Every teacher needs a teaching tool kit. A bunch of go to teaching strategies that they can use to carry out their amazing lessons. If you are beginning with inquiry you may need to refill your teacher bag of tricks with some new ideas.
Because sometimes we get stuck in a rut and forget that there is more than the think-pair-share strategy that will help us teach.
Remember back to a time when you were a fresh-faced university student just entering teachers college with hopes, dreams, a mountain of debt and this naive notion that you could change the world one read aloud at a time?
Then you start teacher’s college and you are suddenly hit with ‘NO FREE TIME’ the work overload, and you are hit with all of these ideas for teaching strategies but with no real idea how or why they would be used.
but the only one you do remember is that easy think-pair-share activity.
So you take that and for the last few years have relied on that one strategy more than any others.
or all of that could just be me ?!?!
There are so many great teaching strategies that help support inquiry-based learning in the classroom.
This is what we talked about during EP31 on Teaching with Inquiry Live
Watch It – Listen To It – Read the Transcript here
Here are some strategies that you may want to incorporate into your daily instruction.
This is a three stage questioning activity. First, you pose a question to your classYou give them time to process and think in silence. Then you have them share and work out their ideas with a partner. Finally, students share their thinking with the whole group
A great idea from Visible Thinking is think-puzzle-explore. This is an activity to help students identify background knowledge, begin to question, then make a plan to find answers. It is perfect to use as a provocation during the engage stage of inquiry.
This is a teaching strategy that I use with my students to help them dig deeper and ask more meaningful questions, arrive at deeper conclusions, make connections with what they are learning. After students share you ask them to explain their thinking with phrases like ‘why might it be that way’ ‘why do you think that’. Asking them to share-clarify-share-clarify 3-5 times helps students to come to much more meaningful conclusions and go beyond the surface.
Question Sort Matrix
If you are looking for a ‘now what’ after you have finished your wonder wall. This strategy will help you and your students to sort through those questions and evaluate which ones are worth exploring. In a graph you first evaluate the type of question on a horizontal line then you evaluate the questions on how interesting and appropriate they are to dig deeper with.
Connect – Extend – Challenge
When students are in the midst of learning sometimes you need them to focus on what it all means. Using this teaching strategy will help your students to connect new ideas to old ideas. Students connect what they are learning to previous learning, identify how their understanding has changed and explore ideas they still have questions about.
2 Stars and a Wish
Providing students with feedback is important but keeping it focused and manageable is important. Using this teaching strategy has helped me to frame how I provide either oral or written feedback for students. Presented in a compliment sandwich students can learn what they did well and what one next step they need to focus on next.
This is a strategy that I talked about in EP26 of Teaching with inquiry live (Watch It – Listen To It – Read The Transcript). Students need to be explicitly taught how to contribute to a discussion and IDEAS is a strategy that you can use to help them remember the ways they can contribute.
Sometimes you just don’t want to see another sticky note. I get it!! So sometimes I use a graffiti write instead. Students write their ideas all over the paper to answer a question, share their thoughts, or engage in a new concept. When students are done you have a paper that is full of student ideas going any direction possible.
This is one of those popular teaching strategies from teachers college. It is a great way to cover a lot of information in a shorter amount of time. This is especially important when you want students exposed to lots of different ideas but perhaps they don’t need expert knowledge in all areas. I often use this strategy when looking at habitats, energy sources, or physical regions. This activity requires a high degree of accountability on all students. Sometimes this isn’t always possible and some students need more support. Hear about how I handle this issue in ep31 of Teaching With Inquiry Live.
This is a great teaching strategy tool that was popularized by this great resource and amazing teacher Jennifer Runde. She uses learning journals in her interactive math journal resource on TPT. This idea of getting students to reflect on their learning is an important task that I include in my student conferences as well as my science and social studies units. Students identify the learning goal, and what they know about it before learning. After some new knowledge has been gained students reflect on what they have learned and show that they have learned it through this journal.
Do you want more details on the teaching strategies listed here? These slides and more are in my inquiry teaching library.
Beyond the obvious that is we have kids in our room that
would not be successful if we did not differentiate then there are many other
reason why we should do it too.
