Monthly Archives: October 2013

What Schools Can Do to Help Boys Succeed


If boys are restive and unfocused, we must look for ways to help them do better. Here are three suggestions

What Schools Can do to Help Boys
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Being a boy can be a serious liability in today’s classroom. As a group, boys are noisy, rowdy and hard to manage. Many are messy, disorganized and won’t sit still. Young male rambunctiousness, according to a recent study, leads teachers to underestimate their intellectual and academic abilities. “Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools,” says psychologist Michael Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.”

(MOREBoys Love Making Rainbow Loom Bracelets, Defying Stereotype and Delighting Moms Everywhere)

These “defective girls” are not faring well academically. Compared with girls, boys earn lower grades, win fewer honors and are less likely to go to college. One education expert has quipped that if current trends continue, the last male will graduate from college in 2068. In today’s knowledge-based economy, success in the classroom has never been more crucial to a young person’s life prospects. Women are adapting; men are not.

Some may say, “Too bad for the boys.” The ability to regulate one’s impulses, sit still and pay attention are building blocks of success in school and in life. As one critic told me, the classroom is no more rigged against boys than workplaces are rigged against lazy or unfocused workers. That is absurd: unproductive workers are adults — not 5- and 6-year-old children who depend on us to learn how to become adults. If boys are restive and unfocused, we must look for ways to help them do better.

Here are three modest proposals for reform:1. Bring Back Recess
Schools everywhere have cut back on breaks. Recess, in many schools, may soon be a thing of the past. According to a research summary by Science Daily, since the 1970s, schoolchildren have lost close to 50% of their unstructured outdoor playtime. Thirty-nine percent of first-graders today get 20 minutes of recess each day — or less. (By contrast, children in Japan get 10 minutes of play each hour.)

Prolonged confinement in classrooms diminishes children’s concentration and leads to squirming and restlessness. And boys appear to be more seriously affected by recess deprivation than girls. “Parents should be aware,” warn two university researchers, “that classroom organization may be responsible for their sons’ inattention and fidgeting and that breaks may be a better remedy than Ritalin.”

(MORE: Do Teachers Really Discriminate Against Boys?)

2. Turn Boys Into Readers
A few years ago, novelist Ian McEwan found he had many duplicate books in his library. So he and his son went to a nearby park during the lunch hour and tried to give them away. Young women eagerly accepted them. The guys, says McEwan, “frowned in suspicion, or distaste. When they were assured they would not have to part with their money, they still could not be persuaded. ‘Nah, nah. Not for me.’ ”

“Not for me,” is a common male reaction to reading, and it shows up in test scores. Year after year, in all age groups, across all ethnic lines, in every state in the union, boys score lower than girls on national reading tests. Good reading skills are — need I say? — critical to academic and workplace success. The British, faced with a similar literacy gap, launched a national campaign to engage boys with the written word.

In a major report released last year by the British Parliament’s Boys’ Reading Commission, the authors openly acknowledge sex differences and use a color-coded chart to illustrate boys’ and girls’ different reading preferences: girls prefer fiction, magazines, blogs and poetry; boys like comics, nonfiction and newspapers.

It is hard to imagine the U.S. Department of Education producing such a report. So far, the plight of boys is nowhere on its agenda. But if American parents and educators adopted the British commission’s top three recommendations, it is likely we would significantly narrow the gender gap in reading:

  • Every teacher should have an up-to-date knowledge of reading materials that will appeal to disengaged boys.
  • Every boy should have weekly support from a male reading role model.
  • Parents need access to information on how successful schools are in supporting boys’ literacy.

Boys will read when they find material they like. is the place to go for lists of books that have proved irresistible to boys.

(MORE: When Homework Is a Waste of Time)

3. Work With the Young Male Imagination
In his delightful Boy Writers: Reclaiming their Voices, celebrated author and writing instructor Ralph Fletcher advises teachers to consider their assignments from the point of view of boys. Too many writing teachers, he says, take the “confessional poet” as the classroom ideal. Personal narratives full of emotion and self-disclosure are prized; stories describing video games, skateboard competitions or a monster devouring a city are not.

Peg Tyre’s The Trouble With Boys illustrates the point. She tells the story of a third-grader in Southern California named Justin who loved Star Wars, pirates, wars and weapons. An alarmed teacher summoned his parents to school to discuss a picture the 8-year-old had drawn of a sword fight — which included several decapitated heads. The teacher expressed “concern” about Justin’s “values.” The father, astonished by the teacher’s repugnance for a typical boy drawing, wondered if his son could ever win the approval of someone who had so little sympathy for the child’s imagination.

Teachers have to come to terms with the young male spirit. As Fletcher urges, if we want boys to flourish, we are going to have to encourage their distinctive reading, writing, drawing and even joke-telling propensities. Along with personal “reflection journals,” Fletcher suggests teachers permit fantasy, horror, spoofs, humor, war, conflict and, yes, even lurid sword fights.

If boys are constantly subject to disapproval for their interests and enthusiasms, they are likely to become disengaged and lag further behind. Our schools need to work with, not against, the kinetic imaginations of boys to move them toward becoming educated young men.

MORE: Read Christina Hoff Sommers on School Has Become Too Hostile to Boys

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Don’t Let Google Drive Leave Tire Marks on Your Lesson Plans

Posted by  on Oct 8, 2013 in The How of 21st Century TeachingVoicesWeb Tools That Deepen Learning | 31 comments


As the word gets out about the many advantages of using Google docs, lots of teachers are becoming experts at creating and sharing documents in Google Drive – as well as exercising the “comments” and “see revision history” tools to provide student feedback on writing assignments (as I described inmy first Google Drive article).

