Category Archives: Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Four Corners (Vegas Style)

Sometimes I hear kids say they’re “soooo bored” or “school is boring.” I often reply jokingly with, “I’m not here to entertain you. This isn’t Vegas. If you want to be entertained, go to Vegas.”

Side-note: That doesn’t mean I don’t try to razzle dazzle them on a regular basis. Believe me, I do. One time we were eating breakfast during first period and I was doing a lesson and a girl commented that they were getting “dinner and a show.”

Many teachers like to use the learning game/formative assessment “Four Corners” in which students move to a corner in the room to designate their answer.

This activity is particularly good for multiple choice. However, I have noticed that my kids move like a flock of sheep….following the person they think is right.

So I decided to try Four Corners with a twist… I hung my A, B, C, D signs up in the corners of my room.

Students were then asked to go to the corner of their choice.

“But what’s the question????? they all shouted.

I then revealed the first multiple choice question (only) on the SMART Board. I used the screen shade to hide the four choices.

I asked them to find the verb (still without choices).

I then revealed the four options.

Those students standing in the correct corner earned a point.

Now you might think that this does not require them to do much thinking. However, everyone has time to process and determine an answer and then, upon the reveal, you hear a chattering of “Yessssssss!!!” and “Aw man!!!” as they learn their fate.

This game keeps kids moving and keeps them engaged. It also eliminates embarrassment for the kid who is always wrong. The game appears to be left up to chance. It becomes a risk for everyone.

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Anyone who knows me knows I am not a big risk-taker. That doesn’t keep me from loving this quote. As I get older, I do find myself creeping out towards the edge.

Summarizing Short Stories: Story Elements and Conflict

My Resource Room students have been reading several short stories in our literature book and I have been teaching/reviewing story elements and conflict.

These are the notes they pasted in their journal and what we will reference each time we discuss these ideas throughout the year. I try to always come back to the same notes/handouts each time we work on a concept. I think the repetition and consistency helps with their retention and association.

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There are many variations on definitions for the different parts of a plot diagram. These may or may not match what you use in your classroom.

Now before you laugh at my artwork, which I honestly don’t think is that awful, there is something to be said about teacher created artwork…especially if you can laugh at it. Kids remember these drawings. These are not stock clip-art images. These are never-seen-before renderings. They are real and they are authentic. These pictures also increase my credibility with my students.

A student once told me in reference to a similar handout, “Geez…you MADE this for us? In your free time? You really work way too hard.”

My students totally enjoyed (laughed at) these pics when I passed this out.

In addition to these notes, students have been completing these graphic organizers as well. The first few times we use this organizer, I will model for them and provide more guided notes. Eventually, I’d like to see them fill it out independently.

This is a screen shot of all the parts from SMART Notebook on one page. You can see that I give them a lot of guidance in the first few boxes. Starting is usually the hardest part.

Please feel free to download these for you classroom.

Plot Diagram (PDF)

Conflict (PDF)

Short Story Summary (PDF)

 

4-3-2-1 Review Activity

Last year in my intervention study hall, we often reviewed for tests and quizzes as a class. One of their favorite activities to review for the section quizzes in Social Studies was something called 4-3-2-1.

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Half the students are positioned around the perimeter of the room. The other half find a partner. All they need is a copy of their review questions (which are kept in their journals).

For 4 minutes, they quiz each other over the content. (I have to model this the first few times we do it.)

Then the inside partner rotates to the next person in the perimeter.

For 3 minutes, they quiz each other.

Rotate again.

These partners quiz each other for 2 minutes.

Rotate a final time.

Partners quiz each other for 1 minute.

If done correctly, this provides a productive 10 minute review session with 4 different partners. This is fast-paced, allows for movement, and everyone is engaged.

School Talk on a Saturday Night

As I have mentioned before, my boyfriend is a 5th grade language arts/social studies teacher. We live about 25 minutes apart and if we are lucky, we see each other twice a week.

We’ve been very busy the last few weeks with four kids (three in fall sports), back-to-school business, our anniversary, a Jason Mraz concert, and my 20th High School Class Reunion.

Last night was supposed to be another event…the Cleveland Indians game and a trip to the new casino with my brother and some other friends. By yesterday morning, everyone had backed out and we had a night with no kids and no plans.

We decided to skip the game. Instead, I brought two dinners from a chicken BBQ near my house and we went out to Target and Kohl’s and then stopped at Yogurt Vi.

