Do you feel like you're teaching in uncertain times? You're not alone. But there are certain things that will always be certain. Like--your students need you to be there for them. Click through to find out how to do that with Culturally Responsive Teaching in Any Setting.
This is Post 2 of the "Teaching in Uncertain Times" series. Check out the introduction here.

There are a lot of ideas about culturally responsive teaching. I've read articles and books. I've talked to teachers. Every time I ask people what it is, I get a different answer.

I'm partial to Nikki Williams Rucker's definition in an Edutopia article. It's clear and concise, "Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) attempts to bridge the gap between teacher and student by helping the teacher understand the cultural nuances that may cause a relationship to break down—which ultimately causes student achievement to break down as well."

I can get behind that because it's about relationship-building, which is the single most important aspect of teaching. Effective teaching is an act of leadership, and not many of us will follow a leader we don't have a relationship with.

It follows from Rucker's definition that relationships are built through understanding and appreciation of culture. So what is culture?

Culture is a way of viewing the world. It encompasses language, values, norms, religion, and beliefs. I express my world-views with the English language. I was taught to look somebody in the eye when they talk to me. I was taught to say "ma'am" and "sir" and to comply with adult requests.

Many of my students weren't. They don't share my cultural norms. It follows that if I don't try to understand their culture, we will experience misunderstandings. I may think a student's being disrespectful when she looks at the floor and says, "Yeah," when I address her. 
But that's not necessarily the case. Her culture may be different than mine. If that's it, and I give her detention for being disrespectful, what exactly am I achieving?

Zaretta Hammond said it best, "Too often when we talk about culturally responsive teaching, we think, 'Oh, we're just talking about social justice.' Or 'Oh, we're just talking about race.' We aren't. We're talking about how was a child's brain wired? Your nurture culture--0 to 5, your brain is wired to take in the world through a particular cultural lens."

We teach students from all different backgrounds, so how is it possible for one teacher of a particular culture to understand everybody's culture?

At it's heart, it's about empathy. Hammond also argues it's about expectations and rigor--re-imagining our roles as educators and our students' roles. Instead of viewing students as empty vessels to fill with information, it's about allowing students to steer their own learning through inquiry and personal connections. The teacher then becomes the mentor--the guide to help students along the way.  

I know your question here is the same as mine--how do we go about doing that, especially in these uncertain times when we may not even be sharing a room with our students?
Do you feel like you're teaching in uncertain times? You're not alone. But there are certain things that will always be certain. Like--your students need you to be there for them. Click through to find out how to do that with Culturally Responsive Teaching in Any Setting.
New America has an eight point list for culturally responsive teaching. Here it is (loosely summarized):

1. Reflect on your own bias
2. Recognize and work against systemic bias
3. Shape curriculum with student culture
4. Use current issues in the classroom
5. Have high expectations
6. Respect differences
7. Involve families and the community
8. Communicate in culturally responsive ways

I'm going to focus on six of them today. 

1. Reflect on your own bias

You've got them. I've got them. We have to be willing to look at ourselves and our preconceived notions and work against incorporating them into our lessons and interactions with students. The trouble is, we're often blind to them. Harvard's Project Implicit has tests that serve as a good starting point for identifying biases. 

I think it helps to reflect by journaling at the end of every school year. Where have your biases held your students back? This isn't easy, but we won't improve if we're not honest with ourselves. In point 5, I've got a personal example that I'm not proud of, but I learned from it.

2. Recognize and work against systemic bias


In a school setting, it helps to know your numbers--gender, race, ethnic, and socioeconomic breakdowns. How do test scores compare among these groups? What about discipline and graduation rates? Are there patterns? Who's taking AP classes? What can you do within your classroom to make it more equitable?

3. Shape curriculum with student culture

Your curriculum is probably out of your control. You can counter this with your approach to the curriculum. Validate your students' experiences and make them an integral part of your lessons and give them ownership of learning with these suggestions:

- Require students to focus their individual approach to a unit by having them generate driving questions. Give them a standard and time to research it briefly. Guide them through forming a driving question that will allow them to explore aspects of a lesson that they're curious about. They can explore answers through an extended project, written reflections, video, or small group discussions.

- Hook students at the beginning of a lesson with bellringers. Ask questions--such as: What would you do in a particular situation? What was the most ___ time in your life/ thing that happened to you? Describe a time when you felt ____. 

- Give students a voice with full class and small group discussions. Ensure that everyone has an opportunity to speak. Check your biases so that you're not always calling on the same students. In a virtual setting, use discussion boards and Zoom breakouts.

- Require students to personally reflect on lessons at the end of class each day with exit tickets, quick writes, Flipgrid, etc.

