3 Keys to Ease Teacher Resistance to Standards-Based Grading

ease teacher resistance

This is a repost of Eric Patnoudes’ blogpost on the Otus blog on January 22, 2019.


Let’s face it, change is hard. Especially when you’ve been doing something for so long that it has become part of your identity. Even when the desire to change exists, knowing what steps to take in order to do things in new ways is not always clear. We recently had the pleasure to work with Lisa Westman, a frequent speaker on standards-based grading, differentiated instruction, and instructional coaching. During her webinar, she provides three keys for how school leaders can bring teachers along on the journey to standards-based grading (SBG).

Empathize with teachers

  • Many, if not all educators, are familiar with letter grades and understand how grading works. They have become part of our identity. The shift to SBG is not only a systematic change, but it also can affect the ego because it alters that identity.
  • Before standards-based grading, we asked teachers to differentiate instruction but expected them to grade students according to where they were in relation to their peers.
  • Look at report cards as bank statements. The minute that statement is put in your mailbox, it already has become obsolete. There are changes that have already been made since it was mailed. That’s why we have online systems to check things as they stand in real time. The same capability exists when looking at grades.

Ensure a solid understanding of the foundational pieces of SBG

  • Start with ensuring that your teachers have a clear understanding of the universal tenants of standards-based grading and what exactly is non-negotiable in your district. It’s crucial to have a unified vision for the following questions: What are we doing, why are we doing it, what does that look like?
  • Next, invest in differentiated professional development that helps teachers feel confident in moving away from the instructional routines they used to rely on in the past i.e. a student receiving a lower grade from turning in an assignment late). Not including homework as part of the overall grade. Many resistant teachers understand the value of such changes but don’t know how to actually do these things in their daily practice.
  • The final piece to a successful and sustainable standards-based rollout is to make certain the instructional strategies have been determined and are understood by your staff before looking at reporting out.
    • Grade-level teams and/or department have clearly defined learning intentions and success criteria according to the standards.
    • Formative assessment is utilized consistently and correctly.
    • Instruction is differentiated for students

Equip teachers with appropriate tools

  • One thing that can lead to teacher resistance happens when teachers are in a have a solid understanding of the universal tenants and a shared loyalty to foundational principles of standards-based grading and then there’s a missing system or tool needed to share important information about student learning. This results in teachers spending a lot of time creating spreadsheets or manipulating systems not intended for standards-based grading. Teacher’s experience misplaced frustration because they’re spending a lot of time and cognitive space trying to learn a tool when they haven’t yet figured the instructional piece.

If you would like to hear additional details about Lisa’s approach or how to contact her about working with your district, you can email her here or check out the downloadable audio and a video recording of the webinar.

Continue the Learning

We are on a mission to simplify educational technology by helping educators assemble a holistic display of student interest, engagement, performance, and growth. However, if you talk to any one of the several former educators who work at Otus, you’ll often hear them say that Otus, plus ineffective teaching is still ineffective teaching.

As proud as we may be of our platform, we recognize the importance of sound instructional strategies and want to empower educators to reach their greatest potential. Therefore we’ve created two places where you can engage with a community of like-minded educators.

Join our Facebook group! The purpose of this group is to connect educators who share a focus on the ongoing paradigm shift in instructional, assessment, and grading practices. Join us to collaborate with prominent educators and walk away with strategies to support your teaching and learning initiatives. bit.ly/ModernMeasuresCommunity

Follow us on Twitter! We share resources and spark conversations about healthy instructional, assessment, and grading practices. Ask your questions using the hashtag #ModernMeasures or follow@Modern_Measures.


Check out these related resources:
Our Teachers Don’t Like Standards-Based Grading, Now What?
Webinar recording (audio/video)

Podcast version (audio only)

Our Teachers Don’t Like Standards-Based Grading, Now What?

2019-01-10_0620

Is your school or district in the midst of or considering a transition to standards-based grading and experiencing some resistance? If so, check out my latest podcast with Otus for some tips to ease your growing pains.

Webinar recording (audio/video)

Podcast version (audio only)

———————————————————————————————————————————-
For more on standards-based grading and resistance, you may also be interested in reading these articles:

Standards Based Grading Made My Kid Average

Fix Contentious Parent-Teacher Conferences in These Six Steps

 

 




Be ‘Real’ & ‘Consistent’ to Build Positive Student Relationships

three tenets or student teacher relationships

This post was originally published as part of Larry Ferlazzo’s column in Education Week Teacher on October 12, 2018


What are the best ways to build relationships with students?

Response From Lisa Westman

Lisa Westman is a writer, speaker, and consultant who works with school systems across the country to implement student-driven differentiation, standards-based learning, and instructional-coaching programs. She has over 15 years of experience as a teacher and an instructional coach specializing in differentiation. She is the author of Student-Driven Differentiation: 8 Steps to Harmonize Learning in the Classroom (Corwin). Connect with Lisa on Twitter: @lisa_westman:

One of the most staggering statistics I have read came from the 2016 National Student Voice Report published by Dr. Russell Quaglia and the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations. After surveying over 38,000 students in grades 6-12, the researchers found that only 58% of students feel like their teachers respect them, while 99% of the teachers surveyed reported that they respect their students. This statistic really forced me to ask “why”?

In my book, Student-Driven Differentiation: 8 Steps to Harmonize Learning in the Classroom(Corwin) and outlined in the infographic below,  I share my answer to “why” and identify the most crucial components of respectful student-teacher relationships.

In short, to ensure teachers and students both perceive relationships to be respectful, teachers must follow these three tenets of respectful relationships: be real, be consistent, and be a listener. And, because teachers are the adults in the relationship, the onus is on us to create these conditions.

Be real: teachers are human, yet, students often don’t see this side of us. It frequently amazes me how afraid teachers are of sharing personal information with students. Now, I am not talking about sharing all personal information (no, we don’t share information about our dating lives. Yes, we can share that we have lost pets or loved ones and experienced pain in our lives).

Be consistent: There is no doubt about the fact that some students are more difficult than others. And, there is no doubt that sometimes it requires more effort to respond to our more trying students with the same level of patience and understanding as the less difficult students. However, in order for respectful relationships to exist, we must take care to be consistent in our actions and reactions with all students.

Be a listener: Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People sums this tenet up best. He said, “see first to understand, then to be understood.” We must ask our students more questions and then ensure we listen and understand their answers.”

To-ensure-teachers-and.jpg

Fix Contentious Parent-Teacher Conferences in These 6 Steps

IMG_2039.JPG

This post was originally published in Education Week Teacher.


Parent-teacher conferences can be some of the most rewarding—or the most stress-inducing—experiences of the school year for teachers.

If students are making progress academically and thriving socially, it’s a joy to discuss these achievements with families. But often, teachers may need to have more difficult conversations—discussing strategies for students who are struggling, or fielding parents’ questions about new school or district initiatives that teachers are implementing in their classrooms.

Sometimes, these programmatic changes can be extremely stressful for parents. One example, which I’ve encountered often, is the phasing out of gifted education pull-out services. Some schools do this in favor of meeting the needs of all students in a whole-class setting through differentiated instruction.

During the first year or two of this transition, teachers often have to address the questions, concerns, and criticisms of parents whose children had previously been pulled out by a specialist and are now receiving this enrichment in the general classroom.

When a parent presents concerns to a teacher who is still adapting to this change herself, it can make the teacher anxious, or even put her on the defensive. Once on the defensive, teachers (and humans in general) struggle to redirect conversations to a more positive place. Ultimately, in these cases, the parent-teacher conference ends poorly, with both parties feeling unable to move forward with a good plan for the child’s education.

To avoid these precarious situations, I recommend the following six steps for ensuring conferences with contentious (or concerned) parents are productive:

Step 1: Summarize what the parents say to ensure a common understanding.

