All posts by Marilyn

Differentiation + Technology = POWERFUL

Differentiation – a word with which every educator is quite familiar.  However, the execution of effectively differentiated instruction for students is where the struggle can be for many. Technology can be a huge benefit to teachers as they customize learning activities for their students.  Directing students to specific group activities, choice of resources, and dynamic activities are a few examples of how technology can be a benefit to reach all learners where ever they are in the learning process.

Many teachers have used the strategy of moving students in techpowertheir classroom to do a certain activity (i.e., stations).  While this works fine, it has potential for unintended negative effects, for instance, if a student labels him/herself based on the group he/she is assigned.   Releasing and/or restricting particular learning activities through technology to groups of students can direct their focus on the learning task and at their pace, all the while other groups of students are working on their task at their pace.  Students are none-the-wiser as to who is in the remediation or extra-time group and who is accelerated.

Another benefit of technology is the ability to publish different parts of a lesson in a sequence that the teacher deems appropriate.  For instance, a teacher has four parts to her lesson (A, B, C, D) and wants to ensure that part A is completed or mastered before part B, part B is completed or mastered before part C, etc.  In a traditional classroom, the teacher would have complete control over the timing of each portion of the learning, probably, by delivering to a whole group. But . . . where’s the differentiation in that? Using applications like our eCLASS C&I course pages, the teacher can conditionally release portions of a lesson contingent on a previous portion being  completed or receiving a set score (i.e., Part B is only available after part A has been viewed).  Thus, students control the pace of the lesson to match their learning needs, supporting a deeper understanding before moving on to the next section of the lesson.

        Providing choice to students in the learning process is another way to differentiate.  Students have so many different learning preferences and it is nearly impossible for any one teacher to effectively, let alone efficiently, deliver a topic to meet every learning style in the room.  When a teacher can give his or her students a choice in the learning resources through the vehicle of technology, it allows the teacher to have clarifying, extension, and remediation conversations with the learners.  One could create a choice board including a reading passage, a video, an audio file, an interactive activity, a physical creation, etc.   Teachers also can have students select more than one option on the choice board, thereby activating the different styles and potentially increasing learning. When students have a choice in the product that they present to the teacher to show their understanding, that meets the students where they are, to help them communicate their level of learning.  For example, if a student has a high level of anxiety presenting a report in front of a class, he/she instead could create a visual product with a web 2.0 tool.

        Finally, when students have dynamic content with which to interact and get immediate feedback, students and teachers alike can experience the strength behind differentiation.  There are so many interactive websites available now for students to experience learning in such a powerful way.  Virtual lab experiments, number input/output games, and word sorts are all examples of the practice activities that can be leveraged as a component of a lesson and supporting students’ learning on their level.  Many of these include dynamic features that provide immediate feedback to the “player” about whether or not they are correct.  Further, including the teacher in the conversation immediately, whether virtual (on a discussion, blog, etc.) or physical, lets the student know what adjustments they need to make as they are learning.

In summary, differentiation is a best practice and therefore an everyday expectation for the instruction in our classroom(s).  Guiding learning paths for students can lessen the load and provide structure for students by restricting activities or parts of a lesson until the learner is ready.  Students are able to “control” their learning when they can choose the type(s) of learning activities in which they will participate, all the while receiving the same content.  And, when a choice is given in the type of product they can present to the teacher, students can produce something within their scope of comfort and expertise.  The ability to interact with content and be provided with immediate feedback from the material and the teacher provides an unmatched degree of support for an individual learner. When educators can harness the power of technology to support this vital component of teaching, teachers can better reach their students and students can have a more positive learning experience for their learning abilities.

GaETC 2017 Highlight #1: Flipgrid

The 2017 Georgia Educational Technology Conference was packed full of new tools and exciting strategies that everyone is eager to try out with their students and teachers. We are going to share a few highlights from the conference with you in case you weren’t able to attend or if you attended different sessions. We hope you find something new you can use to engage your students!

flipgridThe first tool we are sharing is a website called Flipgrid: “Flipgrid is the leading video discussion platform used by millions of PreK to PhD educators, students, families, and organizations in more than 150 countries! Create a Grid (that’s your classroom or group), add Topics to spark the discussion, and your community builds a dialogue as they share short video responses. Super simple. Super powerful. Endless uses.”

Flipgrid is a free website that you can use to facilitate discussions and conversations among all your students. With the free account, you can set up one grid, which is the equivalent of a class.  Within your grid, you can create unlimited topics for students to discuss. Students will then record a video of themselves answering the question you posed. In the free account, teachers choose to restrict the video length to either 15 seconds or 90 seconds. Students love adding drawings or stickers to their videos before posting them! My favorite part is that your grid can be embedded in your eCLASS page.

Teachers are using Flipgrid across all subject areas.  computer Students are sharing book reviews, reflecting on their learning throughout a unit, explaining their math thinking, and collaborating with students from other schools. Videos that students post become formative assessments to help guide instruction the next day. Foreign language teachers are using Flipgrid as a tool for their students to practice speaking while music teachers are asking students to record themselves playing a piece of music. Need help with ideas of how to use Flipgrid? Check out their website for links to blog posts with suggested ideas.