If you’ve rolled out Google Drive in your classes, either via individual accounts or throughGoogle Apps for Education, then you know you can effectively employ it to share and collect assignments from your students. However, to save yourself from being inundated with electronic documents, you need to be sure that part of your lesson preparation includes effective workflow planning. Otherwise, you may find some tire marks on those carefully constructed lessons as Google Drive’s powerful features careen out of control.

Here are a few tips that have worked for me in the classroom.

Distributing Material to Students

If you are having your students work on an electronic assignment, then Google Drive can be an effective and efficient method of distributing instructions, worksheets, and other documents for students to use. But to assure a good flow, you must first assess a few key elements. Do you want students to be able to modify the document? And, if so, for the class as a whole or just individually?

Google Drive allows you to share content in several ways. If you want to distribute instructions to the group (but not allow them to inadvertently change them), then be sure that when you click on “share,” you select the appropriate access. The choices:

 “Can view” will allow students to see the document only.

 “Can comment” means they can view the document and leave comments but not change the document at all.

 “Can edit” means they can edit the document in its entirety but not delete it.

In my classes, I have found it useful to post instructions as “view only” and encourage students to ask follow up questions in class or via email. Some teachers may find the comments feature effective for questions and follow up.

Sometimes you create a document that you want students to modify—for example, a series of questions about a reading assignment or data from a lab exercise. If it is a document that you would like the class or a group to modify together, then the share feature offering “can edit” privileges will suffice.

However, if it is an individual assignment, then you need to add an extra step to make sure that the original document doesn’t accidently get modified improperly for and by everyone. For individual assignments, share the document with your students offering “view only” privileges and instruct students to then make a copy that they can then modify. (They do this by opening the document and clicking File > Make a Copy.)

This copying step will ensure they have the document you would like them to use but limit the editing to an individual user. If you have students working in small groups, you can assign a group leader who is responsible for this step and sharing with his or her classmates.

Turning in Assignments

homework-folder-sqThe next crucial area for students working in Google Drive is a protocol for turning in assignments. Trust me, you do not want 80 “untitled” assignments showing up. Nor do you want to try and figure out who “” is in your classroom. A well-planned protocol can save you time and headache. There are a myriad of methods you can employ to keep assignments labeled and organized. Here are a few that worked for me.

Shared Class Folder – I create a shared folder for each one of my classes. This is the default repository for all class assignments. For larger projects, I create a sub-folder (e.g. “Research Essay” or “Video Project”). I do this in anticipation of multiple assignments on the same topic.

Consistent Naming – The next element I tackle is how I want students to name their file. I have gotten 85 documents titled “homework” and it is crazy-making! The title should identify the assignment as well as the student (in that order); for example: “pg18 – Jones” or “Video Script – Doe”. This allows me, at a glance, to see who has turned in what. If it is a project that requires multiple steps, like a research paper, I may include a draft number: “Essay Draft 1 – Jones” and “Essay Draft 2 – Jones”.

Reinforce the Naming Rules – An effective naming protocol can keep both you and your students sane and organized. Keep in mind that students can be quick to forget to use the naming protocol, especially if they are rushing to finish an assignment. I have found the need to assess some penalties to ensure that they follow this essential procedure. Currently, if my students forget to properly name their assignment, they are assessed an immediate 50% penalty on their grade. I do tend to give them 12 hours to fix the naming to get those points back. I will tell you: most students don’t forget more than once!

Plan ahead and reap the benefits

Google Drive is a great tool to distribute content to your students and to have them return assignments in all media (the Drive repository allows students to submit not only traditional documents, but video, mind-maps, images, and more). By effectively planning your distribution and return protocol, you cannot only be more efficient but save a great deal of time in the mundane but essential logistics of lesson planning and rollout. These are ideas that have worked in my classroom, but I encourage you to explore protocols that meet your individual needs.

Money 101: It’s Elementary

As appeared in Northern Trust – Wealth Magazine 

Once kids start asking for things they see in the store or on TV, it’s not long before most parents hammer home their first personal finance lesson: Money doesn’t grow on trees. From there, how can we teach them other basic money concepts?

Children as young as 3 can be introduced to money, and by age 10, they can even manage a simple savings account and budget, says Ann Freel, director of Family Education and Governance Services for Northern Trust.

Consider these eight ideas to teach your younger kids to save money, spend it wisely and watch it grow – just not on trees.

1. Use money to teach kids about math, and vice versa. Introduce your youngest kids to money as they learn to count. Once they can subtract, kids can make change. When they learn percentages, they can figure out an appropriate tip for a restaurant server. “This is also a great opportunity to share a bit of wisdom about financial etiquette and being gracious to those who provide service,” Freel says.

2. Help kids understand the difference between needs and wants. Be mindful of how you talk about purchasing decisions and your own wants and needs. As children get older, Freel suggests explaining the choices you make, including tradeoffs, from grocery staples to vacation destinations. This helps share your family’s priorities and values regarding money.

3. Don’t stop at just one piggy bank. As soon as kids start acquiring money from grandparents, the Tooth Fairy and other sources, they can learn to make allocation decisions instead of throwing it into one pot. “One way is to give them three separate banks for their money: one for saving, one for spending and one for charitable giving, if that’s a family priority,” Freel says. “Tell them what each bank is for, using specific examples that gently and positively reinforce family expectations.”

