A New Way of Teaching-SAMR and Wrapping My Head around Blended Learning

Note:  I began this draft a week ago.  Now I’m spending days with Apple learning how to implement my iPad in lessons.

This morning I convinced myself I needed to wake up.  It took a lot of coaxing and convincing.  After all, this is my last week for being lazy.  This week alone I’ve watched two seasons of New Girl and several episodes of Inspector Morse.  Please stop looking at my like you’re disappointed.  I have not binge watched anything at all this summer…with the exception of Stranger Things with my husband. I feel no guilt about this.

Most of my former colleagues have gone back to school this week.  Right now, they’re sitting in a hot library or a too-cold cafeteria learning about the new policies for next year.  It’s strange not being there, but while they are gearing up for starting school in August, I’m wrapping my head around an entirely new way of teaching for a brand new job in a brand new grade level.  Whoa!

For the past four years, I have taught in a classical school.  I’ve used traditional models of educating students, focusing mostly on discussion and the Socratic method.  It’s a model that fit my teaching style very well, but I’ve decided to try something new this year.  This year I will be teaching in a performing arts  in a 1:1 iPad environment.  It’s exciting because I know the possibilities are endless, but at the same time, it’s also incredibly daunting.

I consider myself moderately versed in technology.  I keep this blog, I began a YouTube channel for my AP students last year, I use social media, and I even required students to utilize technology in my classes.  It wasn’t easy, because in a classical school, we were committed to not over-utilizing technology.  We had some Chromebooks and some laptops, but if you wanted to use them in your classroom, it was an all out war to reserve them.  I hate war.  I hate confrontation, so in my classroom, I mostly avoided it.

Now here I am in an environment where my students will ALWAYS have a device.  Where I do begin?

In education, implementation of technology follows a the SAMR Model-Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition.  Substitution is fairly easy.  The task assigned to students doesn’t change.  Students could type a journal entry in a word processor instead of handwrite it the old fashioned way.  You’ve just substituted a program for paper.  Easy peasy!   Now when students begin using spell check and other tools, you’ve now entered the realm of augmentation.  Augmentation occurs when the task doesn’t change but because of technology you’ve improved it.  I feel very comfortable in these two stages. It’s the other two that I’m going to have learn a whole new way of educating my students.

The final two stages are modification and redefinition.  Modification means that a task can be significantly redesigned.  Because of technology, the task you’ve assigned students changes. For this stage, students can download a book, annotate and mark it up through an app like notability.  Taken a step farther, you can redefine the task.  Redefinition means that you create a new task that was previously inconceivable without technology.  Students can use the information they’ve learned through their research and notes to create collaborative mind maps using an app or web-based site like Mindomo.

So how does a classical teacher maintain her classical ideals utilizing technology?  Lucky for me my school encourages blended learning.  Blended learning allows a classroom to utilize technology for content delivery that it curated, supported, and delivered by a traditional classroom teacher–me. I guess you’ll have to stay tuned.

10 Things I Would Rather Do Than Write my Letter of Intent

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am applying to a grad program. My application includes a letter of intent. Already I have loads of activities to help me avoid this task. For example today I have perused Facebook, Twitter and Instagram;  texted friends; written a blog post; made new chore charts for the kids; and swept the kitchen 5 times (still looks like it could use another go over).  Hold on.

Okay. That’s better.

Anyway, here’s my list of 10 things I’d rather do than write this essay: Continue reading

Origin Story

I’m applying to graduate school this week.  I earned my Master in Secondary Education back in 2o12.  I thought that would be it for me, but it seems like opportunity has begun knocking upon my door again.  I’ve decided to answer it–this time in the form of a Education Specialist degree (Ed.S.).

Part of an application to graduate school includes a letter of intent.  In this 2-3 page essay, I am supposed to give my life story.  Where did I come from?  What were my goals?  What do I hope to achieve?  Ayi, ayi, ayi!  I feel like the dumbest person on the Earth as I sit down to try to hash this out every day.

