Today I am interviewing my good friend, Cailin Hannan. She is a model teacher for differentiation in the classroom. Today we talk about the importance of differentiation in the classroom and how she uses it in different subjects.
Differentiating is so important in education. I know this is a topic you are passionate about. What about differentiation is so crucial to your planning?
In my classroom, as is typical in most, I serve a lot of very diverse learners. My students come to me at many different levels, sometimes spanning multiple grades. They also come to me with a variety of skills and interests. When it comes to meeting every individual student's needs, while also motivating them individually, this is a huge challenge. Because of this, when completing my unit and weekly plans, differentiation has to be a focus in all subject areas. First of all I need to plan assessments that will help me make imperative decisions about differentiation quickly (diagnostics, tickets-out-the-door, etc.). I first need to think about differentiating based on the student's level of mastery. I think about the supports some students will need (additional teacher support, regular check-ins, paraphrasing of directions, reading partner, word bank) and extensions for others (what will I do for those who already have mastery and/or finish quickly). I want all students to have the support to show me what they know. Another element of my plans is differentiating in regard to how the students will show me what they know. All students do not need to complete the same task (choice boards are a great way to make this happen). This is where I take into account the different learning styles and interests.
How do you differentiate in your reading groups?
I use a diagnostic such as a running record as a starting point for the year and group students at a similar instructional reading level. I do not like to always keep these groups throughout the year, though. Obviously they will be flexible as students make progress, but I also like to mix things up and group students in other ways. For independent reading I like to group students by their interest in a particular genre or author. All the students have a choice of what they will read independently (which will be on their level) but they get to discuss their common interests with a diverse group during "book clubs." For students who are struggling with reading I like to group them by the area for which they are struggling. I have a strategy group that focuses on fluency, and one that focuses on decoding with accuracy. Students can also be grouped based on the comprehension strategy for which they need the most support. I encourage independent reading with my readers who struggle in a variety of ways: reading the first chapter of the book with them and discussing all story elements prior to releasing them, allowing them to buddy read and have regular check ins, or allowing them to reread (from a read aloud) a book they enjoyed.
3. Subjects like science and social studies are harder to differentiate. How do you ensure that the needs of your class are met?
When possible I try to find reading passages and books at a variety of reading levels. This is not always readily available, so I always plan to meet with particular students who need support prior to them reading for information. I get them started and then check back in a bit more often than with other students. I also provide outlines and word banks to help students key in on the most important points while they are reading or during a mini-lesson. Student projects are completed either using choice boards (for both interest and ability) and collaborative work. Most of the time groups and partnerships are strategically chosen to help allow students to utilize leadership skills while others can get the support they need. Lastly, I have a research question that goes with each unit. As students demonstrate mastery and complete tasks they can work independently (or with others as possible) on "answering" the question. Their challenge is to try to use a variety of sources and come up with different ways of showing me (and the class) what they know. Lastly, I really like to do a Jigsaw activity. This gives every group member a specific role for which they will be an expert. After working with a group on their specific role the experts move to a new group where they must share their ideas. This allows for every individual student to participate, but not before getting support from their peers.
4. Where/how do you get your ideas for differentiation?
My main source of knowledge has been my colleagues throughout the years. Everybody I have worked with has had great ideas that I become lucky enough to add to my tool box.
5. How do you manage the classroom with students completing different tasks? How do you ensure they are engaged?
I am constantly working with students and questioning their progress. I walk the room and keep lots of checklists. A quick check on a sheet lets me know that a student is progressing, while an anecdotal note on another student lets me know I need to pull them to provide support the following day. I have more regular check-ins during project and/or independent work with students who have more difficulty with time management. I also like to have conferences with students or a discussion with my whole class as a reflection after completing tasks/projects. This will hopefully help me in the future.
6. What is your favorite part of teaching?
I love the planning, especially planning pacing for the year or for particular units. I love to make sure that all the standards fit together in a way that will be engaging and cross-curricular for the students. Deciding on the perfect activity is also a great part of this job. Above all I love the students. I love watching them learn and getting to play a small part in their world for a year. The connections that I make with them are my favorite part.
Today I am linking up with my friend Meghan Harris from Keeping Up With Mrs. Harris to bring you ideas for Earth Day in the Classroom. Keep reading to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card.
Here are 6 ways to celebrate Earth Day in the classroom.
1. Plant something - Nothing is more beautiful in spring than bright flowers and new green growth. Choosing a class plant(s) to place on the school grounds is a great way to celebrate Earth Day. Taking care of it as it grows over the last month of school is another exciting journey and an easy one to tie in measurement and science experiments. If you have a school where there isn't anyone to water over the summer, just put it in a container that you can take home over the summer and bring back in the new school year.
2. Write poetry to celebrate the Earth - Haikus are the perfect writing assignment for Earth Day. These short Japanese poems about nature are perfect for teaching syllables and word choice. Take the final drafts and add an art design for a quick wall display.
3. Conduct a science experiment - Use this runoff experiment to teach students about littering. Download the Lab Guide for this runoff experiment.
4. Hold an Earth Day Debate - Persuasive writing and speaking is an important standard to cover. Students also need to be willing to think about and listen to another perspective. Here are some interesting topics to use for the debate. I find it interesting to hear students talk about a topic from a different perspective.
5. Perform community service in the school - One of the easiest ways to do this is to have students clean up the school grounds. Gather some plastic gloves, a few trash bags, and some hand sanitizer and head out to recess a few minutes early. (I always let my administration know ahead of time so they would know why we went outside early.) Once the students have helped clean, give a little hand sanitizer and send them off to play. I am always amazed at the students who continue to ask to spend the first few minutes cleaning up the playground.
6. Play A Game - Make 4 Corners into a science game. As students play, tell reasons why a population might die off. Take owls for example.
- In the first round the ones not in the corner are living in areas that are being cleared for new houses.
- In the next, there is a pollutant being ingested by the mice they eat.
- For the third round, the water the owls drink is polluted.
- In the following, an owl accidentally consumes litter.
When you are finished have the students write a reflection on the game. What did they learn? How could they help protect the owl population? What other factors could cause the owl population to decrease? You can do another round for animals in other habitats.
This morning I was downloading yet another set of fun fonts when I happened upon the most amazing thing. I found a way to organize my fonts so I don't have to scroll down that long list hoping to find the one I "might" want. It may have been that second cup of coffee or the prayer I said about wanting to save time. Either way or a combination of both, here is what I found!
Step 1: Go to your launchpad.
Step 2: In the search bar type in "font." This will bring up your Font Book.
Step 3: Click on user and this will bring up the fonts you have added to your computer.
Step 4: Drag the font that you use the most into your collection folders. You can customize these by clicking the + sign and adding new folders. I did one for blog posts and a favorites folder. I also put my favorite easy to read fonts in the traditional folder. These are the ones I use for products and fun activities for my preschoolers learning to read.
Optional Step 5: Delete any fonts you don't use. Click the font name and then click delete. This will bring up a pop up box. Just click remove. Unfortunately you cannot delete all of those unused fonts that came with your computer.
Step 6: Open the project you are working on and highlight the font or just click the font. Hover over the drop down arrow. This will bring up your font list. The first option is font collections. Hover over the arrow beside this option and it will bring up all of the folders you just created.
Step 7: Click the font you want to use. Easy peasy!
These directions are for a Mac. Off to research if a PC is similar!