Fearing Differentiation

A couple weeks ago I was listening to a podcast of Liz Kolb’s Blogtalkradio show and heard her guest speaker make some interesting comments about teachers and differentiated instruction.  He suggested that he thinks a vast majority of teacher buy into WHY it is important to differentiate, but there are many who still shy away from it.

Why?

First, it’s the road less traveled.  When you differentiate from “old school” (pun fully intended) teaching methods, you become vulnerable to attack from misunderstanding parents, communities members, and sometimes even administrators.  “Why did Johnny have this homework and Tony had this homework?” they ask.  “Why were these project assignments different?” the questions continue.  “How do you intend to grade these fairly?!”

Fair Grading is an interesting concept when it comes to differentiating.  Fair grading is a concept that only exists when you’re comparing two students.  The longer I’m in the classroom, the more I learn that true education…true instruction…true assessment, has nothing to do with comparing students.  Conversely, it has everything to do with the uniqueness of a single student.  Differentiate that student’s instruction…that student’s assessments.  It makes…a unique student.  Imagine that.

To keep everyone happy and to keep it objective, rubrics (like from Rubistar) should be a differentiated teacher’s best friend.  They make the grading easy and predictable.  Last fall, I attended a workshop session in which the presenter shared his use of rubrics in his classroom.  The process is as follows:

1.  The students are given the project (or paper, or homework, or presentation) rubric.

2.  The students are given the assignment.

3.  Upon completetion of the project, the students use the rubric to give themselves a score/grade.

4.  The students turn in the assignment with the rubric.

5.  The teacher uses the rubric to assign her/his own grade which is the actual score the student will receive.

Here’s the kicker…

6.  If the student’s score is within a close margin (let’s say two points) of the score the teacher gave, additional bonus points are added on!

Brilliant!  This process strongly encourages students to look closely at the rubric as they’re working and especially before the final product is submitted.  Hopefully, the student identifies “weak” areas according to the rubric and wants to correct those!

Has anyone used this (or similar rubric strategies) in the classroom?  Feedback?

True Education

My first Christmas as a teacher, my parents gave me a nicely matted picture frame holding a quotation from 19th century social thinker John Ruskin.  Yes, I’ve written education philosophies, personal creeds, and teacher mottos for classes and projects, but none of them grasp the romanticism I find in teaching as Mr. Ruskin’s words:

The entire object of TRUE EDUCATION is to make people not merely to do the right things, but to enjoy them; not merely industrious, but to love industry; not merely learned, but to love knowledge; not merely pure, but to love purity; not merely just, but to hunger and thirst after justice.”

There it is.  “Hunger and thirst after justice.”  If that doesn’t put a teacher on his soapbox, I don’t know what will!  Sometimes we need to close the textbook, put away the worksheets, and tell our kids about hunger and thirst.

The frame now hangs over my desk in my “curricularium” at my home.

Shortening the Clicks and Keystrokes

In an increasing effort to connect to/with/from my students electronically, I like to think that I practice several networking technologies including email, Twitter, GoogleWave, and GoogleVoice. Of this ever-increasing list, it appears that email is the most reliable, consistent, familiar, and is here to stay.

Several weeks ago, I asked our district’s technology coordinator to set me up a list-serve mailing list for all of my 168 seventh graders. While I don’t really understand the technicalities of a list-serve, I am at least familiar with the end result: I can send an email to one address and a whole slew of kids get the message. Continue reading

Trying out Edublogs

Every now and then I get the urge to waste an evening or four tinkering around with blogging tools.  It usually results in frustrations by the fourth tonight and me clicking the ‘yes’ to “Are you sure you want to delete your entire account?”.

So here’s to another shot.  As I read and follow more bloggers, it becomes quickly more evident that something WordPress-based is the way to go over my loyalties to the the attractiveness of Apple’s iWeb.  Although I’d love to show off my mad Web 2.0 skills by creating a Ning or PBWorks community site, I…uh…don’t quite have the skills yet.  For now, I’ll stick with just participating and contributing to those networks…not hosting.

As with every young blogger, I face the ongoing question, “Um, what do I blog about?”.  A frequent reader of other education-based blogs and my career as a seventh grade social studies teacher gives me nothing short of a large repetoir of material.  I just want my posts to be more than an online diary.  My vision puts my blog as an online collaborative location for reflections on technology, the classroom, education reform, and leadership.