Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Teaching to Diversity

The book, "Teaching Content to All" was the subject of our discussions this Wednesday.

Teaching for diversity; what does this mean?

We read a case study from the book that allowed us to "eavesdrop" on a job interview for a high school science position. The teacher wanted to change schools and spoke quite passionately about his commitment to learning. He also elaborated on his teaching practice: "I'm not afraid to give Fs. Students have to be prepared to work hard. If they are lazy and fail, then that's their problem." The principal challenged the teacher to think about how he would reach out to the wide diversity of learners in his class.

We talked about how our teaching practice. How do we treat kids in so called core courses like Math, Socials, Science? Are there "smart" kids vs "lazy" or stupid kids? How is this handled in other subject areas? In a PE class, there are the athletically gifted on the one hand, and those who need instruction, training and practice: everyone can be successful. In Art, there are the artistically gifted, and those who have not yet mastered the techniques and media. Is there hope, and a place, for those who are not mathematically, scientifically or linguistically gifted in our core classes?

Here are a series of questions that were posed by the book's authors in an article that Fred H and Dave G read this summer. (The topic is evident from the title – diversity.) These are meant to stir our thinking around how we can work better for all students. [Key questions adapted from “Teaching and Academic Diversity” (Lenz and Deshler)]
  • How does teacher knowledge of diversity affect student learning?
  • How have teachers traditionally responded to diversity and the challenge of individualization?
  • What are the “big ideas” that lead to more inclusive teaching?
  • What motivates you to learn? How do you learn best?
  • Describe an experience of being different in some way that made you feel alone or not fully accepted by others. Did you experience accepting as well as non-accepting behaviors from others?
  • Consider how your personal identity might affect how you teach?
  • What are the barriers to building an inclusive pedagogy? What are the solutions? Given the current structure of schools, what can be done?
  • What changes need to be made in schools to promote more inclusive planning?
  • How does teaching more content in less time affect our ability to respond to diversity?
  • Which of the complicating factors are most daunting to you in terms of accommodating learning differences in a classroom?
  • How can understanding the big ideas of a course help students learn content?
  • What does the following statement mean to you? “Curriculum frameworks and textbooks are only resources; the true curriculum is actually constructed by the teacher and students each day in class.”



Ms. Panas said...

This is a topic I struggle with. I feel that I'm doing a good job reaching those students who need more support and scaffolding, but I think that some of my brighter or more capable students may be bored at times. I try to create more open-ended activities like having students do 2-column notes for a text in which they record an idea/quotation from the text on the left and record their thinking on the right--this means that students can write more if they grasp the text more quickly or deeply. But it's hard to always have open-ended tasks. Sometimes you just need to go slowly during instruction, or repeat, and this is where I feel for those students who don't need repetition or who want to go faster. Any suggestions as to how to plan teaching to satisfy the students who need more challenge? (I'm thinking English class here).

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say thanks to all of you for taking the time to share your discussions with us, and to Gordon for setting up the blog. My time in the mornings is often too rushed for me to be able to join the Early Morning Study group, but I know the discussions are really re-invigorating and informative for teachers, so I am glad to be able to share in them through the blog.

Joanne, I am going to be giving some thought to the issue of differentiation for the brighter students - so often we focus on differentiation for those who struggle, and many times our brighter students may get short shrift in the process. But I think the tasks you use often in your class are great ones for allowing everyone to shine in his/her own way!

Krista S.

Gordon said...

I came across this link to "Teacher Magazine" which has a great interview with Carol Ann Tomlinson on differentiated instruction.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Gordon, for the link - after reading the article, I think you should give yourself a bit pat on the back, Joanne :)Krista

Ms. Panas said...

Thanks, Krista. I've pulled Tomlinson's book from my shelf and started reading it...hoo, boy, I may be doing some things right but I have a long way to go. One thing I'd like to do is learning surveys and learning logs...and somehow figure out a way to differentiate more within the class with mini-group-lessons with kids who need them--without creating embarrassment or a negative situation among the kids. I guess this might mean pulling the more advanced/capable kids aside and giving lessons to them as well (maybe ways to challenge themselves) and being sure to mix kids in who can benefit from any such lesson. It's easy to address the whole class, but some kids may really need the small group to grasp the lesson (e.g. if we did a lesson on sentence combining, for example).
And I suppose the key here is that I am also always learning and tend to teach in my own preferred learning style. It's important for me to stretch and try a teaching/learning style I'm not as comfortable with. Doing a more hands-on activity is a challenge for me, but I saw this week how much it benefitted students and us as we saw the problems in some students' thinking.
By the way, Gordon, thanks for setting this up and for the article link. I don't think I'll be able to get to the study group but this is a perfect way for me to participate.

dagies said...

