Monday, September 26, 2016

Teacher as Linchpin Digital Differentiation in Reading and Writing

Teacher as Linchpin: 

Digital Differentiation in Reading and Writing

Differentiation is not new or radically different in the middle of the 21st century. Despite technology creating better tools funded by the Gates Foundation and other education funders, a teacher is still required. Why? The teacher knows the needs of a student better than any technology ever will. The various digital differentiation tools discussed in this blog are just that, tools to aid the primary teacher.

Technology creates the availability to diagnose and prescribe reading differentiation rapidly. Sounds great, doesn't it? The difficulty lies in two fundamental issues. Does the program engage students sufficiently to keep them working through the various assignments and does the student care sufficiently to be correctly diagnosed by the program? These two interdependent issues are the crux of whether a program will efficiently diagnose and prescribe differentiation for a student. The teacher continues (amazing, right?) to be the linchpin in reading differentiation.

Seth Godin, in his book Linchpin: Are you Indispensable?, argues " The linchpin feels the fear, acknowledges it, then proceeds." When teachers become fearful that their knowledge of a student is inferior to a digital assessment of the same student, they cease being a linchpin. Godin writes, " It’s impossible to be a linchpin if you agree to feed your anxiety." Godin goes on to argue that we have made a Faustian bargain, "in which we trade our genius and artistry for apparent stability.” #teacherleaders learn overcome their fear and continue to make the best choices for their student, sometimes in the face of controversy.

Our school began our reading digital differentiation with +curriculumassociates i-Ready.  The research on i-Ready validly predicted EOY test scores.  i-Ready diagnoses and prescribes a path for each student. Sound marvelous? True, it did allow the teacher to pull small groups, but students began to spend much longer on an assignment. It looked like a student was working on their assignments, but perhaps they were just staying logged in. Parents tried to help students catch up on assignments in i-Ready, but they encountered similar issues. The cartoon based i-Ready assignments felt childish to our middle school students. After two years, we decided to move on to a program that offered both reading and writing with no cartoon characters involved.

During the second year of our i-Ready implementation, we used ReadTheory with ourPre-AP students. ReadTheory is free. They have added writing that can be graded by the teacher. ReadTheory begins with a pretest for all students. Students are then prescribed a path which adapts based on each passage for each student. Our students liked the passages and wanted to share what they were learning. The research supports the effectiveness of ReadTheory. 

We decided to leave i-Ready on the guidance of our teachers and the experiences of the students. In January of 2016, a few teachers on one campus tried a pilot of Thinkcerca. Excited by the possibilities with this platform, Thinkcerca leader, @katycerca, provided 24 hours of open access for all of our teachers to try the full function of the platform. After a survey of all of the ELA teachers in the district, and a lengthy meeting with all of the Academic leaders in the district, the decision was made to switch to Thinkcerca for all students 6-12. Thinkcerca is not merely an ELA product. It is intended to be used across the disciplines in Math, Science, Social Studies, and ELA. 

Innovation is challenging;  it is messy. Thinkcerca requires teachers to be more hands on during lab (remediation/enrichment) time and to plan, score, comment, provide focus goals, and record grades. Unlike other platforms, teachers are critical to the implementation of Thinkcerca.  Recently, at #ECET2NJ,  @MeenooRami said, "It's teachers - not technology - that are the next big disruptors in education." With Thinkcerca, our teachers can use their artistry to develop their students reading and writing skills through carefully applied differentiation. Teachers ARE the linchpins in our students' lives. “The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin,' according to Godin.

Suzanne M. Rogers, M.Ed @Rogers_suzanne

District Director of Professional development, AP English Teacher, ELA Coach and cradle United Methodist.

Thank you to the Teacher Practice Network, Arkansas Public School Resource Center, A Project of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, with funding by the Gates Foundation. #TPNlead