Book Club

KIAT Book Club: Differentiation in Practice Ch. 2

Well friends, we’ve reached our second chapter in Carol Ann Tomlinson and Caroline Cunningham Eidson’s Differentiation in Practice.

The first chapter led us through a Language Arts ABC book unit. This chapter focuses on Science and a unit titled What Plants Need. This is nice for me because my fourth grade curriculum has a final unit all about plant growth and changes. Additionally, I have a first unit all about waste, life cycles, and decomposers, etc.

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Beginning this chapter, I was very excited as I find differentiating math and english more straightforward to differentiate as I can always create new centres to focus on students’ varying needs and skills. In social studies and science, I find this more difficult to do.

Much of the differentiation in this chapter has to do with kids working independently or in partners, depending on their varying ability, which I like because it’s easy to implement.

I also liked all of the individual lesson plan ideas as they were fun and hands-on, which I believe is exactly what science should be.

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Another great thing I found from this chapter was having “anchor activities” for kids who have finished their work early. In my classroom, I have some students who finish very quickly and others who are much slower. It’s nice to have unit activities for them to do rather than just having them read a book or work in their “fun duo tangs”.

Overall, I found this chapter to be a very informative and helpful one. Differentiation in Science has been a struggle for me and I do believe this will help a great deal in my plant growth unit as well as other units which a lot of the strategies would work well in.

If you’re interested in the book, here’s the like to it on Amazon. Stay tuned for chapter three!

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Book Club, Curriculum, Elementary

KIAT Book Club: Differentiation in Practice Ch.1

Hello everyone! We finished up Classrooms That Work a couple weeks back and I’ve been so sad without a book for book club! It’s left a bit of a void in my life, so I’ve picked a new one! It’s another from my school’s old library and I think it’s going to be a very helpful one for myself and a lot of other teachers as well.

And the book is … (drumroll, please) … Differentiation in Practice by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Caroline Cunningham Eidson.

The book in question
The book in question

Each chapter in the book focuses on a different unit plan which is differentiated to meet student needs. I like this, not just because I get a chance to read through and potentially implement a new unit, but because I can also pull out different tips and tricks to practice more differentiation in the lessons and units I’ve already planned.

Our first chapter in the book is titled “All About the ABCs: A Language Arts Unit on the Alphabet”. Indeed, it’s a good chapter to begin with as so many kids, whether they come from families who do not read with them, are English Language Learners, have learning disabilities, have cognitive delays, etc. need to receive differentiated instruction in English Language Arts.

Chapter one!
Chapter one!

I find the unit itself is geared toward division one students, so those thriving at a higher grade level could need further differentiation to make the unit more challenging and/or more interesting, but for me, where my students are technically in division two, but all are working in different areas within division one, it’s a great way to have the entire class working on the “same” unit at their own working level.

Further, this chapter discusses the use of learning centres, which I use daily in my classroom for both math and language arts. Indeed, it’s difficult to differentiate without the use of centres and I recommend them all the way through elementary (I know most teachers these days are doing centres into the alter years, but too often, many are stopping them by fourth and fifth grade).

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The “teacher reflection” discusses ways in which she organized the centres so that students at different levels could still use the same materials indifferent ways. Obviously, I LOVE this because it cuts down teacher time/money in buying and/or making supplies for centres. We’re already pressed for time as it is, there’s no need to burden us further!

The unit itself is one I definitely would like to utilize in my own classroom. Indeed, it has students at various levels learning letter sounds, creating words, and writing sentences. Plus, they get to make and share their own book, which tends to be the most fun part of the writing process!

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If you’re interested in the book, here is the link to it on Amazon! Stay tuned for chapter two!

Book Club

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 6

Hello again! We’ve made it to chapter six in Classrooms That Work! Discussed briefly in the previous chapter was incorporating subjects such as Science and Social Studies into reading. Here, our chapter is titled “Science and Social Studies Matter to Struggling Readers” and follows the path one would expect; talking about the importance of subjects other than English for struggling students.