What is my origin story?  How did I become an educator?  I wasn’t bitten by a bug…or a spider (literally, anyway).  I did not endure a large parental tragedy that left my seeking revenge on the criminals of the city.  I also did not survive some sort of nuclear science experiment, but I do have an origin story.  We all do.  Here’s mine.

I grew up in small town Texas.  Compared to some of the other surrounding areas, I was in the big city, but truthfully, it was small town.  Every one knew every one.  My state of knowing others was compounded by the fact that my mother grew up there and my grandparents had lived in the community for many years.  We could not go to a restaurant or movie without seeing someone my parents or my grandparents knew.  We would run into people from church, from sports, from work, from school. It was neverending.  Sounds quaint, right?  Not to me.  Part of the problem with everyone knowing everyone is that everyone knows everyone…or at least thinks they do.

I went to several elementary schools when I was growing up.  We would move to a new neighborhood, and I would move to a new school.  Where most people would view this a fresh start, it wasn’t.  I always ended up at a school that either knew me or knew my parents.  For my brother this wasn’t so bad.  He was popular and likeable, but I was THAT girl.  I was sickly, overweight, and uncoordinated.  I suffered from severe allergies, asthma, and my undiagnosed heriditary angioedema (HAE).  I would miss a lot of school which put me on a lot of “teacher” lists.

“She’s smart.  She’s just lazy.”

“I don’t think your daughter should be in honors reading.  Yes, I understand she reads grade levels ahead, but she just misses too much class. Yes, I understand her TAAS scores are high and she’s in our GT program.”

“I’m not sure she should go to college.  I’m not sure she would make it.  Perhaps she should stay close to home.  Maybe try to get a job.”

Little did these teachers know just how sick I was.  Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.  I endured tests and unnecessary surgeries in an attempt to figure out what was going on. (Because of my rare condition, I wouldn’t find out what it was until my thirties).

The way teachers reacted to me in class didn’t help my social life. Given the fact that doctors would prescribe steroids to control my asthma or unexplained abdominal pain (that turned out to be HAE), I was puffy and larger than most students my age.  I was called “fatso” and “ugly.”  One of my most horrific memories was when I received my period early (5th grade), which meant I had to carry feminine products with me to school in my purse.  One day, this blonde popular student began ridiculing me in the cafeteria.  She stole my purse, looked inside to see if I had anything worth taking,  and pulled out my small supply of pads and tampons.  I was horrified.  She then ran around the cafeteria calling me out and teasing me for no longer being a girl.  Suddenly something that was supposed to be celebrated became my scarlet letter.  I never quite recovered.  I was in a small town and stuck with these people through high school.  I was always THAT girl.

I suppose my origin moment, my spider bite, came when I was a junior in high school.  I actually heard my high school counselor call me a loser in front of another student.  I was mortified.  If I had been more confident and wiser to what was expected of adults in that position, I would have reacted differently.  However, all I knew was shame, and after years of being called a “loser” by my classmates and apparently adults.  I actually finally believed it.  It led me to make decisions that I am not proud of but led me to understand the desperation of   teenagers later on.

Loser or not, I went to college anyway.

And I flourished.

I was challenged.  No one knew me, so it was a fresh start. A Brand Spanking New Beginning.  I became president of clubs.  I was an officer in other clubs.  I made very good grades…better than I ever made in high school (and I didn’t make bad grades in high school).  I cared about what I was doing.  I was still sickly, but the flexible schedule helped tremendously.  I had a group of incredible friends and extremely encouraging professors.  Encouraging.  Wow!  What a difference that made!

When I graduated, I went on to a successful career in sales.  (I know, the social outcast becomes marketer–crazy, right?)

After Madeleine was born, I decided that I would go back to school to become a teacher.  I had work to do and wrongs to make right. I vowed that if I was ever in a classroom that my one daily goal would be that EVERY student felt safe in my classroom.  EVERY student would feel valued, and EVERY student would feel encouraged.  No student would ever feel like a loser.  If they learned some skills along the way—great!  But if they felt valued, safe, and like they could do anything, then THAT would make the real difference, and it would allow them to learn more than they thought possible.

And that was it.  A high school counselor referred to me as a loser. I vowed that no student in my classroom would EVER feel that way from me.

I won’t write most of this in my letter of intent (or at least I’ll work to put it down more eloquently than I did here), but it’s true.  I became the teacher I am because someone did not value me.  It gave me the will, strength, and determination to value others.


I Don’t Want to Go

I love Doctor Who, and anyone who knows me knows that the Tenth Doctor is far superior in all ways than any of the others, or at least that is my belief.  Many who also know me might also assert that the Tenth Doctor is my favorite because I love David Tennant (they wouldn’t be wrong), but for me, the Tenth Doctor’s story line has resonated emotionally with me many times.  In fact, my literary analysis side has gone so far as to call the Tenth Doctor a Christ-figure. (Don’t worry, I’ll save that for another post).

In the Tenth Doctor’s final episode “The End of Time”, he sacrifices himself so that Wilfred (Donna Noble’s granddad) would survive, and instead, he, the Tenth Doctor would undergo radiation  poisoning leading to what everyone believed would be the Doctor’s final regeneration.   As the radiation  poisoning flows though the Doctor’s veins and in and out of this two hearts, the Time Lord visits many of his friends and companions.  He saves Martha and Mickey from an alien sniper.  He exchanges a knowing look with Sarah Jane.  He seeks to find out from Joan Redfern’s granddaughter if she turned out happy.  He attends Donna Noble’s wedding and leaves Wilfred with a very significant present. Finally, he visits Jackie and Rose where he declares to Rose that she will have a very good year.  Then he heads off to the TARDIS and says these emotional words before regenerating, “I don’t want to go.”  See the scene from “The End of Time: Part 2”.

These are the same motions and emotions that I have gone through over the past few weeks. I said goodbye to a group of seniors who in many ways were my companions. They sojourned with me through time to many places– ancient Greece; Verona, Italy; Mantua; Hell; Mississippi; Wessex, England–signing on to some of my crazy plans. I’ve said goodbyes to colleagues, all different, all brilliant, who taught me more than I could imagine. Today I said goodbye to a school where I believed I would stay until retirement. And now, I feel it. “I don’t want to go.”  It’s my favorite line of the Doctor’s, and for me this year, it rings poignantly true. But like the Tenth Doctor and the Doctors before him, I know the can exist too long. I know it’s time to move on…to regenerate…to become something new.

The Year in Review & Goals


2015 is over.  I’m mostly glad. It’s not that 2015 was terrible;  I’m just ready to move on.  There are a lot of changes already on the horizon for 2016, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes me.

As a family, we had some exciting moments.  I attended the Douglas County Apple Awards as my school’s representative.  We took our 2nd trip to Disneyland over Spring Break. My sister-in-law had her first baby. Jedidiah competed on Jeopardy!  Disney released Episode VII.  The Royals won the World Series.   We had a lot of excitement, but I’m ready for some changes.

People keep asking:  “What’s your resolution for 2016?”  I hate that word.  It’s become synonymous with  broken promises and unachieved dreams.  Instead of thinking in terms of resolutions, I’ve begun thinking in terms of goals instead of resolutions for 2016.

I’ve also learned for goals to really work, they have to be SMART goals.  I first learned this term in the business world, but after two years of teaching, I started seeing this infiltrate education as well.  SMART goals are goals that are SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE, ACHIEVABLE, REALISTIC, and TIME-BOUND.  Sounds boring, right? But I’ve based my SMART goals on Neil Gaiman’s often-shared New Year’s wish from 2001:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

– See more at: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2007/12/as-i-was-saying.html#sthash.KON3f9M6.dpuf.

If you don’t read his New Year’s wishes, you should.

