Friday, July 25, 2014

Differentiation Using Learning Targets

Chapter 6- Learning Targets

Without a doubt, this chapter amplifies the need for teachers to do real lesson planning.  The kind of planning that takes a high level of content knowledge, flexibility, and a instinctive relationship with each student.  Differentiation is what separates good teachers from great teachers because instead of reaching “most” kids, they begin to reach “all” kids.  As Moss and Brookhart mention on pg. 96, the use of learning targets can help teachers decide how and when to differentiate instruction. 

The examples used throughout the chapter highlighted two things for me. First, many well-meaning attempts to differentiate in the classroom fail because the choices themselves are unrelated to the learning target.  Specifically, the authors mention the example of allowing students to work in partners may or may not be beneficial to both students but often a teacher has no way of knowing which one. This is not to say that collaboration is not both effective and necessary, but teachers much align their activities with the actual learning target to insure that each and every student can meet their learning goals.  The second point of emphasis in the chapter is how time consuming quality differentiated lesson planning can be for teachers.  Within the template the authors prescribe on pg. 105, a teacher would do the basic planning by unpacking a Student Expectation (SE) and working to create learning targets to reach the specific standards.  However, to differentiate the lesson, they also have to prepare multiple ways to present the content, multiple activities for instruction, and finally multiple assessment methods to show performance towards the learning target.  It is no wonder why so many efforts to differentiate in the classroom fail.  It is hard and time consuming. 

Moss and Brookhart also propose another reason we struggle with differentiation. The concept that many teachers are okay with varying the resources (inputs) but struggle with the idea of varying outputs (such as assignment length). (pg.97)  Some of this revolves around a philosophy of grading…is about what a student “earns” or what they “learn”? In my mind this is not an easy debate, but ultimately, in a standards-based grading system, we need to focus on what the student has learned and the evidence we use to make that determination may be different, but the standard should not.

Finally, a much under utilized strategy we have at our disposal is the concept of pre-assessment in terms of a resource for lesson planning as well as goal setting with students.  The strategic questions in Fig 6.2 (pg. 98) are excellent resources in which  to build a foundation of knowledge about lesson design for an individual classroom or concept. In my experience, pre-assessment rarely gets the attention it deserves in the formative assessment cycle.  We must use the information we have about our students (Readiness, Interests & Affect, Learning Profile) to create better learning targets and ultimately better learning experiences. 

Luckily, within many NISD classrooms, teachers are utilizing the workshop model of instruction.  This is ideal for providing the structure needed to make differentiation  possible for teachers and students.  The opening portion of the lesson is perfect for introducing the learning target (I encourage using many of the strategies noted in the book and not just writing in on the board). By planning performances  of understanding at various levels that involve varying levels of teacher help, the work period provides the ideal time to have teachers differentiate their support and provide formative feedback.  The closing portion of a lesson should be used to monitor the success criteria by having students explain their learning process. Following the learning targets philosophy adds a simple question to the closing....a student should not only articulate what they have learned, but be able to determine for themselves (without the teacher) where they are in relation to the learning target.  This self-regulation is the difference!!

I would love to hear how you differentiate in your classroom!

Questions to Consider:

·      What role do learning targets play in a differentiated lesson?
·      Which concept of the “input” or the “output” within the differentiation process, do you and/or your peers struggle with most?
·      What secrets do you use to help plan for
differentiation in you classroom?


11 comments:

  1. Student friendly learning targets are essential in classroom instruction. In order to differentiate, you must know exactly what students need to be able to know, do or explain. Identifying student indicators of mastery, has given me the permission to let go of “one size fits all” mentality. (This was a major release of pressure once I understand how to do this in a math classroom.) Not that all students do not have the same standards but that each student is at a different place in the trajectory of mastery. So in order to move them upward in their understanding, I need to scaffold differently for each student and provide support from their level.
    In the classroom, using exit tickets, looking at classwork, observing students while working or just simply asking students to self-assess their understanding can provide you options in making small differentiated groups. (Master- I understand it well, and I could thoroughly teach it to someone else; Journeyman – I can mostly do it by myself, but I sometimes mess up or get stuck; Apprentice – I’m starting to get it, but I still need someone to coach me through it; Novice – I’m just starting to learn this, and I don’t really understand it yet.) As students become comfortable and willing to be vulnerable, I ask students to raise their hand if they need extra help. Then I pair them up with someone who is willing to be the teacher. After you have evaluated their mastery level, then you can form groups during work time to accomplish the learning target, similar to the Daily Five in reading instruction. Flexibility in your planning and knowledge of your content are a few things that will help you pull it together. This is real teaching and I love it!