Around ages 8-10, some parents ask their children to contribute part of their savings for a special item they want. Others incentivize saving or giving by matching the amounts their children put aside for these purposes.

4. Give kids earning opportunities. However you feel about allowance, children should have opportunities to make money so they can learn how it relates to time and effort. Make a list of age-appropriate tasks – separate from normal household responsibilities – with corresponding dollar amounts children can earn. Offer a variety of jobs and amounts. Gathering laundry could earn some quick cash for the ice cream truck, while a larger job, such as weeding the flower beds, could help kids earn spending money and pad their savings. “One error families may make is creating all big earning tasks,” Freel says. “This age group has a short attention span. Keep the tasks relatively simple so kids find the experience of earning money a positive and achievable one.”

5. Address income discrepancies. At a young age, children start to notice the differences between their home and belongings, and others’ possessions. As they begin to associate effort with money, they might draw the conclusion that the less wealthy don’t work as hard. “Explain to them that some people take jobs that pay less for a lot of different reasons,” Freel says.

Explore some of the simpler ones, such as passions and preferences, with younger children. Trickier reasons like educational disadvantages can be addressed at an older age. “During these conversations, parents should also share their thoughts about what is more important than money in their family – for example, liking friends for who they are rather than what they have,” she says.

6. Open a savings account in your child’s name. This can be an excellent way to teach kids from 8-10 what interest is and how it works. Demonstrate the interest they will earn on their savings account – for example, 1% monthly interest – using a dollar bill and a penny. “Additionally, children should understand how important it is to save their money in a safe place like a bank,” Freel says. Explain that bank-related paperwork contains sensitive information that needs to be kept secure.

If kids want to occasionally withdraw a portion of their savings to buy something, discuss it but don’t forbid it. For kids under 10, making their account seem like a black hole might discourage them from depositing.

7. Introduce the concept of credit. When you swipe plastic, there’s no visible exchange of money for goods. Early on, explain to kids that the credit card substitutes for money you already have in the bank and that there’s only so much of it. Later, explain credit card payments as borrowed money you have to pay back with interest and fees if you don’t do so on time.

8. Involve kids in household finances. Kids as young as 9 or 10 can develop a sense of stewardship by managing, or at least keeping an eye on, parts of the family budget – particularly parts that are personal and relatable to them. For example, ask a child to help create a realistic budget for one of their sports or hobbies that the family can track together. Share the prior year’s costs, such as weekly lessons, uniforms and travel. Then have the kids factor in incidentals and optional expenses like concession stand treats, team photos and equipment upgrades.

Turn Family Time Into Financial Education

By setting aside time for family members to manage their financial lives together, you can reinforce practical skills and find more opportunities to instill your family’s “money values.” Consider these tips:
  • Make it normal, casual and regular. Some families designate one Friday a month as “budget night,” during which family members review their monthly saving, spending and giving over their favorite pizza.
  • Keep it age appropriate and engaging, using websites and worksheets for younger children.
  • Use these meetings to plan vacations, discuss major household purchases, and establish financial priorities and expectations as a family.

In short, help children learn about financial matters from an early age by looking for teachable “money moments” in your family’s day-to-day life. Give children plenty of financial practice when they’re young, rather than waiting until they’re older.

“Young kids are fascinated by how the adult world works, so parents can leverage this natural interest by starting financial education and financial conversations at a young age,” Freel says. “Children who have early, positive experiences building their own ‘nest egg,’ and then making choices about how to use it, tend to be more responsible with money as they grow older.”

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Schools Aren’t Teaching Kids To Code (Here’s Who Is Filling The Gap)

By Selena Larson | Business 2 Community – Mon, Oct 21, 2013 7:45 PM EDT

  • By Selena Larson | Business 2 Community – Mon, Oct 21, 2013 7:45 PM EDT

Learning to code is all the rage these days, but not in one place that matters a lot: U.S. schools.

U.S. students already significantly lag their global counterparts where math and science skills are concerned. But computer science is in even worse shape: Of 12 technical subjects Schools Aren’t Teaching Kids To Code (Here’s Who Is Filling The Gap) image schools arent teaching kids to code heres who is filling the gap

Schools Aren’t Teaching Kids To Code (Here’s Who Is Filling The Gap)examined in a recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics, computer science was the only one that declined in student popularity from 1990 to 2009 (p. 49).

Last year, just 1.4 percent of high school AP students took the computer science exam, compared to almost 40 percent that took exams in English. Far more students took AP exams in Spanish language, psychology, calculus, and history than in programming.

Insufficiencies in school can translate into a bigger problem on an economic level. Each year, U.S. companies need to fill almost150,000 jobs related to computer science and mathematics, but colleges and universities only graduate about 100,000 students with degrees in those fields.

Bridging the gap

Recognizing the need for an increased focus in computer science courses in schools, organizations like the nonprofit are teaming up with industry leaders to promote technology education in both elementary and high schools across the country. believes all students in America should have the opportunity to learn computer science, and recently announced the first step in its plan to educate them. The Hour of Code initiative is a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to help kids and educators understand coding. The organization will provide both online and “unplugged,” or paper, tutorials and materials designed to assist teachers with the education process.

“Bringing computer science to every kid is the gift the tech industry needs to give back to America,” cofounder Hadi Partovi said during the Hour of Code launch event on Monday.

The Hour of Code will take place during Computer Science Education Week, December 9-15, and will encourage teachers to include one hour of computer science in that week’s curriculum. The organization is using game-like tutorials including Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies to drum up excitement for coding in the classroom. is supported by leaders in technology and education including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, former president Bill Clinton, NBA star Chris Bosh, and actor Ashton Kutcher.

