Differentiation Self-Assessment | How are you doing?

Champion blogger Bianca Hewes, someone I reference here often as she is brilliant, prolific, and indefatigably generous, has done it once again with today’s Evidence Based teaching Practices Self-Assessment – Standards Aligned offering. Below is a sample image. If you fancy yourself someone committed to differentiation of instruction, try her self-assessment on for size and see how it fits. If you wonder about this kind of instruction, wonder how you might need to adjust your practice to provide for all your students, or maybe just wonder about all the fuss, I’d encourage you to give it a look as well.


For the California readers of this blog, the Department of Education provides resources on  Multi-Tiered System of Supports that comprise best practices standards for California Educators, and Core Component Number One is Differentiated instruction. Visit the CDE webpage MTSS Core Component 1: Differentiated Instruction for more information.

And a quick reminder to my California Ed Tech colleagues, in the 2012 Education Technology Task Force Recommendations was the strong and clear message that 1:1 student:device ratios were optimal for modern instruction. The Task Force observed that the ready availability of Internet-connected devices was key to the provision of differentiated instruction. See page 9 on the report.

If there was ever a time to make the case for making learning happen for every child in our classrooms, this is it. The plunging cost of devices, the vast ocean of knowledge available to all those connected, and the systems available to deliver it to children of the world make this a sweet time to be an educator!

Data: our reputations – our students – our collective future

testingIn learning environments, particularly schools, where teachers have yet to engage in a conversation about common assessment, that is, participating in a shared instructional environment and reflecting on teaching with colleagues, it is all too common to hear the following statement offered in argument against it:

“It may reflect on me negatively as a teacher if my students do not perform well on a given test.”

This is a true statement.

Like all true statements, though, it deserves some unpacking, and I’ll do that by asking the following questions:

1. If your student doesn’t do well on a test, whose problem is that, really? Is your ability to make a living and function in the culture threatened? In the long run it is clearly to our collective detriment as the social fabric will be weaker, but will next month’s paycheck shrink?

2. Let’s say you can teach circles on a given topic around the teacher in the room across the hall, and your students do better than his/hers on a test as a result. What right do you have to secret mastery in teaching that topic? Do the students in class across the hall have any rights? If it’s a competition (and no doubt teachers become very competitive), who are the actual winners and Hanshin-Awaji_earthquake_1995_Kashiwai-building_001losers?  If you and a friend suffered from the same cancer and your friend’s doctor had the cure, would you feel entitled to the same access to the cure your friend enjoys?

3. Do you have the right to a good reputation just because you show up and have the keys to the room? Does an architect with a cool studio but whose buildings fall down have a right to a good reputation? How about the doctor who judges his own competence based on the bell curve?

4. Do the people who sign your paycheck and the kids whose futures you hold in your hands have the right to expect that some evidence exists, somewhere, indicating you know what you’re doing?

5. Should each student expect you to figure out how best to educate them, or should every 15-year-old already know the best way to learn whatever you choose to offer up? (I said 15 because my own 15-yr-old just left the room).

Staff_meetingSo the above is all very negative, but do grant that the phrase in question has the word “negatively” actually in it.

What teachers discover when the competition no longer makes any sense, when they start to share the best practices available to get the job done for students, that they begin to grow again, and that teaching returns to the joyful, vital, hopeful profession they thought they entered in the first place.

Teachers, students, the world, deserve no less.

Are you worried about Minecraft?

Minecraft has grabbed the attention of parents and educators alike due to its phenomenal appeal to kids, and now it’s international news in this BBC story today. One of my favorite bloggers, Bianca Hewes, has even suffered through battles as her own son has worked to educate the world on the awesomeness of Minecraft as an educational tool. In fact, Minecraft, now owned by Microsoft (never the slouch in identifying a great opportunity) is marketing itself as a teacher’s secret weapon.

With ten-year-olds making YouTube channels for sharing their creations, setting up home servers to make it all go, and building virtual Lego worlds with their friends, if you haven’t paid attention to this growing world before now, I suspect it’s time to start. I’m rather looking forward to having a little time to spare to get into it myself. I’m told it wasn’t created exclusively for kids. Heh heh.


Free online video/audio editing for Chromebooks

Geek’s Life editor Dave Curlee brings you this quick video on a number of tools including Pixlr and WeVideo you can use on your Chromebook or other App-loving device. Check it out!

SAMR in 120 Seconds

I am a home coffee roaster. After my first batch of roasted coffee (granted, it was delicious) I thought I was pretty good at it, until I realized I really didn’t know anything about what I was doing. More roasts, sharing with friends, some failures, some sharing of failures with friends (sorry!), and I realized there was far, far more to know and learn. Life is like this, in every endeavor and adventure worth seeking.

And so it is with teaching and technology:

People who have wallowed in education technology for awhile will recognize themselves in this nicely designed video on tech evolution in teaching practice. I’ve always seen Interactive whiteboards as giant play spaces for teachers moving through these stages, and these folks have described those stages of development nicely.

Here’s the blog post that first led me to this video in the first place, and shame on me if I don’t pass it on.

And what about worksheets?

Just part of the air we breathe, teacher

heart rhythmLast Saturday my wife, Danielle, and I sat with my cousin Jim in the intensive care unit as he neared the end of his life. Not only did we accept that his vital signs would be monitored by several machines in the room and displayed in vivid colors with large font displays, over the several hours of our vigil, those numbers, sounds and traces became part of our collective experience, together with our dying cousin. Through medical technology, he was including us in his transition, sharing the data that has become commonplace in today’s hospitals, something unknown to humans a couple generations ago. Before, families watching a quiet bedridden relative would look for signs of breathing, listen for hints that life remained or had passed, but it was only through the stethoscope of the doctor (who may or may not be present) that they would eventually know for certain. Today, we have real-time data. We know, and it informs our way of thinking and perceiving.

Sitting under our plastic gowns, we could see that Jim was nearing the end of his illness, and his life. The nurse stepped over to Jim’s bedside, approached the monitor, switched off the display, and returned to her electronic charting. Danielle and I turned to each other with a look of “Wha?!” I looked at Jim, and instantly felt a broken connection, the frustration of information denied rising inside me. I turned to the nurse and said as politely as I could muster, “I assume you turned off the monitor because of all the alarms that will be going off shortly?” She looked mildly surprised, and said, “Oh, you want them on? Some families do, some don’t.” She restarted the monitor, and for another half hour or so we followed our cousin to his last breath and final heartbeat. It was intimate and precious and utterly unmediated by a third-person stethoscope, all thanks to the telemetry. I would not have given that up for anything.

It is important to this post that I cop to taking all that medical technology completely for granted. It felt familiar and necessary, and it is a comfortable part of my 21st Century experience. If I had walked into his hospital and had not seen evidence of data collection and display, not only would I have been disappointed, I would have demanded my cousin be moved to a decent hospital.

This is precisely the experience of our students when we, by force of law, pull them from their data-infused world and into school that often does not meaningfully follow their common access to data. We persist in demanding they break their connections, and most teachers want to be the stethoscope in the room to tell their students whether the heart of the world is still beating, or if it has a heart at all. And like our nurse, we are surprised when students are confused that we want them to disconnect from their data stream. They know their life is richer because of it. Can’t we see that?

Yes, instructional change is tough, but it begins with an awareness that humans’ relationship to technology has changed the culture of living and learning, in school and out. When students turn to us with a look of “Wha?!” in their eyes, it is simply incomprehension as they power-down, not insolence. Find what you can do to make your teaching and their learning as vital and meaningful, as intimate and precious as they know it can be.


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