We then came home and on a Saturday night…sat at the kitchen table and did school work while we listened to music and had some refreshments. The irony of this? We said earlier in the day that we’d talk about school for 10 minutes max. We are such nerds.

We each did our own work, shared some ideas, and just talked.

Getting crazy on a Saturday night.

I showed him WorksheetWorks.

I try not to use too many worksheets. However, this site generates worksheets on all subjects for free. The worksheets are customizable in terms of types of question and layout. They are neat and clean and just what I was looking for.

Each time you hit “Create Worksheet” you get different questions. They must have a very large question bank because I did not see repeats. I enlarged the worksheets to 150% and used the capture tool to put 4-5 questions on a SMARTBoard page. I quickly built a SMART file for the whole week.

I am going to use these pages with the dry erase boards some days. Other days I will just call students to the board. The hard copies will be used for assessments.

He showed me The New Differentiator.

This tool is an awesome way to get you thinking about how to differentiate your lessons to meet the needs of students. You easily create objectives by choosing from a menu for five categories: Thinking Skill, Content, Resources, Products, and Groups.

While I was checking this out, I explored a little more on Byrdseed. This blog looks like a great resource for TAG students or higher-level learners.

The other thing we discussed for awhile was the whole “teaching to the test.” We were talking about putting the Common Core Standards in our lesson plans and he made a comment about how he likes having the standards as a guide because he likes teaching to the test and he likes knowing exactly what he needs to cover.

Teaching to the test??” I stopped him right there. I asked him to explain what he meant again and I had this weird Aha! moment.

I have heard teachers say, “We have to teach to the test.”

“We are limited on what we can do because we have to teach to the test.”

The test stifles my creativity.”

“There’s so many things we can’t cover because we have to teach to the test.”

At the risk of offending anyone, I think these statements could be excuses or cop-outs….a way to just plow through material with minimal prep work. Is it these teachers who are bored and frustrated with their job?

What if teachers viewed the standards like he does? As a guide and not as limits?

Yes, he has to cover certain things. He still words his assessments with test-like lingo. He assigns 2-pt. and 4-pt. questions for daily journal writing.

How he chooses to teach the standards on a daily basis is completely up to him. His creativity is not stifled.

He is one of the most creative people I know.

Share a Random Moment

This reproduction is hanging above his fire place. He painted it himself.

Teaching Figurative Language with Media

I found a few video clips from YouTube that help advertise different types of figurative language and literary terms in class.  To read more about my philosophy and approach to using media and visuals, read this post.

With SMARTBoards and Edmodo, it is easy to share these videos with students during class or at home.

Onomatopoeia is usually pretty easy for students by the middle school level. As part of my effort to reach all learners with visuals and a media tie-in, I love to introduce onomatopoeia with this seemingly unrelated, but ironically related, video.

Nothing says personification like talking teapots, dancing silverware, and frisky feather-dusters.

This YouTube video covers the following: symbolism, foreshadowing, flashback, atmosphere, and plot twists with Disney clips. There is a short “quiz” at the end.

You could also use BYOT to have students create their own videos on these concepts.

For example, this video featuring “Hyberbole Man” would work for older students 7th grade and up. It is full of hyperboles and is probably pretty funny to teenagers. Better yet, it might be a nice kick-off for a project where students create their own hyperbole movies.

Lastly, this video links figurative language to pop music lyrics.  With examples of Katie Perry, Selena Gomez, Green Day, Uncle Kracker, and Taylor Swift…this should be pretty easy for students to relate to.  I think students would enjoy listening to music and finding lyrics using figurative language, as well as making their own videos.


How do you teach figurative language in your classroom?

Do you have a favorite app for making videos?

Please share your ideas!

Team Teaching Options

True or False?

  1. There is no one way to team teach.
  2. There is no magic formula for team teaching.
  3. The success of team teaching has many factors.
  4. There are many forms and variations of team teaching.
  5. Team teaching is a lot of work.

Answers: ALL TRUE!

My boyfriend is a 5th grade teacher and is going to be “team teaching” this year with another 5th grade teacher.

He sent me a text early yesterday morning asking me to help him out and research team teaching for my blog.

He came to the right girl.  I am very lucky to be in my 4th year with the same Pre-Algebra teacher and we are getting better and better at team teaching each year.

