Thinking on Education: Differentiating Instruction Does NOT Have To Be Hard

Studies WeeklyWe all want our students to succeed.

On the surface level, student success looks like solid test scores, mastery of grade-level standards, etc. But in life, tests and standards are not the only ways to define success. And just as each student’s path to career success will look very different, there are various paths students can take to learning success.

That’s where differentiated instruction comes in.

“Differentiated instruction honors students’ diverse backgrounds and learning styles. With differentiation, teachers recognize their students as individuals with varying needs and provide them with more options for learning. In other words, teachers use multiple strategies to make sure that all students can absorb the information being taught, share what they’ve learned, and meet long- and short-term goals,” the staff at We Are Teachers said in a January 2018 article.

For many classroom teachers, though, it seems like a lot of work to implement differentiated instruction. Teachers feel overwhelmed with different lesson plans for the same topic, varied content delivery processes and projects.

But it doesn’t have to be, according to veteran teacher Larry Ferlazzo. He explained in a February 2019 Education Week video that it is more a “way of thinking, not a list of pre-planned strategies.”

When teachers develop a growth mindset and zero in on the main learning objectives for a unit or subject, they realize there can be multiple ways to get to that goal.

Ferlazzo shared an example of teaching students the argumentative essay. He’d chosen a topic for the students to research and write about. But he realized one student was completely disengaged. Once he gave the student an alternate topic option, the student immersed himself in the topic and wrote a strong essay.

All students in his class completed the learning objective: formulating a solid argumentative essay. But Ferlazzo differentiated by allowing student choice.

Studies Weekly recognizes there are many ways to learn. That’s why our products already have research-backed differentiated learning strategies built right in. Even better, these strategies don’t require hours of extra teacher preparation.

Our differentiated learning strategies are based on the Hattie’s Effect — a research study by New Zealand professor John Hattie that showed the effectiveness of certain teaching methods. The best ones hit the .40 to 1.2 mark on scale of -.2 to 1.2.

Studies Weekly teachingStudies Weekly includes seven of these high-impact strategies, in addition to many others.

Reciprocal Teaching Method (Hattie’s Effect .74)

This is a guided-discussion method that works with large or small groups and guided reading groups. It engages students through predicting, questioning, clarifying and summarizing.

Studies Weekly teaching

Inquiry Model (Hattie’s Effect .40)

This method asks students to investigate a historic source or scientific topic by focusing on an open-ended question. Students are empowered to develop their own approach to solutions and answers.

Studies Weekly teaching

Question Formulation Technique (HE .66)

This method amps up inquiry-based learning. Students produce, then improve, then prioritize their questions on a subject, event, problem or phenomena. They decide individually, in small groups or as a class where to go with these questions, such as: a research project, building a test model, etc.

Studies Weekly teachingPrimary Source Analysis Tool (HE .75)

Based on methods from the Library of Congress, this tool helps students better understand history through observing and questioning a primary source.

Graphic Organizers (HE .40 – .79)

According to research, graphic organizers elevate student comprehension. Students who use them can more effectively classify and communicate concepts. Studies Weekly incorporates a variety of these.

Studies Weekly teaching

See Think Wonder (HE .60)

This method works well individually or with groups, and develops critical thinking skills. Students learn how carefully analyze and ponder a historical image or scientific phenomenon.

Studies Weekly teaching

Possible Sentences (HE .93)

This is a pre-reading method that works well with vocabulary words and difficult concepts, by activating students’ prior knowledge. Students get excited to tackle a text to prove their understanding.

Studies Weekly teachingThese are just a few methods educators can easily use to differentiate their content delivery and processes. As ASCD points out in the infographic below, teachers can also differentiate their assessments and their classroom environment.

ASCD
Courtesy ASCD

Ideally, differentiated instruction creates a classroom “where the students understand that they are unique, where their individuality is not simply accepted but celebrated; where their differences are not hidden, but rather used to expand learning in the class,” according to a November 2018 Edutopia article.

Or as Ferlazzo puts it, we need to create relationships with our students, and keep our eyes on the prize, always asking ourselves, “What are the learning objectives, and what are the best roads to get there for different students?”


To learn see training videos on how to use the above-mentioned Studies Weekly learning strategies, visit studiesweekly.com/online/pdod.

Thinking on Education: Test Prep Without Teaching to the Test

Studies Weekly test prepWe’re in the throes of testing season, with all of its accompanying drama and anxiety. Educators worry if their students will do well. Students either stress out, or totally check out on testing day. And of course, everyone secretly just wants it all to be over.