“It sounds like you are concerned that your son is bored/not challenged in math now that he is no longer being pulled out for enrichment services.”

Step 2: Acknowledge and validate the parents’ emotion.

Parents are entitled to feel how they do. When you validate the emotion, parents no longer have to be on the defensive.

“I completely understand and agree with your frustration. Your son should absolutely be engaged and appropriately challenged in math. Please know, I want the same thing as you.”

Step 3: Ask questions instead of making statements to get a clearer picture of where the parent is coming from.

Teacher: “What is making you think your son is bored in math?”
Parent: “He says he is.”
Teacher: “Does he say why or when he is bored?”
Parent: “No. He just says he is always bored.”

Step 4: Respond with evidence.

“I understand. Now, what I want to do is determine if your son is bored because he is not being challenged, or if your son is bored because he doesn’t find the content relevant.

Either way, it is my job to make sure we find a remedy. I want to ensure I choose the most appropriate approach. Take a look at this information with me. [Here, share recent formative-assessment data related to the math concept.] What I see here is that your son is being challenged. He’s making appropriate growth toward mastering this content and is on track to master it soon. That leads me to believe your son may be bored because he doesn’t see why it’s important to learn this.”

Step 5: Suggest an action, and ask the parents if this suggestion sounds reasonable to them.

“I think it would be helpful if I chatted with your son to see if we can get more information as to the cause of his boredom. Once I know that, he and I will create a plan of action and share that with you. How does this sound?”

Step 6: Follow up with the student and parents.

After the conference, talk with the student about the issue at hand and create a plan. Then, bring the parents back into the loop. Ideally, the student is also a part of this conversation. Consider using technology like FaceTime, Skype, or a group chat to involve all parties.

Parents want what is best for their children, yet they don’t always know what is best when it comes to their education. Students can excel in classroom environments that may be foreign to parents. But if parents are worried about their child’s needs being overlooked, it can make conferences feel like an attack on teachers as both professionals and human beings.

This is the most unfortunate of circumstances because when it comes down to it, parents, teachers, and students all want the same thing: for students to learn. By following these six steps during parent-teacher conferences, teachers ensure that they form a partnership with parents rather than an adversarial relationship fraught with negative emotions and power struggles.


Succeeding With Differentiation

iStock-875574964_masterThis post was originally published on edutopia.org


Student voice is a hot topic in education, which makes me exceedingly happy—I’ve always thought that students were an educational stakeholder group that needed to be heard.

However, as a former teacher beginning my second year as a full-time consultant working with K–12 educators on differentiating instruction, I’ve come to realize that there’s another group of stakeholders whose voices are as important as students’, if not more so: teachers.

HONORING TEACHER EXPERTISE

For several decades now, differentiation has been on many school districts’ lists of prioritized initiatives. The workshops I facilitate are typically not teachers’ first professional learning on differentiation. Yet differentiation is still an initiative in many districts, not a long-settled policy. Why?

The answer to this question is multifaceted. The traditional A-F grading system doesn’t lend itself easily to differentiation, and tracking students undermines it. However, there’s another significant roadblock to enacting successful, sustainable differentiation initiatives: the pervasive tendency of professional learning facilitators to dismiss teacher voice.

Such facilitators (whether that’s me, an administrator, an instructional coach, or a fellow teacher) are often guilty of inadvertently disregarding participants’ sentiments of struggle. We view these struggles as resistance instead of listening to what teachers say and differentiating our instruction for teachers’ needs accordingly.

In my experience, most examples of teacher resistance are about valid claims, not unfounded complaints. And sometimes the struggles teachers face are with specific practices that are cornerstones of differentiation, which presents a conundrum.

In an effort to help break the cycle of endless differentiation PD and find solutions for common differentiation obstacles, I’ve worked with many teachers to create work-arounds that accomplish the intended goal of the problematic practice and also respect teachers’ professionalism, as illustrated here with two examples.

