Differentiation & the Brain - Chapter 3: Curriculum

I've been doing a lot of reading lately and one book I've been reading with my Tools for Teaching Teens Team is Differentiation and the Brain by David Sousa and Carol Tomlinson.  I'm here to talk about chapter 3, Curriculum & Differentiation, but if you haven't read Chapter 1 yet head back to Ellie's blog.  And Chapter 2 is on Brigid's blog.

Chapter 3 spends most of its time defining what qualifies as quality curriculum because the quality of the curriculum not only communicates to the student our regard for them and their potential, but also without quality curriculum we fail to really teach our students no matter how much we differentiate the material.  In defining quality curriculum the authors lay out 5 key characteristics.
1. The curriculum should be organized around essential content goals.
2. The curriculum should be aligned with the content goals, assessments, and learning experiences.
3. It should be focused on student understanding.
4. The curriculum should be engaging for the students.
5. It must be authentic.

Through further explanation of these characteristics we learn that two key questions must be answerable for students when they are given material to learn and digest.
*** Does this make sense?
*** Does this have meaning?

When learning both makes sense and has meaning for a student, it is more likely to be remembered and retained in their memory for recall and use later.  Therefore, if we can integrate the curriculum more, rather than compartmentalize learning, it will help to establish meaning and thus increase learning.

Who hasn't had a student ask, "Why do we have to know this? When am I ever going to use this?" The quality curriculum that has meaning and makes sense, answers these two questions.  If a student is asking these two questions, they clearly have not reached meaning or sense of the information as of yet.

Along with this is the idea that learning must be relevant to the student to enhance their understanding of the material.  When learning is relevant, it increases student motivation, which develops neural circuitry, which in turns increases student achievement.  Thus the most important tasks are those that ask students to take their basic knowledge and skills and use them to explore and extend their understanding, not simply recall facts and figures.

Something that struck me in the reading and is very different than how I was taught to differentiate curriculum in college is that the authors do not believe that curriculum should come first and then be differentiated to meet student's needs.  Rather they believe that differences in students should be anticipated and incorporated as the curriculum is being developed.

This chapter points us towards a better outcome by encouraging the use of meaningful, appropriate lessons based around how we lead the students to reach an objective of attaining expertise in a content goal. We do this by applying what we know about the students to the lesson, rather than simply applying a hard curriculum to the students. The lesson should be molded to the students in order to let the knowledge sink in.

Now, to read on and learn about chapter four and Assessment and Differentiation, visit Leah's blog.


Love Isn't Always Easy

Things have been trying lately, but I wouldn't change it for the world.  See I'm married to my high school sweetheart as they call it, although I only knew him for a whole 9 weeks while we were actually in high school.  Our first date was June 2, 1988 (27 years ago), on his last day of high school and from that day on we were smitten.  We were engaged one month later, married four years later, and had our first child 2 years after that.  Twenty-three (married years) later we are still going strong, although now we sometimes have to work at it, to make things spark or sail or fly along.


Love isn't always easy.  Some days it takes work.  Some days we disagree and have to reach a healthy resolution.  Some days one of us might just wake up disagreeable and the other person has to realize it's nothing personal.  Some days, weeks, or months (in this particular case) our job pulls us farther and farther away from one another and we have to know that it's all for the greater good; that the work being put in now will benefit us in the not too distant future.  We have to understand that if we can weather a few storms today, we can find shelter together in a beautiful tomorrow.  Love isn't always easy, but if it's love, you're willing to endure some hardships for the beauty, togetherness, and happiness that waits on the other side.


When I'm left to fill the void left by husband as he ventures off to his job, I work on another love of mine, albeit one that is not as torturous to the heart nor as consuming as my own profession - gardening.  I love to get my hands dirty and dig in the dirt.  I never wear gloves when I'm out there.  I'd much rather feel the dirt between my fingers even if I have to jump and squeal from the occasional spider or centipede.  I love the peace and quiet (and shade of my favorite garden) as I sit and weed for an hour or two every week.  I love the beauty that comes from the blooming flowers and the compliments from the neighbors.  It just all brings about a peace and a serenity that I don't often get in my life.
What isn't easy about this passion is that every year I have to start over because I stink at gardening so badly.  Even my favorite garden, which is a perennial garden, somehow manages to need starting over every year.  They're perennials because they're supposed to come back year after year, but not mine.  This beautiful garden that my husband built me has about 14 plants in it, and usually each year I must replant at least half the plants as I have somehow managed to kill them by not properly preparing them for the Colorado winter.  The plant industry must love people like me.

Interactive Notebooks

Another thing I love but yet takes a lot of energy, heart and soul in doing so, is my Interactive Notebooks.  I love creating Interactive Notebooks, or living books as we used to call them back when I started teaching.  I love getting kids involved, making lessons that are creative, and figuring ways to teach something with a flippable, foldable, or spinnable activity.  I love putting my lessons out there for others to use and considering the idea that hundreds or thousands of students could be learning about something because I made it accessible to them.  That's a pretty awesome feeling.

 Egypt Interactive Notebook

With every Interactive Notebook, however, also comes a time where I hit a wall in my creativity, and I have to take a break from it before I explode.  I also find that it's not always easy to put my books out there.  With my own children being grown, these books are like my babies.  I'm invested in them and I've sunk so much of my time and energy, passion and creativity into them, it's like putting a piece of your soul out there to be criticized.  It can be hard to watch the reviews come in, but like everything you love...it's not always easy, but if it's truly something you love than it's worth it to make it better.


Mile High TPT Meet Up

Last Saturday I was able to partake in my first TPT meet up, and it was a great first experience.

Around 2 dozen Colorado sellers got together in southern Denver at Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant for some great discussion, fun exchanges, and lots of laughs.  It was such a thrill to finally meet Leah Popinski, Pamela Kranz, Jean Martin, and many other sellers, not to mention Ashley Cook of Teaching in Bronco Country who put our festivities together and did a stellar job.  I was really glad to meet some friendly faces before I head to Vegas for the big conference in July.

We had a delightful lunch and then partook in a school supply white elephant exchange.  I got giant post-it notes; I didn't even know they existed that large.  I gave away a package of my favorite flair pens, some post-it notes, and a bag of M&Ms.

Once the school supply exchange was over, we then had a raffle for great prizes donated by awesome companies.  A big thank you goes out to Learning Resources, Little Knits Studio, Lakeshore Learning, Scentco, BIC, GoNoodle, Learning Expeditions, Gifts By Gaby, Classroom Friendly Supplies, KristyBear Designs, and Plan Book.

If that wasn't enough we also got an incredible swag bag full of great items to use in our classrooms.  My favorites were the assortments of pens and pencils from Bic and the scented pen from Smens.  What can I say, I'm a office supply-aholic.

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