Every student is different
Engagement leads to success
Helps our most vulnerable students
Sets students up for the 21st learning environment
Flexiblity is more valuable than rigidity
Here is why I differentiate
Well in all reality I have to. In the past five years I have yet to have a
classroom where the majoirity of my students were working at the same
level. Differentiation does not mean
that I only do this for regular stream vs special education stream students. It
mean to do it for all students.
In a combined great classroom that has more than 50% of boys
spanning over to grades. With an
average of one third requiring special education needs not including a variety of mental health
issues, differentiation becomes very important.
Why I differentiate
because it makes my life easier.
When I differentiate I have less classroom management issues, more work is completed, student like learning, and I can reach more students easily without
planning multiple activities for the same learning task.
I differentiate because it lets me watch a student who is completely
disengaged with writing who refuses to write become one of my most creative
I differentiate because it allows me to see the student
hiding in the corner for who she really is a fun creative and engaging kid who
has a lot of value to add but in her own way.
I differentiate because boys learn differently than girls
and to not understand this means alienating more than 50% of my class.
I differentiate because I teach two grades at once so I need to understand that all of the students in my class are starting from a different starting point. Not doing this would mean pulling my hair out. I don’t have time to plan 2-6 different seperate lesson for each period to meet the needs of all my students so instead I plan one and make it open ended with multiple entry points so that it is accessible for all of my students. Plan once, flexible delivery, multiple entry and exit points, everyone learning.
I differentiate because when kids are bored they act out. They’re smart, why would they want to do something if it doesn’t somehow connect
with what they’re supposed be learning.
They can see through busywork and they need a purpose for learning.
I differentiate because in the world that we are living in
collaboration, communication, creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and
more are essential skills the students need to develop in order to be
successful in their future world
I differentiate because the parents of my lowest achieving
students just want what’s best for their kids and they cry when their kids are
labeled with special education needs.
By differentiating I can show them the special-education diagnosis is
not a life sentence. Their children can
and will achieve when given the correct supports in the classroom.
I differentiate because I like to see students become
confident in their ability. And accept that they may learn differently but can
still learn. It is a powerful door that is opened for their potential. Recognizing that all students can achieve is a core belief that is essential when working
with students. Although I may not be
able to breakthrough all barriers that inhibit student success, and I may not be the person to do this for
every student, I try. And with some success I am able to make a difference for
those that are ready.
I differentiate because I want to show students how they can differentiate for themselves to advocate
for their own learning. When a student
understands how they learn, you make it possible to advocate for themselves. They can then better access what is
being presented to them independently. This makes the student’s life the life of their future
I differentiate because being flexible and accommodating is
actually much easier than being rigid and inflexible. The simple act of being flexible
in the classroom, although difficult at first to shift to this mindset in the
classroom, in practice makes teaching, planning and learning easier. Inquiry is an amazing approach to teaching
and learning and I would encourage you to walk through the fire and see what
amazing things can happen when you give it a try.
I differentiate because it makes a difference. I make a difference. It helps my students make a difference. And this is essentially why I became a
teacher. Differentiation makes me a
Join the Conversation
Why do you differentiate.
Hop on over to my Facebook page and join in on the conversation by
finishing this sentence.
If you teach in a classroom today than you are familiar with the term Differentiation. And if you are like me you may have a love hate relationship with this term.
Classrooms today are complex and trying to teach to the individual instead of the group feels overwhelming. One of my of the realities of my teaching job depends on my ability to differentiated instruction.
For the month of March I invite you to join me as I dig deeper into
What differentiation means in the classroom
How to do it effectively without pulling your hair out.
A bit about why
As a classroom teacher of a combined grade class with often a high proportion of students with special education needs I am no stranger to a difficult class that comes to me at all different levels. Being that it is just me in the classroom with all of my students I have learned some tips and tricks to differentiate and hone my skills in order to survive.
As a result I have become one of those crazy teachers that actually enjoys teaching splits and this is primarily because it helps to support differentiated instruction.
Differentiation and bowling?
In my research into digging deeper into differentiation I discovered a lot of connections between teaching and bowling. I think when most people go out for a fun night of bowling they try to throw the ball right down the middle.
“Try to roll the ball down the middle and get most of the students.”
But if we bowl or teach like this then we are missing the point of differentiation. Shelley Moore has looked into this further and when talking to pro bowlers she found that they don’t aim for the middle but aim for the pins that are hardest to knock down. She has helped me to instead look at this comparison to bowling differently.