OBSTACLE 1: PRE-ASSESSMENT

Common teacher sentiment: “Pre-assessments take too long to administer, and they frequently just show that  the majority of the class has not mastered the material.”

The plain truth: Pre-assessments can take a lot of instructional time and sometimes provide teachers with little usable data.

Intended goal of pre-assessment: Teachers can use evidence from pre-assessments to plan instruction based on student need. The pre-assessment data will show teachers (among other things) which students have already mastered the material, so teachers can provide them with enrichment, which could take the form of anchor projects co-designed by the teacher and student, or challenges that allow for students to go deeper into the learning intentions by asking more complex questions.

Solution: Differentiate the pre-assessment. Instead of giving all students a time-intensive, whole unit pre-assessment, begin by giving all students a quick formative assessment on the first topic covered in the unit of study. Data from this formative assessment immediately tell teachers which students may have already mastered the content for the entire unit.

Then, give the full unit pre-assessment only to the small group of students who have shown that they have some mastery of the unit content. The results from this pre-assessment will tell teachers if they need to offer students enrichment on all or just some parts of the unit.

For each subsequent topic in the unit, offer quick formative assessments to the students who did not show mastery on the formative assessment covering the first topic. Offer topic enrichment on these topics to students as the need appears.

OBSTACLE 2: GROUP WORK

Common teacher sentiment: “I struggle with group work and prefer direct instruction.”

The plain truth: About 10 years ago, direct instruction began to get a really bad rap. Teachers were told they needed to be “the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.” However, research indicates that direct instruction is highly effective for student learning.

Intended goal of group work: Students work collaboratively to process and deepen their understanding of content.

Solution: Use a hybrid of direct instruction and cooperative learning. Let’s begin by clarifying a couple of points.

First, direct instruction and lecture are not synonymous. John Hattie has notedthat direct instruction done correctly has a greater impact on student learning than group work done incorrectly. Direct instruction is effective when the teacher instructs in short segments, with frequent checks for understanding and opportunities for students to process, practice, and receive feedback.

Second, group work and cooperative learning are not synonymous. Group work is an ambiguous term that encompasses everything from students working on a project together to students sitting in a group but working individually. Cooperative learning is structured so that all group members have equal opportunities to engage in appropriately rigorous learning.

With these clarifications in mind, to create a hybrid of direct instruction and cooperative learning in your classroom, follow these steps:

  1. Use formative assessment evidence to determine which students have mastered the material you will cover during direct instruction.
  2. Offer any qualifying students enrichment.
  3. Continue direct instruction as planned with the remainder of your students.
  4. Build in breaks in instruction (every 7–12 minutes depending on the age of your students) to check for understanding and give students an opportunity to practice and process.
  5. Incorporate cooperative learning structures like Think-Pair-Share or gallery walks during the breaks in direct instruction.

IN THE END

All teachers want their students to succeed, and all teachers try to make this happen. That is all differentiation is. We complicate differentiation by not allowing ourselves to be provisional with how we apply the foundational pieces of differentiated instruction.

Instead, if we address these four questions in our instructional planning, differentiation will always be the result: What do my students need? How do I know? What will I do to meet their needs? How do I know if what I’m doing is working?


Questions about differentiation? Connect with Lisa here or on Twitter.  You can also check out Student-Driven Differentiation: 8 Steps To Harmonize Learning and previous blog posts on differentiation.

Would you hire one of your third-graders? I did.

 

This post was written by a guest blogger, my husband, Keith:)

When I was a third-grade teacher, the beginning of every school year was pretty much the same. I did my best to relax and recharge in July, and as soon as August arrived, my brain shifted back into school-mode. Like the sound of an alarm clock, early August would mean the arrival of the “Welcome Back” email from our school district HR department outlining my classroom assignment, building information, and initiatives I would be involved in during the year. I received this same email every year, over and over again, knowing very well that this email was my signal to get back into teacher mode.

But, with the monotony of the operational aspects of a new school year came the adrenaline rush about everything that lay ahead of me. I was always most excited to meet my new students.

At the beginning of each school year, I always felt it was important to try and see each child as their best adult self. Maybe I was teaching the next Bill Gates? Or, the next Axl Rose? Or, maybe just the next Keith Westman? How would I want these “soon-to-be-adults” to remember their year with me, their teacher?

I realized this past year, that the 2002–03 school year was completely different than any other school year.

That year, a student named Samuel entered my third-grade class. He was very much like my other students: a bit nervous (because who wouldn’t be a little nervous having a 6’ 6” male teacher), eager to please, and generally happy about being back in school with their friends.

Samuel, like every student, had many strengths and passions one of which was his tenacity for perfection. I speak one language- English (the north side of Chicago dialect). I never was able to pronounce his last name with the perfect Mandarin Chinese tones that made his name special to him. Samuel made sure to give me every tip and suggestion as to how to make that happen.

But, like all other years, at the end of the school year, Samuel moved onto fourth grade and then transferred to another school for middle school.

I, too, did some growing up after that school year. I taught another year of third-grade, then took a district-level position as an Instructional Technology Coordinator, and then became a middle school principal (back with Samuel and his classmates from my third-grade class).

In 2008, Samuel graduated from my middle school and headed off to high school. That same year, I left working IN schools to join my junior high friend who created these edtech products called AppliTrack and K12JobSpot (you’ve probably all used them). So, both Samuel and I started new journeys- he began high school and I began a new career in edtech.

Samuel and I didn’t keep in touch over the years. The last time we saw one another, I was Samuel’s teacher-turned-principal- our last interaction was me handing him his elementary school diploma on an extravagant (and maybe a bit gaudy) auditorium stage.

But, one day last year, Samuel connected with me on LinkedIn.

It turns out that Samuel, once a tenacious third-grade student of mine, grew up to be a tenacious software developer during the same period of time that I grew my career in the edtech industry. Samuel was working for a large Department of Defense contractor and I was the COO of Otus, an edtech company in Chicago. Samuel had connected me with one of his friends who was looking to work in the edtech industry. We ultimately hired his friend. Then, eight months later, we hired Samuel.Sam and I today!

When I think back to my days as a teacher, I always felt I learned much more from my students than I believed they were learning from me. I can tell you that nothing has changed. Each day at Otus, Samuel and his colleagues teach me more than I believe I help them. Moreover, I never would have expected that not only would I be in a completely different line of work than what I was doing in 2002, but I would be doing that work with a student in my class!

What’s the moral of this story? Life is amazing.

It’s true that Samuel and I both grew up over the past 16 years, in different ways and in different places. Yet, I can tell you that the bond we share, having learned and laughed together for many our formative years, and being able to pick up where we left off so long ago, is something most people will never experience and it’s something I really cherish.

As you head into the new school year, remember that you never know where life will take you or your students. Enjoy each moment and allow yourself the pleasure of daydreaming where you and your students will be in five, ten, and 16 years from now. You never know, you might end up hiring one of your third-graders and continuing your lifelong journey of learning, together.

P.S. He’s still helping me work on those Mandarin Chinese tones:)

Want To Differentiate Instruction? Use Your Time Wisely.

student driven differentiation roadmap 7:24

This article was originally published in Education Week Teacher.

For more on any of the content below, check out Student-Driven Differentiation: 8 Steps to Harmonize Learning in the Classroom (Corwin).


What do you find to be the biggest obstacle to effectively differentiating instruction?

Got your answer? Was it “time?”

If so, your reply mirrors the most common response I receive from the teachers I coach on differentiation.

Differentiating instruction, a process that involves recognizing individual students’ varying learning needs and interests and actively planning lessons around them, is key to helping all students learn and grow. It’s become an important part of personalized learning that many teachers are adapting in a variety of ways.