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  2. So many teachers struggle with differentiation. This chapter really explains the steps in how to differentiate lessons. We have to "let go" of the idea that everyone has to do exactly the same assignment in order for us to grade it. Scaffolding learning is the only way we can reach each and every child. Is it time consuming, yes! But what is a child's understanding of a concept worth?

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    1. So true! So hard! So important! I plan on spending time here with my team in PLCs. We all get so bogged down and I think we attempt to differentiate, but then when the going gets tough, we take the easy road, and thus the students suffer.

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  3. I believe the key to having effective scaffolding learning is knowing your students. You cannot plan effective lessons if you do not know what your students need. I also make sure I am very well organized, prepared and ready to deliver my lessons to all levels of my students. This is so important, because we are faced with limited time and for us to get the most out of our time we must be prepared. I also like brainstorming with other teachers about different ideas to meet my student’s needs. I think it’s important to use the resources that we have available.

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  4. Your best blog post thus far! I have such a heart for differentiating - each student differs in so many ways we must attend to those differences and teach accordingly. This chapter highlights the needs for differentiation that moves beyond offering student choice about their products or where they want to sit in class. So often I hear teachers say, "I differentiate - they get choices." Differentiation is not about whether the student chooses to complete a diorama or a pamphlet to showcase their learning - it's about intentional, targeted instruction rooted in their needs as a learner. I agree with you - so much of the dissonance associated with differentiation is based in grading. One size fits all is comfortable - standards based grading is uncomfortable and unknown. It's time we start moving to those uncomfortable spaces where true learning takes place. One of the other greatest pieces of differentiation is that is goes hand in hand with the RTI process. If we are teaching our students within their own learning profile, tapping into their interests and taking their readiness into effect then we are providing strong Tier 1 (classroom) instruction. If we ignore the differing needs of our students we are mitigating the RTI process before it even begins.

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  5. This chapter more than any other points out the need for a shift in our core business as educators. We have to ask ourselves, are we teaching standards or are we teaching kids? In order to do both, we have to do a couple of things well. First, we must effectively tie differentiation to student progress and self -assessment. Those two things cannot be related without identifying learning targets and understanding and utilizing a learning progression. My question for myself and my department is: What support do teachers need in these areas? And how can we work with campuses to provide that support? The second thing we must do well is take some risks and let go of old ideas that are holding us back. We need to take a page from a coach’s playbook. Just as they watch their athletes practice and talk them through adjustments to their form and execution of plays, we must observe and give feedback to students as they are performing tasks that are highly aligned to the learning target. Many teachers lament the lack of autonomy in the classroom and blame it on an increase in standards and testing. Standards and testing only take away teacher autonomy if we let them. The teacher is still the most influential part of any classroom. As educators, we need to be willing to take back the reins and shift our thinking to the core business of holding ourselves accountable for the learning of all our students.

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  7. If I put an address in my GPS, I have a destination. I have multiple ways to arrive there, with or without detours and stops. In my classroom I have a Target of learning. There are multiple ways for my students to reach that bulls-eye and thus the differentiation. I will admit that sometimes there is difficulty in meeting so many different levels, mainly due to time constraints. As an educator I must put that worry aside and meet the needs of my students first. Differentiation allows my students across the spectrum from struggling learner to advanced learner access to the content. For example, our new science adoption has leveled readers. The processes my students may use are the well planned purposeful activities with varying levels of support from the teacher and their peers. For example some students may need to use manipulatives for a math problem. The product itself does not have to be the same for every student. In the Technology Integration Academy, one module was on student choice and engagement. Providing options for students to share what they have learned and how they met the target is a way to differentiate. For example, a student may use a technological piece to share how they responded to a book character. As the GPS in my classroom I need to make sure my students reach their destination even if a road is closed due to construction.

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  8. I agree with Mrs. Ward. Teachers will need some support when it comes to implementing Learning Targets. I plan to do this in the upcoming school year, and I would love to have someone give me feedback during the process. I also agree with her statement about autonomy and yes we do need to take some risks. I have been toying with the idea of implementing the Learning Targets with a version of the Workshop Model Dr, Thornell mentioned in his blog. Since I have no training per se in the model I will need some suupport in that area as well. I like the idea of Learning Targets coupled with the workshop model

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    1. James, I appreciate your honesty on this part. It will take some extra time and training to do it well and design lessons for students like the book prescribes. I know you are up to it….holler and I'll come over for feedback.

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    2. Lets do a google hangout and I can help coach.

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