“Teaching is like bowling because in order to knock down all the pins you need try to knock down the hardest to hit pins first.” – Adapted from Shelley Moore
So what does it mean?
Differentiation is good for all but necessary for some and this is why when planning you should plan with the hardest to reach students first and understand that some of the things you might do to teach these hard to reach students will work for all kids even the ones in the middle.
Ways to differentiate
According to Carol Ann Tomlinson. There are four ways that you can differentiate a learning task for your students. You can differentiate
o the product
o the process
o the content
o the environment
In my first video in my differentiated instruction series I outline what differentiation is and what key values are important for teacher to begin to differentiate. We dig deeper into ways lessons or projects can be differentiated and factors that are important to consider when differentiation. Also in this video series I have included a complimentary companion guide which gives a page overview of the four components to differentiate and a differentiated weekly planning page to help you keep your differentiation strategies in the front and center when you plan.
If you like this video please like it and share it with others via facebook, twitter, or pinterest.
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Whenever I check the teacher message boards that I am a part of, I always see many requests for ideas for culminating tasks for the various units that a teacher teaches throughout the year. This stems, I believe, from the backward design process where teachers begin to plan their new unit of study by first planning the culminating activity. However, if you follow this blog, you may have realized that I am moving away from the teacher-directed model of instruction and moving towards an inquiry approach where the students and teachers authentically develop the culminating task within some standard parameters.
The problem, as I see it, is not in having a culminating task but in planning an event or task that limits a student’s creativity or expression in order to do what the teacher tells them. Placing restrictions on what students do to show you what they learned is where you are restricting student creativity. I know that there is a lot of anxiety as teachers when we don’t have complete and total control. I get it, I myself am a recovering control freak (ok maybe not so much recovering), but I have changed the aspects that I control within the classroom. At the end of the unit, if every student’s product looks the same then how creative and differentiated is that really.
1. Plan the criteria, not the product
It is possible for students to design a variety ways to show their learning that respects their interests and individuality while all still meeting the same expectations. These little projects are called “show what you know” projects. With these we make a list of concepts that student need to know about these are generally derived from our learning throughout the unit. It is then the student’s responsibility to design a project that meets these criteria. How they present it is not as important as what they present.
2. Fun means differentiated
Many times as teachers are requesting help to find project ideas, they are also requesting fun and engaging activities for their students. Generally, as teachers, we are not interested in boring our students and making learning disengaging. However, we teach individuals, not robots and their interests are their own. If you want them engaged, let them choose the format. At first, many students will probably pick traditional presentation strategies. However, throughout the year as one or two students begin to push the traditional boundaries other students will start to take more risks in their style to pursue their own interests that reflect their skills. We have to remember that in our classrooms there are many students who have strengths in different areas and those that do not fit well in a traditional classroom will struggle with traditional tasks but can and will amaze you with their ability to show you what they know in alternate ways such as using Minecraft, designing a song or dance, or creating a website.
3. Student-led inquiry
Inquiry means that students are helping to lead and own learning. They are not leading their learning if where they are going and what they are doing is already mapped out. This does not mean that we don’t have to plan because we do. There will be certain concepts that are essential to building their knowledge and understanding that they can learn what it is that they are supposed to learn. However, these are general. If you have ever seen my units on TPT you will know that they generally follow the same format. Provocation/Wonderwall-> Big Idea / Questions -> Building Background Knowledge and Understanding Lessons-> Knowledge Building Circles -> Reflecting Activities -> General Research Project -> Open Ended Sharing of Knowledge. You will also notice that the pages are general enough that there are very few question and answer rote learning pages. Students are generating their own knowledge and reflecting on this. However, the focus and scope of these lessons allow a variety of different avenues and flexibility for the teacher so that each year your focus could be a little different. The shift relies on the teacher understanding that they are guiding the learning not giving the learning.
4. Share the workload
there is a quote that is often used with inquiry that talks about the workload. The teacher should not be working harder than the students. In reality, this is true. If you are working so hard to plan every little detail then simply just giving the students work. This is not inquiry. Inquiry involves students and teachers working together. If you want an engaging activity for your students, ask them to tell you what they should do. Plan it together. Instead of taking hours and hours at home planning a lesson for students. Stop planning at home and plan with them during knowledge builiding circles. Even if that means that you pull out the curriculum document and list the things that they need to know about and asking questions about these things and then going from there. Let them help you plan it. Do it with them, and save yourself some time.
5. Learn the content, deeply
This has to be the biggest advantage for me in planning detailed units for TPT. It has forced me to really learn the content. Stop spending your time planning the unit and the lessons and learn the content and not at an elementary level but at a high school level. Read the Wikipedia page on tension and compression and challenge yourself to be able to understand it. This will help you when you go off script in class. If all you know is what is on the lesson plan then it will be that much harder to teach this using an inquiry perspective. You need to know your content at a much more complex level. This is why it takes me so much longer to create a complete unit and why I include teacher background notes for you so that you can understand the concepts that you teach.
Are you ready for inquiry? Use this quick checklist to help you get started and plan ahead for inquiry. It’s in my free resource library along with many other tools that you can access free. Just sign up below.
If you want to connect with me about inquiry why not join me on facebook inside my teaching with inquiry facebook group. Join the conversation every Monday at 9 pm as we talk about all things inquiry and teaching.
Creating a wonder wall is a great tool to use in inquiry to build a space where students can
get students thinking
share their learning throughout their inquiry
keep ideas concepts and questions visible
interact with others
share standards, learning goals, and assessment criteria
share evidence of learning
This post is part 1 in my inquiry series. To learn more about inquiry click through to see my many other posts about inquiry.
Also why not connect and stay up to date on all things inquiry by joining my teaching with inquiry facebook group.
What’s a Wonder Wall?
Wonder wall boards are built at the beginning of a unit and are kept alive throughout student learning. These are living examples of student learning throughout the unit.
Wonder wall boards are built at the beginning of a unit and are kept alive throughout student learning. These are living examples of student learning throughout the unit.
Building this board starts when you begin to provoke students thinking about the topic you are beginning to study. Students will look at artifacts and ask questions about what they are seeing. They activate prior knowledge and share this with others in a knowledge building circle.
Type of Display Board
This is an example of the board that I use for my wonder wall. It is a trifold board. One side is for my fourth graders and the other side for my fifth graders.
Sometimes I use these trifold boards and other times I just use my bulletin boards but this is great if you are lacking wall space and it also works to move around the classroom for students to use when you are working with them.
Here are some of the wonder wall boards from my classroom
I use artifacts to help provoke conversations and interests in a topic at the beginning of a unit. Artifacts can be many things
Most of the time I use pictures that I print out in colour. Especially if I don’t have access to real life objects.
If I have easily accessible artifacts like my rock collection or some small appliances from home I might use those as well.
The Role of Questions
To use a wonder wall at the beginning of an inquiry means that you provoke students thinking about a topic. Providing them with artifacts that gets them thinking.
Having them ask questions is the next step.
Students will take sticky notes and ask questions about what they see. Use these doodle notes in my resource library to help your students keep track of what they are thinking.
As students share thier background knowledge and their questions the board is built. These questions are the driving force behind your learning.
Group their questions into themes, use them to develp learning goals and success criteria and to find gaps in their knowledge that may require a teacher directed lesson to fill.
Put student questions beside the artifact or picture on the wonder wall and throughout the learning strive to answer these questions and keep track of unanswered questions.
It is through student questions that learning is constructed.
Another thing I learned while implementing my wonder wall is that when students ask questions I really really want to answer them. I want to share my knowledge and have them soak it all in and teach them something. I am a teacher!! this is what I do!! I know stuff and teach about it!! STOP STOP STOP. I had to get myself to stop!
This was not what inquiry was about. Sure, I am a teacher, but I am not as powerful or as knowledgable as Google. I mentally needed to stop myself and concentrate on not answering their questions but to ask them to add their questions to the Wonder Wall and allow them to figure out the answers for themselves.
I knew that I was going to lead them through my lessons to these answers but I needed to stop just giving them the information. They would now have to start working for this information because I was not going to give them an easy way out.
Sure later on in the unit, we would have a discussion on certain topics and I would explain different concepts to them. BUT we did this together. I was not teaching them I was facilitating their learning.
Giving them the tools to let them find the answers to their questions on their own.
And you know what…a funny thing happened.
They started learning faster than I had expected.
They took those questions home and found out the answers to them. They would read books during independent time and find the answers to our questions. They were discussing these things with their parents at home.
It was amazing to see how excited they were about learning these concepts which in turn also allowed our discussion at school to become more vibrant and engaging.
Sure there were times when a teacher directed lesson was necessary especially in the technical aspects of the units. But overall it was great to see them apply their learning in new and interesting ways.
If you would like to see how I made my Wonder Wall for these units check out my Video below
I now include wonder wall cards in most of my units to help teachers get started with artifacts for students and teachers to use to use as a provocation to get started with the units that they are teaching. If you are interested in the cards that were used for the wonder wall on the video you can get them in the two units below.
Learn more about inquiry. Next up in my inquiry series
Teaching science to two grades is always a juggling act. Lots of preparation needs to go into how you are going to teach two separate units to two different grades. I always teach a 4/5 and generally have the students for two years. So combining the units and teaching one lesson like I can in math and language does not work well. So it comes down to focusing on what is important, borrowing strategies from other subjects, organization and teaching independence. I teach in 20-30 min time blocks to each grade. Then they will have to learn independently as they do the task. However over time I have learned that sometimes students miss the point of the lesson this way as I am not there to guide them. However I have learned that there are some key strategies to make sure that the time students are working independently that they are learning the stuff I want them to learn.
Focus on What is Important
It all starts with the assessment and the cycle of assessment 1) Learning Goals and Success Criteria
First thing I do is share my learning goals and success criteria. For each lesson for each grade I post it share it, make a big deal about it. Students should always know what they are doing and why they are doing it. I also make sure I post it. I have a science board. All things Science are on this board if students are not so sure then they can look here. They also know that if it is posted on this board they will and can be assessed on it. They must know the topics listed on this board. I start with the daily goals on the board (smartboard or chart cart) Once students have learned this we then transfer it onto the science board.
Today we are learning to identify and describe different types of Energy
– we will read about different types of energy
– we will conduct experiments to see different types of energy in action
– we will use this experiment to help us describe each type of energy
– we will reflect on what we learned to help us figure it all out.
2) Borrow from Math
So the latest instructional strategy in math is to use a three part lesson plan in math to teach different concepts
Working on It
I thought if it works in math why not in science. So I started with this question:”How do I build reflection into science so that I can use it for formative assessment purposes?” My solution…
these are very popular on TPT right now and I thought how do I use these in authentic ways. I don’t just want cut and paste activities that have no meaning. I did struggle with why would I spend the time having students assemble these if they could simple answer a few questions in their notebook. However I like the look of them and feel that students will want to use them and decorate them. I will structure my notebooks in this way. On the left students will put their notes and interactive notebook activities on here. On the Right students will complete their reflection activity. Many of the interactive notebooks are based on the 3R reflection response that I completed in teachers college. The 3R’s represent Retell, Relate, Reflect. The left side represents the Retell portion and the right side represents the reflection section. The relate portion is weaved into both aspects. I find that with student reflection and retell I can gauge what students have learned and where we should focus. I don’t mark these, but I do read them and make note of student needs. They are great formative assessment.
Ok this is a goal and always will be. It is inevitable that as a teacher you must organize and organize well. As a split grade teacher there is no option you must put on your OCD hat and organize like a crazy person. (this is why everything in my classroom has labels, students have numbers, books are colour coded, and why I hate paper. Even your planning needs to be organized. For this purpose I am constantly making tables and charts to organize my lessons and feel like I live with timers dinging and signaling me to change what I am doing. I also feel that whenever possible you should utilize student and parent volunteers. I know I cannot do this on my own but I do have very helpful students (who love to stay inside instead of going out in the snow) or parent volunteers. I use these volunteers to organize my centers, fill buckets, order papers, photocopy or whatever else I need help with. I know I cannot do it all so I ask for help from whom ever is available and willing to help.
I have blogged before about my tips for teaching a split grade here but in science this is a very important skill. For a science class in a split grade students are often not completing a quiet activity. They are engaged in hands on activities or group work. This means that it is imperative that students learn how to work together and work independently as a group without you. You have to be okay with a bit of noise and you need multiple teaching spaces. Independent students does not mean quiet students independent students means engaged students. Check out my guide to Teaching Independence Free on TPT.
I have finally finished my next combined unit for my 4/5 plans. In January I go back to work from my maternity leave. If you follow my 4/5 long range plans you would know that I have planned to teach two science units: Rocks and Minerals and Conservation of Energy.