Did you discover other ideas while you were at GaETC? Share them on our Padlet!

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An Open Letter to Kindergarten Teachers

Dear Kindergarten Teacher,

How many times have you caught yourself saying, “My students are too young for technology” or “My students don’t know how to log in. They’re kindergarteners” or “It takes too long for my students to login to the computer and then login to eCLASS C&I”? I know many of us are guilty of using these words. I know I’ve used them in my own classroom until one day I had a student prove me wrong. He logged on and used that computer faster than I did! That day, I realized that I was not giving my students an opportunity to even try using the technology. I was telling them they can’t do something and that went against every teaching philosophy in which I’ve ever believed! So, I’m here to tell you that kindergarten students can! They can log into a computer as early as the first month of school. They can do more than play games on the computer. They can post to discussion boards. They can create using technology. They can do these things and so much more!

So, how can you get younger students started using technology as early as the first month of school? The first thing you can to do is teach your students how to log in to the computer and to eCLASS C&I (or your LMS). In Gwinnett County, our students log in using a 9 digit code that is unique for each student with a unique password as well.. Kindergarten teachers often print out labels that have their students’ names, numbers, and passwords on them. Sometimes, the font is pretty small and hard for little eyes to read. Make it easier on your students and yourself by using a larger font. Then, take it one step further by chunking the 9 digit number into smaller sections. For example, after every three numbers, put a space to separate them. Then, change the color of each set of three numbers. Take a look at the example below. Which one do you think is easier for kindergarten eyes to read?

901632872
901   632   872

Rachel Storey, a Technology Specials teacher at Knight Elementary School, created a fun song to help her students learn their numbers, their passwords, the Tab key, and the Enter key. Once the song is completed, students have logged into the computer or eCLASS C&I. The song is to the tune of “Jingle Bells” and is different for each student based on their number and their password. Here is an example:

901, 632, 872, press Tab
123, 456, press Enter then you’re done
Yay!

Practice this at least once a week and your students will be logging in faster than you’ve ever seen!

Now that your students are logging in to eCLASS C&I, what can they do to show their learning? Take a look at this lesson that was planned in collaboration with a kindergarten teacher. Instruction starts in a small group of six students.

Today, we are going to practice reading color words. Then, we are going to type a sentence about our favorite color. Do you know what typing is? That means we are going to write, but on the computer!

I LikeAs students voice their excitement about typing, the teacher hands each student a sentence strip. “This says, “I like”. Let’s read it together. “I like”. Good! Now, you read it when I point to you.” Each student takes a turn reading their sentence strip.

Great reading! Now, I’m going to add a word to my sentence. See, I’m oct2putting my card on the line. Now it says, “I like blue”. I’m going to give you a color and when I point to you, I want you to read your sentence to me.” The teacher passes out an index card to each student. Students read their new sentence when the teacher points to them.

You guys are wonderful readers. Let’s try it one more time. Hand me your cards and I’ll give you a new one.” The teachers and students repeat the process together.

Wow, you guys are reading rockstars! I think we are ready to write about our favorite color! When I point to you, tell me what your favorite color is.” As the students tell the teacher their favorite color, the teacher removes the previous index card and hands the students an index card with their favorite color written on it.

Before we can write our favorite color, we have to read the sentence. When I point to you, it’s your turn to read.” All students read their sentence one last time. This entire process lasts less than 5 minutes.

oct3Now that students are prepared, it’s time to bring out the technology! In pairs, students are prompted to login to eCLASS C&I. Working in pairs allows for collaboration, learning how to share, and learning how to help a friend without telling them the answer. It is also more manageable for the teacher because there are fewer devices! After logging in, students are directed to their teacher’s course page where they click on an image in the News (Announcements) widget.

Student 1 posts by typing their name in the subject line and their sentence in the body of their post. After posting, student 2 creates another post in the same way. Students learn how to take turns and help their partner by pointing to the letter on the keyboard or to the sentence strip for reference. Students are provided with resources such as their sentence strip and their name tag to help them with writing. Remember, it’s still early in the year and this is how we support them when they are writing on paper!

oct4A few students will spell some of the words wrong or mix up the letters. It’s totally appropriate for them to do that! We don’t expect their writing on paper to be perfect. At this point in the year, they are stringing together letters to represent words or writing beginning sounds. They can do this on a discussion board, too! It’s simply a different format.

oct5To help students along in the process, the teacher provides each pair with a directions booklet. Instead of using words, each page shows a picture of what the students should click on next. One partner is able to reference the directions while the other student looks for the picture on the computer/tablet.

Students in this classroom repeat this activity using different cards for 3 weeks. They write about their favorite animals and their favorite foods! By the third week, they are much more proficient at following the directions book, working together, and using the technology. This station could easily continue as an independent station throughout the school year. Imagine where these students will be at the end of Kindergarten! They won’t need the sentence strip for support any longer. Instead, they will be composing their writing themselves and using the technology independently.

oct6

Kindergarten teachers, your students can do it! Let’s be the teachers who help our students rise to the occasion and show them what they are capable of achieving! Let’s be the ones who embrace the time in which they were born!