- Allow choice in your classroom. Offer student's choice with how they learn the material. Offer choice with how they will demonstrate that learning. Menus are great for learning choices (will they read, watch, or research?). Choice boards work beautifully for project decisions. Offer ideas, but also offer student choice with teacher approval.

4. Use current issues in the classroom


Have students find current events that connect to the unit and explain how they connect--economically, politically, socially, culturally. Require them to explain why. Use past injustices to discuss current ones.

Newsela is a great resource for leveling reading, but the internet is the limit. Just require students to check their sources for bias. A good place to start is mediabiasfactcheck.com. This site ranks news sources according to bias (evinced in loaded language and omissions) and factual reporting. A reliable site for fact-checking is factcheck.org.

This will enable students to see relevance to their lives in the curriculum.

5. Have high expectations


Have you ever rummaged through your students' test scores and discipline records at the beginning of a term? I know I have. I justified this by saying, "I need to know who I'm teaching." That's true. I definitely should be learning their names and reading their IEPs and 504s. But if I'm honest with myself, I was only checking test scores and discipline records because I was nosy.

I had a Black student one year who'd been suspended for gang activity in the past and had a lexile score of 400 in the 11th grade. I read his information and thought, "He'll be a challenge." I met him with bias.

He blew me away in the first week with his intelligence, drive, and determination. He turned out to be one of the most amazing students I've ever taught. What scares me about the situation is this: What if he wasn't self-motivated? What if he had picked up on my initial expectations? How would it have been different?

How has it been different in the past? How many students have I lost with my biases and low expectations?

My point is, I no longer check behavior records and scores at the beginning of the year. We've all had bad days, all been misunderstood, and all bombed tests. Some of us face these challenges with an added layer of systemic bias. 

We should have high expectations for all our students from the first day. If we find they're not ready for a concept or activity, we can help them rise by scaffolding our lessons.

6. Involve families and the community

One hallmark of privilege in our society is voice. People of privilege are comfortable speaking out. They're comfortable coming to the school and advocating for their students. This isn't the case with everybody. Often, school is a source of trauma for the disenfranchised, making them appear either disconnected or adversarial. This is a glaring inequity.

We need to change that by actively working to involve our students' families and communities in their education. 

The community is a goldmine for our lessons. There's a rich resource of various experiences within our students' families. There are veterans, activists, professionals. There are people who've lived through pivotal historical events. We can incorporate our students' cultures into our curriculum with guest speakers and interviews from their community. Skype, Zoom, and Google Meet are great ways to do this virtually.

We also need to communicate with all of our parents--not just the ones who reach out to us. They should be clear on our classroom procedures (at school or virtual) and where to find everything. Language can be a major barrier in this endeavor, but with technology, it doesn't have to be.

- Send emails to parents in the language they speak. You can compose the text in a Doc and translate it with the Google Translate add-on for free. I prefer deepl.com because it's better at picking up nuances. It's free for a certain number of translations a day, but for editable text, you'll need the paid version.

- Use the Screencastify extension to record screencasts of the organization and procedures of your class. Translate it into multiple languages using a method above. Paste the translation into Natural Reader and play it while you record the demo. If you opt for the Natural Reader paid version, you can download the MP4 and use a video editor such as WeVideo to add the audio to the pre-recorded screencast.

I hope these have been practical ways to incorporate CRT into your teaching, whether we're facing our students in the classroom or online. Leave a comment to let me know.

Be sure to check back next week as the "Teaching in Uncertain Times" series continues with "Equity and Distance Learning."

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2020 has been a pivotal year in education. We don't know what to expect for the next or future school years. But we can do our best to be proactive. Join me for this five part series on Teaching in Uncertain Times. Let's take this leap together!

I don't have to tell you that teaching's a tough job under the best of circumstances. I saw a quote on Instagram saying that teachers do a year's worth of work in 10 months. You know that's true. But the first six months of 2020 felt more like six years worth of work--the scramble to plan, grade, and just to keep up with students was overwhelming.

The quarantine was stressful--it put us all on edge. Then the bandage was ripped off race relations in the U.S., forcing those of us who had the privilege to ignore it in the past to look at it dead-on. People of Color knew it was there. They couldn't ignore it because they're the ones covered up inside it.

White people responded by dividing yet again. Many of us responded by attempting to learn about these undeniable wrongs. Many of us responded by attempting to re-cover the wound with the same bandage.

Regardless of your initial reaction, how will you respond for your students? We as teachers must remember that above all else, our job is to be there for our students. As we catch our collective breath and steel ourselves for more turmoil and uncertainty in the 2020-2021 school year, we must never forget this.

Every year, I do a summer blog series to prepare for the next school year. The one I had planned for 2020 seems irrelevant now. When I sketched it out last fall, we were living in a different world. Tech and teaching tutorials seem less relevant than broader approaches at this moment.