But it isn’t always easy. When I began my journey to differentiate instruction for my own students, lack of time was my greatest obstacle, too. However, over time (pun intended) I came to realize that, more often than not, the issue is not a lack of time but rather how time is spent.

Time Is More Than Hours and Minutes

“The key is not spending time, but investing it,” author Stephen R. Covey once said. A video on the concept of time by Entrepreneur Magazine echoes that sentiment. The video’s narrator explains that the reason time-management strategies tend to fail is that they are designed to manage clock time, and humans live in real time. For example, one may have a planning period from 11 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. each day, but how many of those 40 minutes are actually spent planning?

Similarly, one may “teach” for 360 minutes each day, but how many of those minutes are spent using evidence from formative assessments (one of the key components of differentiation) to inform our next steps?

Is it possible that we teachers aren’t using our time as efficiently as we could?

This rhetorical question is not a critique of teachers. Teaching is hard. It’s almost impossible to be “on” every minute of every day. In my days as a classroom teacher, there were many times that I sat down behind my desk for a few minutes simply because I needed to sit down. (This almost always happened just as an administrator popped into my classroom, making me immediately feel guilty.)

diff journey quote

However, when I talk about efficient use of time, I am referring to the chronic “time killers” that reduce our productivity, such as checking social media on smartphones, online shopping, and water-cooler chats with colleagues. For the average worker, these time killers cumulatively add up to one day of lost work each week.

To get a better handle on how we spend our time, we should track and analyze how every minute of a day is spent and then create a plan to work more productively. But that’s only the beginning of differentiating instruction. To do so successfully requires additional steps, such as understanding what differentiation really entails and collaborating with colleagues.

The Link Between Differentiation and Teacher Collaboration

Much has been written about the need for educators to break out of their silos and collaborate with other teachers. A quick Google search for “teaching in silos” produces close to 500,000 hits, including many explanations for why working in silos is detrimental to educators.

Planning for instruction in isolation isn’t helpful, because it’s: 1) simply not efficient, and 2) less effective in producing positive student outcomes. Moreover, if a person is task-oriented as opposed to goal-oriented, he or she is statistically less likely to be successful, according to two Cornell University researchers. Therefore, when teachers sit down to differentiate, they are often frustrated by the feeling that differentiation is just “one more thing” they have to do.

Conversely, when teachers sit down in teams to identify student needs and create action plans to meet them, they find that their plans organically result in differentiated instruction. The process no longer feels like one more thing, but is the outcome of solid planning and aligns to almost all other education initiatives that work to ensure student success (such as standards-based grading or common assessments).

However, according to a recent study from the RAND Corporation, teachers still overwhelmingly say that they do not have enough time to collaborate with their colleagues. Only 31 percent of teachers surveyed reported that they have sufficient time to collaborate with other teachers, despite many having the opportunity to meet with their colleagues on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis.

In order to ensure that team time is most productive, I recommend that teacher teams—comprised of grade-level or department colleagues—use a structure that guides their meetings and helps them stick to agenda items that are directly connected to student-driven differentiation (see the roadmap for student-driven differentiation I created as one example). A roadmap or other such framework can help teacher teams focus their time to identify desired learning outcomes, analyze student performance, construct plans to meet the needs of students at varying levels, and, most importantly, incorporate the input of teachers’ other collaborators in learning: our students.

By using a structure to guide our team time, we can guarantee that our energy is spent effectively, and that we are doing all that we can to meet the needs of our students.

How to Overcome Common Anxieties About Differentiation

boards-2040575_1920.jpg

This post was originally published on Corwin Connect.


In my work with teachers across the country on differentiating instruction, it appears that when it comes to differentiation, teachers fall into one of three categories:

  • teachers who want to differentiate instruction for their students but don’t know how
  • teachers who have tried to differentiate for their students and “give-up” because they found differentiating instruction was too time-consuming, didn’t produce their desired results, or they faced some other insurmountable obstacle
  • teachers who are masterful at differentiating instruction, yet still feel like they aren’t doing it “right”

I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on what contributes to these mindsets and have concluded that the following factors shape the perspective of teachers in all of the aforementioned categories and have found that when teachers apply student-driven differentiation, their fears are alleviated.

