Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Planning with the end in mind

Carol Ann Tomlinson elaborates on the subject of having clear objectives for a lesson. She states:
During planning, a teacher should generate specific lists of what students should know (facts), understand (concepts and principles), and be able to do (skills) by the time the unit ends. Then the teacher should create a core of engaging activities that offer varied opportunities for learning the essentials she has outlined.

This idea of backwards planning is one that we will be engaging in as we begin to map out our Language Arts block on June 20. It's an excellent practice that can be applied on a teacher, grade level, or school level.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Great teachers can make anything interesting

We're back to Carol Ann Tomlinson's book The Differentiated Classroom again and here's a quote from Paul Fleischman who wrote Dateline: Troy, which illustrates the events of The Iliad with headlines from contemporary newspapers. I think his thoughts are right on the mark.
My real hope is that teachers will be inspired to do what the best teachers have been doing all along-making seemingly remote subjects real and relevant to their students...I think that showing them meaningful links to their own lives will make real readers of them, rather than takers of tests and memorizers of facts. This applies to every subject in the curriculum. Why else did I get a D in trigonometry? I was unconvinced that mastering sines and tangents was interesting in its own right or of any practical value to me. I'm confident, however, that the right teacher could convince me (p. 41).

Aint that the truth. I still vividly remember the great teachers in my life. Through their creativity and passion, they ignited a thirst to know more about the given subject.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Product modifications

Ms. Rogers gives us one more area that can be modified for GATE students.
Product modifications can include transformations, real world problems, and real audiences as the ways students might use or demonstrate what they have learned.

I think this is one of the most doable modificatinos that can take place for GATE students. These students will thrive if given the opportunity to apply what they are learning in real world scenarios. Looking for ways to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in unique and creative ways will keep them hooked and cement their learning at a much deeper level. Can you think of an assignment that is coming up in the next couple weeks where this might be possible? How about giving it a try.

Process modifications

Karen Rogers goes on to explain the second element of instruction that can be modified to differentiate:
Process modifications can include adding (or substituting) higher-order thinking, open-endedness, group process, freedom of choice, proof and reasoning, pacing, and flexibility.

Think about a specific lesson that is coming up soon. Now, how can you adapt it to allow for some of these elements? Can you incorporate higher order thinking opportunities for some students? Is there a place where you can leave things open ended? Is it possible to have students working on this in a group? Are there elements of choice that can be exploited for the benefit of gifted students? What about allowing for acceleration for some students? These are good principles to keep in mind as you consider the effect of the lesson plan on gifted students.

Content modification

Here is the first possible modification that would benefit gifted students - for that matter - all students.
Content modifications can include adding (or substituting) abstractions, complexity, variety, organization, study of people, methods of inquiry, and a variety of forms of subject-based acceleration.

Notice the emphasis is not on quantity, but on variety and depth. Gifted students can take an objective to a new level. Instead of tutoring the struggling student, they should be given an exciting and challenging alternative. Here's a challenge. Pick a large assignment that you are going to give before the year is out and make a concerted effort to make sure that your gifted students have a choice from one or more of the options above. The results will be exhilarating for the students and teacher alike.

Gifted students and differentiation

One of our more involved parents shared with me a book she has been reading called Re-Forming Gifted Education by Karen B. Rogers, Ph.D. Her own children are gifted and she is educating herself on what she can do and what schools should provide in the way of educating gifted children. Her interest in the welfare of her children is well founded. Plenty of research shows that gifted children can easily be neglected. Halecrest's proud history of GATE education is not something that should be quickly dismissed. Teaching gifted children well is no small feat. Is it possible that some of the negative aspects of that program have led us to go to an extreme where our gifted students are now being neglected? We will definitely be digging into this topic in the years to come. Meanwhile, I'll be posting a few thoughts from the aforementioned book to highlight some of the same thoughts that we've been considering from Tomlinson's book. Your comments on GATE education at Halecrest today are quite welcome. If you still can't navigate the blog comments, feel free to e-mail.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Challenging struggling students

Here are a couple quotes from Ms. Tomlinson that are worthy of consideration:
Through increased understanding of both psychology and the brain, we now know that individuals learn best when they are in a context that provides a moderate challenge.

Searching for the perfectly moderate challenge is the quest of the differentiating teacher. Will the assignment be so hard that frustration overwhelms the student? Will the assignment be so easy that boredom seeps in? Here's how Tomlinson says it:
Put another way, students who consistently fail lose thier motivation to learn. Students who succeed too easily also lose their motivation to learn.

She also challenges teachers to never give up on any student:
It is unacceptable for any teacher to respond to any group of children (or any individual child) as though the children were inappropriate, inconvenient, beyond hope, or not in need of focused attention.

We all would benefit from checking our assumptions at the door. I know I've been guilty of giving up on students. Let's hold each other accountable to find a way to reach every child.