So, what will this look like? What are his options?

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Teamwork + Attitude = Success

Traditional Team Teaching – “You teach and I will assist.”

This is like the magician and the lovely assistant, or the hero and hero support. In this situation, the classroom teacher is at the SMARTBoard teaching a lesson on graphing. I walk around the room keeping my eye open for students who need assistance with their graphs. This is a good model to use when, as the intervention specialist, you are not an “expert” in the content or when students are working on something independently. For more on being hero support in the regular classroom, click here.

Splitting the Class for Differentiation – “You take the big group and I’ll take the small group.”

We do this a lot in Pre-Algebra. The classroom teacher will keep the majority of the students and work through more advanced problems and I will take a handful who need more practice on a basic concept. Sometimes this is decided on the spot, after we check our homework. Other times, it is planned out ahead of time based on a quiz, test, or classroom performance. My group may not get as far as her group and sometimes we assign different homework.

This team teaching strategy allows us to change the presentation, add strategies, or use alternative worksheets with different groups of students. For example, the larger group may work on Practice C or the Challenge worksheet while the smaller group works on Practice B or another review sheet. Sometimes, the small group will start the independent practice together – doing one of each type of problem on the worksheet to be sure students know what to do for each section. This is also a good time for me to read word problems out loud and work on reading comprehension strategies with those who need it.

Parallel Instruction – “Divide and conquer.”

This works well if you want to provide more individualized attention to students or work in a smaller group setting. We always find it interesting how the participation level goes way up when we split the class. Students who normally do not participate crawl out of the woodwork and hands shoot up when we use this model.

This year we have 32 students in our Pre-Algebra block which is a lot of students. A reduced class size of 16 is so much nicer. We don’t necessarily break the class into high/low groups, although we do sometimes split up talkative friends. Our goal is to stick to the same content and get through the same amount of work. Obviously, we each have our own style of delivery, but the student task is essentially the same.

This model also works well when we are making some sort of manipulative or graphic organizer.

Stations – “Keep ‘em moving. Keep ‘em learning.”

Learning stations are a lot of work to create and monitor. However, in an 84 minute period you have time for 4 20-minute stations, which is a good length of time for students to remain on a particular task before they get bored. We are a big fan of stations. Our favorite set of stations includes:

  1. An iPad activity (either an instructional video or game)
  2. An extended response station where students receive a grade for their work
  3. A station where students must evaluate/grade 4 to 5 sample answers to an extended response. We use old test questions and sample answers from the rubrics and students have to determine the points that would be given for each response.
  4. A multiple choice station or other type of worksheet to practice a skill

Sometimes we both just rotate around the stations as needed. Other times, we each monitor two specific stations. We have also done just two stations – one in her room and one in mine – and we switch halfway through the period.

True Co-Teaching – “The perfect duet”

This model is the hardest and will only work in the most ideal situations where teaching styles, personalities, and philosophies blend nicely. It is not natural and it is hard to come by. If we would pull this off successfully, it would almost as if a script was written for the lesson. This takes an immense amount of common planning time, a good working relationship, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say a strong friendship as well.

Have you had a good team teaching experience?

What models do you use for team teaching?

What do you think is the most important thing that must be in place for team teaching to work?

Using Visuals: Grabbing Their Attention

The first few moments of giving directions for a project or any creative assignment are critical. Getting students attention and building their interest is an art. I asked Tweedle Dee to describe how some of her teachers introduce projects.

“Well, first (she) stands up in the front of the room and says, ‘We are going to start a project‘ and then she passes out a paper about it…”

::::::::insert sigh here:::::::

“Then….she reads the entire paper to us….”

:::::::::insert double sigh::::::::

It’s funny, because I knew this is exactly what Tweedle Dee would say. And Tweedle Dee likes school and loves projects. Some days she even wants to be a teacher when she grows up. We talked about some variations of this with her other teachers, but none of them really razzle-dazzle her with their project kick-offs.

This is probably all too common.

Here are the beginning directions for an 8th grade fairy tale writing project. This handout is passed out while the teacher reads the directions. (And picture this familiar scene: one student is playing keep-away, another is getting irritated, one student is picking up a dropped stack of papers, one student is trying to figure out which side of the handout is the front, and the last two rows came up short but no one says anything for at least 15 minutes.)20120723-160342.jpg

I am not saying that a handout or check sheet is bad. It is, in fact, usually necessary. Students need to have a hard copy of the expectations for future reference. (This check sheet is how this particular teacher grades the papers vs. a rubric.)

While these directions are enough for some students, the modified version I created for our inclusion class provides a more concrete explanation of their options.

If students can picture what they are being asked to do they may be more excited about doing it.

This is the first page of our SMART Notebook file:

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In the above example, we’ve got visuals that are modern, real world, “their world” ….with just the slightest prompt to stir their imagination.

And now, sit back and relax and laugh at a “fractured fairy tale” I think you will enjoy. Our kick-off to the assignment – a quick video clip to really grab their attention.

Multiple Ways to Assess: Rubrics

One way to assess students is through rubrics. Rubrics tell students exactly how they will be graded and therefore, exactly what they need to do. Rubrics can also be used by the teacher to evaluate student growth or achievement on a particular skill. If a teacher wanted to assess their teaching or lesson planning, there are rubrics for that too.

Rubrics are about quality: quality learning and quality teaching.

You can use Rubistar to create rubrics. This is a great starting place and the tool I normally use. Rubistar has over 50 customizable rubrics. The process is quick and easy. Below are a few screen shots with captions the explain the features.

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Made with Rubistar. Semi-customizable. I was able to choose the categories I wanted to include. Criteria was automatically plugged in based on my choices.

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Also found on Rubistar. This was a pre-made rubric created by another teacher. It’s an option, but the likelihood of it matching exactly what you need is small.

Another good site for rubrics is TeAch-nology.  This link will take you to 26 pre-made rubrics. You can also customize your own.

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An example of a pre-made rubric from TeAch-nology. All I had to enter was the school name, project name, and teacher.

Once you are familiar with the content and layout of a rubric, making one in Word may be just as easy, especially if you are just changing a few things. I have included a few sample rubrics below for you to download and tinker with.

Some Tips:

  • Consider the weight of each category. (Should neatness be worth the same as content?)
  • The rubric should be passed out with the assignment.
  • Explain the rubric to your students.
  • Read through each category with the students. Give them hypothetical situations (If Jeff includes only 3 examples what score will he receive? How long does the paper have to be in order to earn 4 points?)
  • Ideally, students need to hang onto the rubric and turn it in with the final product. Be prepared: have extra copies on hand.
  • Have students evaluate their work with the rubric before turning it in.

Missing You Rubric

Washington, D.C. Rubric

Rubric for SMARTBoard Activity

Multiple Means of Engagement: Creating Packets

Loose papers. Lost handouts. Missing homework. Unorganized binders.

All of these things happened daily in my Resource Room until I decided to make packets for each instructional unit.

Some people might think handing out packets encourages dependency and doesn’t teach organizational skills. I will argue this point by saying that packets create structure and improve the flow of class. Students are still expected to have their packets each day, complete their assignments on time, and are able to see the relationship between what we did yesterday and today and tomorrow.

I have already explained that I like to teach in themes, that I usually see “the big picture”, and I process things whole-to-part.

For each grammar unit, novel, and major writing assignment, I make packets of all the handouts, worksheets, graphic organizers, etc. that I plan on using with the students.

The packet is full of a variety of activities, including group work and homework. The only things not in the packet are assessments or other great ideas I stumbled upon during the course of the unit. (But they will be added to the packet next year.)

Packet Pros:

  • Helps disorganized students have necessary materials. Students know to have their packets ready at the start of class. There’s none of that “What do we need today??” business.
  • Helps substitute teachers (no locating and passing out of worksheets)
  • Helps me with lesson planning (I look at the packet and the SMARTBoard file and blend the two to develop my plans for the day/week/month.)
  • Establishes a theme.
  • Makes connections.
  • Creates cohesiveness.

Let me describe how I create a packet for a novel, like Stargirl.

  1. To create my packet, I usually start with my SMARTNotebook file for the unit. I do a full-page print of the pages I want students to have individual copies of. I next add other materials that are not from the SMARTBoard.
  2. I put these pages in chronological order, number the pages, create the table of contents, and then make a calendar for the length of the unit with an overall plan of how much we will cover each day. I include this calendar in the student packet as it helps them see the pacing and our goals for each day. (There is obviously room for flexibility….thank to snow days, assemblies, absences, and days when we spend a little longer than planned.)
  3. I usually staple bright-colored copy paper on the front and back. Students create a cover for the packet a few days into the novel. We make a list of characters and settings on the inside front cover. The back cover can be used for random, spur of the moment ideas when a clean sheet of paper is needed.
  4. As we work through a novel, students can easily turn to a page when I ask them to. They can tell me where we left off. Someone usually takes it upon themselves to be the “recorder” of such info and writes both the book page number and the packet page number on the board at the end of class.

Packet Contents:

  • individual and group work
  • a variety of written work to prevent boredom (no chapter is the same)
  • outlines
  • webs
  • summaries
  • cloze paragraphs
  • symbols
  • quotes
  • extended response
  • short answer
  • charts
  • vocabulary
  • other graphic organizers
  • homework

The packet is supplemented with the SMART Notebook file I have been building on each year. The file includes:

  • lots of visuals and images for discussion and writing prompts
  • audio and video clips (see my Novel Playlists post)
  • review games and activities

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Things to Note:

  • My class is not all worksheet based. For a given novel, I may have 25 pages stapled together. I takes me about 7-8 weeks to complete a novel in the resource room.That’s a worksheet almost every other day.
  • We use our dry erase boards almost daily in conjunction with the packet. They may have to summarize a chapter, draw a picture, make a prediction on their dry erase boards. This breaks up the paper-pencil activities.
  • We don’t always do all the pages in the packet. Sometimes I have overestimated or underestimated where my students are. If it doesn’t feel right, we only do part of it or we skip it all together.
  • Because my class is small, (less than a dozen students), I can easily collect the packets if I want to grade an activity. Most grades come from assessments.
  • At the end of the unit, I try to hang onto the students’ packets for work samples and documentation. If they really want to keep their packet (few do), I can easily make copies.

Teaching with a packet requires you:

  • To have a “vision” for the unit
  • To work way ahead.
  • To have previous experience with the topic. I don’t think I could pull off a packet on a novel the first time I read it with the class.

Students need and crave structure, but they also need variety. Packets create natural “chunks” for instruction. Students do well with short 10-12 minute activities. By switching between reading out loud, group discussion, completing packet activities independently, working on the SMARTBoard, and using dry erase boards, the pace of class is fast and engaging. My students know they won’t be doing any one thing longer than 15 minutes.

While I focused on the idea of a novel packet, this can be done with any topic. I have created packets on parts of speech, capitalization rules, vocabulary, test-taking strategies, persuasive writing, business letters, and poetry – to name a few.

Are you a whole-to-part or part-to-whole learner/teacher?
How do you handle worksheets and handouts with your class?
Have you created a packet for an entire unit? What worked for you? What didn’t?

Identifying Student Learning Styles

Before you can reach your learners you need to know how they learn best. Some students are visual learners. Others are auditory learners. The remaining are tactile-kinesthetic learners.

You can find dozens of learning style inventories online. There are some that are web-based and many printable versions. Which you choose to use depends on the age level of your students, the depth you want to go, and the technology available. Your Talented and Gifted (TAG) coordinator may have some materials as well.

Below I describe just three different options that informally identify students as Visual, Auditory, or Tactile-Kinesthetic learners.

#1 Discover Your Own Learning Style has 18 questions for students to answer. The results will identify a student as Visual, Auditory, or Kinesthetic (V-A-K). There are many links with additional information. The survey is probably best geared towards upper elementary school. This site has three options:

  • Take the inventory online (Students tally their own responses by color.)
  • Print a webpage version (Looks just like the online version, students circle letters.)
  • Print a PDF file. (This would be the most difficult version for a student to grade.)

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#2 Learning Style Inventory – This printable PDF file would be best suited for 7th-12th grade. It has two options: a Learning Style Inventory and a Learning Style Assessment. After that, and best of all, there are 4 pages full of hints, strategies, and suggestions for each type of learner. These are practical, useful, real life ideas that will benefit students in all subject areas.

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#3 This link will take you to an pdf file of an English Language Learners Inventory. It has some cartoon-like graphics with each prompt. (FYI, the actual inventory starts on pg. 57) Check out the entire PDF. It includes a variety of surveys, tools, and ideas to use with ELL students. I think that this could be modified and used with very young children as well.

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As I already knew, I am a visual learner. My results were consistent with all of the surveys and inventories I took.

What is your learning style?

Do you have a favorite tool you use with your students?

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