Monday, November 3, 2014

Breaking Out of One-Size-Fits-All Instruction

In my last post, I shared about Science teacher Kari Sherman's inspiration to create a tiered lesson for her students on the concept of photosynthesis.  Today I had the opportunity to visit Kari's classroom and see it in action.  It's noteworthy that the physical environment of Kari's classroom speaks volumes.  You can see that Kari clearly posts the classroom objectives and outlines specific directions for students.  Another element really struck me about her room, however.  Her bulletin boards for motivation and fast-finishers immediately told me two things about Kari.  At her core, she believes all kids can succeed, and there's always more science to learn.  We're never done learning! What does your environment communicate?

Once the directions were outlined, students started exploring the content.  It was pretty interesting to watch every single student engage with the content the entire class period and an array of conversations take place without a spoken word.  Just before class started, Kari told me she decided to add a padlet wall for students to be able to add resources, questions, etc.  Now this is what we call crowdsourcing! 

As I observed students choose their path to understanding, I was struck by the variety of student selection.  Kari's TACKK outlined different ways for students to enhance their understanding of photosynthesis.  Some students chose the reteaching option, while many chose the "more practice" option, and a few selected the most difficult option.  I'm left wondering how the student learning would have been different if there had not been more than one way to process the information.  Kari's lesson provided a manageable and engaging way to break away from one-size-fits-all learning!

For more information about this lesson, you can contact Kari @MrsSherman_LHS!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Learning from Each Other: A Learning Lab in Action

Teaching can be an incredibly isolating job.  Many teachers cherish their team collaboration time and are connecting with other educators through social media, but it's rare that teachers have the opportunity to observe one another.  As a high school coach, I have the awesome opportunity to be in classrooms constantly.  Of course, teachers specialize in different content areas, courses, and even grade levels, but there is still so much that can be learned by observing a colleague.  We have more similarities than we do differences!

A few weeks ago, I was in Charity Stephen's classroom and saw a tiered assignment in action. Charity had created this fantastic playground for her students.  All students were engaged, and every student was working at their readiness level.  I was immediately struck by two things:
1. There was no stigma for doing different activities in her classroom.  Some students were working on advanced-level work, while others were in the novice stages. 
2.  Many students were choosing to complete the advanced-level work, rather than take the easy way out.  
My immediate thought was MORE PEOPLE HAVE TO SEE THIS IN ACTION! 

Thus, our first LHS Learning Lab was born!  Charity graciously agreed to arrange another tiered assignment and allow teachers to observe.  I invited staff with this LEARNING LAB FLYER.  About ten teachers participated throughout the morning and we used this LEARNING LAB PROTOCOL to guide our conversations. Check out Charity's blog post for info on her lesson and her reflections.

Throughout the morning, teachers engaged in great conversation as they reflected upon teaching and learning.  Here are some of the highlights from teachers: 
  • "It's great to see how it works to differentiate within a single lesson.  I often think of differentiation as something you have to plan for within an entire unit.  This makes it doable!"
  • "It's interesting to see how well students that I struggle with in my class are working in Charity's class.  Perhaps if I try some of these ideas, I would see different results."
  • "The way Charity talks to students always allows them choice."
    • You'll want to take notes.  Do you want to use paper or Google Docs?
    • When you're ready to get fancy, try the mastery level.  When you're ready to get really fancy, try the advanced level." 
My favorite part of the experience was that Science teacher Kari Sherman was able to apply the idea in her own classroom within 24 hours.  Here is the tiered lesson she created the very next day!