Dec 052014

Recently, we have asked our Kindergarten  to 8 French Immersion staff to answer the following question: What does a high-quality French Immersion program look like and sound like? We received a wealth of responses from our staff members. I also participated in the process. Here is the list that I created:

A high quality French Immersion program looks like:

  • A wide range of students with differing needs and abilities are participating and learning an additional language
  • The teacher uses frequent formative assessment strategies to determine student ability and knowledge of content and language
  • Students learn from a range of explicit and inductive instructional experiences to enable their unique learning styles and intelligence types
  • Students work independently or cooperatively in small groups at authentic tasks and explore personal wonders that link the curriculum and the real world that are developmentally appropriate to their learning and or language needs
  • Instruction and tasks develops students language proficiency
  • Students are exposed to multiple rich language models inside and outside of the classroom during the entire school day and interact frequently and meaningfully with the francophone world
  • Students are exposed to excellent diverse learning resources (print and non-print) that are appropriate to their learning and language needs
  • Students engage in learning the language and grammar through authentic communication situations and tasks that are context specific and content rich
  • Students use the language as a tool to structure cognitive processes and as a communicative tool to interact orally frequently with a range of peers for a range of purposes
  • Students draw extensively on their background knowledge of content and language and self-assess their use of strategies, ability, skills, or knowledge according to visible co-constructed developmental continuums
  • Students receive a range of timely supports in French inside and outside of the classroom
  • The language is used as a tool to structure cognitive processes and as a communication tool in frequent interactions with a range of peers
  • The language is used a tool to structure cognitive processes
  • Students read and write a range of fiction and non-fiction texts (in print and non-print)
  • Students feel free to take risk in their learning and communication

A high quality French Immersion program sounds like:

  • The teacher only speaks French to students using vocabulary and structures that are slightly beyond their zone of proximal language development, even if the content is cognitively demanding and uses instructional strategies to ensure that students can access language and content
  • The students only speak French to the teacher and peers and use disciplinary vocabulary, communication methods and language patterns in appropriate contexts
  • Students communicate among themselves using authentic and socially appropriate language
  • The students have sophisticated methods to overcome unknown French words when communicating and continue to use the target language despite slight difficulties
  • The classroom has a continuous buzz of French communication (may appear noisy)
  • Learning targets can be heard being stated by the teacher and students and students can express their current ability level, explain specific things they can do to improve and their preferred strategies to seek support
  • Multiple language models are available to students
  • Students progress through developmental language stages and continue to improve their ability to express ideas, thoughts and fluency in the target language through a range of authentic tasks
  • Students ask and answer a range of questions (simple/closed to complex/open)
  • Students frequently receive immediate positive or negative feedback about their oral production and have the chance to immediately improve their message
  • Students develop and refine implicit grammar structures when communicating authentically during tasks
Dec 052014

Should They StayLate French Immersion

Saskatoon Public Schools is Saskatchewan’s only school division to offer Late French Immersion (LFI). LFI is an intensive two-year program starting in the beginning of grade 6 and finishing at the end of grade 7. Students interested in LFI are not required to have any French language competencies. During the program, students are fully immersed and learn the foundations of the French language using their established thinking and learning skills. At first, students focus on French language acquisition with a reduced emphasis on subject content. Once a sufficient language base has been acquired, they continue to expand their language proficiency while learning content from all subject areas. In the LFI program, students develop the ability to listen, speak, read and write in French. All subject areas in the program are taught in French except for English Language Arts. Once students complete the LFI program, they are encouraged to join the early immersion cohort to form one cohesive class in grade 8 and to pursue their studies until the end of grade 12 in French Immersion so that they may receive a bilingual mention on their high school diploma.

