“My brain is full!”


2014conf_1dinst_7Connecting Content and Kids: Understanding by Design and Differentiation – 1-Day Institute

Last Monday I attended one day of the Hawker Brownlow Thinking and Learning Conference. I attend almost every year and have always chosen to follow one ‘hero’ for a day. This year I decided to attend Carol Ann Tomlinson‘s and Jay McTighe‘s 1 day institute. They played it like a tag team where Jay talked about Understanding by Design (UbD) and Carol on Differentiation. They integrated the two and while one day is simply not enough to really do these two areas justice we got an overall picture of how to integrate them to benefit the students in our classes.

12 things I heard that made me think:

1. Curriculum is a plan to get kids where they need to go

2. UbD provides the framework for developing the curriculum

3. Instruction is a plan on how we need to teach the curriculum

4. Differentiation provides the framework to carry out instruction

5. Teach all kids as though they are really smart

6. Start with planning for top level learners rather than aiming in the middle, do not dumb it down but work towards getting the students up there

7. Formative assessment is not for filling in report cards but to inform instruction

8. There is a logic in backward design

9. Essential questions are not the right answer questions

10.Teaching is not just serving ingredients but rather blending them in different ways to suit all people’s tastes

11. We learn when things are just a little too hard for you

12. One cannot ‘hand over’ understanding; this is something each learner needs to develop for themselves

Some other things I thought you might find interesting…

Evidence of understanding means you can do one or more of these:

  • explain in your words and justify your responses,
  • interpret,
  • transfer the understanding to a new situation,
  • see other people’s point of view or take a critical stance,
  • empathise, and / or
  • know yourself as a learner.

Reading and writing shouldn’t impair the student from showing you what he/she knows and can do.

One cannot differentiate poor quality curriculum.

Differentiation does not mean multiple assessment tasks, instead, one can simply change the complexity of the task to challenge students based on their skills and knowledge.

As a reference check on the validity of your assessment tasks in meeting your original aims and objectives, why not show the tasks to another teacher and ask them to state what they think your initial goals might have been.

I also think it’s valid to carry out the above with the students who are actually going to be working on the task.


Thanks for reading 🙂

4 ‘cools’ I found out …

This week I spent a day with a bunch of teachers taking time out of their well earned holiday to attend my sessions on ‘Getting Boys Engaged in Learning.’ There were quite a few who attended the face to face sessions and then even bigger numbers who logged in, on live stream. It was a great day for me and I’m hoping that participants took away something they can use. I got some very positive feedback from many of them and even one who took the time to post her thanks on this blog!

There are 5 main reasons I enjoyed the day. The first is that I got to meet and chat with some dedicated educators who really enjoy their vocation and the other 4 reasons are because I found out some very ‘cool’ stuff.

jigsawCool 1: I asked participants to share some ideas about what methods they use to group students. The best idea had to do with jig saw pieces. I love it! Here’s how I interpreted it:

  • Simply grab different pictures / photos* and cut each one into jig saw shaped pieces, (depending on how many you would like in a group)
  • Distribute pieces randomly amongst the students
  • The students then have to find others who have the matching pieces that make up the relevant visual. They then become a group.

*As an extension of this idea, I thought that perhaps the image could be related to the task they will be doing as a group and if the pieces are two sided the instructions or outline could be printed on the back, once they put it together, they can begin the task.

notes appCool 2:  The notes app on iPads and iPhones will type what you say when you hit the microphone key on the keyboard. If you activate the Speak Selection button in Settings/General/Accessibility and then highlight text it will even read it back to you. I’ve been playing with it for ages and it is very accurate.#

# Of course when I went to share this new found phenomenon with my youngest, she already knew all about it and added, “My mac does it too!” GRRRRRRRR fancy not telling me this earlier!

Cool 3: This is more a personal thing that made me happy: there were three participants over the day who had previously attended another one of my workshops and had come back for more! Thanks folks! 🙂

mocking brid bookCool 4: One participant mentioned that her colleague who taught next door was having problems engaging the students in quiet reading sessions so instead of ‘making’ them just read, the teacher challenged the students by asking them to turn their books upside down and then try reading. This strategy not only re-engaged them with the reading but even though they read less, the students actually retained a lot more of what they had read.+ How cool is that?

+ It has been suggested that the more we challenge ourselves in thinking and learning the more information and skills we retain.

As I write this I have just logged out of a live stream session myself, similar to the one that I was holding above – it’s a great way to learn and saves the hassle of driving in, especially on wet and dreary days like today. And …you can stay in your pjs, in your bed or laid out on the sofa to participate. That folks, is yet another cool!

TLN runs many sessions on line. Why not see if any interest you here.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Please feel free to add your thoughts below.

Dear Parent, a note about supporting your child’s learning…

Brainstorms and Mind maps

To get the learning juices flowing, your child may benefit from creating brainstorms about the topic. Brainstorms are different from mind maps because they allow all thoughts to be recorded and then organised later. Mind mapping links ideas which are relevant to the topic being explored. These activities engage the whole brain. The brainstorm starts with a key word in the centre and ideas that spring to mind are arranged as seen below. This can be done as a group activity or individually.


Whatever comes to mind should be written down and discarded afterwards if irrelevant. It can also include visuals. The child then has some simple ideas which can be taken to the next step. One example could be forming simple sentences with the words so as to extend the meaning and relevance of the keyword. The chart could be used as a study reference at a later date.

This brainstorm could also be extended into a more complicated thought process which I like to refer to as the mind map. Here ideas are linked and expanded upon as needed. This promotes deeper thinking.

Mind mapping is an extremely effective way of note taking especially for visual learners who like to be creative. They can easily be transferred onto the back of the ‘dunny’ door or onto small cue cards for review when travelling to and from school.


Another innovative way of taking notes is to place them horizontally instead of vertically. I first saw this at a study seminar held at my school and decided to test it out on my students. This is most effective for many left ‘brainers’, although it works for others too.

Our brain can recall knowledge more easily when it is placed in a similar pattern to the way we read and write – that is, left to right. Our brain can easily recall around four to five major points running down the page, but a myriad of facts when written across the page. Let me explain:

If your child was asked (and I hope this does not occur often) to summarise Chapter 3 of their Science text book:

Firstly I would recommend that they are immediately provided with a highlighter pen and pencil! Children should be encouraged to highlight only key words NOT whole slabs of information. Then I would encourage them as they read each section to take notes like this:

 summaryMajor Fact ( up to 5-6 max going down the page – across filling in minor details about major facts can go as long as is necessary, without going overboard). The child can colour code the facts so that major facts may be red while minor ones may be blue then green. This will assist the brain in differentiating between major and minor facts on recall.

If your child prefers the computer, one of the best on line apps for brainstorming and mind mapping is PADLET.

Another app I recommend for assisting with thinking is Tools 4 Students and at only $1.29 it’s worth every cent!

 Thanks for reading 🙂

What to do when you have a great idea

light_bulbShare it of course!

Don’t expect that everyone will come on board or even think it’s a good idea.

That would be too easy.

Don’t be discouraged but instead, plan to develop your idea and find a few people who are willing to listen and help you do it.

Begin your journey with small steps, be prepared to take one step back, but never underestimate your ability to move forward.

Remember, not all things begin with a bang, sometimes it takes time to nurture and grow and establish deep setting roots. Go quietly and be humble, but always have the end in mind. Share your idea around and see what happens.

As the idea begins to grow, share the story, make others who may be in higher positions aware of what you are doing and get others to tell of their success.

Show them your ideas work, bring the evidence.Reflecting_over_the_ocean_1

New ideas bring change and not everyone likes to change. Your idea may take a while but if you’re patient and your idea is valid then things will eventually change.

Never give up!

Thanks for reading 🙂