Monday, October 7, 2013

Differentiating in the Digital Age

Sometimes, the task of differentiating instruction can be daunting.  It can be even more daunting when you are a teacher of literacy, and you have students covering an immensely wide range of abilities in reading and writing.  I've often grappled with trying to effectively reach and engage all students along this continuum without moving too quickly for some students, while at the same time not nearly quickly enough for others.  I found that no matter the pace at which I taught writing skills, there were inevitably always students who grasped the skill the first time through, and in the same breath, students who were desperately struggling to catch up. 

This summer, I took a course on teaching writing which emphasizes the writer's workshop approach, an approach I really connected with when keeping in mind the variety of students I have in my classroom.  This approach allows me to conference with students throughout the writing process, instead of waiting for them to turn in a rough or final draft to determine if a student needs help with a specific writing skill.  One of the things I love most about professional development is that I can take what I've learned and mold it to my style and craft as a teacher. And, if you know anything about my style and craft, you know it includes technology.

The pedagogy-changing decision I made to more fully incorporate technology and BYOD into my classroom has helped me enormously to facilitate the process of personalizing learning, and when combining that with the new strategies I've learned in the writer's workshop class, I've found great success in the teaching of writing in an inclusion classroom.

Right now, we are finishing up our narrative writing unit.  Students are working on developing their own personal narratives. Our slogan for this unit is: small moment, big meaning! We are working on a variety of skills, all of which students are learning at their own pace. 

Once the "from the heart" drafting is complete, students receive 2 checklists, one for revising, and one for editing.  I ask students to keep the checklists on their workspace the whole time they are working.  That way, I can get an at-a-glance picture of where students are in the process.

The revising checklist:

The revising checklist contains reviews of 3 mini lessons that were taught live the week before using mentor texts to demonstrate what great narrative writers do.  For this unit, we worked on setting the scene (writing interesting leads), digging deeper (adding figurative and sensory language, dialog, and thoughts and feelings), and so what?? (making sure our narratives have a purpose).  

Students were asked to watch a video, and revise thier drafts according to the strategies they just learned about.  Because the lessons were reviewed in the form of a video, students could watch them as many times they needed to, and most importantly, revise at a pace that works for them.

When the revision checklist was complete, they moved to their editing checklist...

This checklist added another dimension. Once they watched a video on an editing skill, they were asked to take a quick electronic quiz on their English edline page to check for understanding.  These were very quick, formative assessments that get reported immediately to me.  I can very quickly check in with students who are not understanding the editing skill, and reteach as necessary. 

There were an infinite number of reasons why I felt like this approach to teaching writing was one of the most successful I've tried so far. 

1. Students are truly working at their own pace. They know they are held accountable for all of the information presented, but they don't have to deal with the added stress of missing something important during the teaching of the lesson. For those students who find writing a natural and painless process, they are able to work through the revision process without the boredom of waiting for others to finish. 

2. I get to give immediate feedback.  While students are working on their checklists, I have the freedom to move around the room, and find those struggling students to conference with. Receiving the immediate feedback on the quizzes also helps me to identify where skills are strong and where they need further development both within the large group and amongst individual students.  I don't have to wait until all 105 quizzes are graded to find out who is struggling with a concept. 

3. The amount of "less with the jaws more with the paws" reminders I need to give my seventh graders during the revision process has been DRAMATICALLY reduced.  I get to spend less time making sure students are on task, and more time making sure they are truly building and growing their writing skills DURING the writing process, instead of waiting until it is complete.

It's pretty blissful, actually.  

1 comment:

  1. I recently used the Interactive Assignment builder for an end-of-unit assessment in class. The kids loved that it was online, and therefore open notes since their notes are online in Evernote, and that they didn't have to bring a pencil to class. I love the easy grading without having to bring home stacks of papers. I'm looking forward to syncing it up with Gradequick once the few absent students make it up this week. I love this use also. In class quick assessments for skill can be definitely useful! Nice work and nice post.