Thursday, 29 January 2015

Differentiation and Technology

Over the past few weeks, I have worked with a few teachers on utilizing technology as a means to differentiate instruction and assessment. As such, I thought it might be beneficial to spend some time on the overall concept of differentiation in my blog this week. I am certain you have seen much of this information before. However, I thought this might dovetail nicely with my last post on Effective Teaching and Learning.

What is Differentiated Instruction?

Most researchers agree, differentiation is:

  • A process to approach teaching and learning for students of differing abilities in the same class.
  • A teaching theory based on the premise that instructional approaches should vary and be adapted in relation to individual and diverse students in classrooms.
  • Not reactive but a systematic, planned approach to meet the learning needs of a diverse classroom.
Generally, differentiation can occur in relation to content, process and products of a lesson. We can design delivery and assessment in a variety of ways to meet the unique needs of our learners. This includes using pre-assessment and ongoing assessment strategies to ensure the needs of our students are met. There is a large body of research to suggest that we need to maintain academic challenge for our students but that challenge needs to be at their academic level. If things are too easy or too difficult, the students will not be engaged. As such, when we systematically plan our instruction and consistently use data to drive our decision making, we will promote student learning. 

How Does Technology Play a Role?

I usually begin my sessions discussing technology integration by saying the primary goal is the learning, not the technology. However, technology we have available to us can play a significant role in differentiated instruction. For instance, we can use a wide array of technology applications to provide choice to students in completing assessments. When I taught full time, there were always assignments that were non-negotiable. As a Social Studies 30-1 teacher, all my students needed to write. However, there were assignments that they had choice on. In addition, even though I had non-negotiable assignments, having the students complete them using a Google Doc meant the feedback I gave and the revisions they completed were much easier to complete. Providing students with teacher notes becomes much easier through the use of a shared Google Drive Folder. Students have access to the notes so they do not need to spend the time copying them down. This frees them up to focus on the content of the lessons. This is a very simple way to look at the issue. What I would like you to take away from this is that we have the tools to make differentiation work for you and for your students. 

If you would like to work with me on how to utilize some of the tools we have in order to differentiate instruction or assessment, I would be happy to help. After all, we are all in this together and the ultimate goal is student learning.  

Upcoming Visits

Between next week and the end of March, I will be visiting each one of your schools. I will generally be there at 8:30 and stay the entire day. I will be available to work one-to-one with you on planning lessons and assessments or visiting your classroom. It is entirely up to you. The week before I visit, you will receive an email from your administration as a reminder about my visit. If you would like to book time to meet with me, please let me know. If you have any questions about these visits, do not hesitate to ask. I am looking forward to spending time with you and your students in your schools!

Wednesday, March 18
Wednesday Feb 25
Tuesday, Feb 24
Monday, Feb 23
Tuesday, March 6
Wednesday, Feb 11
Thursday, March 5 (AM)
Griffin Park
Monday, Feb 26
Rolling Hills
Monday, March 9
Thursday, March 5 (PM)
Monday, March 16
Thursday, Feb 5
Tuesday, Feb 3

Friday, 16 January 2015

Effective Teaching and Learning

Effective Teaching

Have you ever walked into a classroom and just knew it was an effective room. I would bet we could all agree there is an "atmosphere" in a classroom that is highly effective. This month, administrators took time to discuss the qualities of effective teachers. They were presented with the following questions:
  1. What does it mean to be an effective/excellent teacher?
  2. How do you know teachers are effective?
  3. What measures do we have to know teachers are effective?
  4. What is your vision for excellence in teaching and learning. 
Administrators from all schools discussed the questions in small groups. Below is a summary of those discussions:

What does it mean to be an effective/excellent teacher?

  • Going beyond basic competencies.
  • Lifelong learners
  • Self-reflection and willingness to change/make changes to teaching practice
  • Open and responsive to feedback from students and parents
  • Student focused
  • Establishes foundational relationships which enable growth
  • Works as an activator rather than facilitator
  • Asks a wide array of questions
  • Invites feedback
  • Utilizes differentiated instruction and assessment
  • Works with the entire community as a resource 
  • Has a growth mindset
  • Teacher includes the students as part of a community of learners

How do you know teachers are effective?

  • Students feel capable and have a sense of agency
  • Students can identify the goals of lessons
  • Positive relationships with students, parents, colleagues
  • Direct observations and conversations with teachers, their colleagues, students and parents

What measures do we have to know our teachers are effective?

