The Use of Differentiated Instruction in Learning EnvironmentsPosted by Theresa Axford on 10/11/2021
Dear Monroe Family,
One of the pillars of our instructional focus bridge is the use of differentiated instruction. You can’t go wrong with this tried and true research based strategy to help students learn. It makes a huge difference in student engagement and helps with mastery of content too. The principle behind differentiation is simple. It posits that students learn differently therefore they need to be given instruction and assignments in a variety of formats so they can choose which way to learn the content and to demonstrate that they have learned it.
One good way to differentiate is through setting up learning stations in the classroom. Students can acquire content in a variety of ways. For instance, they can watch a video, create artwork, read an article, complete puzzles or listen to the teacher teach the lesson, to name a few. To demonstrate they have learned a skill, students can also do a variety of things such as write a narrative, record an interview with one another, make a video or write a skit or poem and act it out. Imagination is the only thing limiting the opportunities for differentiated learning.
I remember clearly a high school class I was teaching with a differentiated lesson. This high school group was learning about figurative language. After the introduction of the figurative language terms, they listened to recorded poems and songs and identified the figurative language, watched videos, read passages from short stories, novels and other genres etc. It was a busy time for them as students. Then they had the opportunity to demonstrate this learning by writing and recording songs (musicians loved this one), answering a paper and pencil test (many students liked this), illustrating with drawings and pictures examples of figurative language (the artists in the group liked this), creating a game (many students also like this mode), making a 3D model (visual learners liked this). It was an exciting and very engaging period of time for them.
I know every teacher has great examples of differentiation of content. Teachers are always looking for good ideas and enjoy getting them from colleagues. If you have done or seen great lessons using differentiation, share them with others. Our parents can always ask our teachers how they are differentiating instruction for their child. It will be an interesting conversation.
Yours in education,
Positive Behavior and Intervention SupportPosted by Theresa Axford on 10/1/2021
One of the ways we support the Whole Child is through our PBIS Program. PBIS stands for Positive Behavior and Intervention Support. We have been using PBIS in Monroe County Schools for a number of years. It’s a research based program that really works.
The program focuses on praise rather than punishment and that’s a very powerful thing. It emphasizes catching students doing what’s right and recognizing them for it and then teaching them expectations for the future. The concept behind teaching expectations is crystal clear. It’s all about preventing problems before they happen. It’s simple when you think about it in operative terms. If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach. If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach. If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach. Conversely, if a child doesn’t know how to behave, what do we do? Punish!! That can’t be right. We must also teach a child who doesn’t know how to behave what our expectations for behavior are. The PBIS philosophy recommends adults must start acknowledging children when they do well, preventing problems by planning and being proactive and teaching children what you want them to do.
Everyone likes to be acknowledged when they do well and that is the PBIS model. Why do businesses like hotels, airlines, and credit cards give reward points? Because they work. To make PBIS effective in a school several things need to be in place. Expectations must be positively stated and expectations must encompass areas where a change is needed. If incivility is a problem then civil responses and actions should be focused on. PBIS when it is used correctly features a positive, inclusive, collaborative environment for students. There is preventive, proactive discipline, and there is consistency in procedures and practices.
I know that many of our parents understand and support PBIS. I think it is a way of helping every child reach their greatest potential and I am proud that we have so many PBIS schools in Monroe County.
Yours in education,
Teaching the "Whole Learner"Posted by Theresa Axford on 9/15/2021
The Monroe County School Board has committed to focusing on the Whole Learner. That is a more complicated statement than it appears to be. We have learned over many years as educators that the cognitive growth of students can only be attained if other factors are taken into consideration as well.
We know the social aspect of schools is very important. Students learn from each other, they play and laugh with one another and they sort out their views of the world as they interact in a variety of ways. There’s also an emotional side to life as a student; how to manage both success and failure, how to persevere in the face of obstacles, how to get along with others. These things are very important when working with students daily in the classroom. Add to the above the importance of good mental health and an understanding of those who have experienced trauma – all the things I have mentioned contribute greatly to the whole learner focus.
It has never been clearer that schools are pillars of our community than when we went to virtual learning in March of 2020 due to the pandemic. We realized just how much our schools and teachers meant to the overall quality of our lives. Schools have long been considered critically important in family life but their essence became more pronounced and palpable when students could no longer attend on a daily basis.
Now we are back in school. And though problems and issues abound, we can still begin the process of establishing routines and activities to bring students back to their rightful opportunities as learners.
As Superintendent, the most important priority for me is creating a sense of safety and belonging for all students. We need schools to be safe havens where learners can stoke their curiosity and where their gifts and talents are unearthed and encouraged. Their love of learning must be tapped so learners can sustain success and well-being throughout their lives.
Our schools must adjust to the needs of the learner rather than forcing the learner to adjust to them. That’s a new way of thinking compared to what school was like when I attended. During my school days, the learner was treated as a vessel and learning was poured into the vessel with no thought of the strengths or needs of the student. In contrast, today, we believe the learner is fully formed with unique talents and skills when they come to us and the learner can be developed and inspired through learning experiences. Now we know bringing out the unique talents and gifts of each child requires creating learning experiences that enlist those native talents and abilities.
In order to have a Whole-Learner focus we must also build strong relationships, for instance the relationship between the learner and the teacher, the learner with other learners and those relationships among and between staff, other educators, parents and caregivers – all of these are critical to foster trust which is a key factor in making learning successful now and into the future.
Yours in education,