Paypal cofounder Max Levchin said that teaching young students how to code is critical for maintaining economic competitiveness in the 21st century.

“I think learning how to code, learning how the vast majority of everything around them works, literally, that is to say Internet of Things, and many other trends like it,” he said. “Having that knowledge will prepare children in the generations to come to participate in the economic development of the world.”

A prep school shows the way

To meet the growing need for computer science literate individuals, Beaver Day Country School, an independent college prep middle and high school just outside Boston, now requires students to have coding experience in order to graduate. Rather than requiring students take a standalone coding course to graduate, Beaver’s educators are incorporating coding practices into classes like math, science and even English.

“We also recognize that coding is a mindset, so we don’t want our students to memorize a certain list of commands within a certain programming language,” said Rob MacDonald, the school’s math department head. “Instead, we want them to think about solving problems in innovative ways.”
Learning programming and computer science builds problem-solving skills and critical thinking that can inform other walks of life.

“We’re also planning an interdisciplinary project in which students will learn about the history of surveillance, including the recent controversies around the NSA and Wikileaks,” MacDonald said. “That project will incorporate history, English and math, and teachers from all three departments will work together on the curriculum.”

Beaver has witnessed the success of coding firsthand. Last fall, a group of students from the Beaver InvenTeam received a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT program to build “an automated robot vehicular independence system,” or a robot that can follow motion sensors while carrying up to 50 pounds of weight. The school will begin implementing the coding classes for upperclassmen, but will expand all the way down to sixth-graders in the future.

Of course, Beaver Day’s approach isn’t for everyone—tuition for the 2013-2014 school year is $39,950, and the school enrolls a total of 457 students—but it’s definitely an intriguing model.

A teaching shortage

While the idea of mandating computer science classes on the path to graduation is an impressive notion, many schools and organizations are finding it challenging to educate and keep teachers who develop technical skills. “I can say pretty confidently there are multiple challenges, but the biggest by far is the lack of teachers,”’s Partovi said.

To make up that shortage, many students turn to mentors or peers outside the classroom to assist with projects like building websites or mobile applications.

“I know some students that say, ‘I would have loved to learn more about technology, but my friends, teachers or parents didn’t know much about it’,” said Edward Jiang, CEO and founder of StudentRND. “Building an app was far off magic that no one understood.”

Jiang started StudentRND, an organization that inspires the next generation of technologists and encourages people to work on projects in their free time, after teaching himself how to build websites and online games in high school.

He noticed that many students don’t have the time or the place to explore topics like programming. So he created Code Day, a 24-hour event that brings together high school and college students to build projects.

Because of his program and others like it, students get the opportunity to connect with peers and mentors that share their passion for computer science and can build and develop projects they would have struggled with pursuing on their own.

StudentRND and both recognize the importance of qualified mentors as an impetus for students to pursue interests in computer science.

“My first exposure to code and programming was actually in a neighborhood workshop,” said Levchin, who grew up in the Soviet Union. “But it’s remarkable that a backwards country like the Soviet Union had [resources for] learning how to code. And industry people, and software developers from the defense program that were teaching kids how to code.”

By 2020, computer-related employment is expected to rise by 22 percent. That means students must be ready to enter a workforce that expects them to have polished technological skills.

Lead image via HackNY on Flickr, other media via


Broadening the view of differentiated instruction

  1. SETH A. PARSONS ( and STEPHANIE L. DODMAN are assistant professors in the College of Education and Human Development, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va. SARAH COHEN BURROWBRIDGE is a 6th-grade teacher at Lynbrook Elementary School, Springfield, Va.


Students in today’s classrooms vary greatly in background, cultures, language proficiency, educational skills, and interests. To best meet students’ diverse needs, teachers must differentiate their instruction. The authors argue that the current differentiation conversation focuses almost exclusively on lesson planning, but instead should include important adaptations made in the midst of instruction — an aspect frequently overlooked or discouraged.

Differentiation shouldn’t end with planning but should continue as teachers adapt their instruction during lessons.

Students in today’s classrooms vary greatly in background, cultures, language proficiency, educational skills, and interests. To best meet students’ diverse needs, teachers must differentiate their instruction. The research base justifying the need for differentiation is strong (Santamaria, 2009Tomlinson et al., 2003), and there is growing evidence that differentiated instruction has positive effects on student achievement (Rock, Gregg, Ellis, & Gable, 2008).

It is not surprising, then, that differentiation receives a lot of attention in teacher preparation programs, professional development efforts, and educational conferences. However, the differentiation conversation to date is missing a vital component, and we feel that current conceptions of differentiation are too narrow to capture the complexity of effective classroom instruction. Where the literature rightly details the role of planning in strong differentiated instruction, it almost wholly leaves out what can effectively happen during instruction.

Differentiation and planning

The educational literature on differentiation focuses on planning. For example, Gregory and Chapman described differentiation as “a philosophy that enables teachers to plan strategically in order to reach the needs of the diverse learners in classrooms today” (2001, p. x). Likewise, Tomlinson stated that differentiation requires an “alternate approach of instructional planning” (1999, p. 14). Lawrence-Brown conceptualized differentiated instruction as a “multilevel lesson planning system” (2004, p. 34). Moreover, foundations of differentiated instruction include such strategy created in instruction planning as curriculum compacting, flexible grouping, tiered activities, and student contracts (Brimijoin, 2005Tomlinson, 2001).

