K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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September 27, 2010
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Archive of the web conference “Tiering to Avoid Tears: Developing Assignments That Address All Learners’ Needs,” which took place Sept. 27, 2010. This web conference accompanies the article by the same name.


Electronic voice (00:02)
Recording started.
Bobby Hobgood (00:05)
Well welcome you again to this, the first in a series of web conferences based on the LEARN North Carolina series "Reaching Every Learner: Differentiating Instruction in Theory and Practice." My name is Bobby Hobgood. I’m Director of Research and Development and Online Curriculum and Instruction, and with my colleagues here at LEARN NC, we are excited to have you join us this afternoon for this, the first in a series of eight web conferences devoted to this particular series.
Today we’re looking at the research-based article by the author Linda Robinson, "Tiering Without Tears: Developing Assignments that Address All Learners’ Needs," and we’ll be hearing from Linda as well as one of the classroom teachers featured in the videos that accompany this article, Ms. Anne Hawkins, so you’re going to get to hear from her as well this afternoon. In terms of our session, we just introduced and welcomed you, so we’ve got number one out of the way, there’s a check there.
We’re going to turn it over in just a moment to Linda who’s going to talk to you a little bit more beyond what you may have read about in her article, as well as highlight some of the aspects of that article that, based on her expertise, are really important for you to attend to. We’ll then look at some questions from our folks here in Chapel Hill as well as your questions ongoing, and then we’ll wrap up and talk about how you can access the archive for this session, as well as how you can give us some feedback on the session and get some documentation to show your participation this afternoon.
So with that being said, I’m going to now go ahead and talk to you briefly, rather, show you briefly, the overview of this series in preparation for our next event, which will take place on the 25th of October, and that’s based on the article that will be published on October 4th, "Deaf Learners and Successful Cognitive Achievement." And a note to that end: This is for all educators — not just educators who have deaf learners in their classrooms, but frankly, this article is filled with what I like to think of as nuggets, some great tidbits and advice that not only help you to work effectively with deaf learners, but with all learners.
In fact, as indicated in the introduction to this series, when you differentiate instruction for a certain population of learners, chances are your efforts are being received by all of the learners in your classroom, so bear that in mind as you look at this list of articles that are published throughout the year, and in the corresponding web conferences that will further explore those articles.
So at this time I’m happy to introduce to you Linda Robinson, and I’m going to let her introduce herself, but would you join me in a virtual round of applause and welcome Linda Robinson. Okay, so you can click on the hands there, not the raised hand, not the raised hand, but to the right of that, you see the hand that looks like it’s got some fireworks emanating from the fingertips. Yeah, that’s it, excellent. So that’s a virtual round of applause there for Linda, so I’m going to turn the mic over to Linda. Linda, we’re glad to have you this afternoon, welcome.
Linda Robinson (03:30)
Thank you Bobby, this is a delightful opportunity. We’ll take any kinds of hands we can get, I can assure you of that. We’re going to look first at sort of a little bit of an overview of, not at the article, but questions that were asked during the article to sort of get our framework. A few of you had stated in the chat room already that you had not read the article, so this is a good way to sort of get your thoughts going and for us to get a little bit of clarification about what we’re addressing.
The first one is, that it’s one of the most important questions for us to ask, how do we differentiate and still remain fair? If you don’t address the issue of fairness, it will be the very first reason that you decide not to differentiate in the classroom. Although you might go back impassioned about doing it, wanting to meet individual needs, the minute that a student, or more likely a parent, or even an administrator, or another teacher questions whether or not what you’re doing is just for all learners and you don’t have a clear rationale for doing it, you just will abandon ship.
So one of the first things we will address, again, to the end of the article, but the first part we’ll talk about today are the issues surrounding fairness. The second one is how do we meet all students’ needs and address the standard course of study? Your first obligation is to get mastery of the standard course of study, not to teach the standard course of study, but to ensure that it’s mastered, which is a very different perspective.
The third question that we’ll address is how do we develop every child’s full abilities given the heterogeneous nature of our classrooms? Let me address middle- and high-school- teachers from this perspective, because you might be looking at this and saying, well, I don’t have totally heterogeneous classrooms, I have honors students, which is a smaller scope of the population.
There’s no question about that, but still within your classrooms, even if they are AP English classes, you’ve got a range of students. It might be a smaller range of students, but you’ve still got a range of needs to be addressed within that classroom. Some of you are dealing with the entire spectrum within your classroom, even at a secondary level, and so your needs are going to be even more greatly intensified.