There are many different reasons why families consider accessing the late immersion program. Due to its structure, LFI is the optimal program to allow students to access to a French Immersion program after the kindergarten entrance point. Some parents prefer to have their children develop a solid foundation in English or an alternate mother tongue prior to undertaking French Immersion programming (Cloud, Genesee, & Hamayan, 2009). Others, prefer to wait until their children are old enough and sufficiently mature to make the decision to learn a second language on their own. Access to school bus transportation, access to schools offering the program and the number of students in the program are also factors that impact families’ decision to selecting the program. LFI is not comparable to Intensive French due to the fact that the instructional hours are far greater in the LFI program.

Timeline of Late French Immersion Programming in Saskatoon Public Schools

  • In 2009, Saskatoon Public Schools launched the LFI programming with a grade 6 cohort at École Lakeview (ÉLKVS) School and École Henry Kelsey (ÉHK)
  • In 2011, a grade 6 cohort was launched at École River Heights School (ÉRHS) and the first graduates of LFI program at ÉLKVS and ÉHK joined early immersion students in grade 8 French Immersion classrooms
  • In 2012, the LFI program was closed at ÉRHS
  • In 2013, the LFI grade 6 cohort was moved from ÉLKVS to École College Park School (ÉCPS) and the ÉLVKS LFI program was scheduled to be closed once the grade 7 cohort completed the second year of the program
  • In 2014, LFI programming is still offered at ÉCPS and ÉHK.
  • In 2016, the first LFI students will graduate from Saskatoon Public School collegiates

Benefits of Late French Immersion

  • Offers the opportunity for students to make the independent decision to study French which increases motivation
  • Offers the opportunity for late arriving students who have not previously studied in French Immersion to have the same access as their peers
  • Offers the opportunity to develop a strong foundation in their first language before adding a second language ensuring strong academic skills in both languages
  • Develops cognitive and social skills, strategies to better understand known languages and prepares a person to learn other languages
  • Exposes and develops understanding of French-speaking communities and cultures as well as their own and those of others
  • Develops language learning, critical thinking skills, oral and written expression in students
  • Prepares a student to study French in high school and then at a post-secondary institution or to accept employment in a bilingual work environment

Realities of Late French Immersion

  • Students in LFI have diverse experiences learning French ranging from none and beyond
  • Students who enter LFI received their primary education in English and come from diverse environments and cultures and may not have French or English as a first language
  • Students in LFI have already developed language skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking in their mother tongue), learning strategies and problem-solving strategies
  • At first, students listen and understand language, afterwards they speak, write and read
  • Students who have difficulties in a language will have similar difficulties in French-such as with the reading and writing (Government of Alberta – Education, 2010)
  • Students develop the ability to effectively, practically and appropriately use language for communication of personal, scholastic, social and professional purposes (Genesee, 2004) however, they do not attain equibilingualism (Roy, 2008); which means that they cannot speak both French and English like native born speakers
  • Students who learn languages use their cognitive skills differently from unilingual students (Cook, 2001)
  • Students develop French language skills according to the number of hours they have had of instruction- students who receive the most hours have the highest results (Archibald, et al., 2006)

Suggested Reading

Archibald, J., Roy , S., Harmel, S., Jesney, K., Dewey, E., Moisik, S., & Lessard, P. (2006). A Review of Literature on Second Language Learning. Edmonton: Alberta Education.

Arnett, K. (2013). Languages for All. Toronto: Pearson.

Cloud, N., Genesee, F., & Hamayan, E. (2009). Literacy Instruction for English Language Learners. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Cook, V. (2001). Using the First Language in the Classroom. Canadian Modern Language Review, 57, 3, 402-423.

Cummins, J. (1998). Immerion Education for the Millennium. Learning through two languages: Research and practice., (pp. 33-47). Katoh Gakuen, Japan.

Day, E., & Shapson, S. (1988). A Comparison Study of Early and Late French Immersion Programs in British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Education Vol. 13, No. 2, 290-305.

Genesee, F. (2004). What Do We Know About Bilingual Education for Majority Language Students? In W. R. T.K. Bhatia, What Do We Know About Bilingual Education for Majority Language Students? (pp. 547-576). Malden, M: Blackwell.