So I’ve devised my goals into these categories:

  1. Magic and Dreams: It is a dream of mine to lose weight.  Sounds silly or predictable…but I haven’t lost all the weight I gained with Max five years ago!  I often start diets, but peter out once my spring semester takes over my life.  I have lost a few pounds here or there, but I find that I haven’t really set a goal around this.  So here it is:  I will lose 25 pounds by Memorial Day.  I will track this through the Weight Watchers app each week.  I will track my food daily.   I know I will feel better and be happier.
  2. Good madness:  I’ve taught the same material in my freshman class for the past few years. Like other teachers, I can fall into a rut of doing the same activities especially if time is becoming my enemy. This year, I will take one risk in the classroom–try something new–once per month.  I will track this through my blog as well as my Bloomboard app.
  3. Books:  Reading goals.  My husband sets them.  My friends set them.  I never had.  It’s all I do, really.  Read.  However, I am usually reading for school, not for myself.  This year, I will read 6 personal selections.  These are books I choose for myself.  I will track this through my blog.
  4. Kisses:  This might be TMI, but I do neglect to spend time with my husband especially during the school year.  This year, one night/ week, I will not plan, grade, or answer emails after I leave school.  Instead, I will come home, eat dinner,  put the children to bed, and spend one-on-one time with my husband. I will track this in my planning calendar.
  5. Art:  I have wanted to make something of this blog, and although what that “something” is has not fully formed in my mind, I have neglected to follow through with posting as often as I would like.  For me, writing a blog takes inspiration and time.  Even with those, my posts don’t always take the shape I wish they would.  However, I am done with these excuses.  I will post at least once per week whether it is long, deep, and inspired or just a  blurb about the day.  I will track this through my WordPress dashboard and the blogging calendar I bought months ago, but never opened.

So here’s to a New Year.  To magic, dreams, and good madness.  To books, kisses, and art.  How will you live out this New Year’s wish?

Easy Ways to Save Your Sanity in the 9th Grade Classroom


My classroom is all about routines.  This is not always common in the high school classroom.  “Structure and procedures are for lower school,” I’ve heard some teachers say, but the only way I survive my freshmen boys–creatures that have much more in common with puppies (cute, smelly, and can’t sit or stay) than their adult counterparts–and anxiety-driven, perfectionist girls.  Instructional time is precious, and I don’t have time to be lackadaisical. Here is how I survive a year of freshmen:

  1.  Keep a make-up work binder.  My cooperating teacher introduced me to this idea over five years ago.  I’ve used it in my classroom ever since. Students check their binder after any absence.  They can find the SmartBoard information (I just print off the notebook pages), notes, and handouts, and assignments they missed.  Not only is it the first place my students visit on their return to school, but it is also a year-long record of what we’ve done.  I can flip through years past and find the journal prompts I used before.  It keeps all my brilliant ideas in one place.  I also send students to the binder when they are missing assignments or lost important notes or a handout.  No more overflowing filing cabinets!wpid-psx_20150924_170001.jpg
  2. Create a class website that includes assignments, files, and links.  The class website has destroyed almost every excuse students can come up with for not doing homework.  In addition to making them copy their homework in their notebooks and planners, I also post it online.   If they leave their notebooks at school, they can visit the website to see what the homework is.  I also keep scanned copies of handouts/assignments under “Files and Links” so that if students misplaced the reading, they have access to an online copy.   My website also includes audio links to all of our readings to help my auditory learners complete assignments.  It’s also useful to help students at home.
  3. Create an interactive notebook AND keep a sample notebook in your room.  I plan on posting more on this as I tweak my interactive notebook assignments.  I have used interactive notebooks for the last two years, but I spent quite a bit of time this summer tweaking the presentation of the book.  I’m loving how it’s working this year.  This year I’ve added daily reflections on what the students have learned.  I can see them taking more ownership of their learning. The sample/model notebook provides a place for students to check and see if they are meeting all the requirements.  It’s also a great tool for review.  When we get ready for a summative assessment, I pass out the study guide.  We then go through the notebook together and highlight or flag what they need to know for the test.  This demonstrates study skills that most of my freshmen enter my classroom without knowing.
  4. Use Google Docs for writing assignments.   I am not a fanatic user of technology in the classroom, but using Google Docs improves student writing like no other tool I have found.  Students share their drafts with me, and when I have some time, I read them.  I add comments and advice BEFORE they turn in their final copies.  This is a lot of work upfront, but with each written assignment, their writing improves exponentially.  Because they have to fix the problem, they learn from it.  I spend much less time marking mistakes at the end of the year, and they become stronger, more confident writers.  Win-Win!
  5. Create a weekly “Filing Cabinet.”  My weekly filing cabinet holds all my handouts for the week.  I make them Friday during 2nd period. Having this system forces me to make my handouts a week ahead of time.  I startewpid-psx_20150924_170101.jpgd doing this last year when our single upper school copy machine would go down in the middle of the day and would stay down for hours–sometimes days–at a time.  I had to plan ahead.  Even though we now have two copy machines in the upper school, I like knowing that I will spend my Friday planning period making copies for the next week.  There’s no rushing on Monday morning to get what I need.
  6. Use table caddies.  Go ahead. Make fun. Yes, there are aspects of my classroom that resemble an elementary classroom, and the table caddy is one of them.  I fill it with Post-It notes, index cards, pens, pencils, markers, glue, crayons, erasers, etc.  My students no longer waste my time looking for supplies or going to their lockers because they forgot their note cards.  This saves me from writing ten detention slips in a day.
  7. Make your students attach a late slip.  I got tired of trying to figure out who was absent and when.  It’s too much work.  Instead, my students must attach a late slip to any assignment turned in after the original due date.  I then copy the information from the slip to my “comments” section of my electronic grade book.  This communicates with parents what the students are telling me.  It makes Parent-Teacher Conferences go a little more smoothly.
  8. Take a moment or more to regroup. I try hard to keep my classes “on the same page.”  I try to teach them to be organized and clearly communicate where they need to keep materials, but inevitably my words will fall on a few deaf ears.  Sometimes the bell rings in the middle of passing some important information, and papers get shoved in spirals, books, or pockets.  Some of the best feeling days are the days where we take a moment and reorganize ourselves.  We’ll go through our binder to see what pages we need.  We’ll go through our journal to make sure we’re not missing any notes.  These days can seem chaotic, but in the end, everyone leaves the classroom feeling refreshed and ready to start again.  It’s the same feeling I get when I reorganize my closet or even just clean the kitchen.  I feel happier and a bit lighter.  Taking time to do this in the classroom allows all my students to experience that feeling.
  9. Use grading codes. I discovered using grading codes just a few years ago.  Before that I would spend time writing lengthy comments on my student’s papers.  Even though I would feel like I was providing valuable feedback, many times the student’s wouldn’t even read or study the feedback.  Often I would end up writing the same comments over and over again on essay after essay.  The students weren’t changing or growing.   Now I use a system of codes for content and grammatical errors.  I write the code on the student paper.  Then, when I pass back the essays, I require them to do corrections.   For every correction they make, I give them 1/2 point back.  For students who make the same error more than ten times, they become tired of correcting their mistake, so they improve.  They don’t want to have to correct that mistake again.  I’ve seen so much growth using this system that I cannot believe how much time I wasted writing numerous comments without any results.

How to Win CoWorkers and Alienate Fewer People

Sometimes it’s hard to work with people.  Not everyone is going to like you.  You can’t please everyone.  These are truths I know as an adult, but I’m finding that I have a hard time putting them into practice.

We all have at least one person we work with who is not our favorite coworker. Sometimes this person is a bully or just a flat out jerk.  Usually it’s much easier to deal with if the person in overly obnoxious or causes problems for multiple people. Sometimes the person is surrounded by people who are willing to let it slide.  Often times they will say, “Hey, it’s just the way Joe is” or “It’s Joe being Joe.”  Whatever the case, you have to learn to deal with difficult people.  This is a lesson I am learning right now.

I’m a pleaser, a peacekeeper, a compromiser, but I am not a fighter. That’s part of the problem.  I’m not good at sticking up for myself.  This is the year I intend to learn.

Personal Mandalas:


As I’m gearing up for next year, (my summer is practically over–I have PD for most of the month of August,–) I am preparing exercises to get to know my students.  I am fortunate in some ways to know some of them already.  Since I teach at a PK-12 school, about 40% of my students will come from our middle school.  The rest will be a mixture of students from other charters or district schools.  Regardless, building relationships with my students from Day One is extremely important to me, my success as their teacher, and most importantly, their success as students.