In looking over the comments of both Joanne and Krista, I get excited at the things that teachers are doing in classrooms. What I would love to see is more examples of what we do and how it works. I know that in quick conversations I get a picture of what Joanne and Krista are doing, but I think it would be even better if we had lesson plans or classroom changes posted here to see what goes on.

One lesson I picked up the other day came from an adaptation that I used for a student and how it backfired. I created a quick print out of what the other students were copying down to support a student with difficulty in written output. A good thing --right. The problem was that in doing this I highlighted his challenge for the rest of the class, and it actually would have benefited more students had I done this for all of them. The student shut down because of this and I had others who didn't finish the copying.

Planning for diversity and inclusion sounds great, but I have a long way to go to get there.

Ms. Panas said...

I'd like to respond to what dagies said (sorry, I don't actually know who you are--would you post your name next time, if that's okay?). I'd be happy to post some lesson plans but I'm not sure if that'll work in the comments section (maybe I could send them out via Richnet?). I wonder if people would be willing to come into each others' classrooms and see what we are trying out to include all students...I'd be willing to have visitors, and I'd love to get into Fred's class, or yours, dagies, and see you in action.

As for helping a student with written output...I wonder if it might be a good idea to ask the student to do their best to copy what they can (provide some practice with no stress to complete it all), with the understanding that they will be provided with the remainder of the notes that were missed, after class, of course. That would help eliminate the embarrassment factor. On the other hand, if the others would benefit from notes, Universal Design for Learning says give them all the notes! I might also challenge you to think about what you ask students to take notes on and why--go back to the fundamental objectives and principles you use to design your lessons.

For me, I've moved away from giving notes to copy. I have students take occasional notes (usually class brainstorms, where they can write down selected ideas they like, or very short compulsory notes), but if it's something really important, I'll make a handout or give them a graphic organizer to help them both take notes and make sense of them later. I think it's important to help kids to make notes that are in their own words, rather than copying someone else's, but this is a skill that needs to be taught explicitly (a graphic organizer like 2-column notes can work well). Just a few ideas...let me know what you think. Maybe I'm totally off, since I don't know the reason why you had student copying notes...

Anonymous said...

Apologies if this came through twice. I'm still trying to confirm the process.

I love to create open-endedness and challenge for the gifted/talented and creative. I get sent something onto my edesk and I see art projects or English assignments that would warm my heart (had I the ability to produce my ideas I'd be a far richer man financially). I love coplanning because of the strength of our many twined cords (our diverse backgrounds, perspectives, foci and experiences). When I was cooking for 200 this summer, my team would say, "What about the sour cream for the potatoes?" and I'd say, "I didn't think of it because I don't use sour cream on my baked potatoes. Thank you for reminding me that others like it." Each of us individually won't think of all the diverse needs of our classes because 1. we don't know them all and 2. we won't think of them all. It takes a variety of sources to better consider how best to make a lesson work. This is one reason I'm doing Lesson Study with PIMS at UBC.

Here is an example from one of my math 11 classes: “Putting on the Fritz”
The students were to learn the different factors that control the shape and position of a parabola. I gave them a sheet showing a simple face on graph paper of a man named Fritz. I provided them with the formulae for 6 of the 10. They needed to see what each equation did so that they could discuss and decide upon the missing four. The extension question was and what could you do to improve Fritz? I provided some extra graph paper and room for 10 more equations.

The next day, I got the expected ears, mustaches, hair and a different mouth. I was surprised by those that changed Fritz to Freida or Fritz to Feng-Hsu. I was delighted by the French Legionnaire. I was awestruck by the 65 parabolas that created Albert Einstein’s face! I asked Paul, “Why did you do this for a 4 mark homework assignment?” He replied, “Because it was fun.” I was just about to congratulate myself for creating a fun assignment that they learned so well from when I realized that it could mean none of my other assignments were deserving of this amount of effort. I want to continue to stimulate these bright students with joy, discovery and the satisfaction of a meaningful challenge.

Here, we can post an topic and the big idea(s) we want to get the students to acquire and then ask other bloggers for how we could open it up for gifted/talented students and to make it accessible for the diverse learners. What we come up with for Joanne's English class will spill over into some of my math classes or a socials class or a resource block! I know this happens– I've read Nancy Atwell to great advantage in my math classes.

Getting those goose-bumpy, warm feelings now,