Mapping a Route Toward Differentiated Instruction

An article by Carol Ann Tomlinson

Developing academically responsive classrooms is important for a country built on the twin values of equity and excellence. Our schools can achieve both of these competing values only to the degree that they can establish heterogeneous communities of learning (attending to issues of equity) built solidly on high-quality curriculum and instruction that strive to maximize the capacity of each learner (attending to issues of excellence).

A serious pursuit of differentiation, or personalized instruction, causes us to grapple with many of our traditional—if questionable—ways of “doing school.” Is it reasonable to expect all 2nd graders to learn the same thing, in the same ways, over the same time span? Do single-textbook adoptions send inaccurate messages about the sameness of all learners? Can students learn to take more responsibility for their own learning? Do report cards drive our instruction? Should the classroom teacher be a solitary specialist on all learner needs, or could we support genuinely effective generalist-specialist teams? Can we reconcile learning standards with learner variance?

The questions resist comfortable answers—and are powerfully important. En route to answering them, we try various roads to differentiation. The concreteness of having something ready to do Monday morning is satisfying—and inescapable. After all, the students will arrive and the day must be planned. So we talk about using reading buddies in varied ways to support a range of readers or perhaps developing a learning contract with several options for practicing math skills. Maybe we could try a tiered lesson or interest centers. Three students who clearly understand the chapter need an independent study project. Perhaps we should begin with a differentiated project assignment, allowing students to choose a project about the Middle Ages. That’s often how our journey toward differentiation begins.

The nature of teaching requires doing. There’s not much time to sit and ponder the imponderables. To a point, that’s fine—and, in any case, inevitable. A reflective teacher can test many principles from everyday interactions in the classroom. In other words, philosophy can derive from action.

We can’t skip one step, however. The first step in making differentiation work is the hardest. In fact, the same first step is required to make all teaching and learning effective: We have to know where we want to end up before we start out—and plan to get there. That is, we must have solid curriculum and instruction in place before we differentiate them. That’s harder than it seems.

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Student Reflective Practice

Reflective practice, which is highly regarded in education and other professional fields, centers on describing, analyzing, and evaluating our thoughts, assumptions, beliefs, theory base, and actions. It is thinking about a learning task after you have done it, considering how it applies to the content, and contextualizing it in reality. For educators, the benefits of reflective practice are improvement of teaching practice, learning and greater effectiveness as a teacher, and improved problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

This article discusses the similar benefits that high school students can receive from participating in reflective practice. Through reflective journals, writing pieces, and portfolios, students can improve their understandings of concepts, develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and build connections to the content.

Read the full article

Why teachers need to be entertainers

Professor John Hattie of Melbourne University drew the wrath of many when he told teachers to ”just shut up”.

In fact, Hattie is supported by a considerable body of research; for instance, North American writers Lorna M. Earl and Andy Hargreaves, who observed lessons no more interesting than watching a haircut in progress. Researchers talk of students drowning in a sea of teacher ”blah”.

The difficulty is that so many people consider themselves experts on schools because they once attended one.

Long-winded accounts of subject matter may have once worked for teachers but young people these days are different from those of the previous century. Their attention spans are shorter, a product, perhaps, of constantly changing multimedia stimuli. They expect – indeed, demand – to be entertained.

Their world is high-tech and their attention is rarely captured by drab or monotonous presentations, which makes engaging in learning one of the chief tasks and difficulties of the modern educator.

The emphasis in schools has changed from teaching to learning and, quite rightly, the critical issue for a teacher is not the quality of their own narrative teaching but rather what their students are learning.

For them to learn effectively, and particularly to master the skills of ongoing learning, of processing apparently limitless information and of developing discernment, they need to be active, not passive, learners.

They need to be ”doers” who can find and process information, rather than just listeners.

Hattie is right: if teachers talk their students into oblivion, the teachers’ knowledge on display might be impressive but what the students gain in terms of content, skills and wisdom will be limited.

Good teachers certainly explain work clearly and test their students’ understanding with strategic questioning. They are masters of content, passionate and excited about their subject, convey a deep interest in their students as people, set high expectations, imbue their students with the confidence to succeed and give students feedback so they know how to improve.

Depending upon their subject, they utilise a wide variety of teaching strategies, working with mind and hand, desk-based and experiential learning, books and screens and also sometimes make their own products.

None of this is to suggest that teachers abrogate their authoritative role as teachers. In fact, I suspect one reason Hattie’s remarks have attracted such opposition is that they have been misunderstood. There have been, in the recent past, advocates and exponents of a laissez-faire style of education where teachers step so much out of the limelight, they are virtually disempowered and become co-workers and purveyors of optional suggestions for students. This can be very unhelpful, as young people, by virtue of their relative immaturity and lack of life experience, can flounder without firm guidance and direction.

To those who experienced, in their own education, regimented rows and stern, highly punitive, teachers, contemporary education can appear chaotic, even anarchic. But there is a real difference between chaos and the energy and noise that is part of creative learning.

At times, the quietest classroom may exhibit simply sullen orderliness rather than actual learning. The touchstone of a quality classroom is not whether it is silent apart from the teacher’s voice but how much real learning is taking place.

Good teachers are firmly in control, allow discussion and its attendant noise only in so far as it is educational, and direct and shape student learning. The best teachers know how much to talk, when to listen, how to motivate student interest and engagement and at what point to unleash the students, under supervision, as active learners, engaging richly and deeply with the learning material.

The notion that there was a fixed canon of important knowledge that teachers could impart to students has been overwhelmed by the knowledge explosion of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. While it remains the case that there is an essential core of knowledge that is fundamental to our identity and civic awareness, most educators would agree that it is critical to equip students to be life-long learners.

Continued learning will be essential as knowledge continues to expand and therefore knowing how to learn (which includes experiencing active learning in school) will become more important than simply mastering content. Knowing how to learn is vocationally relevant, as employers expect staff to enhance their skills in a workplace setting.

Research shows that, when children are at school, the fundamental difference in their educational outcomes is made by teachers. Their role is critical, seminal, formative and potentially transformational but that task won’t be done if they just keep talking.

Dr John Collier is Head of St Andrew’s Cathedral School Sydney. He is the chair of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia NSW/ACT Branch.

Source: http://m.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/why-teachers-need-to-be-entertainers-20110717-1hked.html

Sequential and Random Learners

Sequential learners learn step by step. They want to know what comes first and they then add further information in steps. They like to know what’s coming up next and they prefer to stay focused on a single task. Maths is a sequential subject where learners need each step in order, for example, you can’t learn to multiply before you have learned addition. Multiplication is repeated addition.

A random learner thinks chaotically and may have several projects going at once. During discussion there is often no apparent logical thought process as they jump from one point to another and you as the listener are left wondering how they went from topic A to topic X and back to topic G.

Sequential Characteristics:

  • like step by step
  • more likely to read instructions first
  • tidy – everything has its place
  • often methodical
  • strong chronological narrative
  • one-task focused

Random Characteristics:

  • like variety
  • have many tasks happening
  • simultaneously
  • often wander off on a tangent
  • when talking or writing

Communicating in the classroom:

Allow sequential learners to finish one task before going on to the next and give them the, ‘what’s next?’ It’s good to display your long term plans for these learners so they know where they’re headed. Random learners will be very happy to have several projects on the go at the same time, however, they can be frustrated by being forced to do one task at a time. Allow these learners to work on contract so they can complete each day’s tasks in the order they prefer.

Source: http://spectrumcommunity.ning.com/profiles/blogs/communicating-with-other-3

Global and Analytical Learners

Global learners need the big picture. They like to see where concepts interrelate with other concepts and how it all applies to them. These learners need an overview of a topic first and tend to get frustrated with fine detail. They are good at multi-tasking and like to know the theme and purpose of a lesson first. An analytical learner is able to process the details independently from each other. This learner loves details, facts and figures.

 Global Characteristics

  • need all the information before beginning
  • want to know all the steps involved
  • like to know what the finished product will be like
  • need to know where the information fits into their own life

Analytical Characteristics

  • like small chunks
  •  love facts and figures
  • like to know all the fine details
  • self evaluate
  • like step by step
  • take a more logical approach

When doing a jigsaw puzzle an analytical learner will tend to take any two pieces and see if they fit together, then take another piece and so on. They also tend to start anywhere with the puzzle, and do sections as the pieces turn up. The global learner, after completing the frame, will compare a piece of the puzzle with the picture on the box and place it in the corresponding area within the frame.

Communicating in the classroom

According to the Dunn & Dunn research, 70% of teachers teach analytically and 70% of students learn globally. The technique of hiding the page on an OHP and revealing it line by line (intellectual flashing!) drives a person who prefers to process globally insane. They want to see the whole thing so they can work out how it fits together.

Maths teachers tend to be analytical and might say, ‘Today we are doing quadratic equations. Please turn to page 39 and complete numbers 1- 5.’ This again, is frustrating for global processors as they are wondering, ‘Given that we are all going to die, what is the point of quadratic equations?’ They need to be given a reason for learning them and how they will apply to their lives.

Analytical learners get very frustrated when teachers do not give any facts or figures. They often want to know, ‘Who said?’ and they respond to phrases such as ‘research shows…’ or ‘scientists have found…’. Their eyes often light up when the teacher mentions numbers and dates and they’ll often write these down immediately.

Source: http://spectrumcommunity.ning.com/profiles/blogs/communicating-with-other-2

National curriculum under threat

Victoria and New South Wales have broken ranks over the move to a national school curriculum, saying it is crucial that educational standards are not eroded.

The two rogue states attacked the federal government for failing to take into account the full impact and considerable cost of implementing the curriculum changes.

They also raised concerns about teacher bonuses and questioned whether there was a need for an Australian Baccalaureate, which would complement existing senior secondary school qualifications.

The dissent is a blow to the federal government and could further delay the national curriculum, a reform priority for Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The states last year agreed the first four subjects of the national curriculum – maths, science, English and history – would be substantially implemented by 2013.

However, support has been wavering following the election of Coalition governments in Victoria and NSW, with Victoria last week vowing it would not relinquish control over ”critical areas” such as languages. The O’Farrell government has also pledged to refuse to accept the national curriculum if it means NSW standards go down.

Victorian Minister for the Teaching Profession Peter Hall said there was ”some nervousness” among ministers and jurisdictions about proceeding down the track of a national curriculum. ”All states and territories have an obligation to ensure national reform in education does not erode educational standards in the quest for national consistency,” he said.

In a statement released after a meeting of state and federal education ministers yesterday, Victoria and NSW raised concerns about a number of key Gillard policies, including a one-off performance bonus of up to $8100 for one in 10 teachers, which was funded in the budget.

The article from The Age, 9 July 2011:  http://www.theage.com.au/national/national-curriculum-under-threat-20110708-1h6u5.html#ixzz1RZeIhNBQ

Radical surgery saves colleges on the brink

Since 2006, the northern metropolitan region’s 195 schools have been involved in a strategy focused on improving classroom tuition to lift each school’s academic performance. A book charting the strategy’s success, Powerful Learn-ing, written by Wayne Craig and other co-authors, was published this year. But by 2009 it was clear the reforms were not making inroads at Fawkner and Box Forest. “It would have taken too long to turn the school around,” Mr Napoli says of Fawkner. “The school was in real danger of not being viable. We needed to make a clean break from the past.”

After consulting with officials in the state government and the Australian Education Union, Mr Craig went to the schools in the last term before the summer holidays to tell staff they would be shut. He expected a hostile audience. “At Glenroy I didn’t get a question, there was stunned silence. At Fawkner I had three questions from staff who wanted to get out and those questions were about packages. But in both cases, after the meeting, significant numbers of teachers came up to me and said, ‘This is fantastic, something has got to change.’ ”

Under a one-off agreement negotiated with the union all staff were declared in excess. Those keen to continue were interviewed and selected for jobs by the principal, who also hired new staff. The staff, students, school council and department officials planned how they would reopen both schools as reinvigorated colleges. Box Forest is now Glenroy College.

At Fawkner, students helped design the uniform, devise a school name and logo and describe the attributes of a good teacher. To hasten the break with the past, the school council voted to spend $100,000 to give every student a new summer and winter uniform. “It had a powerful impact,” Mr Napoli says. “It meant students had no excuses for not wearing the uniform.”

Mr Craig used department funds and money from the federal government’s $1.5 billion Smarter Schools National Partnerships program to bring in specialists to help staff improve their tuition skills in literacy, numeracy and student management. The flagship program and other state initiatives are signs that policymakers are taking a more interventionist approach to underachieving schools.

Government secondary colleges are viewed as the toughest to fix. They mark the point where community confidence is weakest, with growing numbers of parents shifting their children to Catholic and independent schools. The northern metropolitan region’s evaluation of its reforms show how difficult the task is.

It has lifted its student performance level in literacy and numeracy from worst to second best among the nine regions that make up Victoria’s government school system. Much of that success has occurred in primary schools. Over the next two years the region will intensify its focus on secondary schools.

Predicaments unique to high schools are highlighted in a report by Harvard University researchers, How High Schools Become Exemplary. The report examined the results of 15 public schools in five US states that recorded high, sustained growth in student achievement. Its analysis of the problems could easily describe those in Australian schools. High schools tend to be fragmented organisations where order is sometimes hard to maintain and where responsibility for improving instruction lies mainly in isolated academic departments and classrooms.

“Principals are often distracted by crises,” the report says. “Many defer routinely to the subject-matter expertise of department leaders, seldom interfering with how departments monitor, evaluate or attempt to improve teaching and learning.”

Most of the schools in the Harvard study were racially and socio-economically diverse. But all shared one key characteristic: “Achievement rose when leadership teams focused thoughtfully and relentlessly on improving the quality of instruction,” the report says. All of the schools took teacher evaluation as seriously as professional learning. Colleagues routinely visited one another’s classrooms and discussed their work, creating a shared accountability among the staff.

The newly opened John Fawkner College has adopted the same approach. Every teacher is given a handbook of explicit rules to get everyone implementing consistent standards of classroom practice and student discipline. It includes a strict dress code for teachers that bans short skirts for women and T-shirts for men.

Stricter rules and higher expectations for students and staff are starting to pay off.

“The most obvious change is the change in student behaviour,” says teacher and year 9-10 co-ordinator Graham McKee, who joined the school in 1990 but was so dismayed by practices at the former college that he considered resigning. “The students didn’t have a work ethic, partly because of the culture. Often kids wouldn’t bring the right equipment to class. It was a way of avoiding work. Now we have a consistent, whole school approach to classroom management rather than leaving it to individual teachers.”

Student detention has been replaced with a demerit points system linked to an online reporting program. If a student consistently misbehaves, is late to class or fails to bring the correct equipment, a demerit point is recorded.

After three demerit points a warning letter is sent to the student’s parent. Four demerit points earn a suspension.

Literacy and numeracy results for years 7-9 students from online tests show steady improvement. The school’s VCE performance is rising, with its mean study score improving since 2008 from 19 to 22. The number of suspensions for bad student behaviour has fallen substantially.

Enrolments have climbed to 440 as the school’s enhanced reputation spreads along the parent grapevine.

For Matina Konstantinakos and 16-year-old Mohamed Nahi, Fawkner’s rebirth has led to noticeable improvements in learning and morale.

“The teachers push us harder but not in an autocratic way,” Matina says. “The new uniform had an amazing impact on attitudes, it made everyone feel more united, more respected.”

Mohamed intended leaving school at the end of year 10 to do a TAFE course. Fawkner’s transformation has convinced him to finish year 12. “It’s no longer a mucking around school,” he says. “People no longer look at us and say, ‘There are some ratty kids from Fawkner.’ ”

Extract from The Age. Continue reading:  http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/radical-surgery-saves-colleges-on-the-brink-20110624-1gj98.html#ixzz1RZbjTZlk