I believe that the SHIFT ELearning blog might just be finding inspiration from me! Here is a recent post from SHIFT which explains some brilliant statistics about the wonders of micro learning which is taking the corporate world of staff development by storm. Enjoy reading more reasons why I’m right!
All teachers use worksheets. While we know that using worksheets all the time is not the best teaching practice; we also know that a well constructed worksheet, used purposefully, can be a great tool for independent or scaffolded practice. Worksheets can also be a valuable formative assessment tool.
Unfortunately, some worksheets involve so much reading (deciphering instructions) that some students are unable to complete them accurately. Sometimes the worksheet you choose is only appropriate for students who are accomplished readers. Students may give up as they see the task as being “too hard” or teachers see the results and assume that the students do not understand the concept.
How do you adjust worksheets so students with learning difficulties are able to participate and show what they know just like everyone else? Here are some tips!
Blow the photocopy budget
The size of text on worksheets seems to get smaller every year and students with reading difficulties, dyslexia or vision impairments, are immediately behind the eight ball. Increase the font and line spacing to make reading instructions and questions as easy as possible. If supervisors are questioning the amount of photocopying you are doing, tell them it is due to an important strategy for differentiation in your classroom.
Use Different Fonts
Instructions should always be in a bold font while example responses (see tip 3) can be put in italics. This makes it easier to access the text on the worksheet. Changes to font help students to separate different types of text. Be warned: too many changes in font type can become very confusing, so ensure that each time the font modulates, from one type/ size to another, it has a clear purpose.
Lead by Example
Sentence Starters, Modelled Responses and Examples all point students in the right direction. Students who struggle with receptive and expressive languageoften don’t know exactly how to put their answer/ knowledge into a format that makes sense to others. Don’t leave them guessing about what you want from them. Don’t let them use “I didn’t know how to start!” as an excuse for not attempting a task.
While this is a worksheet for early years, it is a perfect example of showing students how to complete the tasks.
Use Visual Supports
Icons for types of questions, small images of required materials and diagrams are all good examples of this. When appropriate, allow students to draw/ sketch their answers as this will invite reluctant writersto provide an answer. Your visual learnerswill thank you too! Check out my recent post about visuals.
Don’t use 10 words when 2 will do.
Students with poor working memory, receptive language difficulties and reading difficulties will struggle to read long directions and questions. So keep it brief and clear. A great way to check if your directions are clear is to ask a friend to read it and see if they know what to do. A friend who isn’t a teacher is the best person to ask. This ties in well with the Rule of 7 Lesson Planning Challenge!
Admittedly, it is difficult to make all of these adjustments to every worksheet you use in a week. This is especially true if you are teaching a course you have taught before and you are hoping to re-use the resources. Each week, I aim to adjust one worksheet/ activity for each class that I teach. By the end of the semester I have at least 20 modified worksheets that I can use next semester. I can adjust one worksheet a week next time I teach the course as well. Every semester the students in my class have different needs so it makes sense that some of the materials will need to be adapted to accommodate them.
There is so much you can do to support the diverse needs in your class. The ones above will make written materials so much easier to access for most of the students in your class whether their specific needs are related to difficulties with vision, reading, comprehension or even intellectual disability.
What if your struggling students actually managed to write all the notes quickly and remembered the main idea of your lesson? What if students re-read their notes when it was time to study? What if they were able to explain concepts simply without misconceptions!
The rule of 7 is simple. Seven words, steps or points are the maximum for optimal memory retention. That means, quick definitions of vocabulary words need to have 7 words or less. Wilfong (2012) states that truncated definitions should be limited to 3-5 words.
Here’s the challenge…
Choose one lesson this week and apply the Rule of Seven.
Here are some steps to follow.
Read and (if possible) re-write the lesson goal so it has 7 words or less. When doing this, consider the main idea of your lesson and what you want your students to remember next lesson.
Review the learning activities that you have planned. How long will each activity last? 5-7 minutes of instructional time (that’s teacher talk) also applies. If you are planning to chalk and talk for 15 minutes you need to rethink how you are going to sequence the lesson. Split that 15 minutes into three 5 minute blocks or five 3 minute blocks or don’t divide it evenly at all.
Last, but not least, review how much writing you are expecting your students to do. If you are asking students to copy notes in their books, keep it to 7 or less dot points. That doesn’t mean that each dot point can be a paragraph! If asking your students to write their own summary of the lesson, limit them to 7 words or less. It will challenge them.
There it is. The rule of 7 challenge. It is hard, but you can do it. I know you can. I would love to hear how you go. Let us know in the comments. How does this rule change how you plan? What happens in the classroom when you plan your lessons this way? Is it worth the extra effort? Is it easy or difficult for you? How do you make this challenge work for you and your students?
Another Pinterest find, the Teacher Pop blog is hosted by Teach for America and designed to give quick tips for new teachers. There are also links to other resources that teachers can find useful. Writers of Teacher Pop are practicing teachers and I give most credence to those who are “in the trenches” just like me. Topics include everything from rules and routines and setting up the classroom to lesson planning and adjusting for special needs.
Two of their best articles are linked below. They are well written, to the point and include valuable information that every teacher – new or not – needs to keep in mind when adjusting their classroom practice to suit the special needs of their students. I recommend checking these out.
Lately, I have been seeing pins on Pinterest with a similar format.
I love them so much that I have been pinning them to my Differentiation Pinterest Board to read later. I finally had an opportunity to check out the website that they were all coming from and I had to share it with you!
Understand.org is a website designed for parents of children with learning and/or attention difficulties.
While the website targets parents, there are plenty of resources for teachers and specialists. The professional jargon is minimal and information is concise. While we are all able to access the technical language associated with pedagogy and therapy, we would all rather read a simply worded summary.
If you are a Literacy Coach, Numeracy Coach, Special Education Teacher or other specialist, you will find the parent toolkit helpful for activities that can be used in PD programs. There are several games that parents/ teachers/ family members can play to experience what it can be like to have various learning difficulties.