- Approach to Planning
- Learning Engagements
- Formative Assessment, Adaptation and Reflection
I believe that learning is an innate human drive, and my evolving craft reflects that basic tenet. My teaching practice and pedagogy are developing daily as I learn through professional development, by studying my peers and mentors, and most importantly by listening to my students and colleagues and reflecting on our collective learning process. Over the years, my educational philosophy has grown out of this recursive process of reflective practice. First and foremost is the certainty that every student arrives with a rich set of sociocultural assets that can bolster his or her learning. Following that is the conviction that each student can and will improve measurably if given the right support. As such, I am invested in every one of my students’ learning and potential success.
I believe the purpose of education is two-fold: foundational and functional. As an educator, it is my charge to provide each student with the means to develop a curious, agile and analytical mind. But I also need to provide the student with situational fluency and linguistic and cognitive skills that can be applied across a number of contexts. In this light, I view it as essential to meet students where they are in their learning development, to facilitate opportunities to engage their funds of knowledge, and to provide clear, rigorous instruction that drives growth and sparks meaningful engagement. There are many steps involved in accomplishing this, including thorough planning, ongoing assessment and adjustment, and modifying instruction to respond to students’ individual intellectual and cultural diversity.
Approach to Planning
With such a multifaceted task, it is important to have a sound approach to planning. The one I have found most successful is a curriculum cycle designed by Dr. Colt Turner, adapted from the work of Chappuis, Stiggins, Chappuis, and Arter (see graphic below). As educators, we know that beginning with the end in mind is crucial for maximizing student learning. Whether the platform is International Baccalaureate, Common Core, or Adult Basic Education, it is critical to start with our big ideas to help prioritize specific content standards. In other words, it is important to clarify what we want students to know, understand, and do (KUD). After this step, it is important to develop clear learning targets in a chunked learning progression so that regardless of student entry points and readiness, the pathway to mastery is clear.
As Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins (2005) recommend, after determining desired learning results, it is vital to establish how to assess evidence of learning. We can then move onto designing valid summative assessments that measure student mastery of said skills and knowledge. Once we have a firm grasp on what counts as evidence of mastery, we can design learning engagements and differentiate content, process, product and environment based on students’ profiles and respective readiness (Tomlinson, 2014).
As Hattie (2008) suggests, teachers need to know where each student begins and ends his/her journey to meeting the criteria of the lesson:
- What are his/her strengths and gaps in knowledge and understanding?
- What strategies does he/she already have and how can we help him or her develop other learning strategies?
These questions allow us to use our language and literacy data and profile information to differentiate specific learning engagements that will support our summative assessments and enduring understandings. In practice, I engage in formal and informal pre-assessment to get a clear picture of my students’ funds of knowledge and schema that they bring to the table. I review data from the World-class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) suite of assessment tools, as well as standardized assessments such as MAP and F+P. I also incorporate interest inventories and surveys to gather and review my students’ sociocultural assets. Lastly, I ask content pre-assessment questions such as:
- What is _____?
- What is an example of _______?
- Why is ______ a strong example?
Together, these help me create learner profiles that contextualize where students are in their educational journey. The profiles are updated regularly and form the basis for how I choose materials, make accommodations, inform my instruction and co-set goals with students.
Carol Ann Thompson once told me at a learning conference that differentiation means creating different pathways in which students can demonstrate mastery and understanding along the way to meeting the criteria for success. With this in mind, my process for differentiating for multilingual learners begins with analyzing assessments and content using WIDA Performance Definitions to determine linguistic demands at the discourse, sentence and word level. Once the language demands are clear, I develop language objectives that support the learning targets. Finally, applying Vygotsky’s principle of Zone of Proximal Development and Krashen’s Comprehensible Input (I+1), I use WIDA Can Do Descriptors to design accessible content and linguistic supports that maintain appropriately high levels of rigor while meeting the same KUD criteria mentioned above. This, along with higher-order questioning strategies, allows students to use analytical faculties with the language proficiency they already possess while building academic language and concepts.
I believe in the effectiveness of gradual release of responsibility. In other words, students practice initially with high levels of structure and guidance, then move increasingly toward less structure and more freedom of expression with ample opportunities for exploration. In practice, I use authentic grade-appropriate models that illustrate the specific features students need to demonstrate to show mastery of a given academic standard. As a class, we analyze and co-create our own exemplars embodying these features as well as anchor charts that record our understanding of the patterns that we have noticed regarding these features. I build in time for intensive practice of language forms in meaningful contexts employing the specific learning strategy.
Learning must be meaningful if it is to “stick,” which means being relevant and applied to realistic contexts. One way of achieving this, especially in a language acquisition setting, is to facilitate an environment of inclusion and communicative practice. In my classes, students are made welcome through a class culture of sharing and team work. Through careful planning, I weave in opportunities for students to write about and discuss their own backgrounds, influences and goals with each other. In addition, my classes co-create their own norms and expectations of each other so that everyone has a stake and a voice in the environment of the class. Another example of this is the writing journals that students use to communicate with me, which serve as a safe place for them to brainstorm, collect thoughts and tie recent learning to their lives. I also model respectful, inclusive communication that celebrates all cultures and ways of living. Taken together, these approaches provide a basis for safe and dynamic communication and the negotiation of complex ideas. In addition, my instruction and assignments center on communicative, collaborative strategies where students negotiate meaning in groups and teams. This provides more personalized practice using language features while also engaging critical thinking as students must grapple with the nuanced how and why of real-world contexts, such as current events and relevant topics such as immigration, technology use and human rights.
I also believe strongly in student engagement and 21st century skills and thus incorporate authentic contexts and technology to further differentiate instruction and promote intellectual diversity. My students engage in authentic learning tasks, such as designing presentations, debates, letters to the editors, and book launches. I also build in activities that promote technological and multilingual fluency while supporting unit-level standards and learning targets. For example, before students are asked to write, they might be asked to use technology to capture photos of possible topics, after which listening and speaking activities might be used to brainstorm and clarify their ideas. Similarly, before students present their digital projects to peers, they might be asked to reflect digitally on how they met learning goals for the project, using an iPad.
Examples of authentic projects and assessments that support communicative practice and digital fluency include the following:
- Documenting visible thinking routines using iPads and laptops
- Sharing and documenting progress in skill development and learning insights with peers, teachers and parents using Seesaw
- Demonstrating understanding of learning objectives using video production software and green screen technology
- Designing multimedia narratives using Scratch and Scratch Jr. software
- Participating in student debates, discussion groups and literature circles
Formative Assessment, Adaptation and Reflection
Lastly, a vital component of meeting students where they are is giving them clear expectations and timely, purposeful feedback. Students should always know what is expected of them and where they stand in relation to their own goals. They should also know the specific sequential steps they’ll need to follow to achieve those goals. Jan Chappuis (2007) suggests using an array of formative assessment strategies, providing timely feedback and the chance to set goals and make corrections.
Some guiding questions I use in this process are:
- Where are the students in the learning process?
- What patterns do I see?
- Where should the students be?
- How can I close the gap?
Day-to-day, I accomplish this through succinct directions that I break into steps and present with verbal, written, graphic and peer support. I also employ rubrics with student-friendly language. Students and teacher refer to the rubric throughout a series of lessons, using concrete examples so they become familiar with each assessment criteria before attempting or planning language production. I also run mini-conferences before and after turn-in of projects so that together we can address specific concerns and hurdles. I use entrance/exit tickets, iPads, spreadsheets and checklists to answer the questions above, adjust my instruction and provide feedback to my students. Keeping in mind Grant Wigging’s thoughts on effective feedback, I strive to make it tangible and transparent, consistent, on-going and timely, user-friendly and actionable, ultimately progressing toward a goal.
As an educator, I constantly reflect on and make changes to my teaching approaches, and am always preparing to start the cycle again. My objective, both as a teacher and coordinator, is to motivate students to attain independence and develop a desire to learn and think critically. In short, my philosophy is one which strives to give all students equal opportunity to learn by starting where they are when they walk into the classroom and engaging their schema; then by using careful, reflective planning to deliver clear, growth-driven instruction and opportunities for meaningful practice; and all the while remaining intentionally inclusive of all students and their goals.
- Assessment Reform Group. (2002). Assessment for learning: Research-based principles to guide classroom Cambridge, England: Cambridge University, School of Education.
- Chappuis, J. (2007). Seven Strategies of Assessment for Assessment Training Institute, Inc.
- Chappuis, J., Stiggins, R., Chappuis, S., Arter, J. (2004). Classroom assessment for student learning. Portland, OR: Pearson Assessment Training Institute.
- Erickson, L. (2007). Concept-based curriculum and instruction for the thinking classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
- Ervin, R. (2010). Considering Tier 3 within a Response to Intervention model. RTI Action
- Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement.
- Krashen, SD. (1981).Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford University Press.
- Moore, C., Garst, L., Marzano, R. (2015). Creating and using learning targets and performance scales: How teachers make better instructional decisions. West Palm Beach, FL: Learning Sciences International.
- Tomlinson, C. (2014). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners.
- (2019). https://wida.wisc.edu/
- Wiggins, G. McTighe, J (2005). Understanding by design. ASCD.