Notes from Differentiation in Middle & High School by Doubet and Hockett

There are lots of books on differentiation, but I rarely uncover enough that really offer strategies that a teacher could try that week. The Doubet and Hockett text proves to be an exception. Here are my ramblings from what I’ve read (note: these are not all encompassing, but rather a snip it of reflections.). I’m going to abbreviate Differentiated Instruction by just writing DI.

First, I appreciate a reminder on what the difference is. DI really takes a great deal of time. It isn’t a quick worksheet or permanent work groups. The groups are flexible and student learning is carefully examined.

What I like about this book is the sections talk about concepts that must be in place long before the lesson.

Chapter 1 is on “Building a Healthy Classroom Community.” Students need to fit in and be known. They also need to feel a sense of safety. All of this can be achieved by offering a compassionate, community-centered classroom.

For those of you completing the edTPA, this is a huge factor. Creating a community of learners is so important. We all remember Rita Pierson’s Ted Talk, right? Kids won’t learn from people they don’t like. It doesn’t mean you have to be their friend. Just provide respect and genuine interest.


Chapter 1 of this book focuses on ways to creative a community-centered, compassionate classroom. Here are snip-its of strategies as suggested:;

  1. Provide a prompt on the Smartboard. Have students state their name and their answer to the prompt. Return with a question. Perhaps the question can tie to the reading for the day.
  2. Ask students to create a pie chart of at least five of their interests. Follow up with discussions on similarities and differences.

Note that there is a section on developing mindset that I particularly like. The text does a great job suggesting ways to redefine fair so students understand that fair doesn’t mean that everyone gets the same thing. Teaching mindset is so important for those moments when students want to quit or do not understand why they are being pushed so hard.

Chapter 2 is called “Articulating Learning Goals.” Oh my gosh, this sounds like the “Central Focus.” The concepts we teach give students ways to organize new learning for future applications. Concepts are the root to the trees, the basement to the house, and the chassis to the car. 🙂

Chapter 6 screamed formative assessment. The idea of checking for understanding is so important, but so easily overlooked by new teachers. I think it’s important to note something the book mentions — formative assessment is for individual student assessment, not the whole class. One huge red light moment for me was when reading the statement that quizzes should not be included in the gradebook. Formative assessment is just checking for understanding — it should NOT be reported in the gradebook. For many teachers, this is mindblowing and radically different from practice even 8 years ago. When I was teaching in the K-12 world, I only skipped the gradebook because I ran out of time to actually grade them. It wasn’t until I hit Higher Education that I figured it out.

Chapter 8 offers suggestions for summative moments where the “training wheels come off.” In other words, where students will demonstrate what they know or what they can do. The first suggestion is to create RAFT experiences. I used the RAFT activity during ACT III for Julius Caesar, if I remember right. For example, students could pick Brutus and write a diary entry torn over what was going to happen. Now a’days I would include a layer of social media and have Cassius launching a series of hostile tweets. 🙂



Common Formative Assessments

What do you know about Common Formative Assessments? Developing Common Formative Assessments opens the door for rich dialogues within grade levels or classes. I wish I would have had this opportunity when I was teaching in the high school. We often did compare sections, but the focus was more on students’ behavior than on assessment data. Honestly, we didn’t even have the same assessments! What a missed opportunity.

Common Formative Assessments offer insurance that students are getting the same material. CFAs also increase the chance that teachers will discuss success, struggles, misconceptions, et cetera. I love this Teaching Channel video in that teachers are examining patterns of learning for students and how to react to those needs.

For those of you not yet graduated, this video will help you immensely as you enter Task 3 of the edTPA. Being able to analyze student data for next steps for instruction is HUGE. As many of you know, student teachers state-wide score the lowest on Task 3 (Assessment) of the edTPA. You need to be able to examine data, understand learning for individuals, groups, and the whole class. Additionally, you have to be able to consider next steps for instruction based on your analysis. Here’s the best part — if you really practice CFA with fidelity, your workload is lighter. You have a support team to collaborate with and to reflect upon the needs of your students, team-wide.

For further study, consult the PLC work of Richard and Rebecca DuFour. PLC stands for Professional Learning Communities (2010). PLC is not a program. It is not common planning time. A PLC is an “ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve” (p. 11). Really owning a PLC requires a collaborative culture with a focus on learning for all students. This means that you have to care about your students and the students in your colleagues’ classes. All students in “x” grade are your students.

At the University, two colleagues and I knew that it was essential for our students to learn an essential set of skills and knowledge. We designed an experience for all students that follows the same process across all three classes. While we aren’t fully immersed in the work of a PLC just quite yet, we are well on our way to a true change in culture. As our students move through the process, we evaluate data and respond accordingly. For us, the real value has been in assessing what can we do to improve student learning before they get to this part of the process.

While the entire scope of PLC work will not be covered here, I will attempt to explain the four essential questions teachers in a PLC need to consider.

Together you need to ask four questions:

  1. What do we expect our students to learn?
  2. How will we know they are learning?
  3. How will we respond when they don’t learn?
  4. How will we respond if they already know it?

Let’s take a look at each one.

1. What do we expect our students to learn?

As a team, you should be looking at the scope and sequence (curriculum map) for your district to understand who is meeting which standards when. That valuable map will give you direction to be able to ask yourself, “What do we expect our students to learn?” After you’ve looked at the curriculum map, you’ll also need to consider district goals. For example, I worked in a district that asked teachers to increase literacy strategies and reading opportunities across the curriculum. No doubt that district goal impacted my curriculum for the year. Now teachers have SLOs to factor as well. Since you can not cover all of the Common Core standards for your discipline and grade level in a year, you need to establish a set of essential standards that your whole team will cover together.

2. How will we know they are learning?

As a team, you should be designing common formative and summative assessments to ensure that your students across the grade level are receiving a guaranteed curriculum. This is easy to say, but challenging to actually do. In ten years I’ve only worked on two teams where this was an expectation, and those two teams were so much stronger than any other team I’ve joined. As a team, you need to be able to discuss,

  • Formative assessments
  • Summative assessments
  • Assessment data

You also need to be able to have conversations around methods of teaching. Each person comes to the team with strengths and weaknesses. As  we all know, your college prepatory classes are not going to provide you with everything you need to teach. Much of what you do, will be learned on the job or with further study. College provides you with the foundations. Likewise, your colleagues will have gaps. As you start looking at student data, you might notice that your students are not scoring as well in one area, but your colleague’s are scoring quite well. If that’s the case, then it’s your responsibility, as a professional, to analyze how your methods could be improved. That might mean asking your colleague for help or for the opportunity to observe. Learn from one another. If it works, consider team teaching until you adopt your colleagues’ methods. Some teachers might suggest just swapping classes for that unit so the stronger teacher can teach that content, but that’s not really making the team better.

Once you’ve established a common set of assessments, similar and effective teaching strategies, and the willingness to examine and analyze assessment data, you can truly measure learning.

3. How will we respond when they don’t learn?

Differentiation and interventions can be exhausting. Ten years ago, most teachers that I worked with (myself included) struggled with interventions as RTI hadn’t become common practice.

After looking at data, you might notice that some students are not progressing as you’d expect. Now what? You’ll need to reteach, but also consider adjusting the content, process, or product (Tomlinson, 1999).

Do students need…

  • Leveled materials
  • Graphic organizers
  • Guided reading
  • Hands-on opportunities
  • Audio support
  • Additional time

Create a game plan for students that are not learning the material. Lean on the RTI process to ensure that your students will obtain another opportunity to learn.

4. How will we respond if they already know it?

Ah, I remember these days well. In my early years, I remember having a student or two that already read the book we were covering in class. I, unfortunately, remember saying, “Great! This will be easy for you.” Now I look back, ashamed. As I gained experience and understanding, I felt comfortable swapping out learning opportunities for something more appropriate. Really, if you offer choice with your learning opportunities, students will end up directing themselves most of the time. For example, this semester I had two students in a team creating a green screen movie. One student already had experience making a green screen project, but since I left the parameters flexible, aside from the rubric, I knew the team would design a video more appropriate. Not only did the team include advanced features, they ended up including their project in a video tutorial on how to do green screening using Do Ink’s “Green Screen” iPad app. To top it off, the team shared their project on Google+ and Do Ink eventually picked it up and shared it with thousands. Had I designed a rigid project, there is a good chance, I would never have seen that product. Try to give as much choice as possible so students with higher skills can run with your projects.

For students that already know the material you are covering, consider…

  • independent projects that ask for a deeper dive
  • more challenging books
  • open-ended writing opportunities that allow for self-direction

Consider allowing students that already know the material the opportunity to create a screencast demonstrating their knowledge using the iPad app, “Explain Everything” with the intention of publishing that screencast to Youtube. Many times students can explain material in a way that you might not, and your students will love sharing their knowledge with the world.

