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Archive for January, 2014

Response to Questions at Workshop on Block Scheduling

The following post is a set of responses to questions that came up at a recent workshop Chris Toy and I did on block scheduling.  The participants’ questions and the responses may be of interest to others transitioning to block scheduling.

Questions From Staff

Two most important resources:

  1. Yourselves—ask each other questions…”How are you dealing with absences?” What strategies seem to really work with our ELLs? There is a collective wisdom that can be tapped.
  2. Create your own PD by posing questions via the Internet.  Use natural language and end with a ?    ex. What are some good strategies for teaching social studies in the block?

A number of the questions focused on teaching strategies:

Some books:

Everyone’s Invited: Interactive Strategies That Engage Young Adolescents  Jill Spencer available from AMLE   http://www.amle.org/Shop/tabid/135/Default.aspx

Ten Differentiation Strategies for Building Prior Knowledge and Ten Differentiation Strategies for Building Common Core Literacy by Jill Spencer  http://www.amle.org/Shop/tabid/135/Default.aspx

Teaching in the Block: Strategies for Engaging Active Learners by Rettig & Canady   http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Block-Strategies-Engaging-Learners/dp/1883001234

Differentiated Instructional Strategies for the Block Schedule by Gregory & Herndon  http://www.corwin.com/books/Book228236

Anything by Carol Ann Tomlison

Edutopia has great resources on a variety of topics including inquiry learning, technology integration, etc.: http://www.edutopia.org/grade-level-6-8

Jill says…I follow Edutopia and ISTE on Facebook where I find all sorts of ideas: Edutopia – https://www.facebook.com/edutopia & ISTE – https://www.facebook.com/LikeISTE

MAMLE website—Instructional practices tab: http://mainemamle.org/publications/

Google “heterogeneous class teaching strategies” and you will find many sites full of ideas.

Project based learning resources:

Edutopia: http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning

Buck Institute: http://bie.org/

Seven Essentials for PBL: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/sept10/vol68/num01/Seven_Essentials_for_Project-Based_Learning.aspx

Thoughts about planning when doing project learning:

–You will still need to have some focused direct – teaching episodes on specific skills students need to apply in their project work.  e.g. (1) Deciding what is important and what’s just kind of interesting when doing research and taking notes. (2) How to conduct an interview.

–You will still want to plan some sort of closure for each class when students self-assess their effort & progress and reflect on what they have learned.

–You may want to include a check-in where kids tell you what they will be specifically working on during class, and then  follow-up with them individually to check on their progress.

Learning Centers in the Block—These comments come from Sarah Lange Hayes, a math teacher in Amherst, Massachusetts. Although these ideas relate to math, they can be applies to other subjects:

Learning Centers

  • Use formative assessments to determine where students are in their learning–who is ready to extend, who needs reinforcement, and who needs some remediation within the standard(s).
  • Develop 6 or 7 different activity-based learning stations that address students’ needs, one of which is a  “Create Your Own Problem/Activity” station.
  • Determine which students will start at which activities based on your formative assessment data.
  • Develop and share guidelines for moving through stations with students.
  • Work at various stations for 2-3 class periods (total), depending on progress and effectiveness of stations.  I track which stations students are visiting/have visited, and give suggestions to students about where to go next for those who seem to need it.  I and any other adults in the room (special education teacher, special education paraprofessional) move around the room as students work, observing, questioning, guiding.
  • Assign nightly homework based on the stations that the students participated in during class.

In my experience (from Sarah Hayes), a few things that helped this strategy be successful are:

  • Assigning starting stations to students based on formative assessment data help me make sure that each student begins working at an activity that will help move him/her forward in his/her understanding (not too challenging/frustrating to start and not an activity for a concept for which s/he already demonstrated mastery).
  • A variety of stations help with the “time factor.”  It has always been a challenge for me about how to approach the fact that students can work at such different paces and for such different reasons.  Providing enough stations so that students have plenty of activities to explore, combined with the expectation that all students continue working throughout the class period (the number of stations completed is not emphasized, rather the quality of the effort at each station is), helped with this issue.
  • An element of student choice is helpful, but it also important that I monitor these choices myself to make sure students are making effective use of their time.
  • Flexibility to move to a different activity if the current station isn’t a good “fit” is also important.

Special Education

Here are some resources that you may find helpful:

–Universal Design in Learning (http://www.cast.org/udl/ ): is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.  UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.

–Don’t forget that the iPads have text to speech and speech to text capacity—Settings/General/Accessibility/make sure Speak Selection is on.  It will read Internet material as well as other text.  Students with reading issues can listen to text; students who struggle with writing can use the  speech to text capacity to begin to get their ideas down by just speaking. (Click on microphone on keyboard)

–Remember you can get rid of extraneous and distracting material on a website by hitting the 4 straight lines icon on left side of address bar.  distractons

Helping students (1) catch-up when they’ve been absent and (2) retain new learning over vacations, holidays, etc.    Many teachers are using technology resources for these purposes:

  1. Create short videos of lessons and post them online for students to access 24/7.  Two good apps are Show Me and Educreations.  Sometimes the teacher creates them, or often the videos are created by students. After the video is created, the app assigns a URL where the video is posted.
  2. Use Wikis and sites like Edmodo to communicate with students.  Students can ask questions and get responses from their teacher.  Assignments and models of exemplars can be posted for easy access by students and families.
  3. Some teachers do online office hours—very structured and specific times. Google hangout, Google Docs, Skype, IM, etc.
  4. Web tools like Quizlet can set up activities students can access from home or the public library to learn vocabulary.



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