DOING RIGHT BY KIDS

Last January I attended a meeting on differentiated instruction led by the guru of differentiation, Carol Ann Tomlinson. During that meeting, Carol said something that summarized differentiation in a way that stripped away any ambiguity and got right to the heart of what differentiation actually is.

Carol said that rather than asking teachers to identify examples of teachers providing differentiated instruction, we should ask teachers to identify examples teachers “doing right by kids.”

And, that is precisely what differentiation is: doing right by kids. Some of the terms that describe the methods and strategies we can use to differentiate sound a little bit scary (curriculum compacting, formative assessment readiness, etc). But, if we can allow ourselves to dismiss the lingo for a minute and examine our actions; what we find is that if we just ask ourselves, “Am I doing right for my students?” and then act accordingly, differentiating instruction isn’t so intimidating after all.

In fact, it is likely that the teachers described in category 3 above (those who are masterful differentiators and still don’t feel like they are doing it right) may feel inadequate because they don’t have the vocabulary to describe the actions they take to differentiate. Similarly, those who struggle to implement differentiation in their classrooms may get caught up in understanding educational jargon rather than focusing on actualizing the steps toward differentiation one by one (see roadmap above).

DIFFERENTIATION IS NOT A GOAL

Contrary to popular belief, differentiation is not something else teachers “have to do.” Rather, differentiation is what happens when teachers’ focus is student growth: academic growth, social-emotional growth, and growth of students’ metacognitive awareness. When teachers ask themselves these questions:

  • What do my students need?
  • How do I know?
  • How will I attempt to address this need?
  • How will I know if my actions worked?

and plan for instruction based on the answer to these questions, differentiation is the natural byproduct. In short, differentiation is not the goal: it is the result of actions taken to ensure student needs and readiness are considered, addressed and assessed accordingly to ensure the methods teachers choose to address those needs are effective.

To address the needs of students, teachers tend to differentiate one or more of the following: the content (what students learn), the process (how students acquire information), the product (how students demonstrate learning), and the learning environment (where and with whom students learn).

THE IDEA THAT TEACHERS SHOULDN’T ASK STUDENTS WHAT THEY NEED

I am often amazed when I am having a candid conversation with a teacher who is struggling to meet a student’s needs and can’t seem to pinpoint what the student needs. I typically ask the teacher, “Have you asked your student what he/she needs?” And, more often than not, the teacher’s response is, “No”.

The fear of asking students directly what they need is the fear we (as a field) need to overcome first. Teachers put a lot of pressure on themselves to “figure things out,” yet when they are stuck, they feel guilty and defeated. And, sometimes, the feelings of guilt and defeat prevent them from asking the students themselves.

However, when teachers cut themselves a little slack and go directly to the source (the students) and ask them specific questions about what they need (AKA Student-Driven Differentiation) they find that by incorporating student voice to drive how that differentiate instruction takes the pressure off of them a simultaneously increases student engagement and ownership of learning.

Sometimes just knowing what questions to ask students is the hardest part about incorporating student voice to differentiate instruction. But these questions need not be overthought. They are simply the questions to which teachers need an answer, questions like: what intrigues you about this concept/topic? Why do you find this content boring? If you could show your understanding of this concept/topic in any way, how would you show it?

There really aren’t any “right” or “wrong” questions to ask students as long as the questions garner valuable information for the teacher to create an action plan with the student to ensure they learn.


For more information on items discussed in this post and additional differentiation topics, continue your student-driven differentiation journey by reading Student-Driven Differentiation: 8 Steps To Harmonize Learning in the Classroom now available for purchase on Corwin.com and amazon.com.

Questions about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter.