Friday, December 7, 2012

Podcast on Differentiated Learning

Below is a link to a The Inclusive Class Podcast on Differentiated Learning featuring Carolyn Coil.

Listen to internet radio with The Inclusive Class Podcast on Blog Talk Radio

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ten Myths About Gifted Education

Please take a moment to read Carolyn Coil's recent guest-post on CNN's Schools of Thought blog:

My view: Ten myths about gifted students and programs for gifted

(CNN) – American educators have struggled for more than 40 years to define giftedness. Yet even now, there is no universally agreed upon definition of what it means to be gifted. U.S. federal law defines gifted students as those who perform or who show promise of performing at high levels in any one of five categories: general intellectual ability, specific academic aptitude, creative or productive thinking, leadership ability or visual/performing arts.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tools for Differentiating Based on Student Readiness

  1. Bloom’s Taxonomy (old or new)
  2. Tomlinson’s Equalizer
  3. Concept-based Teaching.

1. Most teachers are familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy as it has been a staple of teacher education programs for over 40 years. Originally designed as a means for identifying the degree of abstraction of questions that are typically asked in educational settings, this hierarchical model of thinking is now widely used to assist in the design of assignments and tasks that address different levels of readiness. Whether using the original version of the Taxonomy or the newer one, it is important to keep in mind that Bloom did not intend for his model to be used as a means for labeling students. That is, we should not consider some students to generally be “knowledge-level learners” while others might be labeled “synthesis and evaluation learners.” Rather, we should keep in mind that there are times when even our most struggling thinkers are capable of thinking at higher levels. Similarly, there are certainly times when our most gifted learners must focus on basic recall of information, or lower-level thinking.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tools for Differentiating Instruction - Part 1

The Next few posts will be about Tools for Differentiating Instruction.

The tools that teachers have at their disposal in today’s classrooms are much richer than the ones we recall our teachers using during our own schooling. We now know significantly more about the brain and how it works than we did just 20 years ago, and this increase in knowledge is producing new educational models and approaches at almost lightning speed. While these new trends may be exciting, with so many new ideas and directions to choose from, teachers often feel the stress of being asked to implement too many initiatives coming at any one given time. How can we possibly know which will really be effective and which are practical in the “real world?”

The next two posts will focus on several models or “tools” that have been proven to  work with students and with teachers. While there are certainly numerous other tools available, these have stood the test of time and have proven to be “doable” for most teachers.

-Tools for Differentiating Based on Student Readiness (Bloom's Taxonomy, Tomlinson's Equalizer, and concept-based teaching)
-Tools for Differentiating Based on A Student Learning Profile (Groupings, Gardner's Multiple Intelligences)

Keep in mind that, regardless of the tools that a teacher chooses to use, the goal in any classroom, differentiated or not, ought to be to aim high so that each and every student experiences an appropriate challenge. Given the fact that our students enter our classrooms with vastly different needs and readiness levels for learning, aiming high for all cannot mean the same instruction and work for all. This is, of course, why differentiation is a necessity in any classroom.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Resource Highlight!

Every now and then, I am going to highlight a product that I think is essential for differentiation in the classroom. Here is the first! Please let me know what you use in your classroom!

Successful Teaching in the Differentiated Classroom is a great resource by Carolyn Coil. Every teacher should own this book! Its a comprehensive guide, to do just that, GUIDE you through implementing and perfecting differentiation in your classroom.
Successful Teaching
Successful Teaching in the Differentiated Classroom
From the website description:
Coil presents the most comprehensive, practical resource you will need to successfully implement the concept of differentiation in your classroom. Following a brief overview of the components and a teacher self - assessment awareness checklist, are chapters with reproducibles, forms, and practical examples for administrators, teachers, students, and parents:
  • Flexible Grouping
  • Curriculum Compacting
  • Independent/Individualized Work - learning centers, resident experts, contracting, anchoring activities
  • Learning Profiles
  • Product Differentiation
  • Strategies: ILP™, Tic-Tac-Toe, Tiering, Encounter Lessons, Technology, Mentors, Mini-classes, Literature circles, Questivities™
  • Differentiated Assessment - rubrics, criteria cards, tiering
  • Special Groups
  • Special Needs
  • District and Schoolwide Planning
Use this resource in the school and college classroom, with professional learning communities, as a study group resource, and in staff development workshops. The CD includes customizable WORD files of forms and handouts for teacher and student. Written by Carolyn Coil.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Two Essential Questions in Differentiation:

What is "fair?"
Does fair always mean "the same?"

