building a classroom culture

at the start of the school year, one of our very first community building exercises goes like this:

we grab a box of band-aids and ask students to pretend they have an injury somewhere on their body. then we ask individual students to come up to the front of the classroom and no matter where or what their injury is, we react exactly the same way. “oh you broke your leg? here’s a band-aid for your arm. next…ooohhh… an upset stomach? band-aid for your arm. anyone else…?”

we go on like this for a couple more students and get the anticipated giggles as students catch on quickly to the routine and the response. usually (and hopefully), one student will say that the band-aid on his arm wasn’t what he needed for his injury or, if everyone is happily receiving band-aids on their arms for their injuries, we’ll eventually ask, “where do you think you would need a band-aid for that injury?” before putting it on his arm so it’s the same as everyone else’s rather than the place that he named he needed it.

this little activity helps us to launch into what is a major precept in our classroom and sets the stage for the rest of the year (and we hope the rest of their lives). it defines our core beliefs about differentiation and, more broadly, the work that will be going on in our classroom. in our class, fair isn’t everyone getting everything the same. fair is everyone getting what they need. and, since we’re all different, we need – and should expect – different things.

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artifacts in writing workshop

this is an exciting post for us to think about because it was suggested by a reader. a reader! we’re enjoying the process of  writing for our own reflection and growth, but as any writer knows, it’s encouraging to know your writing is being read and, even more amazing, valued by someone else.

we were first introduced to using artifacts as we use them currently by shana frazin. it made so much sense to us, as leaving something behind after a conference or small group makes our teaching stickier, and hopefully supports the kids in continuing to try it and growing more independent in it. we had done that, sometimes on a post-it or an assignment box on the page in their notebook, but it never felt like a set routine. this format just helped us make it a little bit more formal and organized.

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differentiation in writing with on demands

one of the sweet moments in teaching is when we look at our students’ on demand pieces from the beginning and end of a unit (or better yet, the beginning and end of the year) and see the enormous growth they have made.  

on demands, in case you’re unfamiliar with the term, are writing pieces that are written on demand – in one writing workshop period without any preparation ahead of time – and reflect what the writers are able to do independently, because the students draft, revise, edit, and then submit (publish) the piece without any conferring with partners or teachers.

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differentiation in writing workshop with plan boxes

when we first started teaching, we liked to see that all of our students were trying out what we taught in our mini-lessons that day, right after the lesson. even though we thought this was what we’d like to see, we knew deep down that if we were controlling what our students did every day, then this wasn’t truly a workshop, and there certainly wasn’t much differentiation happening. Continue reading

differentiating materials in writing

there are some non-negotiables materials-wise in our writing workshop. namely: that everyone has, and writes regularly in, a writer’s notebook; that we draft outside of the notebook on loose paper (in our class we have yellow legal pads as an option for drafting); that we have a writing folder to keep our writing materials inside (like copies of mentor texts, drafts that we’re publishing, copies of charts, etc.); that they come to the mini-lesson every day with a writing utensil that is able to write.

so, while we all have some of the same materials, how those materials look varies student to student based on the individual needs of the writer. that is, the materials are differentiated.

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