Indeed, these perspectives and techniques describe effective practices and are helpful for supporting teachers in thinking about different ways to offer content, engage students in learning, and provide opportunities for varied end products. However, they provide a narrow view of the complex work of instruction to meet students’ diverse needs. We argue that the adaptations made in the midst of instruction are an important aspect of differentiation that is frequently overlooked or discouraged.

FIG. 1.

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FIG. 1.

A broader view of differentiated instruction

Adaptive teaching as differentiation

Thoughtfully adaptive teachers adjust their instruction in real-time to meet the specific needs of individual students or the demands of the situation in which they find themselves (Fairbanks et al., 2010Parsons, 2012). Therefore, teachers who effectively differentiate their instruction not only carefully plan instruction to differentiate for the variety of learners in their classrooms but also provide moment-by-moment adaptations to meet specific needs that become clear during instruction — needs that were not or could not be anticipated. Consider the following example.

The adaptations made in the midst of instruction are an important aspect of differentiation that is frequently overlooked or discouraged.

John Fox is planning to teach his 6th graders about adding and subtracting fractions. Aware of the curricula below his grade level, he knows students have at least been briefly introduced to this concept. To prepare for the unit, he gives students a preassessment to gauge their readiness. In planning the unit, he considers not only where students are academically, but also the multitude of learning preferences in the room. Based on this knowledge of students, he decides to begin with an introductory lesson on the basics of adding fractions and then sets up a variety of learning stations to practice the skill or deepen understanding. For the lesson, he groups students by their readiness to add fractions and assigns each to one of the following stations: using fraction manipulatives to solve problems, creating multistep fraction word problems, or playing fraction games. Fox feels satisfied in his differentiation of content and materials.

As students work in the stations, Fox circulates through the classroom observing and assessing students’ progress. Unanticipated issues arise. He immediately adapts instruction by pulling three students from two of the stations to correct a misunderstanding of the concept. Later, he notices that another student can’t match a written fraction to the corresponding fraction bar. He pulls this student for a one-on-one session on the basic concepts of fractions and then creates a simple task for the student to complete. Fox realizes that if the student does not understand the underlying concept of fractions, she isn’t ready to add fractions. This scenario shows differentiation in planning and in adaptive teaching.

Planning is the foundation of differentiated instruction, but a teacher cannot account for everything. Because student understanding is complex, even the most sensitive preassessment can only offer so much information. Teachers must be able to be responsive to unanticipated issues that arise when their differentiated plans are put into action. They must, then, be able to monitor student progress and adapt instruction based upon students’ needs and instructional situations (see Figure 1).

Advocates of differentiated instruction contend that reactive teaching is not differentiated instruction (Tomlinson et al. 2003), and we certainly agree. Instruction that is defined by a teacher planning one lesson for everyone and then trying in the moment to make adaptations when students indicate trouble is not differentiation; it is reaction. We agree with Tomlinson and colleagues that, “Effective differentiation will likely arise from consistent, reflective, and coherent efforts to address the full range of learner readiness, interest, and learning profile in presentation of information, student practice or sense making, and student expression of learning” (2003, p. 128).

Planning plus adapting

Teachers who effectively differentiate their instruction appear to possess three attributes. First, they consistently assess student progress in multiple ways. For example, in designing word study instruction, teachers typically administer a spelling inventory. The results of this inventory are used to create word study groups composed of students who are ready for instruction on particular word features (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2011). A 2nd-grade teacher, for example, may put one group of students to work on long vowel patterns, another group on blends and digraphs, and yet a third on compound words. Those groupings would have resulted from the teacher’s formal assessment and spelling inventory.

On the other hand, differentiating instruction by thoughtfully adapting during the midst of instruction requires teachers to use ongoing informal assessments to make informed instructional decisions. Wanda Jackson’s 8th-grade social studies classroom, which includes many Hispanic immigrants, serves as an example. She plans a lesson about Native Americans’ dependence on nature. Her objective is to illustrate how their surrounding environments shaped Native American cultures. She plans an introductory lesson followed by a read-aloud of an informational text on the role environment plays in our lives. She anticipates that the plan will engage students while meeting the objective.

Jackson begins the lesson with an orange, describing the trip the fruit took to get to their local supermarket. She wants to emphasize the stark difference between present-day life in America and the life of Native Americans during the 1700s. She asks students what types of food they would eat if they could only get food from the local area. A Honduran pupil who just entered the United States shares that she had never eaten an apple before coming to the U.S. The student explains that in her home country, very much like the Native Americans under discussion, people use strictly the material within close proximity to their village. Jackson asks if other students have had similar experiences, and seven other students raise their hands.

In this moment, she decides that these students’ stories are more powerful than the informational text she had planned to read aloud. She adapts her instruction by setting up sharing stations, where each of these students can share his/her experiences with other students in the class. This teacher has now differentiated the content of her lesson. This example demonstrates how informal assessments and spontaneous decision making help teachers differentiate their instruction to meet the unique needs of students and specific situations they confront.

A second trait of teachers who effectively differentiate instruction is that they have extensive knowledge about how students learn and effective pedagogy. Knowledge is frequently discussed in three dimensions: declarative, procedural, and conditional (Paris, Lipson, & Wixson, 1983Schraw, 1998). Applied to teaching, declarative knowledge refers to knowing what is taught; procedural knowledge refers to knowing how to teach it; and conditional knowledge refers to knowing why one is using particular instructional practices and knowing when to use them. Planning differentiated instruction relies most upon declarative and procedural knowledge. A popular planned differentiation technique, a tic-tac-toe board, for instance, requires the teacher to use declarative and procedural knowledge. Because it is created in advance, though, this and other planned differentiation techniques rely minimally upon conditional knowledge.