As you enter the profession, be sure to research Professional Learning Communities. This culture shift, this mindset, this way-of-doing-business is so important to ensure learning for all students.


DuFour, R. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Don’t Forget, Technology is the Vehicle.

As you wrap your arms around what it means to “Go Google,” consider what it means to integrate technology. whatdoyouwantMany doors are opened! You have quick access to GAFE, so leverage it to devise learning activities that increase engagement. Our kids love to collaborate, communicate, and share. Think big and shoot for the moon!   

Lastly, remember technology is just a vehicle for learning opportunities. A well-designed and engaging lesson still trumps the gadget. Always ask yourself the four magic questions:

  1. What do we expect our students to learn?
  2. How will we know they are learning?
  3. How will we respond when they don’t learn?
  4. How will we respond if they already know it?

Keep those in mind first and know that there are a multitude of tools (digital and non-digital) at your disposal.

Reflections From “Teach Like a Pirate”

This spring I attended NAPDS in Washington DC. where I was fortunate enough to hear Dave Burgess speak. I’ve heard of him through Twitter and some of the teachers and administrators in my PLN talk about his work. Seeing him in person is much better than reading tweets!


I’ve always considered myself a rather enthusiastic educator, but I wouldn’t say I exude passion every day I teach, and I certainly don’t fake boring topics all that well. I’m not giddy about teaching grammar or the edTPA. 🙂 I would say, though, I’m passionate about lots of areas in teaching. When I think of writing prompts, I study my audience and figure out how to market my prompts. When I’m selling a book, I think of what would attract my students. Even then, I’m still not the ham that Dave Burgess is in the classroom. He clearly “brings it.”


Although you should really read the book, I’ll give you a few take aways in hopes you’ll be curious enough to read it on your own.

  1. Try ideas even when you fail. Give something bizarre a shot. Dress in costume. Sing a song. Play music really loud. Dance like a flapper. Sell your topic. Create a memorable learning experience. Are you going to have a few lame duck moments? Yeah, I suppose. Been there. As I’ve gained experience though, I’ve had way more successes than lame ducks, and I’m creating better experiences for students all the time. Am I perfect? FAR from it. Not every student loves my classes, but I’m more interesting, entertaining, and engaging than I ten years ago because I haven’t let off the gas. I keep taking risks. If you don’t consider yourself a risk taker or envelope pusher, then you need to read this book.
  2. Sell the hell out of your most boring stuff. Here’s something for me to tackle. When I talk about edTech with college students, I am fairly enthusiastic, but when I talk about the edTPA, I’m just vanilla about it. I try not to be negative, but I’m not wild either. No one leaves my class saying, “Jeeze, she really seems excited about the edTPA.” Burgess will give you SEVERAL IDEAS on how to step up your enthusiasm for the dull stuff.

These two reasons alone, should cause you to think that the book is worth your time. It’s a quick packed with lots of ideas on how to sell your content and step up your presentation skills. If you’re someone that’s been needing a boost of inspiration, here’s your book.

Check it out. Teach like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.


Traditional Communication Still Matters

This week I spoke to a group of students in business communication on the importance of focusing on social media communication. I relayed information on the various tools, why they’re important, and how a person could manage so many outposts. Really, it was multiple weeks of material condensed into an hour talk. Anyway, when I finished, a student stayed after to ask a GREAT question. To paraphrase, he asked me if I thought it was still important to maintain an in-person or more traditional relationship with customers. What a great question! Here’s my response:

Because this class turned out to be mostly Agribusiness students, my post is focused a bit more in that direction.


Authentic relationships and traditional communication still mater!

No doubt, I love talking about digital business communication, but there’s a HUGE slice of audience that doesn’t feel the same way I do. Many people still want to connect with an actual person, and they want to know something about that other person. Relationships still really do matter. If you’re going into Agribusiness, I think you have to pay careful attention to how you maintain relationships.


Take my in-laws for an example. They are fifth generation farmers still working the same ground their ancestors did over 140 years ago. Except for my husband, the boys all stayed in this area and know just about everyone in Southwest Wisconsin, it seems. After my husband and I moved back, I noticed something interesting. Every time (and I mean every time) I introduced myself to someone, they wanted to know how I was related to Brogleys they knew, and almost always they tried to go back as far as they could, often to my husband’s parents, and they always had to figure out where they lived. They never really asked where I lived, which I thought funny. After we settled that, the conversation could resume, but not until a connection had been defined. Have you ever had someone ask your last name, and they tried to piece it back to your grandparents? And where they farmed? I bet so. People still really do want to establish a connection with you and know how you fit in their world.