Government of Alberta – Education. (2010). Late Immersion Foundation Document. Edmonton: Alberta Education.

Lightbown, P., & Spada, N. (2006). How Languages are Learned. New York: Oxford University Press.

Roy, S. (2008). Learning French in Alberta. Calgary: Blitzprint Inc.

Saskatoon Public Schools. (2013). French Immersion. Saskatoon: Saskatoon Public Schools.

Nov 072014

Gallery walks in a classroom mimic what would happen when you were visiting an art gallery or museum.  Most often, the visitor goes from picture to picture, or exhibit to exhibit trying to understand the artist’s meaning of the picture, or the purpose of the exhibit.  That is exactly what you hope to gain in a gallery walk in your classroom; students critically studying pictures or questions and making responses that would cause others to stop, think, and reflect.  Gallery walks are a great way to stimulate engagement, choice, and collaboration in the classroom.

There are different ways to do a gallery walk in a classroom.  Some Gallery walks are meant to encourage questions and curiosity, while others evaluate student understanding of concepts and unearth misconceptions. Used effectively, gallery walks can be used as an introduction to a unit or theme, as a concept attainment lesson, or as a way to gain peer feedback.  Obviously, gallery walks can be done in art, but they also lend themselves nicely to:

Most commonly, gallery walks are done with questions or pictures.  A gallery walk is a way to create movement for students while they dialogue.  Simply put, students get out of their desks and move through the room past the pictures or the questions.  Students can be recording thoughts, ideas, and answers on their own paper, or putting questions and thoughts up on the chart paper that has been provided so that others can enter into what has been recorded before they get to the gallery walk exhibit.  Depending on your outcome, gallery walks can be done individually, in partners, or small groups.  The number of exhibits can vary for a gallery walk, but realize the more stations the more time that is needed to complete the gallery walk.  Rotating through the exhibits can be a formal organized process where each station gets approximately 3-5 minutes, while other gallery walks can be more fluid allowing the students to choose how long they stay at a station.  Teachers can move through the room collecting observations to inform future lessons, or to stimulate conversations.  It is always important that at the end of the gallery walk that there is some type of synthesis of thought.

Key pieces to keep in mind when creating a gallery walk are:

  • It is most effective when the gallery walk is set up with open ended questions, or a focus that engages in higher order thinking skills
  • Clear step by step instructions and expectations of how the gallery walk should progress and how students should record their learning is important.
  • Arranging the room so that it is conducive to students moving through the different exhibits.IMG_1131
Nov 032014

Language LearnersBeliefs are a foundational aspect of our work in education. They surface and impact our daily work often without being recognized. It’s not at all uncommon to hear French Immersion (FI) teachers discussing dream students. The students are often revered to be the perfect learners who would succeed magnificently in FI. Other students, who do not share the same perceived characteristics as dream students are also frequently discussed by FI teachers but not in the same light. It’s true that the students who are currently enrolled in FI are significantly different than those in the pilot programs across Canada. FI is no longer an elite program, not that it was ever intended to be. When FI teachers encounter students who do not demonstrate the criteria of dream students, it’s not uncommon for these to recommend that the student should leave the FI program. Especially when behaviours or personal learning needs are perceived to be significant. Underlying this whole issue is a foundational belief about FI students and the program itself. Some teachers believe that only some students can be successful in the FI program and others believe that all students can be successful.

Some relevant topics to this issue will not be re-discussed in this post. Please refer to this prior post about supporting FI learners here.

In their 2000 publication, Dual Language Instruction- A Handbook for Enriched Education, Nancy Cloud, Fred Genesee and Else Hamayan discuss in Chapter 4- Oral Language Development, the topic of predictors of success and what makes some students better second-language learners. According to the authors, second-language learners (SLLs) attain proficiency in the second language at uneven rates, which in turn can create frustration for teachers. They explained that common misconceptions and frustration often lead teachers to inaccurately attribute difficulties to cognitive or perceptual disorders in SLLs. In an attempt to create a better understanding about student learning, Cloud, Genesee and Hamayan state that not all students will attain the same level of proficiency in the second language and that teachers should become comfortable with the uneven rate of proficiency demonstrated by students in FI.

Common in conversation between teachers is the belief that our most successful SLLs can attribute their success to strong verbal intelligence. According to the authors, this intelligence type plays a minor role and only specifically in the context of literacy. High academic achievers will not necessarily be successful in a FI program. Patsy M. Lightbown and Nina Spada, authors of How Languages are Learned (2014) would agree with this statement. In chapter 2, they discuss learner characteristics and are unable to identify any specific characteristic that would consistently predict learner success in language learning.

For Cloud, Genesee and Hamayan, the heart of student success in learning an additional language is the students’ attitude towards the language and its speakers, the motivation to learn demonstrated by the student and how comfortable the student feels in a second language classroom. Lightbown and Spada confirm this adding that the learning conditions and the environment can significantly impact a learner’s rate of learning and use of language. Ultimately, teachers should remember that each learner will develop, refine and become proficient in the language at a rate that is unique to them. Unfortunately, due to external pressures, this is not what is most commonly supported by FI teachers.

As outlined by Lyn Sharratt in the first parameter, all students can achieve high standards given sufficient time and the right support. Of significant impact to students’ ability to achieve are the beliefs that teachers have about their capacity to learn. What do you believe about FI learners? Has this always been your belief? Has your belief ever changed, and why?

Oct 292014

Counterbalanced LysterStudents who acquire a new language in an immersion program are engaging in an extremely challenging task. Their ability to accurately and effectively learn the target language is dependent on many factors, of which, the quality of the instruction, the range of the classroom and instruction discourse as well as the effectiveness of the feedback for learning are most significant.
Without these, persistent and long-term problems develop in students’ language use patterns.

In his 2007 book Learning and Teaching Languages Through Content, Roy Lyster warns that incidental attention drawn to language during the instruction of subject areas is insufficient and may even mislead student learners. He states on page 29:

“without having their attention drawn more systematically to the target language, the cognitive predispositions of second language learners interact with classroom input in ways that restrict the incidental assimilation of specific target features and grammatical subsystems, such as verbs, pronouns, and gender in the case of French immersion students.”

In French Second Language classrooms, According to Brigitte Harley’s research (1993), an explicit focus needs to be drawn on:

  • Unexpected and non-obvious features that differ from students’ first language
  • Irregular and infrequent features in the second language input
  • Features that do not carry a heavy communicative load

Lyster explains that using Harley’s research explains persistent difficulties experienced by French Immersion students, specifically: verbal systems, pronominal reference and gender attributions. These difficulties, he explains, are due to incongruence with students’ first language, lack of prominence in instructional discourse and redundancy in communicative interactions.
Of significant note for teachers, students eliminate language forms that they perceive to be redundant which explains why immersion students prefer perfective verb forms, singular forms of pronouns and masculine gender forms. Immersion teachers therefore need to create opportunities, explicitly model, and offer useful feedback for immersion students so that they may build a clear understanding of the form and function of these language features.Other researchers have affirmed the belief that target language features that create a misleading similarity between the first and second language should be explicitly taught to students because these students demonstrate long-term difficulty acquiring these through communicative interactions and that these are most often infrequent in classroom discourse.

Oct 292014

How Languages are LearnedLast year, I was very interested in trying to uncover some foundational research regarding first and second language acquisition and instruction. Throughout the year I looked at a range of articles and books although I struggled to satisfied my query. This year, I purchased a copy of How Languages are Learned (2006) by Patsy M. Lightbown and Nina Spada.

The book seemed relevant to my portfolio as the authors included a significant amount of research and content from French Immersion programs. The book includes several topics that are confirming and enhancing my knowledge of language acquisition. I would strongly recommend this book to any language teacher or person who works in a language program. Check out these Youtube videos with the authors.

In the introduction, the authors offer the reader an opinionaire. Although the questions do not represent all facets of language learning, the 17 listed questions do cover a range of topics. The following prompts are taken directly from the book although I’m not including all 17 in this post. Please read the prompt and reflect on your experience, education and training for language instruction. Afterwards, respond to the prompt using a Likert scale ranging from Completely disagree, Somewhat disagree, Neutral, Somewhat agree to Strongly agree.

These questions may allow you to uncover your beliefs about and your stance towards language learning. I am very interested in your opinion.

Please comment!

Scale: Completely disagree   Somewhat disagree   Neutral   Somewhat agree   Strongly agree

  • Languages are learnt mainly through imitation.
  • Highly intelligent people are good language learners.
  • The most important predictor of success in second language acquisition is motivation.
  • The earlier a second language is introduced in school programs, the greater the likelihood of success in learning.
  • The best way to learn new vocabulary is through reading.
  • It is essential for learners to be able to pronounce all the individual sounds in the second language.
  • Once learners know roughly 1000 words and the basic structure of the language, they can easily participate in conversations with native speakers.
  • Teachers should present grammatical rules one at a time, and learners should practice examples of each one before going on to another.
  • Teachers should teach simple language structures before complex ones.
  • Learners’ errors should be corrected as soon as they are made in order to prevent the formation of bad habits.
  • Teachers should use materials that expose students to only those language structures they have already been taught.
  • When learners are allowed to interact freely (for example, in group or pair activities), they copy each other’s mistakes.
  • Teachers should respond to students’ errors by correctly rephrasing what they have said rather than by explicitly pointing out the error.
Aug 182014

I know my students want to be with others students and care so much about what their friends (and their non-friends) think.  In fact, I can’t always get them to stop being with each other and focus on what we are supposed to be learning.  The good news is, it isn’t a question of time with peers or time for learning.  Research actually shows that students learn much more effectively with each other than by themselves, provided the teacher sets it up carefully. In fact, the “research on cooperative learning is one of the greatest success stories in the history of educational research” (Slavin et al., 2003, p. 177). There are 4 main reasons that working with peers is so important for adolescents:

What Research says the Value of Learning with Peers

1. Motivation: When you work is necessary for others, you want to do a better job.  In well-constructed environments where peers help each other learn, each person is critical to the teams’ success and has a personal role. Research shows there are four key intrinsic motivators a teacher can tap into: student interests, someone really needing what the student is doing, peers valuing what a student does and student feels of early and continued success. Working with peers to increase motivation in the first three, and sometimes the fourth.

2. Social cohesion and connection: Peers work hard because they care about the group and how they are perceived by peers. In adolescence, this is one of the most powerful positive or negative motivating forces. How the teacher structures the groups and creates a safe environment determines if collaboration uses social cohesion to increase learning or reduce it.

3. Personalization: Almost 80% of the feedback students get in a class is from their peers, and peers are much more likely to answer questions quickly than a teacher is.  In addition, students are more willing to ask direct questions of peers and typically get responses more specifically directed at what they don’t understand.  One downside is that peer’s explanations for “why” are often incorrect. Teachers need to structure peer learning to surface common misconceptions and correct them, and then personalization and feedback our powerful ways to improve student learning.

4. Cognitive elaboration: When people work in groups, they need to understand their ideas more fully to explain them to others, and they often gain insights, see errors, or find connections they would not understand on their own. Collaboration builds richer, more nuanced understanding than learning in isolation.

John Hattie  notes that the effect on learning for cooperative learning is better than common alternatives in terms of effect size (.52), and “much higher” if skills are explicitly taught (p. 78 of Visible Learning for Teachers).  If students know the basics before learning with peers starts, students learn more completely than they do in either individual or competitive learning environments.

Ensuring Students are Growing Learning by Working with Peers

There are many things you can do to help and lots of instructional approaches to try (there is definitely another blog post in there), but here are some of the key ones:

  • As the teacher, you ensure the classroom is a safe place to make mistakes and grow for everyone in the room.  One of the few times collaborative  or peer based learning does not help students is if they fear peers will hurt them or are judging them.
  • You make sure everyone has enough of the basic understanding and skills they need to start working with others. The focus of the work with others is on peers helping each other understand and apply learning.
  • Everyone has a different and important job.  The students are working as a group, not just in a group.
  • Peer processes focus much more on understanding together than doing common assignments. When there is a common assignment, everyone has a personal product and mark.
  • You teach your students to give good feedback about tasks, processes and self-regulation.
  • You structure and monitor peer learning, providing prompts and using questioning and feedback often.
  • Groups have mixed ability level and preferences, and students work with a variety of members of the class over time.


Read more about these concepts in works by the following authors:

May 192014

This year, Saskatoon Public Schools has struck a strategic committee to review its highly successful French Immersion (FI) program after 30+ years of instruction. The committee includes diverse voices from throughout the program from K-12 including classroom teachers, a Teacher Librarian, a Resource Teacher, schools administrators, the French Immersion Instructional Consultant, a Coordinator of Curriculum and Instruction and is chaired by a superintendent of Education. One of the first tasks taken on by the committee has been drafting a vision statement for Saskatoon Public School’s French Immersion program.

While drafting the vision statement, several pertinent questions were uncovered by members of the committee. These questions lead to rich discussion and were not easily answered. Some of the most challenging questions were:

  • What is the goal of a FI program?
  • What does a FI program consistently accomplish?

One of the most immediate answers to the question of the goal of a FI program was to achieve bilingualism. Members of the committee debated the definition of bilingualism in Canada, Saskatchewan and in Saskatoon and the level of proficiency of French Immersion graduates. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines bilingual as : 1. having or expressed in two languages 2. Using or able to use two languages especially with equal fluency. The discussion continued to explore bilingualism until a group analysis of our past and present students was initiated by this question:

  • Who were the historical FI students and who are the current students enrolled in French Immersion?

This last question was particularly interesting because historically FI students in Saskatoon were children born to families who spoke English exclusively. Currently, it is not uncommon to have a significant percentage of students in a FI classroom who speak more than one language. The goal of bilingualism doesn’t seem to accurately represent these students although they are enrolled in FI to learn French. Our committee started to explore the possibility of referring to students as language learners who are working towards the goal of being able to read, write and speak French, but to which extent?

I shared one of most recent pieces of research I had read on the subject of bilingualism to support the committee with the task of expanding the wording of the vision statement. Roy Lyster in his 2007 publication Learning and Teaching Languages Through Content – A counterbalanced approach quotes (Day & Shapson 1996:91) on page 22 stating: ”Functional bilingualism”-is a vague and relative notion and can mean anything from the ability to understand and make oneself understood and get by in everyday social situations to the ability to function like a well-educated native-speaker in demanding social and professional settings”. The members of the committee shared the same opinion that bilingualism seemed vague and was interpreted differently by all members of the committee. To counter this vagueness, Lyster later quotes Fred Genesee on the same page refining that bilingual competence is: ”the ability to use the target languages effectively and appropriately for authentic personal, education, social, and/or work-related purposes.” Because of the complexity of the program and the task of creating an all-encompassing vision statement, the committee concluded the meeting making a commitment to continue to reflect on the terms and language of the vision statement.

During our next meeting, we will continue our work drafting and committing to a vision statement that encompasses the unique elements of our K-12 French Immersion program and the diverse language learners it serves.


Lyster, R. (2007). Learning and Teaching Languages Through Content: A Counterbalanced Approach. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

May 132014

Tuesday evening, Saskatchewan launched its first MOOC (watch this video to learn about what a MOOC is).  Its main focus is Digital Citizenship – specifically what teachers can do to help students be successful digital citizens.  You can find everything in the main site @ .  I was excited to hear tonight that various extra sessions around 21st Century skills are also being offered on the calendar. If you haven’t joined yet, you still can at the website.

One of the main points from tonight is that the best way to be an active digital citizen is to “find your space”. Alec (a friendly guy equipped with expertise and tools) explained that it isn’t essential that everyone use the same tool, but rather that everyone be active in growing the learning of others.  I use the phrase “Learning out loud” and I think it is really important to be connected, reflecting and sharing. As teachers we want our students to be reflective and connected to powerful allies who help them learn.  We want them to metacognitive, life long learners.  We know technology is important, but many of us also know it can be really hard to keep up with all the changes in technology.

The big reason I am involved in all things technology related is because my “space” has always been the place that engages my students.  I know my students use technology to learn more than they use anything else – it is how they choose to learn and connect without anyone compelling them to. I want to prepare my students to be successful there. Not just literate, but fluent. Powerful learners with technical skills that empower them.

This DCMOOC thing is about learning how to be in that digital space and being there with others who also care about supporting students. Looking forward to learning with you!



May 062014

Like many teachers, I’d say I am pretty good at explaining new ideas to others.  I use a wide variety of types of instruction (interactive and indirect are my favorites) and I try to reach all my students. But despite my best efforts, there are students who I don’t reach and concepts my students always struggle more with.  Sometimes these are the most frustrating moments as a teacher, because you’ve already given your students your best, but it isn’t enough for them to “get it.”

Responsive Instruction is all about what to do when students don’t “get it”, but it is part of a large cycle (see Responsive Instruction Poster v2) that teachers use in everything from planning, to instruction, to assessment.This post is a summary of the elements of Responsive Instruction, which starts with curriculum and works around 2 key mindsets. The second half of the cycle, the success mindset, is a heartening way to respond when some students don’t yet understand.

Preventing the Problem: Start with a clear goal

As always in our teaching and learning, the heart of the Responsive Instruction is curricular outcomes. The teacher looks determines which outcomes or outcomes will be addressed in a sequence of instruction, and picks a specific learning goal for the day.  It is critical to start with a clear goal, because having one clear goal makes it much easier to diagnose what students struggle with.

Preventing the Problem: Focus on your students’ strengths

Once the grade level learning goal is in place, the teacher thinks about the learning with the Differentiation Mindset. This mindset has 4 key elements, all of which are about knowing the student:

  • student skills
  • student interests
  • student level of current knowledge and understanding
  • student learning style, preference and culture

A teacher keeps this Differentiation Mindset while working through the initial instruction of a new concept or process and uses a series of specific steps including: determining indicators or success criteria, pre-assessing, choosing and using an instructional strategy, and finally, using a quick check (formative assessment) to see what students understood. When you make changes to your instruction that cater to student skill level, interests or culture, you reduce the barriers your students face.  It also helps improve your relationship with your students, making it easier for them to learn from you. This means more students get it the first time.

Addressing the Problem: Responding when students don’t get it.

At the heart is a Success Mindset is the belief that all students can learn when given sufficient time and supports.The Success Mindset has 5 key elements a teacher uses:

  1. Reteaching
  2. Allowing students multiple opportunities for success
  3. Increasing choice and relevance
  4. Adjusting pace
  5. Providing additional supports

Through re-teaching, feedback and student reflection, a teacher prepares all the students to be ready to try the summative task (like a project, performance or test). Read more about reteaching:

Responsive instruction is a process that effective teachers use to ensure every student has a real opportunity to complete the learning. Through starting where students are, finding misunderstanding and directly addressing issues so all students can succeed is at the heart of good responsive instruction.

You are welcome to read more about responsive instruction in the following related posts: