of Responsibility, I had a HUGE epiphany… when thinking about what the barriers to implementing this classroom structure, I realized that while research shows us that the Gradual Release of Responsibility Framework supports learners:

Fisher and Frey Framework for Gradual Release of Responsibility

But too often, professional development follows this framework:

Fisher and Frey an Unhelpful Framework

And we know that this framework is not helpful to learners. Too often, we as designers of professional learning share our thinking and then expect teacher learners to implement on their own. This realization hit me like a brick. So how to use the Gradual Release of Responsibility framework as the design framework for professional learning?

Planning to Plan for Instruction

  • I Do: Modelling Planning
  • We Do: Shared Planning
  • You Do: Collaborative Planning
  • You Do: Independent Planning

I Do: Modelling Planning

Graphic organizers are useful tools for student and adult thinking. I began by designing a Gradual Release of Responsibility planning template that goes through the key steps in planning for instruction. Of course, it is important to recognize that the order of I Do – We Do – You Do is not the only order for instruction!

Starting with an example from the Grade 1 Science curriculum, I decided that the outcome and indicators focusing on seasonal changes would be a good place to insert student writing. From here, I started searching for a mentor text that I could use for modelling descriptive words and showing seasonal changes. I decided to use “Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring” by Kenard Pak. A helpful hint is to search a book title on YouTube to see if it fits what you are hoping for. When selecting a mentor text, it is important to identify the key questions that you might have students think about while you and they are reading.

Once I have the curricular connections and mentor text in place, I can then identify what I will include in my modelling/think aloud.

The “I Do” in this instructional sequence might include:

  • Features of the mentor text
  • Modelling writing
  • Mini lessons on writing or science related to this writing project

The “We Do” in the instructional sequence might include

  • Shared writing using the mentor text example

The “You Do: Together” in the instructional sequence might include

  • Collaborative rewriting of different passages of the book

The “You Do: Independent” in the instructional sequence might include

  • Drawings and description of one plant or animal that changes between the winter and spring seasons.

You can see a completed (DRAFT) graphic organizer for this sequence on Seasonal Changes here.

We Do: Shared Planning

In shared planning, workshop participant and I will co-construct a second instructional sequence, choosing one outcome from a pre-selected list of outcomes that all lend themselves to student writing. For example:

  • If the outcome chosen is Grade 5 Social Studies: Government Structure, we can use “Canada Votes” as our mentor text. In many communities, it would be helpful for students to expand the description of government in this book to include First Nations governance and elections.
  • If the outcome chosen is Grade 3 Mathematics: Passage of Time, we can use “A Second is a Hiccup” as our mentor text. This would allow children to explore what activities take different measures of time.

You Do: Collaborative Planning

  • At this stage, teachers will work with grade-similar peers and co-create a series of lessons that they are interested in.
  • It is important here to co-construct criteria for what makes a good plan.

You Do: Independent Planning

  • Finally, teachers will use the planning template to create a series of lessons for their own curriculum. These ideas can then be shared through a Speed Dating structure so that peers can hear creative ideas that might apply to their own classrooms.

By using the Gradual Release of Responsibility framework to learn about the Gradual Release of Responsibility Framework, the hope is that teachers will be able to experience as learners the power of this model. When we experience something as learners, we have increased understanding and confidence to use it.

Writing about Teaching Writing

I had the chance to work with the wonderful staff at Rossignol Elementary in Ile-a-la-Crosse this winter. They, like many of us, have been wondering how to support their students to be more engaged writers. They wondered:

How do we engage student writers? How do we make our students feel that they ARE writers and authors in our classrooms? There are so many blogs and ideas written on this topic, but what might work for OUR students?

There are many blogs and resources that are useful when seeking out new and innovative ideas to try. Some good ones include (but are certainly not limited to!):

Each of these articles is full of lists of creative strategies. But what works for YOUR students? This is where professional conversations and thinking about what students you have in your context can help.

We often ponder the question “Why don’t our students write more?”… something to consider is how much writing we do ourselves as adults. I have to admit that prior to creating this workshop blog, I might have gone weeks without writing outside of emails or filling in forms. To give insight into some of the barriers that our students face when writing, it is important for us to consider our own writing habits (and maybe fears!). How do we encourage ourselves as writers? My epiphany when planning for this workshop was that perhaps writing professional development needs to following the same framework that we might use for our students.

