Doing So, ALWAYS

My blog post yesterday on the “one assignment for all” resulted in some very interesting comments on the blog and through Twitter. One comment that really made me think yesterday, and caused me to think even more today, was from @teachintechgal. Here’s a look at our conversation:

2014-03-24_20-14-37I completely understand and agree with what she’s saying, but I really do wonder if people realize the need to differentiate all the time.

I had an experience of my own today that made me stop and think. I’ve joined a Book Club through our Board on Stuart Shanker’s book, Calm, Alert, and LearningToday was our first Book Club Meeting. The first activity required us to write a self-regulation strategy that we use on a piece of paper. Well, surprise, surprise: I didn’t have a pen! 🙂 I never have a pen: an iPad, yes, a pen, no! Okay, I’ll just use a highlighter on the table. But even with a writing tool, I didn’t know what to say. What self-regulation strategy do I use? I couldn’t think of one. Everyone was writing something down, and I was stumped. Thankfully, my vice principal Kristi was sitting next to me, and she helped me out: I blog! Next, we’re handed our copies of our books and a journal to record our thinking. I don’t do well with journals — I wish I did, but I struggle with writing in them. My blog is my journal, and you know that I write on that a lot! 🙂 No problem: I’ll just blog! As an adult, I could differentiate the assignments on my own: I could talk to a peer to generate ideas and choose a new tool for written reflections. In a packed Book Club Meeting, it looked like I was one of the few people that needed these different tools, but the Book Club facilitators were completely supportive of my accommodations. How do we consistently show students this same support?

In our classrooms, how many students need different options for success? How can we help students advocate for themselves to ensure that they get the tools that they need to succeed? The truth is, I understand how difficult it is to always look at various options. Sometimes we forget about that “one” student or “one” adult that may struggle. But as someone that was often that student and is that adult, I think about differentiated instruction a lot. How can we incorporate “choice” into all that we do and for all of our learners? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!



10 thoughts on “Doing So, ALWAYS

  1. Aviva thank you for not one, but two beautiful reminders of why it is so important to teach the child and not the curriculum. It is so important to always consider not “what accomodations or modifications does this child need” but rather, what conditions are necessary for this child to meet with success? Because as educators it is our responsibility to make certain that each and every child in our care meets with success. It is important to allow children to show us what they know in different ways, but it’s not just the product that can be differentiated, so can how the child accesses the information or does the learning. Sometimes the difference is in where the child starts! We need to know and treat each child as an individual. Your story of you with the map is such a bitter-sweet example of why we need to differentiate. Mercifully you had awesome parents, but how much better it would have been if you had ha an OPTION of activities to choose from, if your teacher had recognized your learning difference and respected it. We’ve all been that Grade 4 child at some time, some way. Thank you for making it personal.

    • Thanks for the comment, Lorraine! When it comes to differentiated instruction, and I guess really just to teaching in general, it’s hard for me not to make it personal. So much of what I do and how I do it comes from my experiences struggling in school, and my desire for all students to meet with success and not feel the way that I did. Please don’t get me wrong: I had numerous outstanding teachers that went out of their way to ensure that I was successful, and I’m so incredibly grateful to all of them. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them!

      I think that you make a very important point here about not just differentiating the product, but how the child accesses the information. As we spend more and more time as a school on “process” versus “product,” this is the perfect reminder about the need to differentiate both. With the use of assistive technology, there are so many amazing options!

      Aren’t we lucky, Lorraine, to really have the best job in the world?!

  2. Well, I didn’t have a pen either and my journal will likely stay pristine & unused because that’s just not me either. However, I feel like we both are keenly aware of our strengths, needs and ability to accommodate for ourselves. But we both earned that after many years of practice and self reflection. I think accommodations has two clear & important aspects. The first is the expected: the strategies and supports we provide to allow all students to have equal opportunity to access and share their learning. The second is maybe even more important: teaching students to reflect on themselves, become aware enough that they can advocate for themselves so that when strategies and supports aren’t offered they can get their on their own…just like we did without our pens tonight.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kristi! You make a really important point here about self-reflection. The truth is that it’s not just the students with special needs that may do better with certain accommodations: I think that all students have their own strengths, needs, and preferences, and it’s important that we help students see how they can do best. Self-reflection allows for this. Hopefully then, over time, there will be other people that sit in a meeting or inservice, much like we did today, and feel confident enough to choose the tablet or computer over a pen because that’s what works best for them.


  3. Aviva,
    Another great post and I too am usually without a pen:) What I provide for my world geography sixth graders is a choice in not only as far as what they learn but also the how (film, article etc) and also a choice as far as presenting that learning. Luckily, I have a wonderful supportive principal and parents who want their kids to love the most disliked subject of the curriculum because they see the value of understanding the world.
    My students love what they do and love world geography because they know I respect and value them for who they are.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, JoAnn! What you’re describing here is the approach that we’ve been focusing on as a school all year long. You’re providing lots of voice and choice, and helping students see why the subject is so important to learn and how it can be meaningful to them. How would you encourage (and support) others with offering so much voice and choice? How did you get started, and how did you move ahead from there?


      • Aviva,
        I began by using Kagan’s cooperative learning module for about the first two weeks of school. This helped my classes learn to begin to work together and understand what it means to be a team. I also continually asked them for their input on whatever we were doing. It would be something like, “this is what I’m thinking but I want to know what you think.” When suggestions were made I allowed them to move forward with their ideas with support from me but them knowing it was up to them to make it work. Each class also created their own list of what they felt their responsibilities should be and also what countries they wanted to study.
        Unfortunately, the rest of my team doesn’t believe in this nor do they allow it. Even though they are far younger than me they need to be in total control and still focus on personal success. They feel I can do what I do because “it’s only social studies.”

        • Thanks for sharing what you do here, JoAnn! I love your approach. It’s too bad that your other team members haven’t embraced it yet, but sometimes change is hard. I wonder if when others see the student success, they’ll give this a try as well. I’m remaining optimistic!

          Thanks for doing all you do and for your willingness to share along the way!


  4. I believe that it starts with accepting that there are many ways to learn and to demonstrate what you have learned. It’s very important to provide instruction on what the options might look like. For example, Sometimes teachers will offer students an opportunity to complete an assignment with an oral presentation as opposed to a written product but neglect to be clear about the success criteria for the alternative option. I think that teachers who frequently offer choice in assignments learn how students best express their learning. We have looked at “differentiating the instruction” with a lens that is too narrow.

    • I think that you make an excellent point here, Carol! If we’re offering choice, we need to make sure that students know how they’re being assessed on all of these options. More anchor charts may be necessary to help with this.

      We also need to give students a chance to share how they learn best. In the beginning, this might be a very scaffolded discussion, as I think that it takes time and many opportunities to really make these good choices and understand the reasoning behind them. Maybe having more of these opportunities to discuss differentiated instruction and how it looks in the classroom will help us as we try to navigate the problems/difficulties that come with it too.

      Thanks for the comment!

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