I've talked to teachers across the world and most of us don't know what we'll be facing this fall. A consensus seems to be that it'll be some sort of hybrid model with preparations to go back into quarantine at any time.

Education is experiencing a rapid shift. This circumstance, to loosely quote Shakespeare, has been
"thrust upon us," and we have to go with it. Either that or retire early.

In light of all of this, my new summer blog series is called "Teaching in Uncertain Times." Here's what's coming for the next five weeks:

- Culturally Responsive Teaching in Any Setting

- Equity and Distance Learning

- Supporting Our Students in Uncertain Times

- Supporting Our Colleagues in Uncertain Times

- Avoiding Burnout in Uncertain Times

I hope you join me for the next five weeks for this series on "Teaching in Uncertain Times." Please respond to the posts in the comments with your insight--I want to hear from you. Let's learn from each other.
2020 has been a pivotal year in education. We don't know what to expect for the next or future school years. But we can do our best to be proactive. Join me for this five part series on Teaching in Uncertain Times. Let's take this leap together!


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If we have a few basic tools, we already have the resources we need to provide students with quality distance learning opportunities. So we can end the resource scramble. Click through to see how—there’s a video and a cheat sheet to help!

Distance learning has caught us off-guard, and even if our schools are 1:1, we've found ourselves unprepared for this. It has us scrambling. In my last two posts, I offered advice to simplify and then to organize distance learning.

This week, I want to discuss why we don't need to scramble for resources. be sure to check out the video at the bottom of this post along with this accompanying CHEAT SHEET for additional help.

If we have a few basic tools, we already have the resources we need to provide students with quality distance learning opportunities. So we can end the resource scramble.

The second part of the equation is more complicated. Not every student has the basic tools they need for an ideal digital/distance learning experience. We have students with no WiFi, students who need one on one support, and students who are the primary care-givers for younger siblings and cousins while their parents work. But we can work around some of these obstacles. So here are...

3 Ways to Use Existing Resources for Distance Learning

1. Print to PDF to Grab the Pages You Need

Many of us have giant resources in PDF format complete with answer keys. These are not ideal to assign digitally. If you've ever tried to separate the pages into smaller documents, you may have found that the document is password protected. That's an immediate roadblock.

But it doesn't have to be with the Print to PDF option. Here's how it works:

1.Open Your PDF.
2. Figure out which page you need, and then click “File.”
3. Select “Print.”
4. Select “Microsoft PDF.”
5. Select “Print.”
***Be sure to name your PDF and save it to a location where you can easily find it.***

If we have a few basic tools, we already have the resources we need to provide students with quality distance learning opportunities. So we can end the resource scramble. Click through to see how—there’s a video and a cheat sheet to help!
Grab the Cheat Sheet, and watch the video at the end of this post!

2. Turn a Paper Worksheet into a Digital Assignment

If you have a scanner, simply scan the document to PDF or an image. If you don't have a scanner, never fear. Simply use the camera on your phone to take a clear, well-lit image. With a scanner app, you can convert it to PDF and email it to yourself. Check out the app store for a good free one.

I like to grab the image from my phone, insert it into the background of a Google Slide, and overlay the areas where students are supposed to write with text boxes. Here's how it works:

1. Either take a picture or a screenshot of your worksheet.
2. Resize your Google slide by going to “File,” selecting “Page Set-up,” “Custom,” and 8.5 x 11 or whatever size your slide needs to be.
3. Go to the tool bar and select “Background.” Select “Choose Image,” upload your image to the background, and then click “Done.”
4. Go to “Insert” in the toolbar to add textboxes for the students to type in, or to add shapes to obscure flat hyperlinks.
5. Make the shapes clickable by clicking on the outside of the shape, selecting the hyperlink icon in the toolbar, and then pasting the hyperlink address in the pop-up box.

If we have a few basic tools, we already have the resources we need to provide students with quality distance learning opportunities. So we can end the resource scramble. Click through to see how—there’s a video and a cheat sheet to help!
Grab the Cheat Sheet, and watch the video at the end of this post!

You can also load the image onto your Google Drive, right click, and open as a Google Doc. Docs even extracts the text for you so that students can have a text reader read the document to them--a great option for differentiation.

3. Use Screencastify to Record Your Lesson and Directions

If you have a lesson already that requires direct instruction, need to demonstrate a skill, or need to teach more complicated directions, Screencastify is a great tool. There are time limits on the free version, but the premium version (no time-limits) is free for teachers during the quarantine.

You can pull up a presentation that you already have and record yourself teaching it. You can also use a virtual whiteboard, such as the free one at Classroom Screen, to demonstrate skills. Here's how to use Screencastify:

1. Head to the Chrome Web Store and search “Screencastify.” Select “Add to Chrome” and follow the prompts.
2. Click on the Screencastify extension in your browser. Turn on your microphone and/or your camera (if you want to show your face). You can also click on the menu to access your recordings and your account. Hit “Stop Sharing” when you are finished recording.
3. Rename your video and share it with the Screencastify Link, by email, on social media, in Google Classroom, or download it to your computer as an MP4 or a Gif.

If we have a few basic tools, we already have the resources we need to provide students with quality distance learning opportunities. So we can end the resource scramble. Click through to see how—there’s a video and a cheat sheet to help!
Grab the Cheat Sheet, and watch the video at the end of this post!

And Remember to be Creative with How Students Submit Work

If we have a few basic tools, we already have the resources we need to provide students with quality distance learning opportunities. So we can end the resource scramble. Click through to see how—there’s a video and a cheat sheet to help!So 1-3 were the easy tips--the stuff on our end. This last tip is for collecting work from students, app, add-on, extension), and we certainly can't blame them for not having WiFi or access to the technology or home support they need to complete our assignments. But we can be flexible with how we accept assignments.
which can be tricky. We can't (and shouldn't) blame students for not understanding how to use a new digital resource that they didn't use before (
  • They don't understand how to use Dochub or Kami (add-ons for annotating PDFs in Google) to type on the PDFs you assign. Let them create a doc and type their answers onto that. OR let them write their responses (on blank paper if they don't have access to a printer), take a picture, and submit the image.We understand the technology at my house, but my son has taken this option frequently simply because he learns best by actually writing things down on paper.
  • They don't have WiFi, but they can access assignments periodically via email (using their data or a parent's work account). Allow them to take pictures of their work and submit to you via Remind texts (it's secure and free) or email. If it's an assignment they can answer orally, schedule a call if you are able.
  • They don't have access to any technology. Speak with an administrator to determine your school's pick-up, drop-off policies. If you can do this, print assignments and leave them for the student to pick-up. Have them return assignments in the same way. If this is not possible, speak with an administrator to devise a plan for this/these students. Don't go it alone.
Grab the Cheat Sheet!

Be sure to leave a comment to let me know if this post helped and how you are handling distance learning.

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The last time we touched base, I had just learned that my school was shutting down for a couple of weeks. That was three weeks ago, and just this past Thursday, Georgia joined other states in announcing that school would be closed for the rest of the year.

This introvert loves being at home, but not like this. The uncertainty and the difficulty in touching base with each of our students is problematic. Having to do this on top of helping my middle-schooler stay on top of his lessons seems impossible at times.

In my last blog post, I discussed useful tech for distance learning (or remote leaning, as we were calling it then), and I advised teachers to keep it as simple as possible. I still stand by that. In the three short weeks since this began, my family has been personally touched by death from "complications from Covid-19," and we are not alone. All of this is creating fear and stress, so my advice stands: Keep it to one learning target a week.

To simplify this further (and to still deliver quality lessons), I've devised a template that works for me. It attempts to round out a full lesson on a learning target each week. I typically give things like this to my email list only, but since we are all scrambling and overwhelmed, I've put this template on TeachersPayTeachers for free. I really hope you can use it!

Grab it for free HERE!

Here's how to implement the template

1. Make a copy of your original.

2. Delete the instructions and terms of use slides before assigning to students.

3. Edit text in red to suit your needs. For example, your “Learn” activity may be a YouTube film instead of a reading.


4. Hyperlink to each resource you are assigning students over the transparent shape in each box. Hyperlink by changing the end of the URL in this way so that each student gets their own copy: replace edit?usp=sharing with template/preview. That way, students can preview the doc before selecting “Use Template” to make a copy in their Drive. 

Here is how to hyperlink in Google Slides:


5. Suggestions for practice activities are questions, quickwrites, problems, summarizing, etc.
Suggestions for create are digital storyboards, essays, Flipgrids, infographics (you get a free infographic activity with example and rubric when you sign up for my email list), etc.

6. Create the quiz using Google Forms and the AutoMastery Add-on. Set AutoMastery follow-up activities to be emailed to students based on their score, so that they are either enriching or relearning. I also end the relearning with a link back to the quiz to see if they improve. HERE is how to create a Quiz in Google Forms. HERE is how to use Automastery. 

7. Have students copy and paste the links for their activities in the appropriate spaces on the template so that you can see them.

I hope that you find this useful, and please leave a comment below letting me know how you are dealing with distance learning.

Grab the free template HERE!

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I'm going to make this a quick post, but I'll share what I hope are helpful ideas. I'll follow technology suggestions with workarounds when I can. None of them will be perfect, obviously. A device of some kind will be necessary, even without wifi. So we have to be flexible with due dates and understanding our students' limitations.

This was not a post I had intended to write, but here we all are. Many schools across the nation are closing indefinitely--mine among them. My system is moving to remote learning. We are fortunately 1:1, but this is not the case for every school, and students everywhere don't all have equal wifi access.

I'm going to make this a quick post, but I'll share what I hope are helpful ideas. I'll follow technology suggestions with workarounds when I can. None of them will be perfect, obviously. A device of some kind will be necessary, even without wifi. So we have to be flexible with due dates and understanding of our students' limitations.

Tip 1: Establish a Line of Communication

I sent out an email blast through Infinite Campus to students and parents to let them know that they can email me at anytime. I also set up a permanent Google Meet Link that I shared with them and established office hours of Mon.-Fri. from 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM. It's helpful that this is my system's policy. My hope is that even if students cannot join the Meet, they will have access to email occasionally. 

Since Google Meet and Google Hangouts have merged, it is no longer possible to create a permanent link to share within Meet, but there is a simple workaround:

1. Go to Google Calendars, and click on a date.
2. Select "Add Rooms, Locations, or Conferencing."
3. Select "Add Conferencing." Then select "Add Hangouts Meet."
4. Click "More Options."
5. Select "Repeat Weekly (Monday through Friday).
6. Change the date at the top for as long as you want the link to last.

I'm going to make this a quick post, but I'll share what I hope are helpful ideas. I'll follow technology suggestions with workarounds when I can. None of them will be perfect, obviously. A device of some kind will be necessary, even without wifi. So we have to be flexible with due dates and understanding our students' limitations.

7. Go to your Google Grid.
8. Select the Google Meet App.
9. Select "Use a Meeting Code."
10. Copy and paste the URL from Calendars. Delete google.meet.com/. What's left is your meeting code.
11. Students will follow the link and request to join. You will click to let them in.

I'm going to make this a quick post, but I'll share what I hope are helpful ideas. I'll follow technology suggestions with workarounds when I can. None of them will be perfect, obviously. A device of some kind will be necessary, even without wifi. So we have to be flexible with due dates and understanding our students' limitations.

A reminder about video chats. Ensure that your camera is turned off, and instruct your students to do the same. This is a FERPA issue.

Tip 2: Design Lessons with Simplicity in Mind

Make the learning targets clear, and pare them down to the bare minimum. Make the lessons easy to find and link or provide everything in one place. I put mine on the first page of our Learning Management System (LMS) platform. If your school doesn't have one, you can email or make use of Google Classroom.

This is what my world history lesson for this week looks like:

I'm going to make this a quick post, but I'll share what I hope are helpful ideas. I'll follow technology suggestions with workarounds when I can. None of them will be perfect, obviously. A device of some kind will be necessary, even without wifi. So we have to be flexible with due dates and understanding our students' limitations.

Tip 3: Don't Put Assessments Off

I'm giving short essay assessments while we are out. Google Classroom enables you to turn on an "Originality Report" option. I'm using a program in Blackboard (my system's LMS) called Lockdown Browser to prevent copying and pasting.

Here's a sample short essay question for US history:

I'm going to make this a quick post, but I'll share what I hope are helpful ideas. I'll follow technology suggestions with workarounds when I can. None of them will be perfect, obviously. A device of some kind will be necessary, even without wifi. So we have to be flexible with due dates and understanding our students' limitations.

Tip 4: Accept Handwritten Assignments When Students Return

I'm going to make this a quick post, but I'll share what I hope are helpful ideas. I'll follow technology suggestions with workarounds when I can. None of them will be perfect, obviously. A device of some kind will be necessary, even without wifi. So we have to be flexible with due dates and understanding our students' limitations.If students do not have internet access and you are 1:1, instruct them to set their Google Drive to
enable working offline. If their parents have email at work or can access email on their phone, share assignments that way. If worse comes to worse, students can complete the assignments on paper and turn it in when they return. I am not adding zeros during this time.

If you have a textbook, find alternate assignments for what you are doing in there. Get the assignments to your students when you can.

Here is how to enable your Google Drive to work offline.

Helpful Blogposts for Remote Learning:

1. Make your PDFs work digitally with DOCHUB. Kami is another option.
2. Check out these 10 Tech Tips to digitize content and differentiate.
3. Use the Automastery Google Forms add-on for formative assessment and remediation.
4. Try Google Tour Builder for geography and cultural lessons.
5. Try Insert Learning to make the internet your classroom.
6. Consider this method for keeping parents and students updated.
7. Use this idea to Level Reading and Work Offline.
8. Show snips of YouTube videos by controlling the start and stop time or by using Edpuzzle.
9. Review with puzzles and games by using Learning Apps.
10. Get started with Google Classroom and use these trouble-shooting tips.