But let me mention this as well: When we’re talking about differentiation, if your classroom structure, your setting, has already been changed by the grouping strategy, for example, a school where I was this morning said that they use flexible skills groups to make up the make-up of their classrooms. They’ve got students that are struggling learners that might be all in one classroom, students that are at grade level all in one classroom, and students above in another.
In those classroom, by those divisions, the heat is on. Your need to differentiate is even greater than if those students were in the same classroom. And the reason is, you don’t group without having a strong differentiation philosophy, or it’s not just. For example, if you put high-end learners all in one classroom together, but there’s nothing that you are doing that is significantly different for those students, then they should all be put together in a more heterogeneous grouping.
We know from the research that if students are grouped by — we won’t say ability level, but we will say flexible skills levels — that they do not show additional growth unless the teachers can measurably demonstrate how they’ve differentiated their instruction, and when that happens, the students on the lower end, as well students on the higher end, show significant growth.
And the last question is how do we do all of this without losing our minds, or crying a lot, or losing great teachers from the classroom, and that’s too great a risk. So we’ll look at some answers to those questions.
Any day that you walk into your classroom, whether the students are like kind, ability or achievement level grouped, or the full spectrum of students, you know that there are students that are not quite ready for what you’re getting ready to explore and to teach. Hopefully, if you’ve chosen carefully, most of the students in your classroom are just ready for that instruction, and inevitably, some students are ready to go beyond that standard course of study level instruction.
When we talk about tiered assignments, what we’re talking about is walking into the classroom prepared for these three populations. Not individualizing, but being prepared for these three groups of learner needs. The same students won’t fall into each group the same each time, so you’re going to have a lot of flexibility with whose needs are in the ready-to-go-beyond, or in the not-yet-ready.
Now, to the issue of fairness; it should be our very first conversation. You need to decide your own basis of fairness. I will talk you through the criteria I’ve determined for my classroom after, let’s just say, a vast number of years of experience.
The first one is odd, you might not hear other people talk about this, but it’s time. There’s several reasons for this. First of all, if anyone is going to agree with you on anything related to differentiation, they will agree that students learn at different rates. What we know is also a fact is all students happen to come to school for the same amount of time. If those two realities are put together, nobody needs to explain to anybody the need for differentiation.
You can’t have students learning at significantly different rates all at school for the same amount of time. So what typically happens in the elementary school is your brightest learners with the most capability for learning invest the least amount of time in their learning. They don’t have to invest a lot of time in homework. They don’t have to invest a lot of time even in their class work. They’re usually finished before others are finished and they either sit and wait, or they talk with friends, unless they’ve been told to do something particularly productive.
That’s not true in any other area of giftedness. If you’re talking about a sport, where we’re talking about psycho-motor gifted, your athletes that are capable of performing at a high level spend the most time preparing for that sport, not the least amount of time. In our culture — this is not true with other cultures — but in our culture we have a misconception that if you’re bright, you shouldn’t have to work hard. And the brighter you are, the less time you should be investing in your learning.
So we’re trying to correct that misunderstanding with having everyone invest the same amount of time in school and out of school. Let me tell you what else it addresses. The times when a student — a very bright, capable student — will bring in a product to you, and you’re terribly disappointed. Usually, what we say to them is, "You didn’t put any effort into this."
Now the product might look exactly like the product of another student that you know struggles. And the student usually wants to say, "Well, you know, if you’re disappointed, why don’t you just expect something different from me the next time around?" The problem is that they may even tell you that they invested a lot of effort in their product, but effort’s not measurable. The student usually means, "I worked extremely hard for the entire fifteen minutes it took me to do this product."
What you mean is you didn’t invest time in this product. So by having time as a fairness criteria, it means that everyone will be using their time wisely in the classroom, and that everyone will be investing time outside of the classroom. This has caused me to change the way that I structure learning contracts. Rather than say select an activity to do from the learning contract, the instructions are now invest a minimum of two hours in this learning contract.
With the first criteria usually I’ll have my brightest learners look through the contract first and figure out which one will require the least amount of time. If instead you’ve said we want you to invest a certain amount of time, then what you’re going to get is possibly even more activities completed by one student than another, or greater depth in one activity than you would have anticipated for that activity. You also don’t have to worry about making the activities time-equivalent because you’ve said that they’re going to invest a select amount of time in the activity.