On the other hand, differentiating on the fly by adapting one’s instruction requires well-developed conditional knowledge. If a particular form of instruction is not meeting students’ needs or a different form of instruction would be better for a specific situation, teachers need conditional knowledge to apply optimal instruction. In the example above, Jackson demonstrated effective use of conditional knowledge by changing her lesson from reading a book to allowing students to share their life experiences. Jackson made this shift after observing immigrant students’ sense of inclusion and importance as they willingly

Teachers who effectively differentiate their instruction:

  • Consistently assess student progress in multiple ways;

  • Are very knowledgeable about effective pedagogy and how students learn; and

  • Are highly reflective.

shared their life experiences. She also saw the other students’ interest as they listened to their peers describe experiences similar to the Native American tribes they were studying. In order for all students to thrive, she knew she needed to foster a climate of acceptance in her classroom. Both lessons would have achieved the lesson objective, but Jackson used conditional knowledge to make a thoughtful adaptation that achieved much more.

The final characteristic of teachers who effectively differentiate their instruction is that they are highly reflective. Schön (1987) explains that practitioners, including teachers, engage in two types of reflection: reflection-on-action and reflection-in-action.

Reflection-on-action occurs after instruction is completed. Teachers reflect on what happened in the school day, and this reflection serves to inform subsequent instruction. Following a lesson, the teacher may reflect on what went well in her lesson and what challenges she faced. The teacher may choose to reuse strategies that proved successful or research new ways of teaching a topic area that created challenges for students.

On the other hand, reflection-in-action comes in the midst of teaching. This type of reflection informs adaptive teaching. Thoughtful adaptations require teachers to constantly observe student progress in order to make immediate changes or interventions. Teachers’ adaptability is honed by constant reflection: They enter each lesson with a clear plan to successfully teach a concept in a differentiated manner, but they are also ready to adapt if their best-laid plans are not sufficient for every child.

Teachers must be able and prepared to adapt their instruction in the midst of instruction.


As the diversity of the K-12 student population increases, it is critical that teachers differentiate their instruction to meet all students’ needs. Planning instruction that is based on individual student needs, interests, and learning profiles is crucial in differentiating instruction. Manipulating the content, process, and product of instruction facilitates differentiation. However, teachers also must be able and prepared to adapt their instruction in the midst of instruction. Exemplary teachers thoughtfully adapt their instruction to meet the diverse needs of students. Policy makers, administrators, professional developers, teacher educators, and school leaders can support teachers’ facility for differentiated instruction by valuing formal and informal assessments; emphasizing declarative, procedural, and conditional knowledge; and encouraging teachers to exercise reflection-on-action and reflection-in-action.

Five Research-Driven Education Trends At Work in Classrooms

 | October 14, 2013 | 21 Comments




Increasingly, educators are looking to research about how kids learn to influence teaching practices and tools. What seemed like on-the-fringe experiments, like game-based learning, have turned into real trends, and have gradually made their way into many (though certainly not most) classrooms.


Many educators are using researchers’ insights into how children best learn to inform their teaching practices. Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s research on encouraging children to develop a growth-mindset continues to grow in popularity, as educators try to praise effort, not outcomes. Dweck writes that if children believe their abilities are fixed — that either that they’re smart or they’re not — they approach the world in different ways and aren’t as able to face adversity. When they believe skills and abilities can grow throughout one’s lifetime, they’re better able to rise to challenges.

Brainology, Dweck’s program, is just one of many such school-based programs that teachers can use in classrooms, as is Brainworks.

Educators are also teaching learning strategies, helping students find out the best ways to not just learn content, but how to learn. Ideas like remembering facts when they are set to music. This practice has been employed since the days of oral storytelling, but teachers are reviving it to help students in modern classrooms. Recent studies show that adults learn new languages more easily when they are set to a beat. Some educators are even experimenting with breaking up classical literature into bite sized raps.

There are plenty more examples of brain-based research on learning making its way into classroom practices.


Games have long been used to engage students. But as game-based learning becomes more prevalent in schools, researchers are interested in how game structure mirrors the learning process. In many games, students explore ideas and try out solutions. When they learn the skills required at one level, they move up. Failure to complete tasks is reframed as part of the path towards learning how to conquer a level.

Universities like HarvardMIT and the University of Wisconsin’s Game and Learning Society are studying how game-playing helps student engagement and achievement, and well-known researchers in the field like James Paul Gee and University of Wisconsin professor Kurt Squireshow are using their own studies to show that games help students learn.

Once the terrain of experimental classrooms, digital games are now becoming more common in classrooms. In a recent survey by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, half of 505 K-8 teachers said they use digital games with their students two or more days a week, and 18 percent use them daily. Educators are using commercial games like MinecraftWorld of Warcraft and SimCity for education. The Institute of Play continues to study game-based learning and helps support twoQuest to Learn schools, which are based around the idea of games and learning.


Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeedpopularized the ideas of grit and perseverance. Now those ideas have made their way into a U.S. Department of Education’s Technology office reportas well as the Common Core State Standards, which many states are already implementing. The idea that failure is an opportunity to learn and improve, not a roadblock to achievement, is often referenced as one of the most important life skills a student can take with him beyond the classroom.

Angela Duckworth’s research on grit has shown that often students, who scored lower on intelligence tests, end up doing better in class. They were compensating for their lack of innate intelligence with hard work and that paid off in their GPAs. Duckworth has even developed a “Grit Scale” that allows students to self-report their “grittiness.”