1948 Plat Map – Harrison Township

The other interesting observation I noted is that when people describe land, they often still refer to it as the home farm of the oldest owners they can remember, regardless of who has owned it since. My in-laws refer to a section of land as the “Huntington farm,” but I know the Huntington family hasn’t owned the land since the 1980s. Recently I opened up an old plat map from 1948. I promptly turned to familiar land to find the “Huntington farm” right where it’s been for decades. Sure, Google Maps can give interior walk throughs of swanky hotels, but can it reveal decades of landownership? Nope. Not yet. Lots of people in our area still care about how we are connected to land. Do you know anyone that calls a farm by the original owners? Ancestor and historical connection also matters.


Additionally, my father-in-law would say that my social media appreciation is for the birds. He doesn’t even have voice mail on his house phone. If you want to talk to him, head to the VFW or the farm. Recently, an appointment was cancelled on him without notice, and he was disappointed they didn’t send a letter. Now to me, I would think that’s a waste of paper. To him, formal communication matters.


My point — personal connections, history, and traditional communication matters too. Gadgets and social media matter too, but to a different slice. The challenging hurdle for you is that you have to attend to all groups. That means learning the traditional ways of writing and engaging with customers and keeping up with the digital methods. Thankfully, you’re in school to do just that!

Coding and Web Design — Transferrable Skills

A few weeks ago my students started the Blogging Challenge, a series of blog posts challenging their technology skills and understandings about education today. I realized the group this semester is particularly savvy with technology on the day we created our blogs. Within just a few minutes they had their blogs created and were off customizing them with eager speed.

Typically, at this point, I am flooded with questions, and this group asked questions too, but the level of questions was different. Just two years ago, when I first started this project, the questions were more procedural — how do I start a blog? How do I make a new page? What are categories? I still get those questions, and I don’t mind them one darn bit, but the questions this semester were mostly much more challenging. For example, students were trying to link their blog to their Google+ profile. In the past, students would just paste the link to their blogroll and be content with that.

This semester, I noticed a few students wanting to know how to create a widget with a clickable link to their Google+ profile. I was really caught off guard as I haven’t had to teach that before. I do it for my own sites frequently, but I’ve never thought about teaching it as I’ve always felt it was over my students’ heads. Megan was intent on getting it, and I stumbled, but a neighboring student, Wesley, came to her rescue before I said anything. He coached her on how to write code for a clickable link, and she seemed to have plenty of experience as within a few minutes, she created exactly what she wanted.

I asked Wesley how he knew what to do, and he said that he took a class on HTML and Java during his Sophomore year. Although he might not remember much, I still think it’s really interesting how some of those skills wedge into our longterm memory and become useful in other ways. Yet another reason to take a coding class in high school. I’m guessing Wesley had no idea that a coding class four years ago would prove useful, but it was certainly a good idea.

Our students really are coming to us with a different set of skills than students even just five years ago. The majority of our students are able to navigate and manipulate technology to produce something personal. I’m not saying that we should expect those skills, but we should be ready to support them accordingly.

After reflecting upon my shortcomings, I created a Youtube video explaining how to create a clickable text widget. Sure, it doesn’t help Megan, but I’m ready for the next student, for now…until they ask me a harder question.


Exploring Documents and Using Google Maps


1933833_10153799229983376_7718396254117353176_nToday I picked up a book from my late mother-in-law’s history collection titled The Faces of Grant County. Basically, it is a collection of photographs and accounts of life in Grant County dating back to the mid 1800s. It’s a gem of a text! My 7-year-old son took to the book right away asking me all sorts of questions. He stumbled upon an old house in the photo dating back to the 1900s. He asked if the house was still standing today. I didn’t know, but the authors included the street intersections of the home. I quickly grabbed the iPad and launched Google Earth. Between the two of us, we carefully typed in the intersections into Earth and waited for the results. Sure enough, the house was still standing, although the front had changed considerably. Then we discussed the reasons for the changes. The expansive porch has been completely redone and simplified significantly. The roof is now covered in aluminum and the siding is now vinyl. He was blown away that he was able to conduct this investigation nearly on his own. His father walked into the room about 15 minutes after our discovery, and Matthew recounted his find in detail. I’m betting that if we are out tomorrow, he’ll ask to do a drive-by.

The old book was a golden find that really ignited his interest in local history. The use of Google Maps was just mind blowing. He really felt empowered that he was able to ask and answer his own questions.

The book on the left - The house in question is in a circular picture. The iPad on the right -- The house today.
The book on the left – The house in question is in a circular picture.
The iPad on the right — The house today.


This is a really great example of how Google Maps is a compliment to history lessons. Technology isn’t a replacement; it enhances the amazing resources we already have. Google Maps allows up the opportunity to compare the past to the present and it opens discussions of change and community evolution. The best part — it is a user-driven tool. My son was able to direct his own inquiry, search for the answer, and propose explanations for his discoveries. How engaging is that?!

You have to check out Google Maps. It does so much more than give directions!



Getting Started in Google Drive

If you’re new to Google Drive, getting started can be awkward. You really have to stick with it on a nearly daily basis. Once you start making the Google Apps journey, you’ll quickly discover that there is a lot to learn. The faster you can pick it up, the better you’ll be able to plan transformative lessons.

The following video will cover just be bare bones of getting started in Google Drive. I think it’s pretty common for teachers to participate in a training, leave feeling okay, only to return to their classrooms the next day thinking, “Now how do I do that?” This video should help. In a future video, I’ll cover the options you have when it comes to sharing documents since that’s probably next on your todo list.

Why Use Google Apps?

Google Apps. Oh, Google Apps. What an amazing tool! Google Apps has, in part, revolutionized the way students learn. As I engage with the tool every day, I see several reasons why Google Apps has become indispensable.

  1. Unnamed image (12)Google Drive items save every two seconds. If you’ve been teaching even more than five years, you’ve probably seen the defeated look on a kid’s face when he or she closes out of something without saving. Those days are gone.
  2. Users can collaborate together. Remember the days of putting students in teams of three? Usually, the most computer-savvy kid sat in the middle driving the mouse. The other two sat on each side contributing ideas, hopefully. If there was a fourth person, that individual was almost always distracted by another group. Regardless of the combination, the one doing the most learning was the person driving the mouse. And inevitably, THAT kid was absent the day the paper was to be turned in or presented and no one else had a copy. Those days are over now too. Of course kids can still sit together, but 1.) they don’t have to, 2.) they each have a copy.
  3. Work is accessible anywhere you can get to the internet. No more having to find a machine that had the software you needed. If you can get to the internet, you can get to your documents.
  4. Updates are pushed automatically. If you’ve had a Windows laptop before, you’ve seen that dreaded screen — “Installing 1 of 63 Updates. Please do not shut down.” Ughhhhh…..great. Or, do you remember having to give up your laptop or desktop so the IT department could re-image it. Most people didn’t know what that all entailed, but you knew it meant you wouldn’t have your machine for several weeks. With Google Drive, there’s no reimagine or installing 50+ updates. Updates are pushed automatically so the next time you log into drive, the update will already be in place.
  5. Work can be shared globally, if desired. I think back to when I first had students making webfolios. Blogging hadn’t been invented yet, and Google was several years out. I actually had students creating websites in Microsoft Word, and they would save them as html files in a shared folder. I would then copy and paste each file to the public side of our school’s website. If students made changes, we would have to repeat that process all over again. Then Dreamweaver came out, and we moved to that tool. I remember when Blogger came out, and I thought I won the lottery! Goodness gracious, have times changed. Google Apps offers lots of opportunity to publish globally. Google Sites allows users the opportunity to make websites within minutes. Google Drive allows users to share files with public links, and Google Hangouts allows for video conferencing. Imagine what teachers can do with these tools. The walls of the classroom are just physical constructs.

Although my stories make me sound like a dinosaur, I started teaching in 2001. Really, that’s not that long ago. The web 2.0 explosion around 2006 changed how teachers integrated technology. I would say in a short 8 years, everything I knew about integrating technology, changed. I mean, I still knew to use sound pedagogy when integrating technology, but the options and reach completely changed.

As you enter the amazing world of Google Apps, you might experience some frustrating moments where you’ll want to revert back to Windows. Don’t do it, if you don’t have to. Stick with Google Apps. Your kids deserve these opportunities.




Quick Google Tip: Add Websites to “All Apps”

Once in a while I’ll meet a teacher that wants website to show up as apps in Chrome, but there isn’t an app in the webstore. There are several ways to remedy this problem. My preference would be to just bookmark it, but as with all Google tools, there’s more than one way to float your boat. There is a way (kind of) to add a website to your Chrome “All Apps.”

This video provides a short tutorial. Disclaimer – When you “add to taskbar” it does add a link to your apps pages, but it also add the app to your taskbar. That could get annoying if you try to do this a lot.