The second criteria has to do with fun. Everyone should have an equivalent amount of fun. I have seen horrific mistakes made usually in the name of gifted education where fun is concerned. I’ve seen kids who’ve mastered their standard course of study objective early, or, more likely, completed all of the work early get to draw, or use clay in the corner or sometimes go on field trips just because they are finished with what they’ve done, or they get to run errands for the teacher, or, possibly one of the worst options, they get to then tutor struggling learners who can never reciprocate, therefore never remain in a respectful relationship.
So fun is an equivalent — is an equity issue, which simply means, if no one’s having fun, it’s fair, okay? So if no one’s having fun, everyone’s having the same level of fun, it doesn’t mean that I owe everyone fun.
Learning. Everyone has a right to learn something new. Which is to say, if I already know this, I should have bought time in the learning process to learn something else.
And the last one is challenge. Challenge is relative to the individual learner. Everyone deserves a challenge, but what challenges one is not going to challenge another. And that brings us to this. A challenge, we would define as having the probability that you will be successful with the possibility that you won’t. And that means that the challenge is slightly beyond the fingertips of the individual child, which also means that we need to prepare high-end learners, as well as their parents, for possible failure — failure meaning they don’t get it the first time, or they didn’t get the answer to this more quickly than everyone else along the way, because we want them experiencing that challenge as early as possible. Some of you in the middle and high schools know that you get students who’ve never been offered a challenging experience until they get to your classroom, and that’s what leads to a lot of our under-achieving gifteds.
So, how can we be fair? “In the ways and to the extent that students are similar, their education should be similar, and in the ways and to the extent that students are different, their education should be different.” This quotation from Lannie Kanevsky really puts the emphasis on how they’re different, not just that they are different.
Tiering assignments means designing activities around one objective from the standard course of study that meets the needs of kids that are not yet ready for this, just ready for this and ready to go beyond.
We’re going to look at the article at ten different ways, or we’ll say criteria for tiering assignments. Ten different means by which you might be kicking it up a notch, or kicking it down a notch. And the article goes through those in much more detail with lots of examples of each one that are given at different grade levels.
So we’ll look in closing this part of the session at what tiered assignments are and what they are not. Tiered assignments are challenging and respectful for each student. They are not a matter of giving the rich assignments to one group of students. We frequently hear people say, well if higher-level students get the, quote, good stuff, why shouldn’t everyone get the, quote, good stuff; that’s not what tiered assignments are about. Everyone gets appropriate and challenging and respectful assignments.
Tiered assignments provide fluid grouping based on ongoing assessment. Assessment, as you saw in the videos that Anne and her cohorts discussed in their classrooms, are a critical piece to tiered assignments. It’s not about pigeon-holing students into stagnant groups. The danger there is going back to what we once called tracking, or any kind of stagnant grouping that doesn’t allow students to grow and to change groupings as they happen to show that they have mastery at a faster pace.
Tiered assignments are focused on the same objective, but they differ based on the criteria, those ten areas that we just looked at and that are fleshed out in the article. They’re not designed for tier three to do all of the work of tiers one and two, and then more. So it’s not something that you do when you’ve finished what everyone else has done. It’s something that you are doing to master the standard course of study in a different way.
Tiered assignments can incorporate some existing activities from the text. My guess is somewhere in your teaching materials you have at least two of of the tiers already designed for you. What’s important is for you to figure out which tiers those are. When you look at the lesson that you’ve always taught, think to yourself, is this a lesson that’s usually challenged most of the learners? And if so, it’s probably your just-ready level.
Is it, though, one of those that lessons students finish more rapidly than you wish that they did, or that students seem to fly through without having any depth of thought. If so, it might be the activity you want to have for your not-yet-readies. Is it something that’s challenged almost everyone in the classroom to the point of frustration? If so, you might already have that third tier designed for you. So you’re going to look at what’s available to you already, and determine which tiers you’re going to need to add.
So I’m going to let Anne talk a minute about their classroom and some things about their school setting so you get a little bit better idea of Baileywick Elementary School of the videos that you saw, and the context from which it comes.
Anne Hawkins (19:28)
Good afternoon, I hope you’re enjoying all this wonderful information. I had the pleasure of attending Linda’s help sessions and worked with her, and this is what spurned my teammates and I to begin really carefully looking at how we were delivering material to children and giving them opportunities to be successful and grow.