“Good afternoon," the receptionist greets you. “We’re preparing for your root canal.” “Oh no,” you quickly reply. “I’m just here to have my teeth cleaned!” “Well, I’m sorry but today is our root canal day. Everyone who comes in the office today gets a root canal. That’s only fair!”

It seems many people have the impression that ‘fair’ most assuredly means ‘the same.’ When needs are different, however, fairness has quite a different interpretation.

The idea of fairness is embedded deeply in our culture. Most people interpret being fair as doing the same thing in the same way for everyone. However, in a differentiated classroom being fair doesn’t always mean "the same." Fairness in school does not mean giving everyone the same assignment to complete within the same time period. Instead, it means looking at each student's needs and learning goals, and planning ways to meet those goals in a way that is most appropriate for that student.
You, your students, their parents, and the administrators at your school must all believe in this concept of fairness in order for differentiation to be successful. Because our students and their various learning needs are so different, the necessity for differentiation is obvious. All teachers would like to accommodate each child and meet the diverse needs they have. On a practical level, teachers look for workable strategies that can help them differentiate instruction in a variety of classroom settings.

There is no one magic strategy that works for every teacher in every school with every child. Successful Teaching in the Differentiated Classroom, by Carolyn Coil, focuses on specific practical strategies that you can use to differentiate the curriculum, instruction, and assessments in your classroom. Take a look at the book, decide which strategies and techniques will work best in your classroom with your students. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Closing the Achievement Gap through Differentiated Instruction

It is difficult to see how differentiated instruction could be of benefit in low-performing schools or how it could help close the achievement gap. However, research done by Karin Chenoweth of the non-profit Achievement Alliance tells quite a different story. She spent two years looking at schools that are making AYP and getting great results under very difficult conditions. The high-poverty schools in her project are from all over the United States. Most perform at the same level or higher as the wealthiest schools in their area. While each of these schools has an individual success story, there are commonalities among them. Their successes come from:
  • Teaching using all of the senses, learning styles, and modalities
  • Thematic units that combine math, science, literature, history, geography, writing, and the arts
  • Integrating the arts into all aspects of the curriculum
  • Hands-on projects with differentiated products and performances
  • Pre-assessment, formative assessment, and data analysis that drives all aspects of instruction
  • Individualized instruction and work depending upon how each student learns
  • Flexible grouping based on skill levels and individual student needs
All of these are important elements of differentiated curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Looking at the successes of these schools, it would seem that differentiation is, indeed, a viable approach to closing the achievement gap.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Four Important Concepts of Differentiation

There are four important concepts that help shape a differentiated classroom. Consider all four as you think about differentiation in your classroom or school. They are:
  • Flexibility
The hallmark of a differentiated classroom is flexibility. Teachers skilled in differentiation must be flexible in their planning, flexible in how they structure groups, flexible in how they teach to various learning styles and modalities, and flexible in how fast or slow they proceed according to the individual learner. While flexibility is essential, it is also difficult because school systems prescribe the number of hours of instruction and the number of days in the school year or grading period. Some even stipulate the unit or pages of a textbook that must be covered within a given week.

Whatever the outside constraints, it is important to keep a flexible mind set. Try teaching in new ways. Give students multiple opportunities for learning. Be continuously creative in your teaching. This is all a part of flexibility.
  • Planning
All good teaching requires planning. This is certainly true in a differentiated classroom where you must look beyond the grade-level standards and curriculum and focus on the learning needs of each student. Without careful planning, learning time can be wasted or the classroom can quickly degenerate into chaos.

On the other hand, no teacher has unlimited planning time. Most teachers are stretched with all the obligations and duties that are part of teaching in today’s schools.
  • Resources
A differentiated curriculum requires many different resources. This may be quite a change if you have been using one text book, with every child on the same page. Most schools already have many resources that are appropriate for differentiated classrooms. Rediscover the books, workbooks, manipulatives, computer software, and reference materials in your classroom, book room, or file cabinets. Ask your self how you can use these materials to meet the needs of individuals or small groups of students.

Know what resources your school has. Often teachers have access to plenty of resources but need to spend time locating and organizing them and then choosing the ones that are appropriate to use. This is time well-spent and in the long run will save you planning time. Ask your school media specialist to help you find the resources you need for a differentiated unit or lesson. He or she is often your best human resource in locating other resources.

An excellent web site for locating many resources useful in differentiating curriculum and instruction is Log on to find resources in various categories, grade levels, and subject areas.
  • Choices
Learning activities in a differentiated classroom often involve student choices. These choices include products and performances based on learning styles, learning modalities, Bloom’s Taxonomy, or multiple intelligences. This does NOT mean giving students unstructured or unlimited choices. It DOES mean having a set of standards-based activities from which they can choose, at least some of the time.

A word of caution – some students think that having choices means they can do nothing if they so choose. Learning time is simply too valuable. The one choice you never have is the choice to do nothing!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What is Differentiated in the Differentiated Classroom?

When we talk about the differentiated classroom, we are referring to the many aspects of the teaching and learning process that may be differentiated – that is, the things that may be approached in different ways for the different students in your classroom. Four of the most important are:
  • Content
    • ideas, skills, knowledge, and information being studied
    • content is structured by state standards, district curriculum, guides, textbooks, and teacher-developed units of work
    • all students must learn content, but can learn it in different ways
  • Process
    • various ways students interact with and think about content
    • often defined by the different levels of bloom's taxonomy 
    • processes at the knowledge level may include: memorizing, reciting, defining, etc.
    • processes at the analysis level may include: compare/contrast, classifying, sub-dividing, etc.
  • Products/Performances
    • the multitude of ways students can demonstrate what they understand, know, and can do as a result of their learning
    • allowing for different products and performances is the first step to differentiation in the classroom
    • giving students product choices is motivational, accounts for learning styles, and creates variety 
  • Learning Environment
    • includes the classroom or learning space, how that space is used, available resources, and grouping patterns for students
    • students always sitting in assigned seats within rows is not optimal for differentiation
    • flexible grouping and seating along with a variety of resources invites differentiation

Friday, April 6, 2012

Differentiation can be based on:

  1. Acceleration - allows the student to study the material at a faster pace and/or a higher grade level than would normally be the case. Collaborating with another teacher at a higher grade level is one way to find information and resources to use in acceleration. The most difficult aspect in using this approach is that it requires vertical planning between teachers at different grade levels, something that can be a challenge to schedule and implement.
  2. Enrichment activities focus on studying areas or topics that are not included in the regular curriculum. These activities broaden students' knowledge and understanding on a wide range of subjects. Through exposure to enrichment activities, students may develop areas of interest or topics about which they previously knew little. Enrichment also allows students to explore current areas of interest in greater depth. This can lead to opportunities for investigations of real problems with links to the world outside of school.
  3. Extensions use the regular curriculum as a starting point and allow students to delve into a subject more deeply or look at aspects of the subject or unit of study that may not otherwise be considered. Extensions work particularly well with students who already know the basics or who complete the regular assignments quickly and need additional challenges.
  4. Remediation simply means that students have holes or gaps in their knowledge, skills, or learning that need to be patched before they can move on to more complex work. The assumption that all students begin the school year at the same starting point is a faulty one. Many times students lack the skills and knowledge to do the work their grade level requires. Finding out exactly what needs to be remediated for an individual student or for groups of students and then having a plan for accomplishing it is essential for student success in today's schools.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Philosophy of Differentiation

The Philosophy of Differentiation includes structuring classrooms so there are provisions for:
  1. Different ways to take in, work with, and learn information
  2. Differing amounts of time to complete work
  3. Different approaches due to language acquisition and cultural differences
  4. Different levels of thinking, readiness, and ability
  5. Different assignments for students in the same classroom
  6. Different means to assess what has been learned


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