Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Differentiated Instruction through the 8 Elements of Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning (PBL) is an efficient structure for Differentiated Instruction (DI). Here is a breakdown of suggested means to differentiate within the 8 elements of PBL. Additional references are at the end of this document.

1.     Significant Content
Scaffolding content and skills based on students’ readiness is important when differentiating content. The Project Teaching and Learning Guide is a necessary tool for breaking down the concepts and skills learners must acquire. Based on this analysis, teachers design scaffolded lessons for supporting learning in case students do not succeed with the 1st or 2nd attempt.
Suggested strategies:
Tiered activities, Think Dots, Graphic Organizers, media that represents content differently, RAFTs, Homogenous study groups, Guided Reading, Mini-Workshops, Multiple Intelligences (such as Robert Sternberg), Readers Apprenticeship

2.     21st Century Skills
Skills such as Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Innovation are important learning tools as well as global skills. Effective teams help each other grasp content and think critically in a thoughtful manner. Assessment should be a varied mix of approaches such as written, oral, and media-based. Evaluations should include feedback from the students about themselves and each other. These practices support development of 21st Century Skills, learning content, and foster more accurate outcomes.
Suggested strategies:
Teaming heterogeneously and homogeneously  jigsaw, fishbowl, tiered activities, learning contracts, learning profile cards, Critique groups, Writer’s Workshop

3.     Driving Question
The DQ is a focus for the PBL unit. Students must answer the question by the end of the project to demonstrate understanding of the key concepts. Students find content purposeful when a DQ is targeted for an audience beyond the classroom or building. Often generated by teachers, students can generate their own so as to focus on their interests within the unit. DQs can be framed to address different levels of content complexity.
Suggested strategies:
Tiered composition, RAFTs, Self-generated, Mentors

4.     In-Depth Inquiry
Deep research and understanding of content is essential to critical thinking and analysis. We coach students, sometimes with scaffolds, to help them practice thinking tools. Metacognitive skills help learners make sense of targeted outcomes.
Suggested strategies:
Mini-workshops, Tiered activities, RAFTs, Fishbowl, Socratic Seminars, Graphic Organizers, Jigsaws, Multiple Intelligences (such as Robert Sternberg)

5.     Need to Know
Relevance and purpose are critical factors to learn something. How we connect the concepts and skills to students’ schema for what is important or related to them leads to deeper roots of comprehension. Entry events and entry documents when combined help build the initial buzz for a unit when strong relevance is made apparent. Relating the DQ to daily lessons helps students to understand how what is work today connect to the final product or presentation at the end of the unit.
Suggested strategies:
Multi-media, Field Trips, Guest speaker, simulation, team-based activity, on-going connections to contemporary world of students, multiple intelligence (such as Robert Sternberg)

6.     Voice and Choice
Students build interest when they have choices. They have buy-in when they have voice in their learning. The “Need to Know” activity fosters buy-in because students determine when content is sufficiently addressed. Having an open-ended product, aligned to clear criteria, encourages students to express themselves in whatever medium that allows them to best demonstrate understanding. Choices are good when teachers need to maintain a narrow scope for student responses. Voice promotes deeper understanding, driven by the curiosity and interest of the learner.
Suggested strategies:
Frayer Model, Think Dots, RAFTs, multiple intelligence (such as Robert Sternberg)

7.     Revision and Reflection
Learning how to review, reflect, and revise work and thinking helps students to make deeper connections with content. Coaching students on how to have constructive conversations ties neatly with developing 21st Century Skills and In-Depth Inquiry. These PBL elements work together seamlessly.
Suggested strategies:
Critique groups, Writer’s Workshop, Reading Circle, fishbowl, Socratic Seminar, gallery walks

8.     Public Audience
Having an authentic audience builds meaning and context for learning. Sharing their understanding helps students more deeply root the content and critical thinking. As with 21st Century Skills, students communicating their learning in an engaged session with others is an effective way for them to get what they need in achieving academic goals.
Suggested strategies:
Multiple intelligence (such as Robert Sternberg), multi-media, mentors, gallery walks, mentors

Carol AnnTomlinson. Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom: Strategies and Tools for Responsive Teaching. ASCD (2003)

John McCarthy. The Learning Classrooms.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Driving Questions for Space Travel

It's amazing what NASA does that as individuals we get to experience so little.
Touted as an experience like that of traveling on a space ship, it may be the view we'd get. I'm not convinced that it's the full experience. Yet what an impression this leaves for why space travel would be soooo cool.

So how might space travel become a reality?
Is the expense of Space Programs worth it in the long term?

This video is priceless.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

PBL World: June 18-22, 2012

I get asked a lot about where to learn about Project Based Learning. There are the usual learning sites like BIE and Leading PBL. Now there is an incredible opportunity coming soon: PBL World.
Join the Adventure @

Mine! by Shutta Crum (A) & Patrice Barton (I)

In a good picture book, the pictures are just as important for telling the story. It's what makes picture books one of the most difficult to write. In Mine, Shutta Crum, a veteran of picture books has done it again, along with Illustrator Patrice Barton. With one word, Shutta tells a story that young children will enjoy and can "read" to their adults. Barton effectively collaborates with Shutta's concept and creates high quality images that makes the story moving "along" with the core text.

While parents of young children will love this book because their child(ren) can take over the reading, authors are also winners with this book. Aspiring authors of picture books will find this book a seminal text for understanding how economy of words is critical to storytelling with pictures. Show don't tell is the guide to this story, and makes for interesting study of word choice to move forward an idea.

What some people don't realize is that the author constructs the story and how it arcs. They craft the concept and themes. The illustrator takes the text and concept to create the pictures to "show" the story. Not easy.

Picture books such as Mine! is a great tool to explicitly show aspiring authors that each word must have an important role in the story. Otherwise, delete. From the perspective of teaching writing styles, Mine! should take its place along with among others John Jakes, Maya Angelou, and Ernest Hemmingway.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Free Kindle Offer: Marketing Made Easy...for Learning?

I follow a couple of authors, particularly the Newbie's Guide to Publishing blog by JA Konrath. They are continually redefining book publishing and marketing. With the eBook industry opening huge doorways for people to publish their work direct to the public, the question should be asked, How can this work for learning?

The short answer is Authentic Product assessments. When students are producing papers or projects how might they be published for an authentic audience? Schools pay for or charge families to purchase books for a book in their hands. Ebooks significantly cut costs for families and increase profits for fundraising to schools. Class anthologies or student directed projects could lead to author experiences and chances to post reviews. Part of the publishing process, students could create marketing plans or schemes.

With that said, if you'd like a chance for a free Kindle and books from marketing savvy authors...Read on...

10 Free Kindle Fires, 75 free ebooks, $300 in gift cards, a $500 library donation! Entries for 10 free Kindle Fires are already underway at and gift cards are bing randomly awarded on Twitter for those who tweet about the Big Kindle Boogie.

On Feb. 1-2, bestselling thriller authors J.A. Konrath, Blake Crouch, Scott Nicholson, Lee Goldberg, and Scott Nicholson are making 75 Kindle books free on Amazon. They are also making a $500 donation to the local library of one Kindle Fire winner. They are also releasing the five-book Ultimate Thriller Box Set for free during the event. Contest is international, no purchase necessary. You can also join the Facebook party at

Three easy ways to enter:
  • Use the entry counters at
  • You can also enter manually by tweeting to be eligible for Kindle Fires and Amazon gift cards: 10 free Kindle Fires. 75 free ebooks. #bigkindleboogie RT to enter for a Fire!
  • You can email ONCE PER DAY with "Boogie entry" as subject line
Everything free, everything fun. Good luck!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Switch - a book that's game changing for how to guide the change process

The book, Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Chip and Dan Heath, removed a veil about being an effective change agent.

One analogy from Switch is that of an elephant and its rider. The rider directs the elephant along paths and tasks. It's the thinker through logic and analysis. But sometimes the elephant gets spooked. Filled with emotions, logic dissolves. The elephant stomps and/or storms where it wants--and the rider, no longer in control, must hold on for the ride.

Changing personal views and habits is a monumental challenge. Some people on a sinking ship will panic and stampede causing more danger, instead moving in an orderly fashion to stations for safety. Or they might stick their heads in the ground ignore warning signs--consider the near demise of the Big 3 automotive companies or it you want to gawk at a traffic accident in slow motion follow the publishing industries dinosaur-like thinking regarding ebooks. Others would rather die than change--see smokers.

One of the industries that leads in the challenge for change is Education. As data mounts of low student achievement, how can we continue to maintain "business as usual" when results do not meet demands of a global society?

Switch provided me great reflection on how to recognize and plan for effectively guiding change. How to get the elephant in step with the rider. Check out the book. Download free sample chapters (Kindle / BN). Take this first step. You won't be disappointed.