Godzilla Gazette, 19

Week of January 11, 2016


  • From Grace
  • The Reflective Practitioner
  • Weekly Team Planning Link
  • Weekly Events
  • For Your Information

From Grace

Aloha, everyone! Thank you, all, for a fantastic first week back. The building seemed to come alive when the students all streamed in on Tuesday and I absolutely love how excited they were to be coming back to school. I heard, "I missed you!" more than once and enjoyed the hugs, smiles, and happy greetings that abounded all week. Thank you for making Mathews such a beautiful place of learning! And speaking of things that make Mathews wonderful, if you haven't stopped by the the bulletin board with all our Mathews love blocks, you should definitely check it out! It will make you smile and remember why we are so fortunate to work with each other and our community.

Speaking of the work, last week you sat with your teams and created Ohana norms for how you will work together and looked at the best ways to meet the needs of all of our students. The beauty of heterogeneous groupings is the diversity of learning that all can benefit from. The challenge of heterogeneous groupings is that it is sometimes difficult to ensure each child is getting what he/she needs to thrive in all content areas. This is where creative planning and teaching become critical and the reason why the workshop model is more often than not, the most effective way to support all kids.

How? By organizing the lesson in a series of mini whole group instruction lessons and then breaking out into smaller groups and centers, the teacher can more easily meet with student groups and provide the explicit instruction needed to be successful in the content area. Making and Project-based Learning are natural frames for the workshop model because differentiation and skill growth and enrichment are built in. This week's Reflective Practitioner looks at concrete examples of how to to use PBL to differentiate instruction. Many of you are incorporating these ideas already and I encourage you to talk about how you're making this work at your team planning meetings and let me know how I can support you in this work.

On the topic of support - I've very much enjoyed reading about the support each of you feels will help you to be an even better teacher and have been following up and working to make sure you get this support. If your needs ever change, please let me know - I love collaborating with you for professional growth! :)

Here's to a happy and productive week 19 - plan smart, work hard, and have fun with your students and colleagues!

The Reflective Pracitioner

6 Strategies for Differentiated Instruction in Project-Based Learning

By: Andrew Miller Educational Consultant and Online Educator



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Photo credit: Laurie Sullivan via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Project-based learning (PBL) naturally lends itself to differentiated instruction. By design, it is student-centered, student-driven, and gives space for teachers to meet the needs of students in a variety of ways. PBL can allow for effective differentiation in assessment as well as daily management and instruction. PBL experts will tell you this, but I often hear teachers ask for real examples, specifics to help them contextualize what it "looks like" in the classroom. We all need to try out specific ideas and strategies to get our brains working in a different context. Here are some specific differentiation strategies to use during a PBL project.

1. Differentiate Through Teams

We all know that heterogeneous grouping works, but sometimes homogenous grouping can be an effective way to differentiate in a project. Sometimes in a novel- or literature-based PBL project, it might be appropriate to differentiate by grouping into reading level. That way, I can take groups that need intensive work and ensure they are getting the instruction they need. I think teaming should be intentional, and we need to know the "why" of how we structure teams. Are you differentiating for academic ability? Are you differentiating for collaboration skills? Are you differentiating for social-emotional purposes? Are you differentiating for passions? If you're a designer or co-designer of a PBL project, teams can be an effective way to differentiate instruction.

2. Reflection and Goal Setting

Reflection is an essential component of PBL. Throughout the project, students should be reflecting on their work and setting goals for further learning. This is a great opportunity for them to set personalized learning goals and for you to target instruction specific to the goals they set. At specific milestones in a project, one teacher that I observed had students reflect on what they'd learned so far in math and science, and then create goal statements for what they still wanted to learn. The teacher then designed activities to support students in learning not only what they wanted, but also what they needed to know.

3. Mini-Lessons, Centers, and Resources

This is probably one of my favorites. In addition to being a great management strategy to prevent "time sucks" in class, mini-lessons and centers are a great way to differentiate instruction. Perhaps you offer mini-lessons or center work to support your students' learning, or maybe you show students a variety of resources from which to learn, including videos, games, and readings. I know a teacher who has a well-oiled PBL machine of a classroom. Students move seamlessly from product work to learning stations, resources, and mini-lessons based on what they know. Students are so in tune with their learning that they are able to truly take ownership of it, and the teacher provides instruction without assumption. Not all students may need the mini-lesson, so you can offer or demand it for the students who will really benefit.

4. Voice and Choice in Products

Another essential component of PBL is student voice and choice, both in terms of what students produce and how they use their time. Specifically to products, you can allow students to show what they know in a variety of ways. From written components to artistic or theatrical, you can differentiate the ways that students are summatively assessed. Their passions actively come into play here. Again, it all depends on the standards that you're assessing, but don't let standards confine your thinking. Yes, you may have a written component if you're assessing writing, but ask yourself, "How can I allow for voice and choice here?" Embrace possibilities for differentiated student summative products.

5. Differentiate Through Formative Assessments

Formative assessments can look the same for all students. They can also look different. We know that students can show what they've learned in different ways, as mentioned above in terms of products produced as summative assessment. In addition, as you check for understanding along the way, you can formatively assess in different ways when appropriate. Perhaps you are targeting collaboration in the project. You can differentiate a formative assessment of this through a variety of ways. Perhaps it's an oral conference. Perhaps it's a series of written responses. Perhaps it is a graphic organizer or collage. More importantly, these formative assessments allow you to differentiate the type of instruction needed as you "feed forward" in the project.