  • Classroom observations
  • Conversations
  • Student outcomes
  • Academic but also the student sense of their own agency, belonging, and competence
  • Students feel connected, capable, contributing and cared for
  • Clear link between assessment and planning
  • Students are passionate about being in the classroom

What is our vision for excellence in teaching and learning?

  • Excited/engaged student body
  • Positive school cultures
  • Positive relationships
  • Classrooms as learning environments

Last night, new Grasslands teachers met for a sharing session at Central Office. We discussed the same questions. Interestingly, the same responses came up. There was a big focus on the development of positive relationships with the entire learning community (colleagues, students, parents, administrators, the greater community). In addition, there was a strong focus on the idea of connecting and collaborating. Below are links to two documents about teaching effectiveness that we discussed. I would also be very interested to know your thoughts. How would you define effective and excellent teaching? What is your vision for teaching and learning in your classroom? 

Teaching Effectiveness Resources:

Google Drive Resources

The last item I have for you this week is a link to some excellent Google Drive resources. It lists a number of learning activities you can do with Google Drive as well as some time saving tips you can use when you are in Drive. Our use of Google and Chrome Apps has skyrocketed over the past few months. This is great to see! I hope you are finding success with the tools in Drive. If you have any questions or need any help, please do not hesitate to ask. 

Friday, 9 January 2015

Happy New Year!

Well, it is almost the end of the first week back. I hope you and your students have made it through relatively unscathed. I thought I would start off the New Year on the Learning and Innovation blog with some resources you can incorporate into your classroom. As well, there is an upcoming project and one conference which may be of interest to some of you. As always, if you would like more information or would like me to come work with you, please do not hesitate to contact me. Next week, I will share some updates on some of the really great things your colleagues are doing around the division.


I have shared this website before but thought it warranted a second mention. It has been popping up on a number of different blogs I read. Instagrok ( is a site where students can search any topic and create customizable concept maps. The concept maps can be scaled in difficulty to suit the needs of the students. As well, students can create their own concept maps and save their maps. I see a lot of use for this in all divisions and subject areas. The site creates maps that include text, images and videos. In addition, each subconcept that appears on the map is expandable. I spent quite a bit of time playing around with the site. I believe many of you would be able to integrate it directly into your lessons.

Chrome Apps Perfect for the Chrome Classroom

With the integration of Google Drive across the division, there are many applications that are available to us and to our students. The apps increase the functionality of the tools we have available through Google Drive. 

Holly Clark, a Google Certified trainer and Junior High Teacher from San Diego, has put together a list of Chrome Apps that help increase the functionality of Google Chrome. I had the opportunity to meet Holly in August while she presented at a conference in Calgary. She is an energetic, passionate teacher who has a great deal to share. She describes her favourite Chrome Apps on her blog which can be found here: Holly is also very open to questions and is willing to help teachers integrate Google Apps for Education into their classroom. 

Medicine Hat College/Grasslands Collaboration

Earlier in the year, I wrote a blog post about VROC - Virtual Researchers on Call ( This free service pairs teachers in all divisions in Grasslands with researchers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math who are willing to be virtual guest speakers in classrooms. As a humanities teacher, I thought it was unfortunate that this type of service did not exist for those of us outside the STEM environment. As such, I approached Medicine Hat College with the idea of creating a database of their instructors who would be interested in being virtual guest speakers on topics in the humanities. They agreed to engage in a pilot project with us. As a result, we are looking for teachers in grade 9 through 12 who would be willing to participate in a pilot. As a participant, you would gain access to Medicine Hat College professors with expertise in economics, literature, history, political science, and geography who would be willing to speak to your classes through either Skype or Google Hangouts. You would also help to come up with a list of possible topics that these professors may be asked to speak on. We would like to keep the initial pilot to grades 9 through 12 with the intention of expanding, should the pilot be successful. 

If you are interested in acting as a participant in the pilot project, please contact me and I will provide you with more details.

Alberta Google Summit: March 2/3, Edmonton

The Google in Education Alberta Summit is a high intensity two day event, which focuses on deploying, integrating, and using Google Apps for Education to promote student learning in K-12 schools. The program features both local and international Google Certified Teachers, Google Apps for Education Certified Trainers, practicing administrators and solution providers. 

I attended the last summit in Calgary in August and was very impressed. I took a lot of useful information away from the conference. If you want to expand your knowledge and understanding of how to use Google Apps for Education or find innovative ways to utilize the tools in your classroom, this is a great opportunity. You can find more details here: