The Center for Educational Improvement

Differentiation, Discussion,  

& Technology Supports

In This Issue
Web Tools for Differentiation
Discussions in Class
Building Listening Skills


New!  Seminars on Differentiation, Listening, Questioning, and Deep Discussion. All updated to support the Common Core Standards. 

 CEI offers workshops on listening, questioning, and facilitating "deep discussions
" as well as two courses  on differen-tiation.


1) Differentiation 101 for teachers who are only beginning to  differentiate and 2) Advanced Differentiation for teachers who have mastered some of the basics. One mistake that trainers and adminis-

trators have made is to assume that all teachers will be able to use more sophisticated differen-tiation strategies.   


So, with CEI workshops, we take a step backwards, teaching some basics, before moving forward with strategies that require more planning, better organization, or even on-the-spot juggling to keep students engaged on multiple tasks or activities.


New! Workshops and Training on the Common Core



Go to

services for more information and to register for these and other seminars.


Back to School Specials - See our New Catalog of Services online


the Services Provided

School Improvement Plans We can help you develop and monitor School Improvement activities to meet state and federal requirements. We are certified as school improvement officers in Ohio and trained in school improvement reviews in Washington DC.

Workshops and Seminars
CEI implements our unique "WOW! Factor" presentation style for interesting and vibrant workshops.

We also provide over 30 different training modules that can be formatted to fit your school's needs. Among these are workshops on: the Common Core Standards, co-teaching, closing achievement gaps, global education, and the Response to Intervention model. We provide both live, in-person and web-based workshops.

Data Driven Instruction
CEI can assist teachers and adminstrators in training and implementing DDI programs into their schools.

Praxis Tutoring
We offer Praxis tutoring for teachers working on completing their Praxis I or II tests, as well as the speciality exams.

More information
Please visit our website for information or to arrange for a presentation regarding services.

Editor: Carolyn Lieberg, M.A.


Contact Information
Contact our Executive Director, Dr. Christine Mason.

 Email: [email protected]

(571) 213-3192

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How do you feel about differentiation? Have you mastered effective strategies for adapting instruction to individual learners? Do you have techniques for keeping track of how you are differentiating and how different learners are responding to different expectations? Teachers: Continue reading for easy-to-implement strategies. Administrators: Forward this to teachers.

Differentiation has become a catch-all phrase to describe various strategies for adapting instruction for different students or groups of students in a class. Teachers in training are given a myriad different strategies for differentiating instruction. There are numerous websites with strategies and most schools and school districts have held several workshops on differentiation. 


However, despite these efforts, many teachers struggle with differentiating instruction. They may select different ways to present their lessons, but perhaps the match with student needs is not effective.  They may have good intentions, but  their classes may evolve into chaos when they try small group discussions. They may introduce more hands-on activities (often a good strategy) only to find that some students STILL are not paying attention.  Teachers may have trouble finding time to plan for differentiation -- to plan for gathering and organizing different materials or learning centers or to plan differentiated questions.



 In this issue of Wow! Ed we recommend ways to facilitate differentation through using technology, facilitating discussions, and building listening skills.  These strategies can be used with whole groups or small groups to build student skills, making it easier for students to work independently or in cooperative groups.



Web Technologies:  Tools for  

Differentiated Instruction

Carolyn Lieberg    

By incorporating technology, teachers may find  easy-to-implement solutions to differentiating instruction, enabling students to work at their own pace without extensive teacher preparation


However, today's teachers have a bewildering number of technological tools at their disposal. To simplify the selection process, teachers may want to begin with familiar web technologies such as Google. 


Google offers two excellent tools for supporting instruction: 

1. Google Docs.  This Web 2.0 tool provides teachers a platform for collaboration with students.The asynchronous nature of depositing and retrieving assignments moves learning into that realm of technology that is becoming so ubiquitous: Learning is no longer confined to a specific place at a specific time; teacher and students can interact at anytime and from anywhere. 


2.Google Earth.  Google Earth allows for self-created maps that can be used by students who can post markers and comments about people or events being studied or about fictional characters on their adventures. Map creation can serve as an authentic assessments to teachers while inspiring students to become virtual explorers.



Other Sites

3. Glogster.  Teachers can use this site to create an online "poster" with photos, links, and more, and students can do the same.  


4. Wiki sites, blog "spots," and "social bookmarking" tools such as Diigo or Delicious allow teachers or teachers and students together to collect and bookmark sites. Sites like Flickr Storm and GrooveShark provide materials for student projects.  




   Reminder. As you implement web technologies make sure that you follow school policies to protect students or limit access to certain features. Even sites that are highly rated for educational use may include access to social networking -- which may be useful and desirable but none-the-less must be monitored-- or they may contain some profanity, nudity, or violence.

Discussion in Class -- Engaging Everyone 

Sharlen Smith and Christine Mason 

Getting and keeping students engaged is a fundamental part of any classroom practice. Yet many teachers, when asked "how do you keep your students fully engaged?" express a need for more strategies. They tell us that it is hard to meet the needs of students who are functioning at so many different levels, particularly when many students are behind academically


Defining engagement. An engaged class is one where students are attentive, enjoy their learning time, demonstrate enthusiasm, and can often be observed discussing their opinions with peers and the teacher. Whether it be arguing, persuading, or just talking about the subject, discussion can open minds to new ideas and angles and different insights.  Productive discussions can pull students deeper into learning, so discussion can be an important strategy for setting the stage for individual learning.   


            Circle of Students Listening 

Whole group and small group discussions. With whole group discussion, the teacher tends to have greater control. Sometimes it is useful to bring the students close together. Young children may sit together in their "morning circle." Older students may bring their chairs into a circle.  


Whole group discussions can benefit from "ground rules" such as when to speak and how to express disagreement. Concrete, visual signals such as talking sticks can serve as a reminder about the rules. Various objects can serve as talking sticks--- a piece of wood, a wood stick that is decorated with feathers, yarn, and paint, etc.  The person who has the stick is the designated speaker and the stick is passed to the person who is selected as the next speaker. Talking sticks are a fun way of stopping students from talking over each other. Other objects such as a rock or ball can be used in a similar fashion. With students standing in a circle, and balls can tossed to the speakers  Balls tends to work better for short answers.


Other hints 

  • Arrange the classroom so all the students can see and hear each other.
  • Have open-ended questions ready and be flexible enough so that if the discussion goes in an unanticipated direction, you can lead the way. 
  • Keep students on topic.
  • Encourage the students to talk to each other, rather than to the front of the classroom.

The second type of discussion is small group. Small groups bring students from different learning abilities together to help everyone develop literacy skills. Small group discussions provide for a range of ways to share text. Small group discussions can be more productive when the key questions are provided to the group leader. Sometimes students are given roles such as the "devil's advocate" or the one to express the "alternative opinion." 


Benefits for writing. Often, students who have difficulty expressing their opinions verbally will also have difficulty writing responses to questions. If flaws in reasoning are captured prior to putting words on paper, students may have a head start for their writing.



Below are some discussion prompts that students can be invited to use in order to facilitate an exchange that includes everyone. Having some scripted cues can help students form a question. Several of these prompts can be used in writing, too.  


Note: Use ONE of the questions! We dilute the energy of students' efforts to focus their thinking when we shower questions and ask

students to crank out response after response.


I agree with ______________ because....

I agree with ______________ but would like to add....

I see it differently than _____________ because....

That's a good point, however....




The teacher uses vocabulary that children understand and provides guidance for new terms and usages.


The teacher models appropriate discussion behavior by asking one question at a time and allowing students to have time to think about an answer (even ten seconds) before probing. (The teacher explains what he or she is doing so that students can imitate.)  



Answering the questions

Modeling without explaining what they are doing



Boyles, N. N. (2010)    Rethinking Small Group Instruction in the Intermediate Grades: Differentiation that Makes a Difference. Maupin House Publishing  


Building Listening Skills

While teachers often express frustration with students who "just don't listen," many teachers have never attempted to teach listening.  Whether a student is 3, or 5, or 15, there are strategies teachers can use to improve listening.


         ChildrenListening  Establishing eye contact is an important prerequisite for listening, particularly when giving directions.  However, students may be preoccupied with their own thoughts and activities. Sometimes it takes waiting - particularly when students are off task, daydreaming, or not listening to the teacher -- waiting with a smile may be the most fruitful.


 Once students are paying attention, here are additional considerations for enhancing listening: 

  • Speak in clear and whole sentences.
  • Lay out instructions in a chronological order (or tell a story in its natural order).
  • Ask one question at a time. (If you hear yourself ask two or three in a row, call a time-out, tell students you hadn't meant to do that and that you're doing to have a "do-over.")
  • Alter the pitch and volume of your voice to "keep students following" and add emphasis, rather than speaking in a monotone
  • Move around the room in order to vary proximity with students.
  • Stop as often as needed, given the class and the topic, to check on understanding (Be sure to check with questions about content rather than just asking "Does this make sense? Are you understanding?")

Whether students are young or older, teachers can  facilitate their listening through establishing clear 

expectations, conducting listening exercises, and managing  discussions:

  • If students are having difficulty listening and comprehending, switch to an easier or preferred topic and check their comprehension. Or shorten the length of time students are expected to be in listening mode.
  • Design and implement a series of "listening" activities to build specific skills. This could include "mental math," "memory probes" that are asked while students are waiting in line or as they transition to new subjects or topics, or "listening to audiotapes or CDs" with instructions to draw or write down key phrases or ideas.
  • Check to see how students respond to information presented over You Tube or other videoclips.
  • Play "listening" games that challenge students to remember lists. Teach students strategies for chunking material.
  • Provide graphic organizers or visual prompts to help students organize notes that they take when they listen.
  • Try a sequence of "listen, discuss, record" where students listen for key information that is identified in advance, discuss it with peers, and then record responses to questions.
  • Try "listen and explain" where students listen to a passage and then explain it to others.

Other strategies include: (1) providing points for teams not only for their presentations, but also for their listening and responding to presentations of others. These points are a part of the rubric use to establish expectations for specific assignments; (2) teaching students to paraphrase and include "paraphrasing" exercises throughout the day. Good prompts for paraphrasing are "What is another way to say that?" or "Can you restate that in your own words?"

Each of the tools described in this edition of Wow! Ed can be a powerful component of a highly effective classroom.  Combined, their power multiplies many times over.  As you plan for next year we encourage you to include more discussion, more technology, and more listening objectives and activities.  All of these have the potential for leading to more differentiation and individuallization, and more student engagement. 



Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement
This newsletter has been provided to you by the Center for Educational Improvement as per our mailing list.
Please contact Lauren Lomsdale with corrections or comments at [email protected]
This newsletter has been provided to you by the Center for Educational Improvement as per our mailing list.
Please contact Lauren Lomsdale with corrections or comments at [email protected]