With all the pressure districts and teachers have to perform, how do we prepare students for these high-stakes assessments without resorting to “teaching to the test”? Education experts say that not only is teaching to the test ethically wrong and yields an inaccurate result, but it’s really not an effective way to prepare students.

“It’s entirely possible to prepare students for standardized tests in a way that maximizes what we know about learning sciences [and] metacognition,” said Jennifer Borgioli, a senior consultant at Learner-Centered Initiatives, in a 2018 Education Week post. “[B]ut this requires quality professional development and district-based guidance around what that looks like inside a standards-based, high quality, learner-centered curriculum.”

Teaching Curriculum vs. Teaching the Test

Experts point to “curriculum teaching” versus “item teaching” for test prep. Educators who gear their instruction to the state standards — and its applicable knowledge and skills — teach curriculum. Those who focus their instruction only on what is on the test are item teaching. As a result, they narrow and limit students knowledge and skills, robbing students of deeper learning, as researchers pointed out in a 2017 Journal of Experiential Education article.

If teachers clearly understand their state’s education standards and what will be tested on state assessments, they can use curricular content to prepare their students.

“Curriculum-teaching, if it is effective, will elevate students’ scores on high-stakes tests and, more important, will elevate students’ mastery of the knowledge or skills on which the test items are based,” said W. James Popham, an emeritus professor of UCLA, in a 2001 ASCD post.

Studies WeeklyThe best test preparation is that which hones critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This is best done using inquiry-based and student-focused instruction that makes students active learners.

Research shows authentic project-based learning, problem-based learning and experiential learning models can greatly help students master these abilities. As students tackle tough problems and questions throughout the school year and find their own pathways to solutions and answers, they gain the confidence and skills needed. They learn for themselves that they can figure out answers, even when they may not have complete information.

Award-winning middle school teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron explained in a 2017 Edutopia post that educators should teach students how to retrieve and use what they already know.

“Teach them how to activate prior knowledge or make connections to the material. For many kids, this doesn’t just happen magically — we have to preach it over and over and show them that they already have far more knowledge of our content areas in their heads than they realize,” she said.

Two test-related methods teachers can use is teaching students how to review for tests and how to navigate the process of test-taking.

Teaching Test-Review Skills

Studies WeeklyPete Barnes, an Ohio fifth-grade science teacher, shared a fun way to teach students test-review skills in his February 2019 Edutopia article. He set up a Science Ninja game-based unit. Students had specific tasks and skills they needed to complete, but Barnes organized it in a way that allowed students more choice in their training.

“Students choose tasks from a Training Menu to prove their mastery of life science, outer space, force and motion, and more,” he said, explaining that the tasks included scavenger hunts for information, videos, simulations, matching activities, lab work and model-building activities.

“Each of these tasks also include a short assessment that students check on their own and then verify with the teacher before moving on to the next task,” he said.

Teaching Test-Taking Skills

Wolpert-Gawron also shared strategies for teaching test-taking skills. Because many state assessments are now computer-based, she encouraged educators to incorporate technology aptitude teaching in their curriculum throughout the year.

For example, she suggested teachers create lessons that require students to use audio tools that will read text aloud, learn the meanings of typical computer icons, practice general word-processing and keyboard skills, and how to use hyperlinks, videos and images.

Studies Weekly“Don’t take for granted that our digital natives know how to use the digital tools they need in order to be successful on their online tests,” she said.

She also encourages instructing students in the language of the test. This type of preparation helps all students, whatever their level, better understand the process of testing, including English-language learners.

Betsy Gilliland and Shannon Pella explained in their 2017 book, “Beyond Teaching to the Test,” that according to their research, few high-stakes tests were normed or validated for use with English-language learners during the “No Child Left Behind” era.

“What this means is that in many cases, the complex language used on tests prevents students from understanding what they are supposed to do or from showing their knowledge of the content,” they said.

All students should understand the typical vocabulary used in test directions, so they actually know what it asks them to do.

“Make a list of the most common words used in test instructions. Remember that telling students to read the directions isn’t enough if they can’t understand the directions,” Wolpert-Gawron said.

Teach Confidence

Some of the best test prep is the simplest. Teachers should help students practice recognizing their own successes, and going into a test with a positive mind, Dan Henderson explained this in a 2018 TeachThought prep article — that also hilariously illustrated some of the more absurd test-day requirements.

Many teachers are frustrated with how testing season and test prep cut into instruction time. But with some planning, it can simply be part of effective, authentic instruction.


Teachers who use Studies Weekly for Social Studies and Science have the benefit of knowing where their students are at multiple points in the school year through ready-made, but customizable formative assessments. To learn more, visit studiesweekly.com//online/pdod.

Thinking on Education: Using Portfolios in the Elementary Classroom

Studies Weekly Social Studies Science

For many schools throughout the United States, the elementary classroom connects students, teachers and parents hand-in-hand for student learning.

Teachers often use portfolios as an effective way to forge and strengthen that connection. It also is a potent tool to celebrate student learning and achievement.

In general, a portfolio is “a body of student work collected over an extended period.” Using this definition, culled from Education Week, we can move into a more in-depth look at successful portfolios that showcase student learning.

Using Portfolios

There are a few different types of portfolios — including those that display learning processes, showcase best work, and are used for assessment purposes. Elementary teachers can use all these.

The best portfolios include specific elements.

Portfolio Purpose

Students may use this learning tool to display their learning for a single unit or for an entire year, but they must understand the goal of the portfolio from the beginning.

“It is vital that students also understand the purpose of the portfolio, how it will be used to evaluate their work, and how grades for it will be determined. Make sure students are given a checklist of what is expected in the portfolio before they begin submitting work,” said Emma McDonald in a 2011 Education World article.

Portfolio Learning Objectives and Outcomes

Before starting, students also need to understand the learning objectives for the portfolio. Teachers can present a rubric or grading guidelines as they introduce the portfolio, so students are prepared. Teachers can also set aside specific classroom time for students to add to the portfolio.

Studies Weekly research

Another important point is how they will present their portfolio at the end of the unit, week, month or year. Will it be in a binder or folder? Will it be a collage, magazine or other creative collection to display? Will they have leeway to use technology elements, and access to those?

Because this is an ongoing project, students also need clear direction as to where they will store their portfolio as they are doing the work. Many teachers find it best to store all students’ working portfolios in one place in the classroom.

Student Choice and Reflection

Students should choose what they include in the portfolio. Additionally, they should have time to reflect on their work, evaluate it, and share work they believe is their best. Educators at the State University of New York-Geneseo explained in a presentation that these two elements — student choice and reflection — are two of the most important parts of the portfolio process.

Student choice guarantees better student engagement. Reflection gives both teacher and student an “opportunity to reflect on [the student’s] growth over a period of time.”

Science and Social Studies Portfolios

Many educators are familiar with using portfolios within their language arts block, but this tool also works well in other subject areas, even as a cross-curricular assessment.

Studies Weekly ScienceIn science, the portfolio fits well with a unit where students must complete various tasks to get to full mastery. The portfolio highlights their learning path.

For example, a science unit portfolio might include:

  • Research notes and conclusions
  • Lab experiments and reports
  • Charts and graphs reporting test data
  • Projects

Studies WeeklyIn social studies, a unit portfolio could focus on an event or movement and include:

  • Research notes and conclusions
  • Interviews
  • Primary sources and analysis
  • Infographics, timelines or maps
  • Models or projects

In a 2011 Social Studies and the Young Learner article, Jacqueline S. Craven, William J. Sumrall, Jerilou J. Moore and Kellie Logan showed how this works on a first grade level with their lesson plan on studying historical monuments.

Portfolio Assessment

In any subject, teachers make clear learning objectives and grading rubrics for the portfolio.

For example, with both science and social studies units, teachers might assess students’ critical thinking. Both units could focus on a guiding question. Teachers would then award points based on how well students presented their evidence and conclusions within the portfolio.

Overall, there are many dynamic ways to use portfolios in the classroom. Portfolios are not the only assessment tool, but when used correctly, they can be a powerful way for both students and teachers to see student learning and progress.


Studies Weekly print publications and online platform enhance and expand student learning. To learn more, request a sample.

Studies Weekly: Always Growing and Improving

Studies Weekly is continually improving and growing.

As a company, we are dedicated to updating and improving our products to better serve teachers and students.

For example, we were extremely excited to roll out our Google Integration recently, as we know how time-saving that is for teachers. We also are prototyping 7th and 8th grade Social Studies programs, and are completely updating our K-5 Science publications.

But that’s not all. Here’s what we’ve been up to:

New State Publications

Our Tennessee K-5 Social Studies publications successfully launched last year, and we were honored to be the only K-2 textbook adopted by the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Our editorial and production teams also worked tirelessly to create completely new and updated K-5 Social Studies publications for Georgia and Ohio. They also completely updated the Louisiana 3rd Grade Social Studies publication. Those all are available for advance purchase online and through local sales teams, for use in the 2019-2020 school year.

More Teacher Supplements

Your teacher resources now include 35 pages of graphic organizers and activities for students. Those additional tools are accessible through your online account, and they will be included in the printed Teacher Resource starting this fall.

Rate and Review System

Teachers can now rate and review all online articles, article questions, bonus media questions and assessment questions.

In the right-hand corner on articles and assessments, you can see the 5-star rating system. Simply click on the star of your choice.

Studies Weekly online

Social Studies online

 

Studies Weekly online

If you rate an article or question below 4 stars, a comment box pops up and you can give us feedback on how we need to improve that item.

 

Studies Weekly onlineAs a company, this helps our product development team see where we are succeeding, and where we need to improve and update our curriculum.

Don’t worry, only teachers can rate content. This feature is not available for students.

Audio Reader

Your students can now choose the reading speed for the audio reader option on online articles. Students who are in the early language acquisition phase can slow down the reader speed so they can follow along easier. Students can also speed up the reader to a pace that works for them.

Studies Weekly online audio

Product Updates from Teacher Feedback

In November, we organized a focus group, and gained valuable insight from those who use our product every day. Group members shared a number of suggestions where we can improve. Since then, we have implemented those, and are working to finalize other changes.

Here’s just a few of those suggestions we heard, and our resulting actions:

More K-2 videos. We’ve increased our K-2 video productions, and will continue to do so this year.

Different content than crosswords. As we update each state’s content, we’re swapping out a large number of our crosswords with additional activities and content in our publications.

More rigor and relevance in publications. As we update state content, we are building in more rigor and relevance.

More online professional development. We have created an online professional development program, and will continue to add to it. District leaders can also now purchase additional PD training from Studies Weekly.

More Tech Support hours. We now provide full day Tech Support coverage for all United States time zones except for Hawaii and Alaska.

More Changes to Come

These are only a few of the most recent improvements we’ve made to better serve you. We enjoy hearing from you as well. If you have other suggestions and ideas, feel free to contact us through our Facebook page, or text us at:  (385) 399-1786.

Studies Weekly Integrates with Google Classroom

You asked, we listened.

The Studies Weekly online platform is now integrated with Google Classroom!

Now, with just a few clicks, you can assign articles, images or videos to the entire classroom. The Google Classroom integration works with our entire platform, making your job smoother.

David Bagley, Studies Weekly vice president of sales, explained that many teachers across the nation use Google Classroom, and have been asking for this integration for some time. He’s very excited Studies Weekly can offer this to teachers.

“The best part of this integration is that it allows teachers the flexibility of reaching so many students instantly and to track progress, go paperless in the classroom, and communicate with both parents and students. And it works with any device,” Bagley said.

You will now see the Google Classroom icon on the Studies Weekly platform, and it works individually with every digital source. Teachers can assign a single video, image, article or assessment to students’ classroom. For extension activities, teachers can customize assignments and pull in other media from the platform as well.

Getting Started

To connect your Studies Weekly account to your Google Classroom, your students’ Studies Weekly usernames must be their Google Classroom email.

For those that want to use the integration now, you will need to log in to your account and manually change your students’ usernames to their Google Classroom email.

1. Select your classroom in the Studies Weekly platform

Studies Weekly Google Classroom

2. Navigate to edit each student

Studies Weekly Google Classroom

3. Edit the student’s usernameStudies Weekly Google Classroom

At the beginning of each school year, your auto-rostering program can link both platforms, but make sure to check this username requirement for all students.

How to use the Integration

1. From an article, navigate to the Google Classroom Icon in the corner.

Studies Weekly Google Classroom
2. Click on it, and select the Classroom you are sharing it to, and the action from the Classroom options. Click “Go.”

Studies Weekly Google Classroom

3. Add your own notes, points, due date, etc. Click “Assign.”

Studies Weekly Google Classroom

4. The assignment shows up in your students’ Classroom stream.

Studies Weekly Google Classroom

Assigning Specific Sources

You can also assign specific audio, images or videos from an article, or search for them and assign them individually. To do so, simply look for the Google Classroom icon on each source.

Studies Weekly Google Classroom

 

      ImagesStudies Weekly Google Classroom

 

 

 

AudioStudies Weekly Google Classroom

 

 

 

Videos

Of course, all Assessments, Crosswords and Mispilled are integrated as well.

Studies Weekly Google Classroom

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Sign on to your account at Studies Weekly online, and let this new integration save you time and sanity!