Free Resources to Help:

1. Use this cheat sheet and video tutorial for automastery. Teachers can use the free Google Forms add-on to continue formative assessment with targeted remediation.
2. This Blended Classroom Handbook will give you ideas for digitizing resources and for submitting pen and paper resources digitally.
3. Consider using some of the activities in these Task Cards for remediation and enrichment.


I hope this helps, and please don't hesitate to leave a comment to let me know what you're doing or to ask a question!


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There is a dynamic vision of personalized learning that is student driven, creative, and laser-focused on specific learning targets. This vision of personalized learning teaches students to take ownership of their learning and to become life-long learners, as they will surely need to be in our rapidly changing economy. This post discusses bringing together the Baby Steps to Personalized Learning and taking the leap.

Over the past few months, we've been discussing Baby Steps to Personalized Learning. I genuinely believe that personalized learning is the direction that schools should be headed. Public education hasn't changed much since its inception during the Industrial Revolution. But times have changed, the economy has changed, and students' needs have changed.

I'm afraid that many of us visualize personalized learning as isolated students sitting in front of a computer screen, following a pre-packaged curriculum. That's not the scenario I or many other proponents of personalized learning envision.

There is a dynamic vision of personalized learning that is student driven, creative, and laser-focused on specific learning targets. This vision of personalized learning teaches students to take ownership of their learning and to become life-long learners, as they will surely need to be in our rapidly changing economy. Our students will not hold the same job for 30 years, or if they do, they will not go about their job the same way for 30 years. Technology is advancing too rapidly for that. They will need to know how to learn.

But we teach in public schools. There's a way things are done--a system. Everybody does the same thing in every classroom, and teachers are the purveyors of knowledge. Students expect it. Parents expect it. Many administrators expect it. Standardized testing almost marries teachers to it.

That's why in order to foment actual change, I believe that we as teachers must work within the system we already have. Minor changes can lead to major ones. We've been talking about taking baby steps. If we take those steps, one at a time, we and our students are better prepared to take a leap at some point. Each baby step we've taken is preparing us to go all in and take that leap. Each Baby Step is a component of Personalized Learning.

We began with student choice--adding one component to a unit that allows students to choose how they will learn a specific target. 

They choose whether they want to read, view, or research--limited options, but still options. They choose how they want to work with the content they are learning, and then they take a quiz to demonstrate their learning.

This is a baby step, but students are getting used to making more choices regarding their learning and teachers are getting used to giving up a level of control.

See Step 1.

Then we brought in a key component of Personalized Learning--re-assessment. 

The idea of not moving on until mastery is achieved is not new. Most students take the SAT multiple times. Highest score wins. I took the Driver's Test three times before I got it right (yup--I'm admitting it). The first two times didn't matter once I got my licence. Even if students fail a course, they are required to retake it (true--the original F still stands, but if they can demonstrate mastery, should it? That's a question for another time).

Personalized Learning offers students the opportunity to relearn and re-assess before they move on. By filling out a Unit Reflection Form, students develop a strategy for re-learning and select a method of re-assessment to demonstrate their knowledge of learning targets.

See Step 2.

The third step was to look at unit design--students need to know exactly what they are supposed to learn. 

In order to do that, each unit needs transparency. Students must understand the standards and learning targets they are aiming for.

We need a consistent and organized structure for delivering transparency. I offered a suggestion in Baby Step 3, but as long as students know what to expect, the specific structures and mediums of delivery don't matter.

See Step 3.

If we are truly personalizing learning, we need a plan for what to do if a student already knows the learning targets for a specific unit. 

This is where baby step four comes in. It involves providing students who pretest out of a unit with a project path so that they can discover more and flex their creativity.

Each part of the project should focus on a specific learning target and will replace specific grades. The student should drive the planning of the project and be responsible for its completion.

See Step 4.

The fifth step is imperative for encouraging student ownership of and reflection on learning--the student-teacher conference. 

These should be conducted regularly. I recommend at the beginning of the year to set goals and then once at the end of every unit. They can be conducted during class while students are working on other things.

I recommend students reflect on these conferences with a journal so that they can track their progress throughout the year and by filling out a Google Form after each conference so that the teacher can track data and growth.

See Step 5.

This last step is more of a leap. It's to find a structure to enable students to learn at their own pace and in their own way for an entire unit.

There is a dynamic vision of personalized learning that is student driven, creative, and laser-focused on specific learning targets. This vision of personalized learning teaches students to take ownership of their learning and to become life-long learners, as they will surely need to be in our rapidly changing economy. This post discusses bringing together the Baby Steps to Personalized Learning and taking the leap.There are several ways to design an entire unit like this, but I am a fan of simplifying things. Here's
what I'm doing:

1. Provide students with the learning targets and key concepts.

These can be digital or in a notebook, depending on your students. Mine are always in a traditional notebook, but when students start on their path, I link to them digitally, as well.

2. Administer a pretest. If they kill it, this is a good opportunity to bring in the project path. Otherwise, they'll be wasting their time. With the project, they're still focused on the learning targets, but they're digging deeper.

3. Give them options as to how they can learn the concepts and learning targets.

I like to keep it simple. Generally--do they like to read, view, or research--but there are many more options. Do they like to listen (podcasts?), move (scavenger hunts?), solve (escape rooms?). This is one thing that separates Personalized Learning from Differentiated Learning.

Though they are similar, Personalized Learning is proactive and Differentiated Learning is reactive. With Personalized Learning, we create templates and gather as many resources as possible. With Differentiated Learning, we scramble to tailor something to a specific student's need. In this way, Personalized Instruction is easier on the teacher.

4. Provide them with a specific study strategy each time, depending on the path they choose.

A huge issue with our students is that they do not know how to study. If we can provide them with an arsenal of strategies, this will benefit them as life-long learners. Some strategies include:

- Card Sorts
- Flash Card Review
- Summarizing Aloud or in Writing
- Picture Representation
- Categorizing
- Discussion
- Student-Created Assessments
- Students Teaching the Information
- Making Connections among Concepts
- Student-Created Mnemonic Devices

There are many tried and true study strategies, but if students experiment with several and find a couple that benefit them currently and in the future, that's invaluable.

5. Provide students with an engaging creative project to solidify and enrich the concepts they just learned.

Understand here that the students are who will make projects creative, well, by creating it. That's their job, not ours as teachers. But if they can become engrossed in a project that has clear learning targets, they are learning. Project ideas can include:

- Writing an Essay
- Designing a Website
- Creating a Museum Display
- Writing and Performing a Skit
- Creating an Ad Campaign
- Student Choice with Teacher Approval (my favorite--the more creative they are, the more engaged they will be)

6. Give a post test.

AutoMastery is a free Google Forms add-on that allows you to level scores in three ways--Mastery, Intermediate, and Beginning. Students will be emailed their next assignment on the road to mastery if they don't achieve it the first time. Here's a tutorial on how to use it.

7. Add opportunities for remediation and bonus opportunities.

Students should be given the opportunity to achieve mastery if at first they don't succeed. Some options for remediation include:

- Edpuzzle (a video with attached activities)
- Digital Puzzles (from sources such as Flippity and LearningApps)
- Readings and Self-Correcting Quizzes
- Trying and Documenting a New Study Strategy (recording evidence on a site such as FlipGrid)

Find a delivery method that works for you.

If you find a template that you can simply plug different options into for purely personalized units, keep using it. Here are some options:

1. LMS (Learning Management System) 
Some school systems subscribe to platforms such as Canvas and Schoology. There are options within these platforms for personalization through adaptive release and student choice.

2. Symbaloo 
Symbaloo is free. Use it to color-code different learning methods. Students can take different colored paths to achieve their learning goals. For example, students who want to learn the material verbally could select green squares, while students who want to learn it visually could select purple squares. You can hyperlink and color-code the squares. Demonstration in Tip 9.

3. Symbaloo Paths
Create a learning path for each type of learning, link to them on an LMS platform for your students, and allow them to decide which path to take. Here's a tutorial on how to create them.

4. Google Slides
I made a template in Google Slides that treats different learning paths like a game. Students select a path based on color and follow that path through to the test. It involves learning, studying, and creating to prepare for assessment.
There is a dynamic vision of personalized learning that is student driven, creative, and laser-focused on specific learning targets. This vision of personalized learning teaches students to take ownership of their learning and to become life-long learners, as they will surely need to be in our rapidly changing economy. This post discusses bringing together the Baby Steps to Personalized Learning and taking the leap.

I created a folder of template docs for adding content to and hyperlinking to the color spaces on the paths. I'm sending this to my email list on Tuesday evening. You can sign up now and get it then.

A Few Parting Tips for Personalizing Learning in Your Classroom

If you are personalizing the learning opportunities in your classroom, accumulation of resources is imperative.

- If somebody gives you something that you can't use now--file it away for later.
- Educate yourself about the resources your county has already purchased. Do you have access to sites with pre-made lessons such as Newsela or Nearpod? You may not use them for your whole class, but you may use them for a single student or as an option.
- If you find a lesson on the web that fits your curriculum but you can't use now--download it. A student may need it in the future.
- Purchase useful resources on sites such as TeachersPayTeachers with the idea that you won't necessarily use them for your entire class, but that you may add them to paths as an option.
- Use a bookmarking system, such as the Google Keep Extension, to mark websites and videos that explain concepts well.
- If you have lectures that your regularly deliver yourself, record yourself doing so with a tool such as Screencastify so that you can assign it to students as part of a path. But there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Always check Khan Academy and Ted Ed to see if they already have something similar. Or just search Youtube--there's a lot out there.

