Category Archives: Essays and Reflections

Differentiation: A Reflection on Differentiation and Relevant Resources

     Differentiation is a method that brings modified and malleable lessons, content, assessments, and assignments in the classroom to create unique and individualized learning to the classroom. Below is a list of resources describing different aspects of differentiation.

     This academic journal describes how seemingly polar opposites, standards-based education and differentiation, can actually coincide in harmony in the classroom. The juxtaposition between standards and differentiation is this: teachers have a certain set of knowledge or skills that must be mastered by students, a certain level of desired mastery for passing, and a certain amount of time in which to accomplish this. On the other hand, however, teachers are teaching to a classroom of 20 or 30 (or sometimes more!) students that come from varying backgrounds, values, prior knowledge, learning styles, and abilities. This is where the standards and differentiation can work together because, as the article states, standards tell us what to teach, and differentiation tells us how to teach it. One quote from this journal describes the relationship between differentiation and standards perfectly: “Differentiation suggests that you can challenge all learners by providing materials and tasks on the standard at varied levels of difficulty, with varying degrees of scaffolding, through multiple instructional groups, and with time variations.” This journal also includes bad examples of the lack of differentiation and the over emphasis on standards, such as schools that teach to the test to promote high test-scores. It also includes good examples of differentiation working together with standards such as a teacher placing a group of mixed-abilities students together to work on an assignment and learn from each other’s abilities. The journal ends with a few questions to keep in mind when creating lessons and assessments for a group of varied learners.

            This last book gave some more great background information on differentiation in the classroom. As with most of the other resources, this book touched on what differentiation is, why it is necessary, and how to implement it in the classroom. What is so great about this resource that would make it worth buying, is that it includes great, concrete examples for activities, print-offs, rubrics, and tables that teachers could scan right off the page to use in the classroom. That isn’t possible (due to copyright laws) through this electronic version, but it would definitely be worth purchasing for the teacher resources it provides.

            This book focused on differentiated assessments. By clicking on the link you can access 33 pages from this book. This book contains information about why it is important to provide differentiated assessments. However, some of the most helpful chapters for teachers might be the following that I have selected: chapter 4 focuses on 3 main types of assessments, and chapter 6 focuses on creating good test questions. The main types of assessments indicated in chapter 4 included portfolios, rubrics, and student self-assessments. This resource is definitely one worth buying to use it in its entirety.

      This article discusses the differentiation methods used by first-year special education teachers. One aspect of the differentiation common to all of these special education teachers was a system of setting personal goals for each student to maintain progress. This aspect of teaching is inherent to most special education programs, and it sets realistic goals for each student to progress through as benchmarks throughout the school year. This sets individual rather than school-wide goals for learning and mastery. Also, all of the teachers used a different series of differentiation strategies. Some differentiated using different leveled materials for students, others used the same materials with different strategies for each student, some also allowed students to choose the product that was created by students during learning, and all seemed to allow for different learning styles such as auditory, kinesthetic, or tactile. This article ends not only by discussing the difficulties faced by special educators in teaching their students, but it also mentioned something interesting to note about the difference between differentiation in special education and regular education. Differentiation in built into special education by design; students are required to have an individualized education plan and individual goals based their own abilities. In regular education, this is usually not a huge concern for most students, so many student teachers aren’t taught a great amount of differentiation. This carries over into their professional teaching experience.


     This book gives ideas and guidelines for differentiated teaching for intermediate readers in grades 3-8. The online version of the book shows 90 of the pages of this book. Chapters 1, 2, and 8 might be most helpful for the general population because they include concrete examples of differentiated instruction, activities, and assessments. One such activity included partner reading in small groups. Here, students are put into small groups, and each person has a partner within the group. Pairs take turns reading a passage of a book or text. The partner that is not reading gives feedback for the partner that is reading to help him or her improve. The roles are then switched. This is a great activity and opportunity for differentiation that teachers can use to help students with higher level abilities scaffold students with lower level abilities while confirming and practicing their own knowledge and skills.

            This pdf includes information about a study of differentiation conducted in Malta. The basis of differentiated teaching in the Maltese school studied is that all students are individuals who are equally valuable and deserve of challenging and stimulating academic work. This resource also ranked, from most effective to least effective, strategies that help students learn. This list included in descending order: working with technology, having educated parents follow up on work at home, discussion between themselves (students), working cooperatively in groups, working actively on a task, and paying attention to the teacher. However, as with all practices in education, the teacher must pay attention to each students’ learning style. This article also noted something very important: that teachers, staff, and administrators must work together to achieve differentiation throughout schools.

            This article begins with background information about differentiated teaching instruction. Since the previous resources dealt with the same topic, I chose to focus on the last two-thirds of this resource. One of my favorite sections of this article is the section that states that the key to differentiated teaching is having a toolbox full of teaching techniques that can be used when necessary either by themselves or mixed with other forms of teaching. These methods included direct instruction, inquiry-based learning, cooperative learning, and information processing strategies. Under each type of teaching there are links for additional information to give teachers even more concrete examples. Further along, this resource provides additional links for information on fair and equitable assessment. The resource concludes with a reflection on different classroom scenarios and the level of differentiation utilized by each teacher.


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Reading for a Cause: A Long Walk to Water and Lost Boy No More


Park, L. S. (2010). A long walk to water: Based on a true story. New York, NY: Sandpiper.

     I first became familiar with  A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park through a college class that specialized in teaching social studies in middle school. Though I was not assigned this particular book, I found that my peers’ enjoyment and enthusiasm of this young adult novel piqued my interest. I was absolutely thrilled when I saw that my school bookstore was selling this book for only $5.99, so I jumped at the chance to explore this historical fiction read for myself. What I ended up loving so much about this book was that it’s not only a heart-touching and evocative read, but it raises awareness for a dire cause that is still in need of attention today.

     In 1983 the Second Sudanese Civil War broke out between the central Sudanese government in the north and the Liberation Army in the south. From then until 2005, this area of the world was ravaged by hatred, cruelty, and genocide. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is based on the real life experiences of Sudanese native Salva Dut. While some of the details of this novel were fictionalized, the storyline chronicles the outbreak of war in Salva’s village up through his remarkable triumph over adversity and his return home to help people in need.


Nhial, A., & Mills, D. (2004). Lost boy no more: A true story of survival and salvation. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

     Another great book to read along with A Long Walk to Water is Abraham Nhial and DiAnn Mills’s Lost Boy No More. This novel, though aimed at a slightly older audience, follows a similar story to Salva Dut’s. Abraham Nhial was also a lost boy of Sudan. (This term is given to the hundreds of thousands of young boys like himself and Salva who walked out of Sudan to find safety.) Nhial helps Mills write this biographical account of his journey to faith, safety, and peace. Not only does he share his experiences of leaving Sudan as a young boy, but he also opens up to the reader about how his trials brought him to faith in Jesus. These two novels both shed light on the personal horrors of the Sudanese Civil War.

     Yes, the content of these two books can be difficult to swallow. The fact that there is unimaginable suffering and killing going on in our world is never easy to accept. However, these two novels help create hope and a way to help those in need. Visit to see how you can donate money to help supply clean water to an area of the world that is still recovering from its hurts. Read A Long Walk to Water and Lost Boy No More, and take your own journey with the people of Sudan.

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A Reflection: Video Games in the Classroom and a New Kind of Literacy

     In recent years it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that the standard of public education in the United States has been drastically slipping. Many theories and explanations have been created to help remedy this problem. Is this due to the lack of funding? Or maybe it is the lack of rigorous standards? Perhaps the popular culture of instant digital media and video games are to blame? Many current thinkers in the realm of education are starting to believe the opposite. Yes, video games and digital media have had an effect on our students, but that effect is not necessarily negative. Because of modern technology, students think and learn differently than they used to. This fact has been largely ignored in the past, but with rapidly slipping test scores, this won’t be the case for much longer. There are many reasons why video game literacy is underrated, but many prominent thinkers have come up with many concrete reasons why video game literacy should be incorporated into classroom learning. This reflects the fact that video games can be used as a teaching tool, and in today’s 21st century, it is not only an option but a necessity.

            To many, the word “literacy” simply means the ability to read and write; however in the 21st century, this word is taking on a whole new meaning (Felini, 2013). The word “literacy” includes any type of human communication and learning; this includes digital mediums (Felini 2013). Reading is a necessary skill for survival in a modern world, but reading is no longer confined to books, magazines, and newspapers (Gee, 2012). Young adolescents are now reading on many different mediums from television, to computers, digital books, smart phones, and game systems. Because of this many people believe that the use of video games in the classroom can help bridge a student’s home and school life. After all, there is a whole new “school system” developing outside the classroom walls (Gee, 2012). This school system includes the ways adolescents and young adults learn to navigate and master their technology and digital media. Technology is changing, and it is no longer something we turn on and off. Everywhere we go we are bombarded by digital media. This is the realm of digital media that is constantly educating and shaping its participants nearly twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week (Gee, 2012). Incorporating popular culture into today’s curriculum rather than censoring it out can be a great advantage to modern education (Felini, 2013). Through this we can teach students in ways we know they identify with and take to very easily. Still, this doesn’t change the fact that the idea of using video games as learning tools is still not widely accepted (Felini, 2013). It is no secret that many adults, parents and teachers alike, blame video games as their children’s source of violence, lethargy, lack of imagination, and lack of personal interaction (Prensky, 2001). Many educators even blame students’ lack of attention on their immersion in modern technology (Prensky, 2001). Is this really the case?

            It would be wrong to say students learn any worse today than they did in the past because of video games, however it would be correct to say children learn differently (Prensky, 2001). The science of neuroplasticity can show us exactly how our digital culture has shaped our brains (Prensky, 2001). Every day, brain cells are constantly being renewed and reorganized; persistent use of and exposure to digital technology affects this process (Prensky, 2001). In the words of Dr. Bruce D. Berry of Baylor College of medicine, “different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures” (Prensky, 2001). This is not necessarily a bad thing. Technology hasn’t shortened our students’ attention spans, but it has given them a different cognitive structure (Prensky, 2001). The instructional periods in many classrooms today include slow, step-by-step, logical, and methodical memorization of raw bodies of facts or processes (Prensky, 2001) (Gee, 2005). Because modern students are raised amidst constant exposure to technology, they have developed a new, parallel cognitive structure (Prensky, 2001). This means that students’ brains favor a quick-paced, rapid-response, learn-as-you-go style of learning (Prensky, 2001). Even anthropology can support this theory. People who grow up immersed in different cultures have been shown to not only think differently but to think of different things all together (Prensky, 2001). This is because different cultures have different beliefs, values, and practices. If we consider technology a separate culture in and of itself, then those who are fluent with digital mediums think differently and about different things than those who are not fluent with modern technology (Prensky, 2001). Both neuroplasticity and anthropology have shown us the need for video game learning in the classroom, but how specifically can students learn from video games?

            Whether or not it is commonly accepted, not all video games are violent or vulgar (Felini, 2013). There are numerous ways students can have the opportunity to learn through the use of educational video games. Students can become creators. They can create their own characters, plots, themes, audiences, and purposes (Felini, 2013). Doesn’t this sound a lot like story writing? Students can become analyzers. Just like written texts, students can analyze games for their themes, values, and stereotypes in greater depth than just reading words on a black and white page (Felini, 2013).  Video games can teach students about history, civilization, language, numeracy, mythology, collaboration, and problem-solving (Gee, 2012). For example, the game “World of War Craft” teaches its player how to strategize; “Portal” teaches its player how to problem-solve; “Full Spectrum Warrior”, based on United States Army simulation, even teaches its player the necessary skills to become a professional soldier (Gee, 2005)(Gee, 2012). When educational video games are based upon concrete, modern, scientific research concerning learning and cognition, the possibilities of what students can learn through video games are endless (Gee, 2005). So why are so many educators and schools still so reluctant to adopt video games as a digital media tool for learning?

            Many schools and teachers argue that modern technology is expensive and difficult to acquire (Felini, 2013). On top of this, teachers must also learn how to master this technology (Felini, 2013). Even more plainly, many students have grown up immersed in technology whereas many teachers have not (Prensky, 2001). The invalidation of digital literacy occurs because of a cultural bias of those who did not experience it all their life (Prensky, 2001)(Felini, 2013). It is an all too common occurrence to hear teachers blame students’ lack of attention span on their daily video game use. For those who do not use this sort of technology themselves, it is easy to see how they have come to this conclusion. As students began playing more video games over the years, they have become more and more bored in school. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that students can’t pay attention anymore. What it does mean is that outdated teaching techniques are no longer effective for children who think and learn differently. Despite this, digital media and video games are an important aspect of students’ lives today (Felini, 2013). Today’s students are living in a modern world, and they need to be prepared to live in this 21st century (Gee, 2012).  Video game literacy will not replace traditional forms of literacy such as reading, writing and arithmetic, however it will be used as a tool to supplement these traditional forms of literacy.

            The topic of video game literacy is a controversial issue in schools today. Should students have to learn the way their parents learned? Or should educators and schools begin to tailor their instruction to the changing brains and thought processes of today’s young adolescents? While the debate may continue for years to come, this issue will not go away. Our world is becoming increasingly technological and digitized. Many may still argue that students are doing worse in school because of video games. Traditional thinking tells us that constant exposure to rapid-response technology deprives our children of personal contact, imagination, wholesome entertainment, and physical fitness. Cutting edge educators however, believe that this same technology can be used to education’s advantage. Video games can teach children to do more than shoot guns and drive cars recklessly. When used in conjunction with science and educational theories, video games can teach our students whatever we choose.


Felini, Damiano. “Video game literacy: Exploring new paradigms and new educational

            activities.” MedienImpulse. n. page. Web. 24 Jan. 2013.


Gee, James. “Digital games and libraries.” Knowledge Quest. 41.1 (2012): n. page. Web. 24 Jan.

            2013. <


Gee, J. P. (2005). What would a state of the art instructional video game look like?. Innovate:

            Journal of Online Education, 1(6), Retrieved from



Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. MCB University Press, 9(5).

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants: Do they really think differently?. MCB

            University Press, 9(6).

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Book Unit Newsletter for “Number the Stars”



     Our class is excited to begin reading Number the Stars by Lois Lowry! It is such an important lesson about the value of human life and the courage of young adults. As it follows the story of a young girl, it is relatable for our students to see that, even as children, they can be brave and make an impact in the world. In addition to reading our textbook, as well as some primary and secondary sources of World War II, we want the students to feel some kind of connection to the lives of the past and understand their feelings. There is some violence and death, as is to be expected with any story about the war, but it is highly appropriate and suitable to the environment of our classroom. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us!




     Number the Stars is a historical fiction novel that tells the story of a Jewish family’s escape from Copenhagen. The story takes place during the German occupation that occurred in World War II. The main character of the novel is Annemarie Johansen, a ten-year-old girl living in Denmark. Annemarie and Ellen see how society changes as the Nazi occupation grows increasingly serious: shops close down, people are watched, and families are ripped apart. When Ellen’s family flees, they leave her in the care of Annemarie’s family who takes her in and keeps her Jewish heritage a secret. Through the help of some close family friends and distant relatives, Ellen and other endangered Jews are sent off in a boat to safety until the German occupation ends. The novel ends with a heartening message, and is an inspirational read about a dark time in world history.




SS6H7 The student will explain conflict and change in Europe to the 21st century.

a.       Describe major developments following World War I: the Russian Revolution, the Treaty of Versailles, worldwide depression, and the rise of Nazism.

b.      Explain the impact of WWII in terms of the Holocaust, the origins of the Cold War, and the rise of Superpowers.



Just a hint of the vocabulary we will be studying:  

  • The Holocaust
  • Nazis
  • Judaism
  • Star of David


For more information on the Holocaust:

 For more information on the rise of Nazism:

 For more information on Judaism:

 For more information about the author:


Ms. Schiveree, Ms. Dowst, Ms. Chrzanowski


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Blog Tagxedo

     So I recently became aware of this really cool website (thanks to my LLED5210 professor Beth). This website allows you to copy and paste a portion of text or type in a URL to any page, blog, or link. The web application then logs all the words used in this chunk of text and categorizes them based on their frequency of use; it then creates a picture out of the words used. The biggest words were used the most, and the smallest words were used the least throughout the course of the given text. These computer applications can be cool and artistic, but in addition, they can shed light on the most important elements or themes in a portion of text that you may not have noticed before. Sometimes the most used words give you clues to what the author of the text, consciously or subconsciously, values. There are multiple websites you can visit to access this sort of application, and here they are:


     I made an example of this type of picture art, and I used the website . I simply typed in a link to this blog, and the application did the rest. I hope you think it’s as cool as I did. And maybe you could try making your own!

blog tagxedo

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Staying Connected

     Staying connected with the popular culture of young adult literature can be difficult, especially if you are not a young adult. This is the situation for me and many other parents, teachers, and librarians who want to help inspire a love of reading in young adolescents. As a pre-professional teacher, I, and many others like me, consider it their duty to stay well-informed and stocked up on the the latest, greatest, and most entertaining literary titles. If you’re not constantly exposed to the popular culture of young adult reading (like me), here’s a couple ways to stay plugged in:

  • Join a Facebook group, blog, web page, or academic site dedicated to young adult literature
  • Follow your favorite young adult authors on twitter
  • Create an account on
  • And it couldn’t hurt to browse the young adult literature section of Barnes & Noble every once in a while

     Personally, I find it easy to follow my favorite authors and young adult literature advocates on twitter. This allows me to see what my favorite authors are creating or reading right on my phone. Personally I follow:

Donalyn Miller


Administrator of the “Book Whisperer” website who seeks to inspire children to love reading.

And Hope Larson


An illustrator and cartoonist who created one of my favorite graphic novels, A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel.

     Another one of my personal favorite ways to stay connected is through my goodreads account.

     Through this website, I guess you could call it literary networking, I can log all of my favorite reads. I can keep track of which books I loved, and which ones I don’t ever want to read again. I can add books to my wish-list, and submit updates of my current reads. The scale ratings and comments for literary pieces can help a reader decide if a book is worth pursuing. As a busy young adult, this also helps me keep track of the plethora of young adult novels I intended to explore for my future students and classroom.

     There are plenty of ways to stay connected  with the world of young adult literature, all you have to do is find the one that works for you!

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Writing Strategies in the Classroom: A Reflection on RAFT

     I recently came upon a simple, easy to use writing strategy that can come in handy for teaching writing. This activity, called RAFT, aids the student in identifying important elements of writing such as purpose and audience. RAFT stands for Role, Audience, Format, and Topic. Having students identify these major components before beginning a writing activity can be a big help. As a future teacher of writing, I know it’s important to show your students that you are a writer too. I have an example of a RAFT activity that I wrote in class the other day. In a middle grades literacy class, we read a picture book, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka. If you haven’t read this book, I would highly recommend it. This work takes classic tales and nursery rhymes and turns them upside down. Author Scieszka turns these fairy tales into silly, funny, and outlandish stories. The story about the stinky cheese man clearly mimics the tale of the ginger bread man who runs around yelling his famous line, “Run, run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me; I’m the gingerbread man.” In Scieszka’s version however, it is the stinky cheese man who runs around filling the nostrils of the towns people and animals with his putrid, half-baked, cheesy smell yelling “Run, run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me; I’m the stinky cheese man.” Here is the break-down for my RAFT.

  • Role: My work is told from the point of view of the cow that the stinky cheese man encounters during his story
  • Audience: My audience is another character from a fairy tale story: the fairy godmother
  • Format: The format of my work is poetry
  • Topic: The topic of my work is about my (cow’s) encounter with the stinky cheese man

Here is my final RAFT:

To: Fairy godmother,

I was chewin’ on some grass

chomp, chomp, chomp cow-patty-bingo

When along came the cheese man

clomp, clomp, clomp


I said pee-yew! You stink,

I really don’t think

I want to play with you today

So if you see him coming,

before you turn to start running,

make his day

and shake your wand, index

and in a snap

his stink will be gone

From: Your friend, cow

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