Sunday, January 26, 2014

Choices, Choices...Menus

Although all students have different learning styles and preferences, choice is the one option that meets all students’ needs. - Laurie E. Westphal

What are menus? 

Menus are a scaffolding structure that allow educators to differentiate learning experiences while allowing them to meet with small groups of learners. A menu is a list of choices that learners use to choose an activity or activities that they would like to complete to show what they have learned.

Let’s look at how some of our fantastic CISD educators have used menus in their classrooms. Our first guest blogger is the powerful 2nd Grade team from Mockingbird Elementary.

Second grade has implemented math menus during our math block this fall. We have tried using menus in several different ways in order to differentiate for our learners. For example, every learner had the same menu for place value. However, the menu had tasks that ranged in depth and complexity. Some tasks allowed learners to demonstrate basic understanding while others tasks allowed learners to apply the knowledge to a new situation. Before introducing our addition/subtraction unit we administered a pre-assessment. Learners then received different menus based on the results of the test. Both levels of the addition/subtraction menus had tasks ranging from knowledge acquisition to application. However, the skill level required to complete the tasks was differentiated for individual learners.

Learners worked on the menus independently or in pairs. This allowed the educator to pull small groups for instruction. We have tried several different ways to structure this time. At times, learners can self-select to come to mini-lessons for instruction. At other times, the educator determines which learners need direct instruction in order to complete tasks on the menu.

Before our very first experience with menus, we introduced a menu as a whole group and modeled the various menu options. We related the structure of the independent work time to that of Daily 5, since that structure is so familiar to our learners.

We feel that math menus have allowed our learners choice, which increases engagement. We feel it has allowed the educators on our team a greater opportunity to meet the individual needs of everyone. The learners are very enthusiastic and eager to begin the journey through their menus each day!

Our second guest blogger is Dean Boykin from North. Dean and Jaimie Graves have used menus several times in their classrooms.

We have done menus for three different units already this year.  They are great for differentiation and student choice.  We used different menus for preAP, on-level, and for students requiring modifications.  The best part of menus is the immediate feedback and the learner-teacher communication.  Each product must be “defended” by the learner for him/her to receive credit.  Each menu always includes a FREE CHOICE allowing the learner to design his own product once it is approved by the teacher.  I was surprised by the number of students who chose to go the Free Choice route.  The learners enjoyed the choice aspect of the menu.  One thing that we noticed was that it takes more time than we had planned.  The grading can be tough but since it’s all done during class, there is nothing to take home.

What are some characteristics of good menus?
Laurie Westphal, author of several books about Differentiating Instruction with Menus, shares some characteristics to address when designing menus.

  • Higher Level Thinking is involved in the tasks or products created by learners
  • Products from all learning styles are included in the tasks
  • Free Choice is included if possible
  • Specific guidelines on the use and expectations for the menu are included for learners
  • Due Date is included
  • There is a method for learners to express interest (i.e. as the educator discusses each product, there is a checkbox, or place for learners to note their interest in that product

Are you wanting to see some examples of scaffolding activities? Visit our website full of examples.

Reflect on the examples above and use the comment section below to answer some of the following questions:

  • How could you implement menus in your design experiences for your learners?
  • Is there one thing that really stands out from the two examples that you could implement in your classroom?
  • If you’re already using menus, tell us about your experiences!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Scaffolding...Design Matters!

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

As an educator it is up to you to design learning experiences for your learners.  Each time you sit down to design, you should make the following design considerations.  You might choose one or two to focus on for each unit.  Variety in these design considerations for your units throughout the year, will lead to meeting the needs of multiple learners in multiple ways.  It is with these design considerations in mind that you move forward in choosing the best scaffolding experiences for your learners.  

Design Considerations*:
  • Learning Outcomes
  • Future Ready Outcomes
  • Learning Styles
  • Ability and Readiness
  • Culture (background and needs)
  • What resources you have available
  • Voice and Choice
  • Brain Based

*The next module of our challenge will focus more on these design considerations.

What is Scaffolding?
Experiences designed by educators to provide support during the learning process and respond to the needs of diverse learners with the intention of helping the learner achieve the desired learning outcomes are known as scaffolding.

Why would you use different scaffolding structures?
Scaffolding is designed to meet learner needs based on interest, ability, readiness, culture, etc. Scaffolding design structures provide learners more control and responsibility for their learning. Scaffolding experiences encourage collaboration and engagement.  Learners AND educators are given the opportunity to ask and answer questions while making meaning.  When designed properly, scaffolding allows for voice and choice while promoting a deeper level of learning.  

Scaffolding...Design Matters!

5 Scaffolding Design Structures
  • Menus - Menus are a scaffolding structure that allow educators to differentiate learning experiences while allowing them to meet with small groups of learners. A menu is a list of choices that learners use to choose an activity or activities that they would like to complete to show what they have learned.
  • Ports - Ports are places that learners can go to experience and learn information.  These ports can be set up within the classroom and can be accessed at any time. Ports can be based on interest or need.  Learners may complete the ports in any order, and may not need to complete all ports.
  • Stations - Stations are different places in the classroom where learners work on tasks simultaneously, and whose activities are linked by the same standard. Typically all learners complete all stations.  Each station may offer choice and provide for differentiation based on learner interest or need.
  • Workshops - One type of workshop is one that lasts the entire class period, with an intro mini-lesson, workshop time, and debrief at the end. Within PBL, workshops are defined as need-based mini lessons for small groups or the whole group of learners.
  • Digital Learning Environments - Three types of digital learning environments are Blended Learning, Flipped Classroom, and Virtual Learning.  These can be used to offer voice and choice to learners through technology.  Learners access the learning activities they need virtually using a variety of technology tools.
Throughout the next 7 weeks we will be focusing on scaffolding and the 5 design structures.

Use the comment section below to answer some of the following questions:
  • As you look at the definitions above, reflect on your own classroom.  If you have used any of the 5 designs, briefly describe your experiences.
  • What was the benefit to you and your learners?
  • What questions do you have about these design structures?

Monday, January 13, 2014

EduSlam Coppell: Assessment Resources

Last week, the iTeam wrapped up the second module of Unlock Your Digital Genius Professional Learning Challenge with a webinar showcasing 3 different assessment resources in the form of an EduSlam., Thinglink and were the three resources highlighted in the webinar as tools for formative assessment and feedback.

We invite you to view the EduSlam Coppell video, modeled after

How do you see yourself using these resources to assess and/or gain feedback from your learners?
Have you had any experience with any of these resources?
How did the feedback change your instruction?