Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Differentiation Tips for Teachers at the Beginning of a New School Year

Differentiation Tips for the Beginning of a New School Year

I love this time of year when it feels like a reset button has been pushed and a year of new possibilities lies ahead.
When your students walk into the classroom, you know what a wide range of personalities, experiences and abilities they will represent. And you know they have a variety of learning needs. So, let’s get a step ahead!

In planning to differentiate for your high ability learners, here are a few tips to get started.
My first tip is to assess. If your curriculum does not include pretests, use the posttest and revise it (or use it as is...gasp!). This is a way to be certain about what your students already know and don’t know so that you can devise a plan to meet their instructional needs. If a student shows mastery of the material at 80% or greater, do not, I repeat, DO NOT make them sit through lessons and do given assignments to learn and practice the material. If there are clearly some gaps, according to the assessment, then pull students in on those lessons only. Likely, they will master the concepts or skills quickly. Instead, plan a meaningful alternative learning experience for the student. This can be done somewhat easily from a management perspective through task cards or independent projects.

Task cards: cards, such as index size cards, that have various creative and critical thinking activities on them. The activities may or may not necessarily relate to the area of study. For management purposes, number the cards. Have a separate notebook and/or folder set aside for the student in which to do the work from the task card. Have students put the number of the task card on their corresponding work in the notebook. Be sure to give the student feedback; grade it;  and perhaps allot bonus points for such work. I might suggest setting aside a time intermittently when all of your students can work on such activities. You can locate such activities in your teacher files (usually the things you never “get to” or “have time for”); the internet; teacher manuals in the “enrichment” sections...

Independent projects: an activity that focuses on having students use higher level thinking skills to do something with the related content they have already mastered. When using the term “project,” some may think of this as a week or two long task. It doesn’t have to be. Create the project to be the amount of time you want it to take based on the time you will be teaching content to students who still need to master it. The “project” may only require one or two class periods. Finally, be sure to plan something that is able to be done independently by the student. You will have to set a protocol and train your students in order for this to occur.

So, plan ahead and think about how you will meet the needs of your advanced learners. Try adding one new idea!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Announcement: LAX - Advanced Language Arts

I am excited that God continually leads us and opens doors to provide even better instruction and opportunities for our students at PCA. Mrs. Dixon and Dr. Frase have approved an expansion of the M25 program for rising 5th and 6th grade students.

Starting in the 2018-2019 school year, I will offer an advanced, interdisciplinary language arts program, which will replace the regular language arts curriculum for identified M25 students. Because students identified for M25 services typically learn at a faster pace and need advanced content, this program will more appropriately meet their learning needs in the language arts area. The curriculum will be comprised of literature, writing, vocabulary, grammar (taught in the context of the literature and writing), and independent and small group projects. A large portion of the curriculum will be a unit written for high ability learners by The College of William and Mary Center for Gifted Education and published by Kendall Hunt. Parents will be responsible for purchasing a Wordly Wise vocabulary book and a student workbook that accompanies the unit (each book costs approximately $20). I will ensure students are covering skills and concepts taught in the regular curriculum by working with the language arts teacher to include these in my curriculum or show that students have already mastered them. Additionally, as with a regular class, students will be assigned homework.

5th and 6th graders will come in their same grade level group DURING their regularly scheduled language arts time on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays for approximately an hour.

I will assign reading, vocabulary and other relevant work for students to do independently on Mondays and Tuesdays in their regular class during the language arts period.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

LAX Materials

1. Wordly Wise 3000 4th Edition Grade 5 Student Book (print form, not digital)
Check out these sites:

Buy here at Wordly Wise

Buy here at Amazon

Buy here at Christian Book

2. Patterns of Change Student Guide
Buy here at Kendall Hunt

3. 1 spiral notebook

4. 1 composition book


1. Wordly Wise 3000 4th Edition Grade 6 Student Book (print form, not digital)
Check out these sites: 

Buy here at Wordly Wise

Buy here at Amazon

Buy here at Christian Book

2. Patterns of Change Student Guide
Buy here at Kendall Hunt

3. 1 spiral notebook

4. 1 composition book

Monday, July 23, 2018

Help me with classroom improvements

From my page:
I am teacher in a small private school. Striving to provide a high quality atmosphere and education for my students, I am always seeking ways to obtain materials, as teachers at our school must generally fund their own projects and classroom materials. My current whiteboard is difficult for the students to read, as it is old and will not come clean. I even refinished it, to no avail. Please help me purchase a new white board to assist the students in my classroom!
Click Here

Sunday, July 22, 2018

M25 Progress Reports

At the end of each nine weeks, I complete individual progress reports for M25 students. These are EMAILED to you around the same time report cards are sent home. Here are the criteria I use as our learning goals! Remember that the students are works in progress! (See the sample progress report)
  • enthusiasm and involvement in learning
  • responsibility for and independence in their learning
  • asking curious questions
  • depth of understanding
  • creation of high quality products
  • pursuit of challenging activities
  • willingness to tackle open-ended, complex tasks and problems
  • ability to see patterns and connections
  • personal decision-making and behavior that contributes to a positive, productive learning environment

Monday, June 18, 2018

Making the Most of M25

Tips to make the most of your child’s learning in M25...
  • visit my website at least once a nine weeks to discover what your child is learning--this leads to great conversations
  • review the progress reports and help your child set learning goals
  • discover what your child is interested in and find ways for them to develop the talents God has given them--I am happy to help with ideas!
  • help your child by fostering a positive attitude about school and learning
  • encourage independent reading
  • volunteer--what is your occupation/area of expertise?--share it with the students during Extra M25 time 
How can you get involved in helping out students? 
I am always looking for guest speakers for 2017-2018 who would introduce the children to their area of expertise or teach them something new. Would you volunteer or do you know someone who would? Please let me know!**

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Artifact Box

Collaborative Project with 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Grades

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Mill Mountain Zoo

Our Trip to the Mill Mountain Zoo to end our study on animal habitats.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Middle School Adventures

7th and 8th Graders
The real life mystery of the Lost Colony-students used a "CSI" approach through a webquest to gather information about this historical event and to develop their own theories about what happened to the colony. The students proved to join the great minds of history as they shared their theories, complete with evidence to support their positions.