The growing movement against homework in the U.S. challenges the notion that the amount of homework a student is asked to do at home is an indication of rigor, and homework opponents argue that the increasing amount of “busy work” is unnecessarily taking up students’ out-of-school-time. They argue that downtime, free play, and family time are just as important to a child’s social and emotional development as what happens in school.

Some research has shown that too much homework has “little to no impact” on student test scores. Other research on how brains work challenges the common method of asking students to practice one discreet skill at home. Overall, there’s a push to reevaluate the kinds of work students are being asked to do at home and to ask whether it adds value to their learning. If the work is repetitive or tangential, it may add no real value, and teachers across the country are starting to institute no-homework policies. Even principals are starting to revolt and schools are instituting “no homework” nights or substituting “goals” for homework.


Increasingly business leaders and educators are realizing that creativity is a uniquely human quality that will set future graduates apart from the ever smarter computers that are playing increasingly important roles in society. There’s been a focus on stimulating curiosity and creativity through Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) courses, including computer coding, as well as integrating art and design into courses. The design thinking movement is a good example of schools working to develop students’ ability to think for themselves, brainstorm ideas and execute them.

Many schools are also shifting towards project-based learning to help leverage student interestsand passions in their school work. Long-form projects often allow students to demonstrate their creativity more than assignments that every student must complete the same way. The trend towards project-based learning is one indication that schools are actively looking to build creativity into curricula.

Education start-ups are exploding

Published: Tuesday, 8 Oct 2013 | 4:33 PM ET
By:  | CNBC Media and Entertainment Reporter

Blend Images | Vetta | Getty Images

At the Education Nation summit over the past few days a recurring theme has beenhow new tech tools can improve education and tackle soaring costs. A relatively new category of “EdTech” start-up looks to use technology to make education more effective and accessible to hundreds of millions of people.

“Anyone in the world should be able to take high-quality courses, whether at the college or high school level,” said Anant Agarwal, the president of nonprofit EdX, which makes college courses available online. “They should be able to take it freely, maybe pay a small amount to get a credential.”

Huge demand for education improvement and massive upside potential is driving a surge of investment. The amount of venture capital funding going into Ed Tech has quadrupled, from $154 million in 2003 to $630 million in 2012. The number of companies funded has also quadrupled, to 95 last year—a sign of the explosion of interest from entrepreneurs.

“We’re now in this age where anybody can learn anything, anywhere,” said Tom Vander Ark, founder of Learn Capital, the first VC fund focused on such start-ups. It has invested $60 million into 40 Ed Tech businesses. “With the explosion of mobile devices and open content, [it has] really made it possible for anybody on the planet to access the best professors in the world,” he added.

We’re on the precipice of major change thanks to technology—giving students a more social and connected experience, while “gamification” keeps them engaged, according to Vander Ark.

“In the second half of this decade, with inexpensive tablets, with open content, we’ll be able to create blended high schools that give hundreds of millions of kids a shot at college and the idea economy,” he said.

(Read moreHow Nielsen gauges Twitter TV audiences)

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Ed Tech investment expanding
The biggest venture capital investor in education technology, Learn Capital has put $60 million into 40 start-ups.

One of the areas in Ed Tech drawing the most attention—and a surge in usage from students—are focused on higher education—offering free access to online courses from top universities.

(Read moreGoogle launches new HP Chromebook for $279)

Coursera has had over 5 million students take 461 courses from 91 partners. Students can take everything from Duke University’s “21st Century American Foreign Policy” to Peking University’s “Introduction to Computing.” All classes are available for free, but the company recently started charging students who had completed a course for a certificate of completion, generating more than $1 million in revenue.

Udacity also offers free online courses but has a different model. Last month it announced the “Open Education Alliance” of educators and nine employers, including Google and AT&T. Together they’ll help create and provide training for companies, and will offer online classes and curriculums to help students prepare for tech jobs.

Udacity also helps schools like Georgia Tech offer an online master’s program for less than $7,000. That type of program gives students everywhere access to high-quality, name-brand education at a low price.

Nonprofit EdEx also recently announced a partnership with Google in which they’ll launch what they’re calling a YouTube for free online courses. The idea is to make it as easy to access a college class as it is to watch a funny cat video.

(Read moreForget the 5S, let’s talk iPhone 6: Pro)

Anant said all this competition is a good thing, pushing everyone to make it as easy as possible to learn, study and achieve.

—By CNBC’s Julia Boorstin. Follow her on Twitter: 



Partnering with Parents

Gojak_Linda-100x140By NCTM President Linda M. Gojak
NCTM Summing Up, September 5, 2013

Too often when a student struggles with mathematics, a parent comments, “I was never very good at math either.” While that may be true, the need for our students to be successful in mathematics is more urgent than at any time in recent history. In this era of focus on college, career, and life readiness, engaging parents is critical to the success of students from prekindergarten through high school. Although parent involvement is an important part of any student’s academic experience, enlisting parent support in mathematics may present a greater challenge and a more conscientious effort on our part. Studies show that many parents are intimidated by coming into schools and meeting teachers—especially mathematics teachers. Think about how you can work directly with parents so that the school-to-home connection becomes a collaborative experience.

The beginning of the school year offers unique opportunities to connect directly with parents and help them to become engaged in their child’s mathematics education. Students, teachers, and parents are excited, ready, and eager for a new beginning. Whether it is open house, a phone call, or a letter home, contact at the start of school gives parents their first impression of you and of the mathematics their children will be learning.