Of course, the centrepiece for the chapter comes from the fact that children are often very interested in Science and Social. They yearn for knowledge and information and simply lack reading skills. Here, we as teachers need to be creative in our teaching strategies to reach all students. Indeed, when kids have a higher desire to access more information on topics of their choosing, they are more likely to want to read and write on the subject at hand.

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The chapter discusses having as much hands-on learning as possible, including field trips and bringing presenters into the classroom.

Additionally, informational texts, including newspaper articles, computer research, textbooks, encyclopedias, and other interesting materials should make up the base of instruction. These are texts kids are drawn to in their desire to learn more on topics of interest.

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Also an interesting suggestion is something called “integrated days”. I find this interesting as I am an advocate for doing away with rigid subjects and integrating them all. On integrated days, the book discusses dedicating the entire day to a topic of interest rather than to designated subjects. I like the idea overall and would be interested in incorporating it into the classroom.

If you’re interested in looking further into the book, here’s the link to it on Amazon. We’re nearing the close now, back again in two weeks with chapter seven!

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KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 5

Guess what?! We’ve reached the inevitable phonics chapter in Classrooms That Work! We all knew it had to come; the chapter all about what the book itself has had enough of. Of course, the book has not been telling us phonics is useless in itself; it’s been telling us that the way in which so many teachers have been teaching it is flawed. Here, we’re given different (fun!) ways in which to teach kids letter and letter-group sounds.

One of the big things this chapter discusses is word walls. As you may have read in my past word wall post (link to that post here), you know I’m a fan of word walls. A fan of word walls that are built with students. I already feel as though my wall is quite strong, but Classrooms That Work has given me even more helpful ideas that will (hopefully) make it even better.

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It discusses things such as colour coding and throws in a lot of fun and helpful word wall games and activities to do with the children in order to make it an active tool in the classroom.

Another fun activity written about is a bit young for my kids to incorporate entirely but seems fun: having a student of the day at the beginning of the year to get to know all of the kids. It might not be great for phonics in grade four but it would be a fun intro activity for the first couple of weeks of school.

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Some activités are discussed which can be done during class reading or during Science, Social Studies, or other non-Language Arts courses. There are also some great activities for counting syllables and decoding words of various syllables.

I continue to not only enjoy this book but actively sing its praises to coworkers and teacher friends. I can’t wait for chapter six! If you’re interested in the book, here’s the link to it on Amazon.

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KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 4

Hello again! We’re onto chapter four in Classrooms That Work and it’s another good one! This one is all about children’s writing and thinking. Like reading, it focuses on thinking while writing to improve not only students’ writing but also their reading skills.

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The chapter notes that the best thing we can do as teachers to improve students’ writing is to provide them with ample time to write, allow them access to materials that they need for writing, and to model the writing process and the importance of writing.

As with our previous chapters, we are also given a nice handful of useful tools and activities to use in the classroom to effectively teach the writing process. Some ideas presented are group and shared writing, in which kids are privy to modelled writing both by the teacher and by their peers.

Writers workshops are helpful for reluctant writers as they get to choose their own topics and are thus more likely to become passionate about writing. Also hi lighted as being particularly important in the publishing process as kids need to feel like their work is important.

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I, again, enjoyed this chapter particularly because I am always looking for new ideas to bring into the classroom and enjoy reading about the step-by-step process of utilizing them, not just the broad ideas. This book has been great for that exact purpose thus far. This chapter has proposed tons of lessons and ideas that are perfect for classrooms between K-6. I’m additionally finding it useful because of the unique make-up of my classroom; some kindergarten activities will be useful and some 6th grade activities will be useful; they just need slight modifications.

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, the link to it on Amazon is here. Stay tuned for chapter five!

Book Club

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 3

In the last two chapters of Classrooms That Work, we’ve discussed what doesn’t work and strategies to garner kids’ enthusiasm for reading. This chapter discusses comprehension and how to teach students to actually think about what they’re reading.

Everyone thinks you should read this book!
Everyone thinks you should read this book!

Sure enough, I see very often that kids have had phonics drilled into them and know letter sounds, but have no idea what they’re reading. They’re under the impression that reading is just sounding out words and saying them properly; they’re unsure of what else it entails because no one has really told them.

This chapter was a great read for me because it was absolutely full of different activities to do with large or small groups that engage kids in active reading.

The beginning of our latest chapter!
The beginning of our latest chapter!

I have a basic set of ideas and activities to do with kids for reading activities, but many of these were things I had never heard before, or put creative spins on activities I was already utilizing. For example, there’s an excellent beach ball activity which can be used after reading in which a beach ball is thrown from student to student which has broad questions (which will work for most stories) for them to answer.

The Beach Ball Game
The Beach Ball Game

I also often struggle with guided reading. Currently, my students are at such different levels that many of them need to read in a group of only one or two. Even with centres every morning, I wish I had more one-on-one time with them. An excellent solution is the “Three Ring Circus” for reading, which could easily be added in two or three times a week for a bit of extra guided reading time.

The Three Ring Circus reading activity
The Three Ring Circus reading activity

I am truly finding this book to be one of the most helpful I’ve read. It’s full of ideas that are new to me (perhaps because they’re innovative, perhaps because I have a secondary background, perhaps both) and I highly, highly recommend it to all teachers. Here’s the link on Amazon if you’d like more information about it.

Book Club

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 2

Chapter Two in Classrooms That Work is all about reading and writing. Titled Reading and Writing Real “Things”, one of the first sentences which struck me was:

“[c]hildren who are successful at becoming literate view reading and writing as authentic activities from which they get information and pleasure, and by which they communicate with others.”

An excellent chunk of text!
An excellent chunk of text!

I believe this corresponds to, essentially, all subject matter. If we as people, not even as students, do not find a topic useful, interesting, or meaningful, we will almost always, inevitably, be unsuccessful in it. People who do not feel passionate about their work perform much poorer than their eager counterparts. Thus, the question which arises in this context is a simple one, but one that can be difficult to answer: how can we make reading and writing engaging for students?

The book touches again upon high involvement homes versus low involvement homes which, the vast majority of time, brings into play the socioeconomic disparities in our classrooms. I first read this chapter on a relatively long airplane ride in which I was bouncing back and forth between various books, television shows, and cellphone games to keep my easily distracted mind from boredom. I had just finished the chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point in which he discusses the phenomenon of teen smoking and that, when most smoking adults look back on their first memories of smoking, they see it as sophisticated.

Perhaps it was because I had literally just put that book down when I picked this one up, but Classrooms That Work discusses that many students come from homes in which they are exposed to huge libraries and parents and siblings which read and write constantly; they see the usefulness and enjoyability of reading. I immediately thought of my childhood; indeed I never saw smoking as sophisticated, I saw reading, writing, talking, and creating as sophisticated. How can we garner this idea of sophistication in children who may not be exposed to such things. Who see being adult as smoking, drinking, watching TV, eating junk food, and staying up until whenever they want (just a few examples)? It obviously needs to be done in the classroom.

The authors give us some great examples of how to turn our classrooms into models of homes in which literate children are raised. Our classrooms allow students an assortment of books to choose from, allows them to share what they’ve read, and allows them to go through the basic steps of learning how to write. This book is excellent because it actually provides a plethora of useful and logical ideas which are easy to incorporate into classrooms and teaching.

A great example from the book!
A great example from the book!

It talks a lot about how to show children that reading is enjoyable and necessary for them to learn new things, thus driving their desire to learn how to do it. I am finding myself drawn to the ideas proposed the further and further I get (and I’m only on chapter 2). I highly, highly recommend this book for some excellent examples; particularly if you’re a new teacher or if you have a challenging classroom composition.

If you’re interested in the book, here’s the link to it on Amazon. Happy reading!