6th Graders
Debate-students learned the art of debate, including defending a position with gentleness and respect, as the Bible instructs us to do. We have had fun with our impromptu debates as well as learning the parts of an argument and how to research a topic. The students made their final debate presentation to the 7th grade M25 students, who gave them feedback.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Spring Elementary Learning

​5th Graders
Mr. Van Feisty's top secret chocolate recipe was stolen, and the 5th graders were just the sleuths to help him solve the mystery. They used a real life process to solve the mystery and learned to do matrix logic problems to gather clues. In the end, they cracked the case and helped to promote justice!

4th Graders
Constellations-students learned that God's word references stars over 50 times and mentions specific constellations. They learned about our awesome Creator through this study of constellations.
A culminating project was to use a technology based product, Bloxels, to make constellations and myths in original video worlds. This is a free app that you can download at home for the ipad.

3rd Graders
Probability-students did experiments and hands on activities to explore mathematical concepts of probability. A probability menu of experiments brought our unit to a close as students predicted and gathered data on the likelihood of certain outcomes.

2nd Graders
Students created octagon kaleidoscopes and explored attributes in a game of deductive reasoning. They eventually had turns being the Venn masters in charge of the games.

1st graders
Geometry-students completed a menu of activities to more fully develop their understanding of geometric concepts covered in our Geoland unit. Recently, students explored random samples, permutations, graphing and logical reasoning problems.

Monday, March 26, 2018

God Mindset Learning

As we go on "The Great Adventure," we will keep in mind what we learned at the beginning of last year about a God Mindset:
What is a "God Mindset?"
  • positive
  • encouraging
  • not giving up
  • perseverance
  • trying
  • making something good out of something bad

How to get a "God Mindset"
  • Try again, and you learn something.
  • Read and memorize God's Word.
  • Decide beforehand to be happy and have a good attitude.
  • Encourage yourself and others.
  • Practice!

Insightful quotes from students:
"When you give up, you will not know what you could have accomplished!"
"Take correction as feedback, not criticism."

Colossians 3:23 "Work as if working for the Lord, not men."

Monday, March 5, 2018

CSI - Cooking Science Investigation

Through a generous grant from the Virginia Association for the Gifted, M25 students in upper elementary are able to investigate the science of cooking through hands on experiments, data collection, and the expertise of guest speakers. Based on their research and data collection, students develop and prepare original healthy recipes for their peers! 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Blooming In Critical Thinking

Recently, the high school teachers at our school approached me and asked how to help their students think critically. They explained their frustration over the alarming trend seen in students desiring to only recall basic information rather than using the information on assignments and in discussions. I believe that we, as a teaching community, contribute to this and must be the ones to undo what we have subtly created. With the demands driven by curriculum and assessment, we tend to just cover material rather than dig in and create opportunities for students to analyze, evaluate and synthesize information. Teaching students to think in this way takes time--a lot of time--time that we may not have when expected to stay on a curriculum schedule. It's surely a great challenge, but I hope to give you a few ideas for building higher level thinking into your daily teaching and assessment routine.

First, let's defer to Benjamin Bloom...remember Bloom's taxonomy from Education 101? No matter how long ago you took education classes, his description of thinking is still accurate and useful to both teachers and students. Get students to think about their thinking. This is called "metacognition." By teaching your students the levels of Bloom's taxonomy and practicing them, you are helping students to be more aware of their thought processes. You might use this when having a discussion or when students are responding to a writing prompt. I suggest having a poster of Bloom's taxonomy in your classroom so you may refer students to it when using different levels of thinking. It can also be used when reviewing information at the beginning or end of class. For instance, plan several questions, one or two from a lower level and one or two from a higher level. Students can respond either verbally or in writing. This is a great time to use Think, Pair, Share. I recommend careful planning of the questions on your part. This is another way to be intentional about building in higher level thinking as well as to use your class time efficiently.
**A good reminder: students cannot skip levels of Bloom. If they do not comprehend the information you are teaching, they will not be able to apply, analyze or evaluate it.

Second, intentionally and regularly build higher level thinking into formal and informal assessments. Students will generally value what they are assessed on. Use an exit ticket several times a week that always requires a higher level response.

Third, be less helpful. "What kind of advice is this for a teacher?" you may ask. I think it's really great advice--especially for me. I tend to come running to the rescue of students who need support and immediately "fix" their conundrums. While teachers should support students, they can build critical thinking skills by providing minimum support. For example, ask the student questions to help clarify their thought process and get them to see what they are missing. Remind them of any frameworks you have taught such as problem solving methods or historical time periods. Perhaps give them the next step only instead of the entire process. Try to balance your assistance between not giving any answers and giving the whole answer.

For those of you who really want to dive in and further explore models and ideas for developing higher level thinking skills in your students, check this out. There are many explanations of this model online, but I thought this was a good description of its usefulness on a teacher's blog that I found.

I haven't tried this activity yet, but I plan to in the near future! This looks like a great activity to promote higher level thinking: