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Differentiation is an idea as old as effective teaching.”
It is a student-focused way of thinking about teaching and learning, and it is designed to address learning and affective needs that all students have. (Carol Ann Tomlinson, author of How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms.)
Students in our diverse classrooms have different backgrounds, interests, and strengths. They learn in different ways and want to know how learning is relevant to their lives. Differentiation enhances learning for all students.
The first step in a differentiated classroom is knowing the skill level of the students. Certain students may require extra help, whereas others already understand and can apply the skill. Math instruction in a third grade differentiated classroom might include a pre-assessment referred to as “Most Difficult First.” In this practice, students do the most difficult problems first. Students who demonstrate understanding of a concept can skip the instruction and proceed to more challenging concepts.
Teachers who modify the content, process, or product of the curriculum are using differentiation to respond to students’ instructional readiness, interests, and skill levels. They serve as facilitators to meet students at their starting points and move each student forward based on individual needs
The content is the topics/concepts/skills the students must learn. Relevant content matters to students and makes what is taught and learned much easier. One way to differentiate content is through acceleration of instruction. Students can work ahead independently.
Process is how students learn the content. Differentiate the process by modifying the pace, the complexity, or the activities. For example, directions can be specific for some students and more open-ended for others. Students might visit a classroom center for an in-depth study of a topic of interest.
Differentiating the product means varying the complexity of the product – the end result of what the students learned and are able to apply. There are numerous sources of product ideas for teachers. It is motivating for students to be offered a product choice that is personally relevant.
Tomlinson further explains how, in a classroom without differentiation, student similarities seem to take center stage. “In a differentiated classroom, commonalities are acknowledged and built upon, and students’ differences also become important elements in teaching and learning.” (How to Differentiate Instruction, 2017)
How are you using differentiation in your classroom?
You have channeled the active energy of the new school year into a positive learning environment and worked hard to create meaningful learning experiences, while building a sense of community.
Classroom arrangement promotes optimum engagement. And yet, a parent tells you, “My child is bored in class.” You ponder solutions and/or your shortcomings. Never a good thing.
What does it mean when a child says s/he is bored?
It’s impossible for any teacher to keep boredom at bay for all students, all of the time. Despite relevant content and a positive learning environment, students have different interests, needs, and strengths. Engaging content for one student may be boring for another. Students learn in different ways, and what works for some students, may not work for others.
Todd Rose, director of the Mind, Brain, and Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, says the American education system treats boredom as a “character flaw. We say, ‘If you’re bored in school, there’s something wrong with you.’” He recommends adding more choice to the classroom by assigning more hands-on projects, in which students have control over their learning.
The impact of choice and student interest is also highlighted in an Educational Leadership article that describes how “when 5th and 6th graders were asked to draw their typical learning experiences, they often put books and teachers and chalkboards in their pictures—but not themselves (Bishop & Pflaum, 2005). But when they depicted learning they liked, their own images were front and center.”
“I’m bored” can be a result of assigned work that is too difficult or too easy. Sometimes, hard work is boring. A National Association of Elementary School Principals report explains how learning multiplication facts requires time and work that may not be fun.
Conversely, students who learn and retain information quickly may dislike the routine and drill of learning math facts. They have already mastered the facts and need to be challenged. These “fact masters” require learning experiences that have a higher degree of complexity such as:
The product of the two numbers is 27. The quotient is 3.
What are the numbers?
What do you think are the causes of classroom boredom? Learning choices and differentiation are two approaches to prevent it.
From tips to getting the school year off to a good start to ideas for back to school night, September’s resources offered a wide range of content to begin the
school year inspired.
Thank you readers of If Then Creativity for learning from and with us and for joining us in our mission to create quality educational services and products. If Then Creativity exists for you.
The first weeks of school: Support and Suggestions
Teacher knowledge that supports student learning:
Are you looking for new ways to integrate the arts into your classroom?
Download our image integration activity, A Picture to Ponder. It is a wonderful way to jump-start students' critical and creative thinking. Looking closely at art enables students to think and express themselves in new ways, while appreciating the perspectives of others. They develop an awareness of historical context, conceptual learning, and creative possibilities.
Vincent van Gogh, Farmhouse in Provence, 1888
Image Use: open access
Here are 8 great articles I read in September about teaching/learning/education.
A simple question about what motivates her child, led to this parent’s response.
Some experts say learning styles do not exist.
“Students making projects, around their passions, collaborating with peers, and maintaining a playful attitude.”
The 3-step lesson plan.
There is a gap between student creative expression at home and at school.
The many ways paper remains essential for productive learning.
Administrators, teachers need your
Nowadays we can call anyone at anytime and anywhere, but who answers the phone?
Okay, so no one’s answering, and yet you need to discuss an important, time-sensitive issue about a student. If you leave a message, will the parent return your call? To ensure that phone call happens, keep the lines of communication open, and keep parents in-the-know with the following proactive recommendations.
When to call a student's parents often depends on the school’s overall philosophy, but if you have concerns about a student’s behavior or academics, it might be time to call.
Prior to the call home, consider the parent’s situation. Is s/he at work? It’s difficult to talk openly about your child in front of others. Could a letter be sent home instead? Formal letters give parents time to respond more thoughtfully. Parents know their children best; their input and suggestions are vital to improving any situation. Through the context of the letter, you can suggest a follow-up telephone call and/or a parent/teacher conference.
Respond to the following types of parental questions and concerns with emails:
Call parents (or mail a formal letter) about more serious confidential matters such as:
Connecting with parents via telephone keeps parents in-the-know and prevents concerns from becoming larger problems. Keeping the lines of communication open brings an understanding of what works best for the child’s success.
How do you converse with parents about a concern? Has technology made the telephone call obsolete?
Whether it’s massive black holes or bursting volcanoes, the best way to get children excited about reading is to read with them, and let them see you reading too! Counter to what some readers think, nonfiction is not dry facts and information.
In fact, librarian Neal Wyatt refers to the genre as the “extravagantly rich world of nonfiction.” Connect with your students as they discover the countless treasures within the wonderful world of nonfiction.
Students start with the animal name in the center of the map, then they draw or write ideas that come to them. Once they have many ideas, they can be grouped. Mind maps can also be done collaboratively as a class too. Students brainstorm ideas as a group, then write individual questions they want answered based on the collaborative ideas.
Nonfiction is an essential and motivational component of reading instruction. It is invaluable in teaching the following reading strategies and helps students demonstrate meaning from text.
If you’re looking for recommended children’s nonfiction authors, a few of my favorites are Sandra Markle, Kathleen Krull, and any children’s book illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Another excellent source is the ALSC Notable Children's Book List (nonfiction titles).
Do you have a favorite children’s nonfiction author or book? There are so many, it’s hard to choose a favorite!
Controversial subjects should be discussed in schools. Controversial subjects should not be discussed in schools. Where do you fall along the agree/disagree spectrum?
We want our students to express themselves through relevant learning activities that have connections to the “real world.”
We emphasize reading nonfiction materials to expand their knowledge. We want them to become responsible citizens who practice empathy and engage respectfully with others. We can’t teach these skills without honest discussions – discussions that are, on occasion, difficult.
Some teachers feel comfortable facilitating sensitive subjects (and emotional moments). Others resist hot-button issues due to the divisive nature of the topics – topics with countless questions and no easy answers.
According to Dr. Thomas Hollihan, professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication, “one of the most troublesome obstacles to effective classroom discussion is the reluctance to encourage students to discuss the truly complex and vexing public issues that divide us. Certain topics are literally walled-off and considered too controversial to risk discussing in a classroom for fear that they will make some participants uncomfortable.”
We often dismiss the impact local current events have on students.
I recall fourth graders very worried about racial hate graffiti they saw in the community. Another time, a third grade student was highly critical of a high school student volunteer with multiple piercings. “He’s not nice. He has piercings and tattoos.” Both were teachable moments. No matter the age of a student, it’s vital that we listen and acknowledge that s/he is concerned, worried or confused about something.
The National Association of School Psychologists offers advice for talking to your students about racial violence and other tragedies by reassuring students that they are safe at school.
“Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.” Young students worried about images from the news lack the emotional development to understand certain events, which can lead to stress.
Talking about and respecting their concerns and opinions builds resilience.
For older students, there is no shortage of issues for controversial discussion. After Charlottesville, Zoe Padron, a high school teacher, planned to listen more than speak in her classroom. “It’s my job to reflect back what I hear and help them name what they are feeling. When a student tells me he’s upset about what happened, chances are there is more than one emotion in there. It’s just fine to say, tell me more, what makes you upset? We’re not necessarily good at naming emotions, or we tend to name the wrong ones, use blanket emotions, or what I call the baby emotions – mad, happy, sad. What happened in Charlottesville is a good time to start working on those complex emotions.”
For teachers looking for resources to assist with controversial subjects, Teaching Tolerance has numerous materials for all grade levels that emphasize social justice and anti-bias. Their lesson plans are relevant and easily incorporated into the curriculum. Their articles and webinars show teachers how to take action and facilitate sensitive subjects.
Museums are another resource. Many offer practical ways for teachers to use their online collections as a basis for student research and exploration.
taken on any controversial subjects in your classroom? Did you find it difficult? Should controversial topics be taught in elementary school? Tell us what you think.
Back-to-School Night, Open House, Parent Meet and Greet, Meet the Teacher Night, whatever it’s called at your school, it’s an opportunity to connect with families.
Yes, it’s a nerve-racking event. We want to make a good impression. That’s why many teachers start building parent connections before school even starts. If possible, presenting with your grade-level colleagues takes some of the pressure off. Working as a team lessens the preparation and presentation time. After the team presentation, parents can visit individual classrooms, which helps parents who have more than one classroom to visit.
When talking with parents, follow the first day “must-do’s” by sharing a bit of your personality, building parent enthusiasm with highlights of the year ahead, and incorporating the following tips from experienced teachers:
I was 21 when I accepted my first teaching job. Sixth grade, all subjects. I knew nothing. Fortunately, I had a supportive principal as a mentor, a good friend as a colleague, and students that taught me as much as I taught them.
Our principal provided practical advice and opportunities for professional development – especially how to manage the classroom. I still remember him saying, “You might want to consider having the students raise their hands.” (Accepting call-outs reinforces that behavior.) While much has changed in education since then, many things remain the same, like the importance of making your classroom a positive place for students.
Classroom “must do’s” include establishing procedures and a management plan. Everything from collecting papers to dismissing students requires a procedure with practice. For example, dismissal time can be the most chaotic time of the day. It’s important for students to learn an organized method that ensures their safety. Packing up for the end of the day, listening quietly for bus numbers, sharing a goodbye, and walking to the designated dismissal location are procedures that must be practiced to become routine. With practice, procedures become automatic.
Procedures to practice include:
Students in positive learning environments have clear expectations and are aware of how to behave in all settings, including the lunchroom, playground, media center, and emergency/fire drills. They also understand the consequences of not following the procedure.
In addition to learning numerous routines, classroom management specialists recommend three to five core classroom rules. In most of my classroom experiences, the students and I created these rules together. Involving students in the process allows them to understand how the rules are in place for them, so they have a positive place to learn. We discussed each rule, and we role-played both positive and negative examples of acceptable behavior.
Many schools implement school-wide expectations. One effective school-wide intervention encouraged students’ academic, social-emotional, and behavioral success by following the motivational acronym ROAR.
These four expectations covered the positive behaviors teachers wanted students to exhibit.
Maximize procedural structure in your classroom by showing/telling students want you want them to do rather than telling them what you don’t want them to do. Actively involve students in the process and practice, practice, practice! Teaching them how to be responsible for their learning aligns their excitement for the new school year with your instructional goals.
Students start the school year at differing levels of excitement. Some are ready for the year to begin; others are reluctant to return.
It’s important to encourage all excitement levels by creating a welcoming, flexible classroom environment that supports consistency and active learning. Channel the active energy of the new school year into a positive learning environment with the following tips:
A positive learning environment is a productive learning environment. What strategies do you use to create a positive learning environment?
Ready, Set, Go! The beginning of the school year is like a long, focused run.
Before students enter your classroom, you have spent hours getting ready. There are many important things to remember and share with students on the first day of school.
When the big day arrives, there’s no better time to give yourself extra time by getting to school early and making sure everything is in place. The extra minutes provide a buffer for the unexpected and allow you to stay calm. That way you can welcome your newcomers with a smile and a good morning ritual to start the year. Once it’s time to get down to business, incorporate this list of First School Day Must Do’s.
The first day never quite goes according to plan – especially the end of the day with all of the bus delay confusion.
Be patient with yourself and with your first day expectations. It’s an exciting day, but plans can go awry. That’s the beauty of teaching. No two days are the same. As day #1 comes to an end, thank students for a great day, and share how much you’re looking forward to seeing them again for day #2.
Here’s hoping everyone had plenty of time for rest and relaxation this summer to help you transition into back-to-school mode. Thank you for joining us in August as we focused on preparations for the new school year.
We invite you to continue to learn and enjoy everything we have to offer. From teaching advice to improving student engagement, our resources help you move through the school year inspired and ready to educate. Best wishes for a wonderful school year!
Cultivate a growth mindset with the following posts:
Gather teaching strategies, inspiration, and ideas you can put into immediate action with these posts:
Here are 9 great articles about teaching/education/learning I read in August:
Do you want to find a way to be more positive, try new things, and have a better work-life balance this school year? Perhaps you want to build your repertoire of teaching strategies or make some personal changes such as getting more sleep or spending more time with family. Whatever your goals may be, make sure you make them happen by downloading our New School Year Goals Worksheet and Action Plan.
Looking for a great teacher movie to get you inspired for the start the school year? Grab some popcorn, and watch one of the following selections.
Ben Cash is the ultimate homeschool parent. Raising six kids in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, he teaches his amazing children how to be self-sufficient, well-read, and strong. Their nonconformist life- style has consequences that eventually force Ben to face some hard truths. Poignant and thought-provoking.
A timeless classic starring Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft who recreated their stage roles as Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. The famous water scene (when Anne takes Helen to the water pump, and Helen understands the word w-a-t-e-r ) is legendary. It’s the perfect movie example of teaching from the heart.
After a school trauma, a compassionate, substitute teacher deals with his students’ emotions. Guiding the students through a difficult time, Monsieur Lazar does his best to make a difference in their lives while trying to build a new life of his own.
This is a movie about young love. Two pre-adolescent runaways, Sam and Suzy, experience a thrilling adventure while the clueless adults set off on a mad search to find them. Sam and Suzy are outcasts, but you will embrace the wonderful qualities that make them fascinating and endearing. I would love to have Sam and Suzy in my classroom.
Scary teacher alert. I’ve sat in on a few testy band practices, but nothing compares to the agony delivered by jazz band director, Terence Fletcher. In his teaching philosophy, the most harmful words are “Good Job!” He pushes his ambitious student beyond limits with a teaching style I would NOT recommend. Every teacher yells at some point, but this man’s fury is terrifying.
Albert Einstein shared the essence of learning through his famous maxim, “Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.” Museums excel at information and visits to many of them are quite an experience, but it’s engagement that matters.
I love museums, so I’m usually an engaged visitor, but others do not share my interest. A graduate student in my museum education class described how he hated museums because he found them to be boring and irrelevant. Despite his dislike of the subject matter, he was an enthusiastic student with creative ideas about how museums should engage the public in more entertaining ways.
He knew that the key to a successful learning experience is its ability to inspire. A well-planned field trip can serve as inspiration to broaden perspectives, learn new topics, and develop new interests. The following tips will help you plan meaningful field trip experiences for your students.
Prepare yourself by reading about various experiences the museum offers. Identify how the field trip program will complement and enrich the curriculum. Is it a self-guided, observation only tour or a hands-on, interactive experience? Will students have opportunities to explore and discover more about the topic or will they be listening to others? In other words, make sure you know what will happen on the trip. A boring field trip tour lasts forever.
Spend time building background knowledge prior to the visit with essential questions. Brainstorm questions about the topic, and have students further refine their questions in small groups to promote discussion. Allow students to follow their curiosity and interests to help them make connections and understand the purpose of the visit. This process makes the upcoming trip more meaningful and relevant. Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, authors of the book Essential Questions, share the following examples of arts-related essential questions.
Inspire emotional connections before the trip by reading books/articles about the topic and exploring the museum’s website. Explore a few of the objects/artwork online to build a sense of how they are displayed. Students will be excited when they see the objects they “know.”
Reading what other teachers/students are saying about the museum program on social media also builds excitement for the trip. Many museums also offer opportunities to extend the learning for families. For example, the National Aquarium in Baltimore partnered with the Enoch Pratt Free library to create the Read to Reef Book Club. Kids can earn up to four Aquarium tickets through reading.
Another B – the bus ride. Review the seating chart and the behavioral expectations before the trip, and make certain you notify the school nurse at least a week in advance. Student medications and Epi-Pens will need to be placed in field trip medication envelopes.
On the day of the trip, pack:
Inquiry, creativity, inspiration, and discovery. A well-planned, effective field trip enhances instruction by offering interdisciplinary learning and opportunities for students to think in new ways.
What meaningful field trips have you
A one-size-fits-all approach to instruction does not work in today’s classrooms. Students learn in different ways and what works for some students does not work for others. It’s the same with technology. There are countless instructional gadgets, apps, and online programs. It takes time to learn and integrate the best edtech tools that match your students’ needs along with your teaching style.
The easiest way to implement new technology is by experimenting with one resource at a time. Select a tool that meets your instructional/professional development goals. Get inspiration and ideas from colleagues, and encourage a friend to experiment with you. If the learning curve seems steep, allow yourself as much time as you need to feel comfortable. Practice and playful exploration are part of the process. Your motivation and willingness to learn something new will lead to new experiences for you and your students.
Looking for ideas? Explore one of the following edtech tools. Enjoy!
My creative colleagues once designed a fabulous Rube Goldberg contraption for a class project. At the time, they did not have access to this fun, wacky contraption maker app. Common Sense Education suggests using the app to augment lessons on cause-and-effect, sequences of action, problem-solving, or systems thinking. You can also use it as part of a creative thinking/problem-solving center for students in grades 3-8.
Collaboratively create with your colleagues via Kapsul. This platform allows users to organize and share images, videos, and text and can be used for classroom and professional development presentations. Art teachers can use it to gather images for a unit and to curate an exhibition of student artwork.
My 17-year-old flute duet friend introduced me to this music notation program which allowed me to edit and create scores for our performances at the public library. It’s free and easy to use for upper level students who want to compose music to enhance classroom projects. Music teachers can use it to create arrangements and teaching materials for their classrooms.
I had plenty of fun making “Creativity in Motion” with OSnap, an easy to use app that features time-lapse and stop motion photography. Using an iPad and lots of buttons, I created my first animated film! (To improve my skills, I reminded myself that smaller movements are better.) With OSnap, students of all ages can immediately start snapping photographs, experimenting, and learning! Integrate it with any subject. It’s so motivating, students will want to learn more. Share their final projects on your school or class website.
I still save articles, videos, and blog posts with Evernote, but Pocket is another service to save content. Use the explore page to search and discover information about a specific topic. As you explore, a list of related topics appears at the top to advance your search. Here’s what popped up after I searched growth mindset.
Whether you use Google for collaboration or Plickers for assessment, there are countless edtech tools to enhance every teacher toolkit.
“I haven’t received my ‘welcome back’ letter yet.”
With many weeks remaining before the official start of school, my young friend was worried about not receiving her official back-to-school letter. Her words made me realize the power simple letters/notes have in building a positive home-school connection. Students look forward to mail personally addressed to them, and the “official” letter builds excitement for the new year.
Here are four ways to create a sense of classroom community before the first day of school.
The beginning of school is exciting for everyone. After a summer spent recharging, it’s a time of clean slates, optimism, and nervous energy – the perfect time to start
building a positive home-school connection. Letting students know you’re looking forward to meeting them sets a welcoming tone for a fresh, new start.
All sorts of things come up when teachers think about the first day of school and the start of another year: a fresh start, school policies, colleagues, preparations, etc. Many of us dream about being unprepared on the first day. I still dream about “forgetting” to meet with my reading groups.
It doesn’t matter how many years we have taught, stress is always present. As another school year approaches, think about the big picture: work-life balance.
Socrates once wrote, "I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think."
Remember these words and other inspirations as you head into the new school year. Framing what you do as a teacher in a new way can sometimes free you from stress and empower you to try new approaches to your craft.
Best wishes for a successful and well-balanced school year.
The first day of school can be overwhelming for many students (and teachers). Despite new supplies and the promise of seeing friends, many students are nervous, and some are even a little scared. What can we do to alleviate some of these first week of school jitters?
While it takes time for everyone to get to know each other, the first week of school should include activities that focus on welcoming students, making them feel comfortable, and building a sense of community in your classroom.
Arranging classrooms for optimum student engagement is like preparing successful meals. It involves having a plan (yes, I have a weekly meal plan – I can’t wing anything), choosing meals that work well for you and your family, and trying new recipes to expand your repertoire.
Here are 6 classroom design ideas for teachers to plan and build a classroom environment that enhances student learning.
“Students are situated collaboratively in groups or in an arrangement from which groups can easily be assembled. Wheeled furniture can be a great classroom addition.”
“Teacher’s desk is up front and easily accessible; better yet, there’s no desk and the teacher moves throughout the classroom during the lesson to physically invite questions and demonstrate availability; teacher work is done in designated landing spaces.”
There are “extra whiteboard space or lapboards so students can collaborate and work out ideas, or a ‘quiet area’ where students can use noise-canceling headphones to focus on individual task.”
Classroom design affects students in countless ways. How do you make the most of your classroom space?
Hello everyone. Whether you’re reading If Then Creativity to augment your teacher toolbox or to cultivate self-care routines, thank you for joining us this past month.
July’s messages explored ways to assess and analyze our teaching approaches, while taking care to avoid burnout. Experimenting with new teaching tools and techniques helps us grow as teachers, as does finding positive ways to handle challenges and stress. Staying motivated and challenged isn’t about following someone else’s advice, it’s about finding what works best for you. With the right “tools”, we are better equipped to inspire and teach others.
Assess your teaching practices and outlook with the following posts:
Improve, organize and prepare with these posts:
If you're looking for new ways to develop professionally and connect with colleagues, download our Book Study Tool
Kit. Professional development does not have to be a formal, dry exercise- it can be a lot of fun and our Book Study Tool Kit provides a great framework to both have fun and learn new teaching
approaches at the same time. A collaborative book discussion is an important way to engage in critical conversation, enhance classroom repertoire, and increase student
Download our Reading Guide and Bookmarks for Thinking, Discussion, and Reflection.
Here are 6 articles about teaching/education/learning I read in July.
Thank you readers of If Then Creativity for learning from and with us.
If Then Creativity exists for you – teachers and parents. We work hard to understand your needs with customized educational resources and personalized consultative services that nurture the gifts inherent in every child.
We hold fast to a child-centered learning approach that embraces the unique abilities of teachers to generate success beyond test results.
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Thank you for joining us in our mission to create quality educational services and products. We look forward to continuing our work with you.