Adrienne Gear (2014) suggests the following lesson framework for each nonfiction form:

  1. An introduction to the features of the nonfiction form.
    1. This can be done by analyzing published examples of a nonfiction form.
  2. Independent write and Whole-class write can be woven together in a We DO – You DO cycle.

With this framework in mind, the teachers of Rossignol Elementary worked in collaborative groups to write the following ideas for engaging their student writers:

Shared Writing About Writing

Engaging Student Writers is about the things that we can do as teachers to encourage students to write across all curricula. There are many different strategies that fit different grade levels and different content areas. It is important that we use our professional judgement to combine our existing professional knowledge, our knowledge of our students, and the new information we learn from our colleagues and research.

Drawing and Talking to Encourage Writing in Young Children

To encourage young children to write, have them group together to talk about a common experience (sliding, wiener roast, building a snowman). As children share information, the teacher can capture the vocabulary they are using.

Teachers can

  • Record on a chart or individual cards/word strips
  • Include a picture
  • Display in the classroom

Children can

  • take those word strips/cards and draw their own picture
  • describe/talk about their picture with an adult or older student
  • label the picture (either by the child or the adult/older student)

Differentiating Writing

How might we differentiate next steps? The sequence will depend on the age and ability of young writers.

Younger writers might have an older student or adult scribe a sentence for them. They can leave enough space underneath for the child to copy the words below.Older writers might use the labels on their picture to write a sentence or sentences about their picture.

If students’ oral language skills are low, they can communicate meaning through the use of point pictures or flash cards. Key ideas related to the pictures can be created in advance by the teacher.

Extra Time for Encouraging Elementary Writers

There are many ways that we can encourage our elementary-aged writers in our classrooms.

  • When we give more time to write, we encourage writers to write more often. Allowing more time to organize their thoughts and ideas, using graphic organizers, modelling writing and brainstorming together can all contribute to student confidence.
  • Deadlines and expectations need to be communicated clearly so that students understand what needs to be produced and when it needs to be produced by.
  • Use technology like voice typing for those who can’t write as fast as they think can reduce frustration and get ideas out.
  • For those students who may be shy, strategies like passing notes, chatting 1:1 with peers about the topic, and think-pair-share can help to build confidence.

With extra time and strategies to maximize the time, students are allowed to process their thoughts and make meaning. This can help to show them that they ARE good writers.

Comic Book Writing for Engaging Writers

Comic book writing is when students write the dialogue into a blank comic template. There are various templates that you can download from sites such as this one from Scholastic.

Where to start? You might start with a “We Do” comic strip, then move to “You Do” by having students write dialogue into a given template with pictures already provided. They can then move to creating independently by choosing their template, and eventually creating their own pictures, characters and words either by using clipart or drawing their own original comic.

Mentor texts can include Manga, Amulet, Archie Comics or Marvel Comics. The use of mentor texts is key to introduce and discuss examples of dialogue and how words and pictures interact.

Comic book writing can encourage all types of writers, as it is a unique combination of visual/writing skills to tell a story.

What We Learned About Teaching Writing

I am thankful to the teachers of Rossignol Elementary for agreeing to their writing going out to an authentic audience on my Workshop Blog. By experiencing shared writing as adult learners, we discovered what some of the underlying anxieties and fears might be for our students. Worry about being wrong, worry about not being good enough, experiencing how daunting a blank piece of paper is all contribute to deepening our understanding of what to do for our students.

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As adults, we experienced the power of writing to deepen our understanding of writing to a much deeper level than just reading about writing might have done. New knowledge, combined with our professional knowledge and knowledge of our students can help us to encourage our students to BE writing, not just engage in writing.

Gear, A. (2014). Nonfiction Writing Power. Markham: Pembroke Publishers.

Johanson, T., & Broughton, D. (2014). Exploring Comprehension in Physics. Saskatoon: McDowell Foundation.

Teaching Writing Across Curricula

Reading and writing are things we expect our students to be able to do in every subject. Our curricula are full of phrases like “Describe…, Explain…, Compare…”, which all require students to organize their thinking in a certain way. The non-fiction text in our math, science, social studies, and PAA courses require our students to break down complicated information. So how do we teach our students who are struggling with taking information in and/or communicating their understanding? 

What? I Have to Teach Writing, Too??

Reading and writing are learning tools that exist across curricula. We often have our students read technical information in our science, social studies and mathematics courses and then ask them to write about their understanding during assignments and tests. Sometimes, our students come to us knowing how to do both. Sometimes, we are surprised and disappointed that they don’t seem to know how to apply their reading and writing strategies in our content area. As a math and science specialist, I want my students to use reading and writing as ways to deepen and broaden their understanding of the subjects that I am teaching them.

I would think that an ELA teacher explicitly teaches reading and writing strategies so that their students become stronger readers and writers. My intent as a science teacher is related but different. I want to use literacy instruction so that students understand science better.

I had many experiences early in my career where I assumed my students were able to research, write reports, write conclusions, or complete short answer questions on my exams. Those assumptions led to frustration and feelings of failure for both myself and my students. Sometimes, it took students failing to point out what explicit teaching I needed to do with my classes. Ultimately, if I have students who are struggling with reading and writing in my non-ELA class, I need to teach them those skills.

Reading, Writing and Comprehension

We sometimes view reading and writing as separate ideas. If we view them instead as ways that students take in and output knowledge, we can see that comprehension, or meaning making, is the bridge between the two. Reading is ONE way of taking information in, and writing is ONE way of sharing our knowledge. Our English Language Arts program recognizes that there are other, equally important modes of inputs and outputs.

Comprehension Strategies – Making Meaning

When we take information in, our mind uses different strategies to make meaning of new information. During a conversation, this occurs fluidly where we listen, make sense of information, then speak. The same is true of reading and writing. We read information, make meaning, then may write about what our new understanding is. Many literacy experts have grouped comprehension strategies into anywhere from six to thirteen strategies. Following the work of Ellin Keene, the following are SEVEN comprehension strategies that strong readers use.

For more detailed information about these seven comprehension strategies, see my earlier blog post, Comprehension Across Subjects.

Nonfiction Writing Lesson Framework

Adrienne Gear (2014) suggests the following lesson framework for each nonfiction form:

  1. An introduction to the features of the nonfiction form.
    • This can be done by analyzing published examples of a nonfiction form.
  2. Independent write and Whole-class write can be woven together in a We DO – You DO cycle.
Whole-class write:Independent write:
The teacher and class write a passage together, going through the organizing steps together. This can be done on chart paper or projected on a screen.Writing activities can vary in length. There should be multiple opportunities for each type of writing introduced in a year.
Plan and organize thinkingDraft piece of writingFocus on a writing techniqueRevision and editing techniquesPlan and organize thinkingDraft piece of writingFocus on a writing techniqueRevision and editing techniques

Nonfiction Text Features

There are several text features that are useful within nonfiction to help readers understand the information being presented. These include:

Nonfiction FeaturePurpose
MapTo show location: e.g. habitat of animals
WebList of any kind: for example, a list of food an animal eats or its enemies
Diagram, labelsDescription
Fact BoxInteresting, additional facts
Flow ChartTo show how things work together: e.g., life cycle
ChartTo sort details: e.g. facts about different species
Labels, CaptionsTo explain a diagram or picture
TimelineSequential events or dates
Diagram with LabelsComparisons

Helpful Nonfiction Mini Lessons

Mini lessons allow you to guide student writing skills without taking up a lot of time. Here are topics that Adrienne Gear suggests for helping improve writing quality. You can see some of her mini lesson resources here. Including ideas for:

  • Adding Text Features
  • Interesting Details
  • Triple-Scoop Words
  • Comparison using Similes and Metaphors
  • Voice
  • Introductions to Hook Your Reader

Sharing Our Understanding: Non-Fiction Forms of Writing

Part of introducing nonfiction forms is for students to recognize key features of each form. This can be done by analyzing published works, both in print and online. Books from your library can be used to help students visualize the type of writing you are expecting them to do. There are many different forms of non-fiction writing that students both read and are expected to write themselves. Each of these forms has their own purpose and form. (Gear, 2014)

Different forms of writing can be used within the same topic and subject area. For example:

Type of WritingWriter’s IntentExampleApplication: Weather
DescriptionTo provide reader with facts and information about a topic. Related subtopics tell us specific details about the main idea. Writers give details related to our five senses.Descriptive reports on countries, animals, plants, insects, etc.Classroom blogs.Book or movie reviews.Describe the weather in Saskatchewan in January.
InstructionTo provide reader with instructions on how to achieve a goal, do something, make something, get somewhere.How something works: e.g. manuals, how to use something, survival guides.How to do or make something: e.g. recipes, rules for games, science experiments, crafts, instructions on starting a blog page.Give the instructions for how to make a winter survival kit.
PersuasionTo share an opinion with the reader or attempt to convince the reader to take an action of some kind.Opinion piece: e.g. favourite book, movie, pet, season.Persuasive piece: e.g. you should eat a healthy diet; no school uniforms; best chocolate bar to buy; oru school is the best.Classroom blogs or online reviews.Which form of weather is deadliest to humans?
ComparisonTo share with the reader the similarities and differences between two topics or ideas.Compare (similarities) and contrast (differences): e.g. rabbits and hares; Canada and Japan; cars then and now.Compare a winter blizzard and summer hail in Saskatchewan.
ExplanationTo provide reader with facts explaining how or why something happens.Scientific explanations: e.g. how a spider spins a web, why some things float and others sink.Explain how blizzards form.
Nonfiction NarrativeTo provide reader with sequential description of events in a person’s life, a current or historical event.Biography of a famous or non-famous person.AutobiographyCurrent event/newspaperPast eventBlogs or tweetsGive a report on the Newfoundland blizzard of January, 2020.

A useful analysis is to look at our curriculum and identify where it would be most useful for students to incorporate each type of writing to deepen their understanding. This can be done in a simple chart such as the one found here.

Pre-Thinking for Writing

Writing can help students understand subject content if we have them do pre-thinking before they write. This pre-thinking has them use comprehension strategies to deepen their understanding so that they can write.

A barrier for students might be that they do not understand either the content that they are having to write about OR they do not understand the structure of what you are asking them to write.

When we have students organize their thinking before they write, they will not only understand their courses better, but they will have their thinking organized in a way that helps them write.

You can take a closer look at different forms of writing, including assessment criteria in the following summaries, as well as view helpful pre-thinking tools for each type of writing:

Ultimately, teaching meaning making and how to express understanding can help our students know the subjects we are teaching them and help them to connect school content with their lives.

Eaton, S. E. (2010, September 26). Reading Strategy: The difference between summarizing and synthesizing. Retrieved from http://www.drsaraheaton.wordpress.com

Gear, A. (2014). Nonfiction Writing Power. Markham: Pembroke Publishers.

Johanson, T., & Broughton, D. (2014). Exploring Comprehension in Physics. Saskatoon: McDowell Foundation.

Keene, E., & Zimmermann, S. (1997). Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Readers Workshop. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Public Education & Business Coalition. (n.d.). Thinking Strategies for Learners: A guide to PEBC’s professional development in reading, writing, mathematics and information literacy. Retrieved December 15, 2018, from Public Education & Business Coalition: https://www.pebc.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/thinking-strategies.pdf

Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. (2008). English Language Arts 6. Retrieved from Saskatchewan Curriculum: https://www.curriculum.gov.sk.ca/bbcswebdav/library/curricula/English/English_Language_Arts/English_Language_Arts_6_2008.pdf

Designing PD That Teachers Deserve

I have had the pleasure of working with two different organizations recently, helping their staff to understand some basic principles of designing professional learning experiences for teachers. Designing professional learning deserves as much care and attention as the planning that we expect classroom teachers to give to their classroom instruction. We do not accept undifferentiated teacher lecture as the only pedagogy in classrooms, so it is important that we design professional learning that is

  • NOT a prescriptive module that does not change, regardless of what learners need
  • NOT solely lecture-style presentation where we tell them information and leave the meaning making and application to teachers after an event.

In my decade of designing and facilitating professional learning and teaching others to design professional learning, I have been seeking out and creating ways to approach workshop design. My goal is to ensure that I provide rich, authentic, practical and differentiated adult learning to teachers and related professionals. I firmly believe that a day of teacher workshop must be as or more important than a day that teacher would have had with their students. And a day with their students is SO important.

In my learning journey, I have discovered a few key things that are the foundation for every workshop that I create and facilitate.

Expect to Learn from Participants: Partnership Principles

One of my first learning opportunities about designing professional learning was Jim Knight’s Partnership Principles. His philosophy is very simple – that the people who come to professional learning are equal in every way to the facilitators of that learning. There is no hierarchy in learning, we are colleagues and partners.

Jim Knight’s Partnership Principles identify that if we have a mindset of equality, where our learners have choice and voice with professional learning, we will create interactions that encourage dialogue, reflection where we both can learn. An ultimately, the goal is for praxis, or application and transfer of learning into teacher contexts and classrooms.

Vision Our Impact: What Change Are We Hoping For?

It is important to see what changes we are hoping for in teacher behavior, resulting in an impact on student learning. Following Thomas Guskey’s Five Levels of Evaluating Professional Development backwards, it is possible to pose questions that can be pre-thinking before we begin designing learning. This process helps us to identify WHY we are providing this professional learning. As Simon Sinek has identified in his talk on The Golden Circle, we often think about the WHAT and the HOW, but it is the WHY that inspires us. When we, as facilitators, know why, we can share that passion and enthusiasm with our adult learners. A helpful tool is to use a Thinking Map, along with the following questions:

Ask Teachers What They Need

Ideally, we can engage teacher learners before our learning event to find out what learners need. This might be informed by:

  • Observations of student behaviours – what changes are needed?
  • Observations of student learning – what gaps or areas do students need a greater focus on?
  • Observations of teacher knowledge – what would learners like to know more about or change in their own understanding?

If it is not possible to have this conversation before learning, there are different facilitation processes that can be done that can inform our facilitation. These include:

  1. Snowball – ask participants
    • What do you know about this topic?
    • What do you wonder about this topic?
  2. Notice and Wonder – provide some type of visual or media experience and then ask
    • What do you notice about this?
    • What do you wonder about this?
  3. Touch Each Page and then Professional Question Generation
    • The Touch Each Page strategy will create a focus for professional inquiry through the day.
    • Generating Questions:
      • Group Generating and Monitoring Questions – participants work in small groups to identify questions that they would like to answer.
      • Personal Inquiry – participants identify a question that they most want to answer through the day. This is put onto a sticky note that they revisit and discuss at the end of the day with a colleague.

Have an Assessment Plan: Guskey’s 5 Levels

Thomas Guskey has identified five levels of evaluation to consider when understanding the efficacy of any professional learning experience in his article “Does it Make a Difference? Evaluating Professional Development”. Too often, we take in data around student outcomes and teacher satisfaction but neglect to identify the levels in between that allow us as facilitators to draw conclusions and connections between the professional learning that we are engaging in and the impact on students.

As Guskey has stated, “Good evaluations don’t have to be complicated. They simply require thoughtful planning, the ability to ask good questions, and a basic understanding of how to find valid answers” (Guskey, 2002). It is important as we evaluate our professional learning experiences that we are looking for evidence around its efficacy, not proof that it is making a difference. Most often, there are many different professional experiences that are impacting student learning, and to identify the exact scope and impact of any one initiative is nearly impossible. Instead, it is useful to gather evidence, both qualitative and quantitative, that identifies shifts and possible contributors to changes in student learning.

Guskey’s Five Levels of Evaluating Professional Development allow us to consider the types of questions that we might ask participants during or after professional learning. Facilitators who can connect with teachers after professional learning can gather data regarding impact on student outcomes and participant use of knowledge and skills.

If you are only in contact with educators during a session, it is possible to assess levels one through three, and measure teacher intent to implement using an Agenda Assessment. An agenda assessment is an innovation that combines an agenda with an assessment of learning and can be completed throughout a professional learning experience. This information can give insight into the effectiveness of a workshop or other learning experience.