I hope you've gotten something out of this series on personalized learning--even if it's just a resource or an idea to file away for later! Feel free to email me or leave a comment below to let me know what you'd like to explore next--we grow better together. :)

And be sure to check out the entire series, Baby Steps to Personalized Learning.

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The student-teacher conference is vital to any personalized learning environment. The main benefit of personalized learning is student ownership. Click through to see one way to implement them!

This is the fifth part of my series, Baby Steps to Personalized Learning. I'm using this series to discuss small ways to bring personalized learning into our standardized classrooms. The first week, we discussed An Easy Way to Personalize Learning with Student Choice. Then we discussed Assessment and Personalized Learning in a Standardized Classroom. Week 3 was about unit design and Creating Transparent Goals for Personalized Learning. In Week 4, we discussed  Personalized Learning with a Project Path. This week, we're going to talk about the ever-important student conference.

The student-teacher conference is vital to any personalized learning environment.The main benefit of personalized learning is student ownership. Students achieve this ownership through reflection and goal-setting. A great way to do this is by sitting down with students individually and having a conference.

The Student-Teacher Conference Has Three Main Benefits:

1. It encourages student ownership of learning.
The student-teacher conference is vital to any personalized learning environment. The main benefit of personalized learning is student ownership. Click through to see one way to implement them!Students will let go of the notion that teachers "give" them a grade by examining the relationship
between their goals, the actions they take to achieve their goals, and the grade they are earning.

2. It enables goal-setting and progress monitoring.
Students mindfully set goals and take steps to achieve them. If a student is slipping, the conference provides the students with actionable steps to self-correct before it is too late.

3. It fosters a positive student-teacher relationship.
In having individual conferences, students lose that "invisible comfort zone," in which they are passive receptacles of information. These conversations build relationships.

A Practical Plan for Implementing the Student-Teacher Conference:

Materials you will need:
1. Each student should have a Conference Journal. To stay organized, I make mine digital.

The student-teacher conference is vital to any personalized learning environment. The main benefit of personalized learning is student ownership. Click through to see one way to implement them!

2. A Conference Reflection Form. Google Forms work great for this.

The student-teacher conference is vital to any personalized learning environment. The main benefit of personalized learning is student ownership. Click through to see one way to implement them!

My email list is getting the journal and form I'm using as an example this week, but it is simple to create one to suit your needs.

At the beginning of the course, sit down with each student and have them reflect on goals for the course. Guide them through devising a plan for achieving their goals. They should reflect on this in their journal.

The student-teacher conference is vital to any personalized learning environment. The main benefit of personalized learning is student ownership. Click through to see one way to implement them!

During the next conference, students will fill out a slide reflecting on their progress so far. I would have one conference at the end of each unit to provide reflection and motivation for improvement in the next unit. A student workday is an ideal time to do this. I generally either select a day when students are in stations or working on individual learning paths.

The student-teacher conference is vital to any personalized learning environment. The main benefit of personalized learning is student ownership. Click through to see one way to implement them!

After each conference, students should also fill out the form. The first time they fill it out, send the responses to a spreadsheet. You will use this spreadsheet to track student progress throughout the year.

The student-teacher conference is vital to any personalized learning environment. The main benefit of personalized learning is student ownership. Click through to see one way to implement them!

Alphabetize the "Last Name" category so that each of the students' responses throughout the year are grouped together.

The student-teacher conference is vital to any personalized learning environment. The main benefit of personalized learning is student ownership. Click through to see one way to implement them!

Hyperlink the students' journals to their first form response for easy access. If you assign the journals in Google Classroom, each student can automatically get a copy and you can grab each individual link from your Classroom Folder.

The student-teacher conference is vital to any personalized learning environment. The main benefit of personalized learning is student ownership. Click through to see one way to implement them!

At the end of the year, have one final conference in which students reflect on their performance and consider the next school year.

The student-teacher conference is vital to any personalized learning environment. The main benefit of personalized learning is student ownership. Click through to see one way to implement them!

Student-teacher conferences are vital for a personalized learning environment. They encourage student ownership and reflection. They also help build student-teacher relationships.

How do you conduct student-teacher conferences? Leave a comment and let me know. And don't forget to check back in next week for more Baby Steps to Personalized Learning.
And be sure to check out the entire series, Baby Steps to Personalized Learning.


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