I don’t like to start my classes reading them my syllabus and going over policies.  They get that the rest of the day.  I’m sure that after a while we all sound like the adults in Charlie Brown.

Instead I start with art and symbols using a Personal Mandala assignment from Laying the Foundation (a pre-AP curriculum).  I think it’s important to introduce symbols early in the year.  We use them all the time.  They’re in email addresses, on the walls of our classroom, on their lockers.  I also want to get to know my students.  Since many freshmen are scared to death to write anything the first day, I think this is challenging and fun enough to get them to do it.

Students begin by creating “sun” images.  They must compare themselves to a predefined category.  For example, a student must decide what animal he is like or what color he is most like.  The student answers these questions and then creates sentences:  I am most like ___________ because I ___________.  (I am like the cat because I am graceful.)

After students have completed this part of the assignment, students will then create images opposite their sun images.  These images are called shadow images.  They’ll then write sentences based on these images.

After they have completed all of their sentences for both sun and shadow images, students will compose pictures of their images into a circle or mandala.  They can divide the circle and place images in them or they can compose them all together into one image.

This project lends itself to differentiation easily. I get some of the best projects from my IEP students.  I also get some incredibly sentences from my honors students.  My honors students are required to compose a sentence using all of their images/or symbols in some way.  It must be “poetic” and not simply a laundry list of symbols and what they’ve drawn.

Students present their mandalas to the class.  It’s a great way to get to know each other in the classroom, and students have begun to think symbolically and in similes.

I display the work in my classroom.  Parents enjoy looking at their students’ projects on curriculum night.

Here are some examples of student projects from the past:

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I’ll be posting my lesson plan for this assignment soon.

Differentiation in the Classroom: Creating a System That Works

differentiationMy school is unique to a lot of public academic institutions.  Because we are a classical academy, we focus on primary ancient texts. In addition, our program is rigorous.  Most classical documents are difficult for students to access for many reasons–vocabulary, historical context, syntax, etc.  In addition, we expect students to read these complex works as well as synthesize them with their cultural understanding and discuss them in meaningful conversations. This can be intimidating for already nervous freshmen students.

Most high schools offer two courses for core classes.  There is an honors or preAP course and an academic or on-level course.  Some larger high schools have more division than that.  My high school offers honors courses, but it’s markedly different than most high schools.  I teach my on-level and honors classes at the same time in the same room.  How does this work?  Well, it’s a work in progress, but I’m going to share what I’ve learned in the last two years.

At its inception, the honors course work became synonymous with more work.  The problem was that more work doesn’t necessarily mean honors work.  For the past year, I watched my incredibly smart and capable freshmen collapse under the demands of extra projects.  In many cases, I felt like they were punished for being smart, well-read, and high achieving.  Students would do everything an on-level student would do plus prepare for a science fair project, read a history novel every quarter (plus what they’re already reading for history, English, and science), create video tapes teaching math concepts, and reading or writing a paper or keeping a dialectical journal for English.  This wouldn’t be horrible except these students also play sports, dance, or act in theatre productions.  It was just too much.  Last year, I watched a talented girl almost fail English because she spent all her time on the science fair.  I emailed parents; I visited with her often.  I talked to her science teacher.   She was within one point of receiving an F on freshman honors English. She didn’t deserve that.

Many of these projects are independent.   They are all done outside of class because our class time is already packed full.  Students could come in during advisory, but they were doing that for four (sometimes five) classes.  Advisement class is only forty minutes long.  Most of them are involved in sports after school. As a result, most of the time they were offered limited support, and most of it was through email.  It just didn’t seem like the best way to get their best work.  Honors students need support too.

I learned that this was not working. This is not differentiation.  I had to do it differently.

Midway through last year I began experimenting.  It required more time on my part, but my results were better. I started writing multiple tests and designing multiple levels or projects.  I began instituting the use of google docs so I could interact and collaborate on writing projects with all my students.  I utilized preassessments to group my students according to needs.  For example, if a student already knew three of the words on the vocabulary list for the week, they would be given an advanced list.  If they didn’t know the words, but they were honors students, they’re test required much more than knowing definitions.  It would include SAT/ACT style vocabulary questions and sophisticated usage questions.  On-level students would have easier usage questions based on being introduced to a word.  IEP students who required less would be tested over fewer words.

When teaching argument writing, I would work on levels of writing with students.  If students struggled with thesis writing, they would receive a writing prompt that would help facilitate building that skill.  They would have graphic organizers and manipulatives to help formulate structurally strong thesis statements.  For those who had a handle on three-pronged thesis statements, we would work on making stronger, more sophisticated theses.  Honors students would be required to devote a paragraph to answering or countering objections (a skill new and not covered in middle school). Utilizing Google Docs, students would receive real time feedback on their essays from me.  I could point to a specific struggle in an essay long before I received the final product.  It felt more like an editor/writer relationship than taking away points for mistakes. Student writing improved exponentially in some cases.

Projects also received makeovers. They weren’t major, but using Bloom’s Taxonomy, I would create three objectives for each project.  IEP students (depending on their needs) would be expected to reach objective 1, on-level would reach objectives 1 and 2, and honors would reach be expected to reach all three.  (See Personal Mandala Project).  For IEP students who seem to master the first objectives easily would be encouraged to attempt the other objectives that way they were also extended in thinking and encouraged to try without added pressure.

Without piling on the work, my honors students reported feeling challenged, but not overwhelmed. My on-level students and strugglers were growing measurably. This is what I wanted.

To be clear, this is what true differentiation requires.  Offering multiple ways for students to show their work is not true differentiation; that’s appealing to learning styles. True differentiation isn’t more work.  True differentiation is figuring out student needs and designing lessons and curriculum that meets student needs.  Does it require more time?  Yes.  Do I spend my weekend writing multiple tests?  Yep. Is it worth it for my students? Absolutely.

Professional Development Characters

This week I’m attending a College Board AP Summer Institute in preparation for AP Literature next year.  The speaker is great.  He’s knowledgeable, and I am learning some new strategies and techniques on how to help my students be more successful in literary analysis.  Unlike typical professional development, I chose to attend this.  Most professional development prior to the school year goes something like Socrates Underground writes about here.

For the most part, I have enjoyed the last two days–except now I’m noticing some PD characters emerging.  If you’re a teacher, I’m quite sure you’re familiar with these types:

1.  The Rabbit Hunter.   This person will lead the group on numerous pointless rabbit trails.  If you are lucky, the presenter will notice this and quickly recover the group.   However, more often than not, the presenter will follow the Rabbit Hunter down the hole and take the whole group with him.  Today, we hunted the following rabbits:  Arnold Schwarzenegger and The Last Action Hero, the charisma of Ian McKellen, and Kenneth Branaugh’s love life.

2. The Know-It-All.   This person typically knows more than the presenter…well, at least she thinks she does.  She constantly adds her take to whatever point the presenter is trying to make.  With the Know-It-All, if you so much as try to speak before her, she will run you over with her words.  I have admittedly been this person, but not this week.  There are already five of this particular person in my group.  Between them and the others on this list, no one else can talk.

3.  The Ditz.   Wow.  Seriously?!?  We’re adults… who are teachers…  How does this person still exist in the adult world?!?  He or she will giggle at every witty comment the presenter makes and asks ridiculous questions.  Incidentally, this person will often use Comic Sans font on handouts.

4. The Class Clown.  This person continually makes jokes throughout the presentation.  At first, it is endearing, and every one loves him, but soon his wit become tiresome.  By the end of the day, you want him to shut up so the presenter can dismiss you.

5. The Questioner.  This person asks questions at every given opportunity.  Questions themselves are not bad, but the questioner always asks a question answered by the presenter two minutes ago, OR the questioner will ask questions unrelated to the topic at hand.  Often in boring PD meetings, I will tally how many times the questioner asks a question during a presentation.  It helps pass the time.

Looking over the list, it’s not too different than the characters that emerge in my high school classes.  I would like to think as adults we’ve changed.  Maybe we don’t change as much as we think…