I can piggyback several of the things about what challenges one does not challenge another is very true. The fact that we spent a lot of time, when we set up our tiered assignments, to be able to truly measure the fairness. One of the things our gifted children had a difficult time with was telling us how much time they could invest in their learning, because they’d always heard before, well this product needs something different, or it’s not quite what I expected you to do.
So they begin to identify quickly how much time they needed to invest, and some were very very concrete and real with their investment ideas, and some were far off, and so that of course needed to be pulled back in and given a careful guidance on how you choose your time frame. That truly was a huge component in changing the finished product in a tiered assignment. Because some people felt like if they invested ten minutes of time that they were going to be able to do their work at their best level.
What we found was that when they were given that ten minutes of time they were shocked of what they could not accomplish in ten minutes of time and what they would not want to turn into the teacher as a ten-minute time frame.
I’ve kind of thought a little bit about what I would think if I were a classroom teacher listening to this presentation today, and the first thing I would think, I would probably think is how in the world do I do all of this work? And one of the things that I have to say that was effective for myself and my teammates is the fact that my administrator values this greatly; it was a priority for her. She had us in workshops, she offered days for us to plan together where substitutes were hired by the school, and that gave us an opportunity to be able to look at resources, to field questions to one another, to tap into the resource of having Linda available to us, to help us pull this all together.
We are a Title I school, we have forty percent free and reduced lunch, we have twenty-six percent of our students are limited English proficient, forty percent of our students are Hispanic, and out of our school population we have forty-three children identified as HE. And I give you all this information because I think it’s important for you to know that we are not a high-achieving perfect little school where we implemented all of this information and everyone came to us with a wealth of experiences, or they had parents who were constantly pushing behind them to make sure everything was perfect for school.
These are real children with real information coming from home, real things that they deal with on a daily basis. I’m really excited also to share with you that our school made a School of Distinction this year, and we made high growth, and we made nineteen out of nineteen subgroups. So it was a big celebration that the children were able to succeed, and be able to do as well as they could do. I’m thinking that that had a great deal to do with the fact that we changed the structure of the ways things were going in our school, and we were able to meet more individual needs of children rather than trying to whole-group instruction.
One thing that we do do that you might want to ask an administrator about if you are in a school similar to mine is we do incorporate sheltered instruction in our daily program, and it has been highly beneficial for all children — not just children with limited English proficiency, but all children. It was startling to us to realize that so many children were vocabulary poor when it comes to speaking correctly and using the vocabulary that you do in learning. A lot of that vocabulary is embedded in your end-of-grade tests, your standardized tests, performance assessments and if you are not intelligent with the way those words are used, then often it is difficult for you to put forth your best piece of information that you know without knowing those vocabulary-rich words.
So that is a really big component part of what we do as well. Another ** thing that we really, truly believe in is children are AG all day long. I’ve known most of the schools, in elementary schools have a forty-five minute to an hour pullout, and, you know, this is maybe once, twice a week, depending on your budget, and this year it might not be at all, and we felt like this is something that children needed that kind of guidance all the time. Okay, so it just was important for us to recognize these AG students needed that kind of work and guidance ethic all day long.
We have interventionists that work with our lower level, and that helps. We also are a PLC school, which means we have professional learning communities that come in, and professional learning teams that work together. So the art teacher kind of piggybacks with us, and we are using her when we do team time as an enrichment component, and we do the component where we remediate the children who still seem to struggle.
And these things are very easily identified; you don’t always have to have a formative assessment to do that. You might be working with a small group of children and realize that several of the children in the group really are not clear on what they are expected to do, what they’re working on, what their objective is, so that’s a quick time for us to go back and say to ourselves, obviously this is not coming across as we thought it should, this may need some more intervention in the tiering of the way we’re doing that assignment.
We also do a checklist before we start a unit, and it says at the top of the checklist, "I know lots about this, I know nothing about this, I can do this," or "I can do this and I can use it in other places." And they become very savvy at evaluating themselves before we even start a unit, and then at the end of the unit, they have their portfolio products where they can look through it and then they’re able to evaluate what they’ve done after they’ve completed the unit and they’re able to say, "I now know this, I now can do this with extensions, and it is product number four that demonstrates that." So they are able to use the tiering of the assignments to drive what they want to learn and how deep they want to learn what’s going on.
Bobby Hobgood (27:18)
Okay, well, you’ve had the opportunity now, folks, to hear from both Linda and Anne, and we’ve started to get some questions here in the room, and to refresh your memory in terms of posing questions, want to bring up this slide again — if I can recall which slide it was here, yeah, there we go. Remember to select from the drop-down underneath the chat window the name "Submit Questions." And that really is another way of saying I want to send this question to Emily Jack here in Chapel Hill. So Emily’s going to be receiving those questions and she’s going to pose those to be answered by either Linda or Anne or both, and we’ve already gotten some questions in, I know a couple of questions about sheltered instruction, so I’m going to turn this over to Emily, and we’re now going to move into the Q-&-A part of our time this afternoon. Emily?
Emily Jack (28:15)
Thanks Bobby. As Bobby just said, there’ve been a number of questions about sheltered instruction. I wonder if you could explain that a little bit more.
Anne Hawkins (28:23)
Sheltered instruction is a program that utilizes the vocabulary inside of what we learn as objectives. We presented in this model that is called a four square. It is the word itself, then we use a kid-friendly term with the word, then we do a picture with the word and then we have them help us decide and design a sentence with the word. This is always presented at the beginning of any math, science, social studies lesson. Because we are a limited English proficient school, we found that what one person might think a hill is, is totally different than what someone else might think, and therefore the translation or the idea doesn’t work well at all if you’re not putting it on the same playing field so that everybody understands exactly the same thing that we’re talking about.
I’m not clear off the top of my head, I apologize, for the creator of this program, but it is easy to Google this if you have someone who is interested in working with sheltered instruction. It is often referred to as SIOP, is another way that people utilize this program, and it started as a program to work with children who do not speak English as their first language.
Bobby Hobgood (29:45)
Yeah, and I think Anne, just to extend a little bit what you’re saying there, that particular model, SIOP, you mentioned is a very specific version of sheltered instruction that’s being used widely not only in North Carolina but around the US, and as you indicated, it really highlights the fact that in our instruction we commonly use a lot of culturally-bound vocabulary, culturally-bound expressions, so to us while it might see quite normal to say "put your books up," to a speaker of another language, interpreting that direction literally, they might be lifting a stack of books over their head. So a part of that model is recognizing that we want to equalize the input so that it is comprehensible to all learners in a given setting.
Anne Hawkins (30:42)
And this is something we use as a forefront to our tiered assignments. You still have to do teaching, you can’t just come up with a set of things for children to do, hand out a set of things for them to do. There still has to be teaching and gearing your instruction so that you are meeting the needs of everybody that’s in the classroom. The main objective has to be taught, you have to be sure that that is learned, and then from that we begin to develop these other areas for mastery. One of the things we learned from Linda is you do not teach the standard course of study, and I think I heard that a thousand times from people, "Whatever you do, just teach that standard course of study." Well it’s not enough to teach it anymore, it’s enough to master so that you’re able to do the next thing that’s required of you in the hierarchy of learning.
Emily Jack (31:38)
Thank you. The next question, there was a program that you mentioned around the time you were talking about sheltered instruction, do you remember what that was? There was some, it was sheltered instruction, okay. The next question is a lot of students, and also some parents feel that their level is higher than what it actually is. So how do you offer tiering activities in a classroom without leaving some students feeling wronged about your assessment of their level?
Linda Robinson (32:11)
The most important thing, I’m getting ready to hand off to you, but the most important thing you just said is the assessment of their level. The wonderful thing about what Anne’s saying of how they have structured their ongoing formative assessment is it demonstrates what the student knows. Show me what you know, and then you will buy time out to do something else. Or show me what you don’t know, and I’ll guarantee you that you’ll master that. So it keeps an honesty about what the student does. There’s some times that high-level students will think that they know something because they know that they’ve learned it before, but they’ve never mastered it in a way that they’ve ingested it and the formative assessments show that, so they allow the student to show exactly what they’ve mastered and then leave room to be able to get mastery of what they haven’t.
Anne Hawkins (33:02)
One of the things that we do is we offer — most of the time what we do what is a pre-assessment of the unit, and we look at that piece of data and we look at how it would impact someone according to where they go, on the tiered assignment chart. And often we’ve had to, you know, of course we’ve had parents who are like, "Do you realize my child is gifted," and we’re like, "Of course we realize your child is gifted, but they still don’t know what they need to know in this particular realm and that’s a danger zone."
So what we have to do is we have to build a relationship and trust within the community that we are providing and doing what is best for their child. It is, there is one, I believe that it’s in the article that is a great way to demonstrate to parents what children truly know where, in the middle tier of this structure, you put things that are appropriate for the grade level itself. And if the child does that, then they have the opportunity to go to the right, if they think they can demonstrate more of what is just ready, and then they have the opportunity to go to the left to demonstrate that maybe I need to go down one little bit so that I’m not clear on what I’m supposed to be doing at this particular time, but I do know how to do this component.
And often when we have that kind of documentation to show parents, they begin to say, "Oh, yeah, that’s pretty clear, I think I see how that works together now so that maybe if I’m helping my child with these particular things at home then this is what I need to do." And we can affirm, yes that’s a good way to go, or no, that’s not the direction you need to be.
Linda Robinson (34:51)
One of the amazing things about Anne’s classroom and all three of these teachers at Baileywick Elementary is that the students are amazingly savvy and cognizant of the formative evaluation process. They know how to do an assessment, they know how to look at the data, they know how to analyze it, and they know how to clearly express, "I know this and I don’t know this."
And one other P.S. to that is, and someone mentioned that they like the discussion of fairness, or the chart on fairness. It’s absolutely imperative that your parents have your criteria for fairness. You noticed that on the criteria it doesn’t say every child will get the same thing. It doesn’t say that what is good for one is good for all, it says these are the four criteria on which I’ll base fairness. If a student, or more likely, a parent comes to you and says, "I don’t feel that your treatment of my child is fair," ask them to talk to you in terms of these four areas or these four criteria that you’ve agreed upon where fairness is concerned.
Emily Jack (35:59)
Thank you, are we ready for the next question? This questioner would like to know how you would tier in an alternative high school program that uses NovaNet, and she clarifies for those who don’t know, it’s a web-based program that’s used in this alternative school for long-term suspended students. So students are given the opportunity to attend and try to earn credits back. So how would you implement tiering in that situation?
Linda Robinson (36:26)
None of that, for one thing, is somewhat individualized, from my exposure with it, and I work with some students in a public housing complex, and so I have a little bit of exposure, I would not say that I’m by any means an expert, and we’d love your feedback to some of that, is individualized in terms of the instruction. Just because a student is in an alternative school is not an indication of that student’s academic needs. There are students in alternative school who are extremely bright and are unquestionably in the ready-to-go-beyond stage and they’re very very frustrated with knowing that there’s a discrepancy between either their behavior and their academic potential or their past performance and their academic potential.
So you want to be cognizant that these students are going to need to a challenge even beyond the NovaNet. They may be able to do the skill-level things that are there, but you might want to look at ways that you can add a level of abstractness to their understanding by asking different kinds of questions and creating different kinds of products. Could you add to that Anne?
Anne Hawkins (37:34)
The thing I can think of is an interest survey for those children. I’m not sure, I’m sorry, I’ve not worked at that level or with that particular type of student before, and I may be advising you on something that’s not quite within the realm to do, but I think I would be curious to know what are you interested in learning, what is it that motivates you, what is it that you want to achieve? I’m here, but what is your part of this? And I would hope that by the age group they are they would be articulate enough to say, "You know, I don’t want to learn anything,” or “I really want to learn how motors work," or something to that sort. And then, I guess, if they don’t want to learn anything, then that’s a huge issue, but maybe there can be an A-B-C-D to choose out of, you know, from your big interest survey that you would do with your entire class.
Linda Robinson (38:29)
That’s a great point. You’re wanting to motivate learners. Your key issue in an alternative school is to try to motivate these students to love learning, and therefore be productive.
Emily Jack (38:40)
Thank you. The next question: Anne, you mentioned interventionists, are these special education teachers, or are they regular ed teachers? And what do you see as the role of special ed teachers in tiering?
Anne Hawkins (38:55)
Because we are a Title I school, we have Title I teachers who are regular education teachers, but they are teaching a specialized reading instruction. They are more pullout programs. Special ed is a pushing program in our particular building, and we try to gear our tiering toward those children’s needs by working with her in particular. You know, first of all we have to recognize and appreciate and follow the IEP, that’s certainly something you cannot negate in any stretch of the imagination.
So once we establish what the goals are for the IEP, then we can take those goals and we can paginate them into what we’re doing within our classroom so that the assignments could become modified enough for that child to participate or to drive their own instruction sometimes. Those children, I mean, if you are considered learning-disabled, you’ve had to have a huge discrepancy between your performance ability and your intellectual ability, so there is something there to work with, it’s just finding what is key for most of those children and being able to help them move with that. Our special ed teacher meets with us every other week, and we carefully follow each other’s programs.
Emily Jack (40:18)
Thank you. The next question: Do you know of any programs that offer alternative activities for non-readers, specifically, this example is sixth-grade level EC students.
Anne Hawkins (40:33)
Right off the top of my head I do not know anything that would fit that criteria. I would be curious to research that and find something because I think that would probably be a huge challenge.
Emily Jack (40:48)
Thank you. The next question: I want to make sure I understand this clearly, the questioner just writes, "What’s the best way to determine their level?" And I’m assuming they just mean the students in the classroom where they’re using tiering.
Anne Hawkins (41:01)
Okay, for reading, we do, every year we do an oral reading fluency that will give us a baseline on how well children are able to call words in a minute of time. From that we begin to figure out which children need more intensive progress monitoring, who needs to be taken in another direction on the tier — and that gives us a baseline to work with. If they are sufficiently below grade level, then, of course, there’s always digging deeper into probes into figuring out what’s going on for that particular child. That’s reading.
In math, we generally pre-test each unit that we begin to give us a baseline of information. We keep huge data charts on all the things that children do, we have it on the computer where we can send it to each other, and keep up with each other’s classrooms, what’s happening in that classroom, and we meet together once a week to look at the data to try to figure out what the data is telling us about each child. Does this child need more, does this child need less, does this child, where do we go with that? So that’s one of the two ways that we do that.
Science and social studies are still very fresh, so that’s sort of given as a whole lesson and then broken apart into the tiered assignments. Writing, we just completed our first baseline for writing. It was an on-demand for the children in fourth grade and we will grade that together as a group in the next week, and from that we’re able to discern who needs what with their writing program, so we can more carefully, intensively do that.
Emily Jack (42:54)
Thank you. The next question is how would you recommend tiering within a Spanish II, that’s a high school class, where some students are still working at beginning Spanish I level, where the gap is extreme?
Linda Robinson (43:08)
I think that’s a great question, it’s somewhat similar to the question that was asked about science as well. You can’t anticipate that students will have the same level of mastery in either. Certainly when they begin Spanish I they usually — usually have no exposure. We certainly have students with limited English proficiency who are taking Spanish I that are very fluent in Spanish, but for the most part what you don’t know is that what they know coming in to Spanish II because students have learned at very different rates and have had very different levels of recall.
So the main thing is that you’d be prepared for that. Remember that once they get mastery of the standard course of study, you should be a little bit more free and so should they. In other words, once I show mastery of Spanish II, what I have to know, I should have bought a little bit of time to learn what I’d like to know related to Spanish II. There is a myriad of resources on the web where students can either be learning about the culture, or be communicating with another culture, can be developing all kinds of alternatives to what they might want to learn. And Anne’s right: That should be able to be plugged into their interest levels.
One of the most interesting things, that I’m sure you well know about a foreign language, is translating something like a poem, that’s meaningful, in a way that’s meaningful into another language because poetry is so based on non-tangible sorts of relationships, you know, not literal translations of things, so lots of alternatives there.
In science, the same thing, because we don’t necessarily assess at every level in science, students learn a lot of science on their own, or from watching television programs, or from other areas. And so, you need to be cognizant of setting the cycle of pre-assessing, as Anne says, what they know and then allowing for them to learn what they don’t know, which should allow for a little bit of choice.
What we haven’t talked about are grades and assessment. Anyone interested? Yeah? Those of you that are familiar with the new teaching evaluation, you know that there’s a code of ethics that comes with that teaching evaluation, and you know that the code of ethics states very clearly that grades will be based on mastery, which creates an interesting dilemma. If you got mastery on Monday, or if you got mastery in September, what does that mean is going to happen?
The truth is that you want to base the grade on mastery, and then you want that student who attained mastery earlier than others to be using her time wisely, to be learning and continuing to learn, to be challenged, the very same things that we said about with the fairness criteria and to have an equivalent amount of fun with others in the classroom. It’s just that that might not have to be a component of the grade; it’s still assessed, but not necessarily in terms of demonstrating mastery.
Can quantiles and lexiles be used for helping to tier students? You’re saying no, or no to responding to that? Clarify exactly what you mean and used in what way? In terms of looking at their different levels? In terms of assessing their need? Is that what you’re thinking about? In terms of dividing students into different — Certainly. Anything that’s a valid, a valid way to look at individual student’s needs can be used as a way to tier, but what you what to do is to make sure you’re doing that in a formative way, not in a summative way with the assessment. You’re not making permanent determination about students’ needs, but it’s in an ongoing basis and that you acknowledge when they’re picking up the pace.
Emily Jack (47:15)
Thanks. Do we have time for another one? Let’s do one more. Do we allow the students to determine their own strengths for selecting a tiered activity?
Linda Robinson (47:27)
There are times that this is appropriate. Remember that your number-one obligation is to get mastery of the standard course of study, so at the point that they demonstrate mastery, I’m not as concerned about what they do. I generally have a rule that you can reach up but not down. So if a student wants to attempt a slightly more challenging tier and demonstrate their mastery of the standard course of study in that way, I’ll certainly allow it if that’s their option.
If they want to do something that’s significantly less challenging than what they should be able to do based on their assessment, then I’m probably not going to encourage that quite as much. Do they self assess? Anne can tell you these students are very involved in their own assessment.
Anne Hawkins (48:09)
They do self-assess. They, when we finish with whatever we’re working on, they do a self assessment, they go back through, they have graphs that they keep where they have made their scores. They put information at the bottom: “This was difficult for me because,” “this was not difficult for me because,” and they’re very, very clever at being able to fill out all of this information.
A lot of what you’re seeing is my past class, and I’m just starting a new school year with a new class. We’ve just finished our first reading assessment and people graphed their assessment. They had set and determined their goal before we even got started with this. We determined a class goal, and I was trying very hard to make it very low so we could achieve it, and of course they wanted it to be at eighty percent, and wild enough, we wound up with eighty-eight percent as our class goal. So they understand that they are participating in a whole program and an individual program, so what I do individually impacts the whole community, as well as what I do with my community impacts me individually.
Linda Robinson (49:26)
A quick question from Kelly, and then we’ll wrap up. She says it seems to me that tiered learning is easier with project-based learning, as I’ve used it. How well does this work on a daily basis? Kelly, I couldn’t agree with you any more. The more open-ended the structure of the learning and the assignments would be, the more flexibility you’ve got within that to address individual needs.
Bobby Hobgood (49:46)
Well Linda and Anne, this has been very enlightening, and we still have questions coming in. I wish we had more time, but the concept of tiering is one that can’t easily be explained in less than an hour. Anne can attest to the fact that she and her colleagues continue to develop and to hone their skills with respect to tiering, and further, we talk about differentiating instruction. I think that all teachers who we consider master teachers continue as well to develop their skills and abilities.
It is not an end point, it is an ongoing journey, since we recognize the fact that our classrooms continue to be more diverse, and our students are coming to us now with a greater skill set. That means at the same time, greater needs on the part of their individual learning experience. We’d ask that you go back and take a look at the article if you haven’t read it already, as well as the accompanying videos and the slideshow where you can see the self assessment that’s a part of this process.
Again, if you visit the homepage of LEARN North Carolina, and then look for the section on differentiating instruction, you’ll be able to access that information. And Emily is going to make that information available to you, the web link here in our chat window in just a moment. While she’s doing that I’m going to ask you if you would all join with me in giving a virtual round of applause to Linda Robinson and to Anne Hawkins, and ladies we are so delighted that not only were you contributing your expertise via the articles and the videos, but at the same time, your time by being here today to share with these folks from your own experience what tiering is all about and how it works. And we hope that this has inspired you whether you are an elementary school, middle, high school, if you’re at a central office, or whatever your context to learn more about this way of differentiating instruction.
Before we leave today we would ask that you complete a session evaluation, and in just a moment, I’m going to make that link available to you in the chat window, and we’d ask that you click on that link and go and complete that evaluation now. When you finish that evaluation, the confirmation message you receive will include a link to documentation for your participation today, and this is a PDF document that you can print and then customize and hold on to if you plan on participating in the remaining seven web conferences that are a part of this series.
So again, make sure you complete the evaluation in order to access that link. We hope you’ll join us on October the 25th for our next web conference. We thank you all for being here today, and I’m going to end the recording at this time.