Thursday, July 21, 2016

Different tools for different students



For a moment, you imagine writing three different lessons each day and teaching each one to the right group of students, but the thought of all that work feels, well, unsustainable at best, especially knowing that any given lesson might miss the mark. How can you make sure your teaching matches your kids?” (pg. 71)

            Differentiation is an overwhelming concept for many teachers, especially new teachers.  “How am I supposed to teach so many different lessons? I don’t have time!” is a frequent misunderstanding of what differentiation entails. The authors remind us that differentiation is not always teaching different lessons, but more often, providing different tools during a lesson.  This means that a teacher need to have a large tool chest of tools, and understand how each tools can support a learner. And, recognize (and articulate to students, parents and administration) that fair doesn’t mean the same, so various students will have different supports. Remember that picture? And, more importantly, once students get to know the tools also, they can differentiate for themselves. This is key – as my teaching motto states, “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary. (Thomas Carruthers)


            Using the same tools introduced in previous chapters, the authors illustrate how demonstration notebooks, bookmarks, and micro-progression charts support meeting students where they are and helping them push forward.  In the demonstration notebook, the teacher can show (not just tell) students how to get to the next level in their writing or reading.  The strategies provided are drawn from what the teacher observes is a student (a group) needs and focuses on the WHAT and HOW to provide that model. An integral part of this is that the teacher needs to know that students – through conversation, observation and professional judgement, the teacher identifies the needs (not just some random test that is administered at the wrong time).

            Another handy chart introduced was the “If/Then” chart.  The teacher considers some of the problems students might encounter when working on a task and creates an If/Then chart to help them find a solution. On one side of the chart was an If statement, “If you are struggling to find the main idea…”  And, on the other side were some ideas, “Then, read a section, stop and ask yourself, “What is the point of this section?’” Bookmarks can be created of any of these tools and provided to students when they need it as a reminder. 

            But, how do get students to pay attention to and USE the tools provided? In chapter 6, the authors provide some strategies to troubleshoot typical problems with using tools:

  •  Use pop culture to get students to pay attention
  •  Incorporate metaphors to help students relate
  • Write with kid-friendly language
  •  Shake things up sometimes
  •  Include student voices
  •   Intentionally design the room to support student work
  • Schedule time to think about and create the tools
  •   Use design tools to create interest


The tools we make and the way we use them communicate message to our students…we have opportunities to give our students gifts of our knowledge through the handwritten message a tool holds” (pg. 105).  New teachers often fret about getting their classrooms ready and having the money to buy the pre-printed commercial products to stick on the walls.  But, the walls can and should be teaching and learning spaces create by, for, and with students to support their learning.  When I was a new teacher, I shared a room with a veteran teacher who believed that “stuff on walls distracts students.” I disliked teaching in that Pepto-Bismol pink room and I can’t imagine what the children thought (I was too new to realize that it was important as a teacher to listen to my students).  My mentor teacher bought all the cute Back to School pictures and Writing Process charts, but the room was sterile and the students glossed over the glossy print. When I finally got my own room, it was filled with student work examples, charts of graphic organizers, lists of things we brainstormed.   Now, with the knowledge of reading DIY Literacy, I can be more intentional on how I introduce these tools to my pre-service teachers and help them understand the power of making themselves progressively unnecessary.

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