Consider some possible messages to share with parents.

  • Summarize the big mathematical ideas that the class will be exploring in the coming year. Be sure to put them in family-friendly language. If possible include practical examples to emphasize real-world applications of the concepts—especially in higher-level courses.
  • Inform parents that today’s mathematics content and instruction should look different from the mathematics they had in school. Research and experience demonstrate that high-quality mathematics instruction involves students in making sense of the mathematics they are doing, working together to solve challenging problems, using technology when appropriate, and communicating about their thinking. This explanation will offset any misguided notions that could undermine our work with students.
  • Provide good resources that parents can explore with their children, such as activities on the Illuminations website. Share some good apps that students might use on their tablets or smartphones. If you have a personal Web page for parents to access, include specific websites and apps throughout the year. Consider a “Parent Partners” tab on your home page. Share ideas with other teachers about what to include.
  • At open house, present a traditional mathematics exercise or assignment along with a contrasting activity that promotes deeper understanding. For example, in the elementary grades I have displayed a typical worksheet with 20–25 addition exercises and afterward engage parents in playing a quick round of “Close to 1000.” I ask parents which task they think their child would prefer. The unanimous response has always been “Close to 1000!” Spend some time talking about the mathematics in the activity so that the focus on depth of understanding becomes transparent to parents. Talk about the relevance of games and rich tasks in building mathematical competence.
  • Take time to be reflective about homework you assign to students. Be clear on the purpose of your assignments and the role of parents in supporting their children at home. This is an area of great frustration for many parents. Homework assignments will probably not look like mathematics homework from parents’ school experience. Provide ideas about how they can support their children in doing homework, especially when struggle is likely. In addition to setting aside time and a place to do homework, how should parents respond to students struggling to complete an assignment?
  • Remind parents that their role is not to be the teacher at home. You do not expect them to reteach or explain concepts that may not be totally clear to a student. Whether you suggest a quick call, an e-mail, or a note from the parents when their child has moved beyond productive struggle, the importance of communication cannot be overestimated. When parents do take the time to contact you, be sure to respond in a timely manner.
  • While “Math-for-Parents Night” is a common event in elementary schools, extending these opportunities to middle and high school pushes us to think harder about connecting the mathematics that we are teaching to real-world applications and helping parents to become more comfortable and positive about their children’s mathematics education. It also opens the door for additional communication between the parent and the school.
  • Consider sending home a rich task for families to complete together. It can be related to an event in your school’s community, something that connects mathematics to real life, or simply a task that the family can explore together, is motivational, and gets parents and students working together. An added benefit is developing positive attitudes toward mathematics.
  • Enlist your principal or other administrator in the partnership that you’re establishing with parents. Inform him or her of what is happening in your classroom and suggest ways to support your work and encourage parents to become more involved.

The list above includes some practical starters for developing a constructive relationship between parents and the school. It encourages positive attitudes toward mathematics. Just as we plan daily instruction for our students, a specific yearlong plan to get parents involved and supportive of their children will positively influence our work and can only lead to increased student success. Fall is an exciting time of the year for teachers, students, and parents. Have the best school year ever!

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Invite Parents Into The Classroom!

September 21, 2013

Common-Core Messaging 101: Come See My Classroom

Jessica Cuthbertson

I used to believe that my workspace was a classroom. I used to believe that my job was to teach English/language arts. And I used to believe that my primary responsibility was to teach—period.

While on the surface all of these statements are technically true, I no longer hold these beliefs.

Instead, I believe I work in a learning laboratory, not a classroom. I believe I teach human beings, not English/language arts. I believe my primary responsibility isn’t to teach; it is to learn and facilitate the learning of others.

For some, this may seem like semantics. But for me, these beliefs drive everything I do. Experience, reflection, and implementing the Common Core State Standards have changed the landscape of teaching and learning for me.

When it comes to core beliefs, semantics matter.

And when it comes to the common core, what teachers say and believe matters to others as well. Do I believe we have a responsibility to inform parents about teaching and learning in the common core era? Absolutely. But beyond this, I believe we have a greater obligation to open our doors wider than ever and let them see for themselves. I believe we need fewer classrooms and more learning laboratories. I believe it is our role to be ambassadors for student learning, showcasing what the standards look like in action.

It’s fascinating to see what adolescent readers can do when supported with close-reading strategies. It’s far more interesting to read a writer’s argument, informed by research and critical analysis, than it is to read a formulaic or decontextualized piece of writing. And it’s hard to envision what “text complexity” looks like without listening in or participating in a discussion about a complex text.

When you confront the mythologies about the standards and strip away all of the political rhetoric, you are left with a document. A set of high, clear, vertically aligned expectations that outline what all students should know and be able to do to become college and career ready.

The standards are not a secret, so we shouldn’t keep them from parents. In fact, we should be clear about what they are and even clearer about what they are not. They are not a curriculum or a federal edict. They are not an invasion of privacy, a usurping of local control, or a corporate takeover of K-12 education.

While all of these claims may make for sensational headlines, the student learning results speak for themselves. But it is up to us to show, share, and speak about what the standards mean for students. The implementation of the common core has significantly improved the teaching and learning in Room 214 and in my colleagues’ classrooms across the nation.

But don’t take my word for it. Come see for yourself.

Jessica Cuthbertson, a Colorado educator with 10 years’ experience, teaches middle school literacy and has served as a literacy instructional coach for Aurora Public Schools.

Posted by Jessica Cuthbertson at 10:21 AM | Permalink | 11 Comments | 2 Recommendations