Plan for Flexibility: Have a Plan that Allows for Change

A useful planning structure is a Facilitation Guide. Like a lesson plan that a teacher might use in a classroom, a facilitation guide identifies content, process, assessment, timing and materials. This simple structure helps facilitators see how content is chunked during the day, and the sequence of instructional strategies.

Content: This is the sequence of main ideas that flows through the day. By chunking content, it is relatively easy for a facilitator to skip or skim over particular ideas. This might occur if

  1. Teachers have already identified that they know a specific piece of information; or
  2. Time does not allow for all of the concepts in the day to be covered.

Process: This column identifies the instructional strategies and key questions that facilitators might pose to encourage thinking.

Assessment: This column allows facilitators to predict what they think participants might do or say during a specific part of the workshop. It is helpful to identify

  1. what people might say if they have a misconception; or
  2. what we are looking for in participant responses that indicates that they understand.  

Timing: Just as it states, this column allows facilitators to predict the length of time that a specific process will take. This helps to know whether the workshop is at, ahead or behind timelines outlined.

Materials: This column has us list materials or resources that are used in that chunk of a workshop.

Incorporate Meaning Making Strategies: Differentiate Learning

It is important that we choose processes for learning that fit the content and amount of time provided. Considering Dylan Wiliam’s Formative Assessment Strategies, instructional strategies in professional learning are particularly powerful when they:

So, where do we find these strategies? There are many useful resources. Some of them include:

It may seem like there are many layers and lots of time needed to plan effective professional learning, but our teachers and ultimately student learning deserve our investment.

Differentiating Instruction – Why, How, What?

How often have we been in a conversation with a colleague about trying to meet the needs of all of our students, and we hear the dreaded phrase “well, just differentiate”… this blanket statement can bring about visions of creating 18 different lesson plans for our 18 students. This is not sustainable, so what is differentiation REALLY? How do we meet the needs of diverse learners and keep our sanity?

Picture Feedback 2

Workshops focussing on differentiation are, ironically, often not differentiated. It is important that all professional learning, including those experiences based on the topic of differentiation, attempt to have teachers experience differentiated learning as well as reinforce the foundations of how and why we differentiate content, process, product and environment for students. 

Planning for Differentiation

It is important to understand not only specific strategies but to also know why we might differentiate. What information do we need as teachers in order to plan appropriately for our individual students as well as our whole class experiences? We need to know a combination of Learning Styles, Multiple Intelligences, content readiness, and student interests in order to Plan for Differentiation.

Planning Differentiation

This information can be compiled into a Learner Profile Card or a Whole-Class Preferences Summary Chart to allow both students and teachers to know what and how learners might learn best.

Something that is often an ‘aha’ for adults is to consider whether they are “Think to Talk or Talk to Think” learners. If someone is a think-to-talker and is forced to jump into group work without first having the chance to get their thoughts in order, they may have a feeling of being unsafe expressing their ideas. If a talk-to-thinker is forced to read quietly before they are allowed to talk, they may find that their minds wander and are unable to focus. This same sense of safety is true for student learners as well.

One of the foundational researchers in the area of differentiation is Carol Tomlinson, who describes differentiation as

  1. Being curious about our students,
  2. Having relationships between teachers and students; and
  3. Providing a variety of learning experiences to learners

Differentiating Content

Why:

Differentiating content allows you to address gaps in understanding to build readiness. We know in literacy that activating prior knowledge is essential for students to make connections to new learning. This is true in other subjects as well. Assessing prior knowledge allows gaps to be addressed before new concepts are introduced. Differentiating content allows students to ACCESS information and learning.

What:

Your curriculum drives the knowledge, concepts, skills, and understandings a student needs to know and use. While the curricular outcome cannot change for individual students, the delivery format for content such as video, readings, audio, reading level can be differentiated. Content can also be chunked, shared through visual graphic organizers, or addressed through jigsaws to reduce the volume of information each individual needs to interact with. Themes can be based on personal interest to increase interest and understanding if a specific topic is not required by the curriculum.

How:

  • Use pre-assessment to determine where students need to begin, then match students with appropriate activities. Pre-assessments may include:
    Pciture Feedback 4
    • Student/teacher discussion,
    • Begin a KWL chart – what we know/want to know/learned,
    • Journal – what you already know about,
    • Brain dump – list all of the things you know about a topic, cluster with other class members, and
    • Snowball.
  • Use texts or novels at more than one reading level.
  • Present information through both whole-to-part and part-to-whole.
  • Use a variety of reading-buddy arrangements to support and challenge students when working with different texts.
  • Re-teach students pre-skills or provide enrichment for students who already demonstrate an understanding of pre-skills.
  • Use texts, video or different media to convey information.
  • Use Bloom’s taxonomy or Webb’s depth of knowledge to encourage thinking about content at several levels.

Differentiation Process

Why:

Differentiating process is about how students make sense of new learning. What is happening in each individual brain is based on their learning preferences, multiple intelligences, and background. Learners need time to take in, reflect on and make sense of new learning before moving on. Processes help students monitor their comprehension and determine what they do and do not understand. Learning processes also allow teachers to formatively assess student progress and provide feedback in real time.

What:

There are many different words used to describe learning processes – instructional strategies, discursive strategies, comprehension strategies… all of these are ways that learners interact with and make sense of new learning. Providing more or less structured support for learning, planning for a variety of instructional strategies based on the variety of learning styles in a classroom during a unit of study, and providing opportunities for self-reflection and self-assessment, and providing individual, pair/small group and whole group learning experiences are some key ideas for differentiation process.

How:

  • Assess learning styles, multiple intelligences, learning preferences, etc. to understand individual learning profiles as well as your class profile.
  • Use tiered activities that allow all students to work on the same outcome but with different levels of support.
  • Provide different learning experiences based on interests – i.e. when exploring mixtures and solutions, some students might choose to learn concepts through cooking, while others may learn concepts through art.
  • When planning a unit of study, ensure that concepts are interacted with using a variety of modes. For example, in mathematics, a planning form for math could be based on the idea of multiple representations of mathematical ideas:
Math Example Differentiation
  • Use a variety of comprehension strategy tactics.
  • Provide choice for students for how they are going to take notes, summarize information, make connections.
  • Use reflective strategies, such as:
  • Literature Circles(which also support content and product differentiation).
  • Different classroom structures, such as stations/centers, choice boards, flexible grouping all allow for different processes to be occurring simultaneously.

Differentiating Product

Why:

Differentiating product allows for student choice and allows learners to use their strengths to represent their understanding. Product choices all align to curricular outcomes, so learning is not compromised. Student voice and choice increase learner engagement. Products are the way that students represent their thinking about a curricular outcome. Differentiating the type of product being created allows you to see what they know about the curricular topic rather than the skill they needed to package that representation.

What:

Product differentiation is often cited as the most common form of differentiation and is often in the form of choices. You as the teacher may provide those choices and students pick from a variety of formats, you may have students propose their own designs or a combination of the two. How much responsibility and autonomy you provide for your students will depend on factors such as student understanding of their own strengths, age and time. When providing choice, it is important to co-construct clear criteria for success so that all products, regardless of form, are all being assessed on curricular outcomes rather than the form of a product. A rule of thumb is that the same checklist/rubric/assessment tool should be able to be used for all products on the same outcome, whether they are a paper, video, play, board game, etc.

How:

  • Allow students to help design product choices.
  • Co-construct assessment criteria.
  • Allow for varied working arrangements – individual, pair, group
  • Provide for or encourage students accessing a variety of resources.
  • Ensure that all products are at the same level of Bloom’s Taxonomy or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge.
  • Use a common assessment tool (checklist, rubric, etc.).

Conclusion:

When teachers plan by connecting content, process, product and learning product with student readiness, interests and learning profiles, students are more engaged and are able to understand ideas with a higher level of complexity.

Works Cited

McCarthy, J. (2015, August 28). 3 Ways to Plan for Diverse Learners. Retrieved from Edutopia: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/differentiated-instruction-ways-to-plan-john-mccarthy

New South Wales Education. (2015). Decide What to Differentiate. Retrieved from Phase 4 – Differentiating Learning: http://www.ssgt.nsw.edu.au/differentiating_learning.htm

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