6. Balance Teamwork and Individual Work

Teamwork and collaboration occur regularly in a PBL project. We want to leverage collaboration as much as content. However, there are times when individual instruction and practice may be needed. You need to differentiate the learning environment because some students learn better on their own, and others learn better in a team. In fact, we all need time to process and think alone just as much as we need time to learn from our peers. Make sure to balance both so that you are supporting a collaborative environment while allowing time to meet students on an individual basis.

As you master the PBL process in your classroom, you will intuitively find ways to differentiate instruction for your students. You will design the project to scaffold content and skills in a variety of ways. You will create formative and summative assessments to allow for student passions and goals, and you will manage the process so that it allows you to meet students where they are and move them forward.

Please share some of your successful strategies with us!


Weekly Team Planning Template Link

Weekly Events - AISD Board Appreciation Month!

Monday, January 11, 2016 - C Day

  • Happy Birthday, Susan Bell! :)
  • Honor Roll Assembly - 8:00 am - Cafeteria - 3rd-6th Grade Students
  • Holocaust Speaker Assembly - 9:00 am - Pease Elementary - 6th Grade, Grace
  • ARD - 11:30 am - Office - Corinda, Kellie, Kristen, Grace
  • MFE Meeting - 12:00 pm - Library - Grace, Ruthann
  • Homework Center - 2:50 pm - Library - Jud and Volunteers
  • UT Cooperating Teacher Meeting - 3:10 pm - Rm. 207 - Corinda, Kellie, Diana McG, Monica

Tuesday, January 12, 2016 - A Day

  • Parent Meeting - 8:00 am - Office - Grace
  • Parent Meeting - 8:40 am - Rm. 115 - Nicole, Grace
  • Fire Drill - 1:30 pm - School - All
  • Homework Center - 2:50 pm - Library - Jud and Volunteers
  • Mathews/Metz Reception - 6:30 pm - Austin History Center - Grace, Amy, All Invited!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 - B Day

  • District PreK/K Visit - 10:00 am - Classrooms - Grace, Sylina
  • CST Meeting - 2:00 pm - Kirstie, Kelly, Elise, Robin, Grace
  • Homework Center - 2:50 pm - Library - Jud and Volunteers

Thursday, January 14, 1016 - C Day

  • ARD - 11:45 am - Learning Lab 1 - Janie, Katherine, Grace
  • ARD - 12:15 pm - Office - Margaret, Diana, Chad, Grace
  • ARD - 1:00 pm - Learning Lab 1 - Janie, Stefanie, Elise, Robin, Grace
  • Staff Meeting - Climate Survey - 3:00 pm - Library - All

Friday, January 15, 2016 - A Day

  • Happy Birthday, Linda Baylor! :)
  • School-wide Assembly - 7:45 am - Gym - 6th Grade Leads and Peace Through Pie

Saturday, January 16, 2016

  • Peace Through Pie Social - Sweet Home Baptist Church - 1:30-3:00 pm - All Invited!
  • 4th and 5th Grade String Camp - Austin High - 9:00 am-3:00 pm - Registered Students

For Your Information


  • If you need something, ask.
  • Make sure to utilize reading/writing workshop and small group instruction during core.
  • Remember to take attendance daily on TEAMS.
  • Arrive and pick up your class from special areas on time - respect each other's time.
  • Ensure 504, IEP, ELL, and Gifted Accommodations are being followed
  • Actively supervise your students - Spread out at recess to monitor each area.
  • Check our calendar for important events
  • Try something new and have fun!

Kudos: Do you know of something good? Share it with Grace to be included here or write it in the comments below!

  • To Maria for working two jobs while maintaining a smile and a positive attitude!
  • To everyone for a wonderful first week back!
  • To Michelle for making sure the food was put away and the library was neat and clean after our staff development on Monday!
  • To Jennifer G. for arranging our mural blocks in such an eye-catching and lovely way!
  • To Diana McM for writing and winning $3000 for a water catchment system for the gardens and to the Green Team: Diana McG, Monica, and Claudia, for supporting the effort!
  • To Cindy W., Julie, Sarah, Kelly C., and Kelly VK for working diligently with teams to provide additional support for our kids!
  • To Stefanie and Diana McG for organizing the Science Fair Project Work Sessions!
  • To Claudia, Jud, Chad, Brett, Jennifer G., Margaret, and Michelle for volunteering to help students at the Science Fair Work Sessions!
  • To Corinda and Kellie for organizing their 6th grade students to help at the Science Fair Work Sessions!
  • To Amy and Corinda for their work for the 100th Birthday Celebration!
  • To Amy for organizing the choir students to sing at the History Center Event!
  • To Brett and Steve for braving the cold every morning to greet out students as they arrive!
  • To Michelle, Robin, and Matt for greeting and caring for our students in the morning!

Upcoming Events:

  • MLK Holiday - January 18th
  • TPRI/DRA MOY Window Opens - January 19th
  • Science Fair! - January 20th
  • Principal for the Day Takeover - January 22nd
  • Shelter in Place Drill - January 22nd
  • TELPAS On-line Basice Training Window Opens - January 27th
  • Barton Hills Teacher Visit for Maker Carts - January 27th
  • CAC - January 28th

Website to Explore:

http://bie.org/object/offsite/pbl_online_org/- Want to learn more about PBL and how it fits with the work we're doing to craft rigorous and authentic learning opportunities for our students? This site is chock full of good ideas and handy resource. If you remember, this is the site the Maker Ready folks shared with us in November. :) Happy exploring!