Dear K-7 Staff,
As you all know, CSD is committed to continual improvement. Each year at our annual Staff Retreat and throughout the summer, we examine our current practices and programs and look for ways we can improve as an organization. We use staff, student, and parent input along with our observations as administrators to help set school improvement goals for the coming year.
Last year, we identified several school improvement goals, one of which included keeping our most academically advanced students challenged and showing growth. Most any educator would agree that this is a hefty task, perhaps one of the most daunting challenges we face. We plan to communicate regularly with our parents this year to update them with our research findings and new programs. HOWEVER, we have already found much affirmation for many strategies and practices that we currently use throughout our K-12 program. We are doing MUCH right for our students and we are committed to holding on to the good as we tweak and improve without compromising the mission and vision of inclusive education at CSD. These are great words to remember as CSD parents ask you for updates on this topic. Let them know that updates are coming but don’t doubt that we are doing much well. We have an entire high school full of budding extraordinary young adults thanks to your hard work thus far and we have two classes of alumni who are already doing amazing things. Many of our students are academically advanced thanks to your hard work. More importantly, they are amazing whole people who are intrinsically motivated to find meaning and purpose in their learning and lives.
While we are doing much right with these academically advanced students, we continue to determine how we can best meet their learning needs. As we reflect upon strategies, it is essential that we continue to keep this particular population of students engaged in what Carol Ann Tomlinson (DI expert and guru) often refers to as, “respectful tasks.”
Part of this school improvement goal involves taking the 2015-2016 school year to assess our current practices and renew our knowledge around the educational research and best practices associated with academically gifted education. CSD has always been committed to current research and trends in our field so we will definitely spend the entire year studying the most current research on this topic. As I was re-reading some prominent literature on differentiated instruction, I was struck by something profound – something that I hadn’t thought of in quite some time. Differentiated instruction is also known as “responsive teaching.” Personally, when I think of it in these terms – responsive teaching rather than differentiated instruction – I immediately start to conjure up more authentic approaches to assessment and instruction. Remember, education is not something we are “doing” to children. Education is something that is occurring from within. Therefore, as educators, our job is to truly know our students and match learning tasks to them, not vice versa. We should not expect our kids to conform to our teaching, but we should tailor our instruction to meet the needs of the child. And if we stop and think about it, the only way this can happen is if we, as educators, are engaged in a continuous cycle of assessment. Assessment informs instruction, and without assessing critical factors such as who the children are (socially, emotionally, physically, etc.. – the whole child), how the children learn (learning styles, personality type, cognitive construct, etc…), and what the children know (background knowledge related to content), then there is no way we can effectively succeed in the act of responsive teaching. Without the ongoing assessment (both formal and informal) that occurs daily in our practice, we are nothing more than dispersers of knowledge who may or may not reach our intended audience. We know this level of “knowing” our students is intense and challenging. This is one of many reasons that while schools around our state cut assistant and special programs, CSD hunkered down in the storm to make sure that our student to adult ratio is far better than any public school (and most private schools) in the state. We know that knowing our students takes time and human resources.
So here are a few things for us to consider as we use this school year to review our practice and hone our craft.
Make sure to pre-assess. Pre-assessment truly is the cornerstone of all differentiated instruction. Of course, to pre-assess, we must always remember to “begin with the end in mind” through our backwards design planning. We should have the assessment for any unit made and ready for students before we begin teaching and that assessment should not be a secret. We WANT our students to know where they are headed with their learning and what we expect at the end to show mastery and understanding. From pre-assessment data, we can devise groups and develop tiered assignments. As teachers, we generally have a “gut feeling” about who needs to be challenged, but this is not best practice. We need data to back up our decisions. This is why pre-assessments are an essential starting point in each unit of study. From there, formative assessment takes over. As we progress through the unit, we should anticipate that different students will master the material at different rates. Therefore we must be prepared to reteach and enrich. *Note – please keep in mind that flexible grouping is also a characteristic of DI (differentiated instruction). Flexible grouping is not synonymous with gifted pull-out – something that we are adamantly opposed to at CSD. We provide a “gifted curriculum” for all students and then use responsive teaching to help them attain mastery of the curricular objectives. For more on flexible grouping, click here: http://www.eduplace.com/science/profdev/articles/valentino.html
When differentiating based upon content, use the resources at hand to deliver the next level of instruction. For example, study island is an relatively easy way to offer differentiated homework or practice as you can easily advance students on to the next grade level. Another great resource is the DPI math wiki. Once again, you can search this resource for learning tasks, activities, and assessments that are below or above your current grade level. http://maccss.ncdpi.wikispaces.net/
Start small! Keep in mind that instruction can occur in three different ways: by readiness (or content), by process (how students learn), or by product (how they demonstrate what they know). It is completely overwhelming to think of doing all of this for every single lesson and for every single child! DI is not individualized education as that is just not possible in a public school classroom. However, through DI, students can have a much more individualized experience. The key is to start small. In the 2015-2016 school year, we really want you to examine your math instructional practices closely with a deliberate focus on stretching the high-fliers. Teamwork is also key, so get with your team and devise a plan so that you are working smarter, not harder. Admin would LOVE for either your team or a person on your team to take a planning day in the near future so you could really focus on gathering/developing tasks geared towards that upper 10% of students. Unlike some other subjects, readiness is more relevant in math instruction, so we have to be able to compact curriculum and move students on to the next steps in the learning sequence. In order to do so, we have to be well-versed in the math curriculum not just for our current loop, but subsequent loops. Once again, this can be a daunting task, but working together as a team, we can take the time to dig into the curriculum and devise tasks that meet our high-fliers where they are and take them on to the next level. So sometime in the next week or two, get with your team and make a plan. Admin wholeheartedly supports planning days and would love to help you plan! So please reach out to us.
Lastly, make an effort to consciously communicate with parents about how you are challenging their child. You all are such incredible teachers that you often don’t recognize all that you do on a daily basis to differentiate for your students. It comes second nature to you, so you don’t always point these things out directly to parents in your weekly newsletters and face-to-face conversations. Take some time to reflect on everything you are already doing and make it a point to communicate these best practices to parents. By hearing about your implementation of research-based best practices, parents become even more “wowed” by your teaching excellence! Then at conference time, be sure you have the data and work samples to back it up. This is the key to winning parental trust and strengthening the partnership. But we have to be deliberate about clear and constant communication.
In closing, we want to provide you with a few more resources that will hopefully add to your DI teaching tool belt. I know this is a lot of information, but I promise it will be well worth the time it takes to dig through it. GREAT STUFF HERE!
Google Folder – DI Resources:
In this folder, you will find lesson-planning templates that totally lay out how to plan a differentiated lesson (or unit). There are also resources that give great explanations of DI and offer some wonderful “words” to use when communicating with parents.
Some great websites:
Interview with 2 Gurus (Tomlinson and Wormeli):
NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics): GREAT leveled problems and activities to use in math instruction
Don’t forget to get with your team and decide on a planning day. More specifically, decide on:
-who wants to focus on enrichment tasks that are tailored to the high fliers
-when can you make this happen
-how can admin support you
Admin will be attending your team meetings in the upcoming weeks to review best practices and brainstorm other ideas regarding differentiated instruction and challenging our high fliers. If there is anything we can do to support your efforts in the meantime, please let us know! We love using our teacher brains, so we look forward to thinking and planning with you!
Juli, Leslie, Marianne, Joy, and Connie
The Week at a Glance:
Monday, October 5th:
Christian’s Class to Pines
Randolph to Huntersville Oaks
Juli out – (Sugar Creek Accreditation & NC Charter Conference)
Parent Advisory – 7:30-8:30 p.m. at HS
Tuesday, October 6th:
Teckenbrock to Huntersville Oaks
Darkness to Light Presentation – 6:00-8:00 – MS Media Center
Juli out – NC Charter Conference
Wednesday, October 7th:
Mimi Siadak – Teacher Leader
Staff Meeting – 3:30; Baby Shower for Baby D’Esterre!
Juli out – NC Charter Conference
Thursday, October 8th:
Juli off campus – conducting teacher observations all day at HS
Friday, October 9th:
Round 2 Explore Electives
1st Grade Fairy Tale Ball
October 13 – K-7 Lottery Open House 9:30a.m. and 7:00p.m.
October 14 – Staff Mindfulness Training (Interest Meeting) 3:30
October 16 – CSD Homecoming!
October 21-25 – Community HS Musical – Pippin
October 21 – 5th Grade Proof of Concept; K-7 Staff Meeting
October 22 – Kindergarten Pumpkin Carving 1:00p.m.
October 23 – Elementary Night at HS Football Game
October 28 – K-5 Parade of Fiction
October 28 – Staff Mindfulness Training – Session 1 – Introduction 3:30
October 29 & 30 – Teacher Workdays – Optional Parent/Teacher Conferences
November 2 – Parent Advisory at HS at 7:30 – Cybersafety Guest Speaker
November 3 – K-7 Lottery Open House 9:30a.m.
November 4 – K-7 Staff Meeting; 5th Grade Barrier Island Performances
November 6 – 7th Grade Rube Goldberg Exhibition (MS Gym); 3rd Grade Bones Performance (MS Black Box)
November 10 – Staff Mindfulness Training – Session 2 – Mental Effectiveness – 3:30
November 11 – Veteran’s Day Holiday – NO SCHOOL
November 12-14 – Book Fair
November 13 – 6th Grade Greek Day
November 16 – Teacher Appreciation Luncheon
November 17 – Staff Mindfulness Training – Session 3 – Goals – 3:30
November 17 – MS and HS Band Concert at 7:30 in 8th Grade Theater Space
November 19 – 2nd Grade Performances
November 20 – Africa Day
November 25-29 – Thanksgiving Holidays – NO SCHOOL
December 1 – Staff Mindfulness Training – Session 4 – Priorities 3:30
December 2 – K-7 Staff Meeting