Doing Differentiation?

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 10.22.25 AMHave you ever heard, “how do you do differentiation?” As many resources tell us, differentiation is not something you do and tick off, it is more an ongoing philosophy or approach where we continue to really know our students and plan for their changing needs. In order to do this, we utilize various strategies that support this philosophy and approach.

Teachers can differentiate at least four classroom elements based on student readiness, interest, or learning profile:

  • Content – what the student needs to learn or how the student will get access to the information;
  • Process – activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of or master the content;
  • Products – culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, and extend what he or she has learned in a unit; and
  • Learning environment – the way the classroom works and feels.

(Excerpted from: Tomlinson, C. A. (August, 2000). Differentiation of Instruction in the Elementary Grades. ERIC Digest. ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.)


At my current school one of our Divisional Goals is the following:

 In order to meet the needs of all students, we will continue to plan for and practice differentiated learning throughout the ES grade levels and programs.


To help support this goal, we have implemented a few strategies/practices:

-We surveyed our staff to find internal resources on various strategies. (Modified this document)

-During planned faculty meetings, different teachers present and share samples of strategies they have used. Each time we have teachers share, we add another folder with resources for that particular strategy.

-Created a resource bank for teachers to pull from.

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We are also implementing a simple code for differentiation to document our approaches in our planners.

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We are on a continuous journey in our approach to differentiation.
What are you doing at your school to keep the differentiation discussion and philosophy alive?

Posted in differentiation, PD, teaching | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Transdisciplinary Skills are…..

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 5.17.39 PMIn Making the PYP Happen document it states the following:

Within their learning throughout the programme, students acquire and apply a set of transdisciplinary skills: social skills, communication skills, thinking skills, research skills and self-management skills. These skills are valuable, not only in the units of inquiry, but also for any teaching and learning that goes on within the classroom, and in life outside the school.

I have been talking about these skills a lot lately with colleagues at my school.
Some important questions have surfaced during these discussions and I am hoping to
hear from some of you regarding your thinking and practice with regard to these skills in the PYP.

What do these skills look like in your school?
How are they including in teaching and learning?
How are they assessed?
How are they reported on to parents? Expressed in narratives, on a Meeting Expectations Continuum?
Do teachers share a common understanding of what the skills look like throughout the grades? (below is part of a sample of a shared document on TD Skills)

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I would love to hear about your school and their work with the transdisciplinary skills. Here are some thoughts on Transdisciplinary Skills from Grade 3 students.

TD Skills from Sharyn Skrtic on Vimeo.

Posted in assessment, international teaching, PoI, PYP, transdisciplinary skills, unit of inquiry | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

What do your students know? Just Listen

This is just a quick reminder of one of the many different ways in which to gain information about our student’s prior knowledge.
Think about the information this pre-assessment discussion provides me in order to plan for engaging, appropriate and differentiated learning opportunities.

KSTI PreMeasure from Sharyn Skrtic on Vimeo.

Some information collected:
-student’s prior experience with measurement (i.e. grocery store)
-student’s current vocabulary (i.e. insulator)
-student’s current misconceptions (what Celsius temperatures mean)
-properties of containers to judge capacity (width, height)

Would I have gained this much information from having the students complete an independent worksheet?

Students construct meaning by drawing on their prior knowledge and experiences. As a teacher, the more I find out and acknowledge what students already know and can do, the more I can challenge them beyond their current understandings.

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Google Portfolios model “Making the PYP Happen” and “ICT in the PYP”

“Schools have a responsibility to show evidence of student learning. Portfolios are one method of collecting and storing information that can be used to document and assess student progress and achievement.” – Making the PYP Happen

“Learners’ awareness, use and appreciation of different ICT knowledge, skills and platforms should be developed.” – The Role of ICT in the PYP

We want students’ portfolios to
-celebrate a student
-show a student’s progress and development
-provide space for students to reflect on their work
-provide space for students to set goals
-show development of knowledge, conceptual understanding, transdisciplinary skills, attitudes and attributes of the learner profile over a period of time.

We want the following transdisciplinary ICT skills to be relevant to all learners
-becoming responsible digital citizens

In the past I have always implemented hard binder portfolios in my classroom. A few years ago, I added ‘some’ things on the computer to compliment the hard binder portfolio. This year, my students are up and running with their own portfolios in Google Sites. These portfolios are open and linked to our class blog homepage,




A homepage of a student portfolio (click on image to be directed to portfolio site)



Portfolio entries should document both the process of learning and the product, including images and evidence of students in the process of constructing meaning. By using Google Sites for our portfolios we are able to provide the opportunity for authentic embedding of ICT across the curriculum.

Classroom and specialist teachers are collaborating together with the students to show evidence of their learning.

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Students are using ICT to create their learning space, communicate their learning with others, organize their evidence into portfolio entries, and demonstrate they can be responsible digital citizens through their online presence in the portfolio.

We have just started our school year, but I already see the students understanding the value of the portfolios as a continual process for their learning. And by linking their portfolios to our class blog, they are learning as part of a broader community of learners and gaining an authentic audience for their sharing.

All of our students in G3-G5 have Gmail accounts. We use open class blogs and open student portfolios.
How are your students using portfolios?

Posted in assessment, integration, PYP, PYP Attitudes, PYP Profile, technology | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Working with ConferApp

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 12.34.08 PMIn January of 2013, I attended my 3rd 21st Century Learning Hong Kong conference. I attended a session with Jeff Dungan

(@jdungan) on the Confer App. It looked like an effective and efficient tool to use in the classroom. I played around with it a little the rest of the school year but didn’t end up using it in any big way.

This year I decided to utilize the Confer App on my iPad as one of my main teaching tools from day one.

If you are unfamiliar with the Confer App, please check out this site for more information. Confer is a ‘powerful student observation and note taking tool’. Gone are the days of clipboards with anecdotal post-it notes constantly falling off. All of your student data can now be in one place and easily manipulated to better plan and differentiate for your students.

I started by inserting my class roster and text for specific subject areas I wanted to keep student data on.
In the beginning I had a little trouble inputting text into some fields. But with a quick email to David Lowe, creator, (@conferapp) I had an answer and solution within a day or so. I love when the support for a tool is really there!

Some of the features I really like and wanted to highlight for you include the following:


The first screen in Confer lists all your subject groups you want to include.

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You can easily group your students for differentiated reasons. Students can easily be moved from one group to another.

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You can search for a particular skill or concept to identify quickly which students need support in that area.


When you view by date, it is easy to see which students have not met with you recently and therefore helps you plan your group time for the day.


This is an example of text you can import and just click on when adding notes on a particular child. Any time you add any text it becomes available to click on for other students.

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I am at the beginning of my journey with Confer, but so far I am happy to have  made the decision to use this app this year. I have found it super easy to collect observations and notes on my students. Differentiating lessons and small groups for readiness levels, interests, and learning styles is right at my finger tips. The Getting Started Guide included is very clear and helpful as well.

From what I hear there will be updates to this app as well, including the ability to add photos to notes, which I am really looking forward to.

If you haven’t checked this app out I highly recommend that you do. It may just be the right tool for you in your classroom. (Well worth the $14.99)


Posted in apps, PYP, PYP Attitudes, PYP Profile, Reading, science, teaching, technology, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thinking about Effective Feedback

IMG_1222I just recently wrapped up my second PTC (The Principals‘ Training Centre) course, ‘Assessment Leadership in the International School’ in Miami, Florida. You can read about my first course from 2012 here.

When I reflect back on the week, I think a statement @bambibetts shared with the participants from the Wallace Foundation serves as a basis for why leaders should take this course. “Leadership is second only to teaching among school influences on student success”.

From knowing and understanding assessment to leading the assessment process, this course provides school leaders with beneficial research and best practice.

As I did with my course last year, I would like to share one of the MANY takeaways from this course for you to reflect on with regards to your own school.


Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 11.34.33 PMFeedback – information on how we have performed in relation to a stated goal


Consider research on feedback (which we just can’t ignore)

John Hattie (2009)
Feedback has an effect size of 1.13
With relation to influence on student achievement

Ruth Butler (1986)
Students given only comments scored on average 30% higher

Think about your school…

What kind of feedback are your teachers providing?
Descriptive? -focused on intended learning outcomes i.e. ‘waiting your turn, like you did, is an example of respect’

Is the feedback CORRECTIVE and given in a TIMELY manner?

Since feedback is delivered after a retrieval attempt (assessment), is there more than one retrieval opportunity for students to apply feedback? Without penalty?

Does feedback offer STRATEGIES to close gap between desired learning and present position in that learning?

The above questions are crucial if your intention is student learning!

Other questions to think about…..
Are there effective characteristics of feedback included in your assessment policy?
Are your teachers held accountable for effective feedback in your teacher evaluation scheme?

Please share any assessment policy statements your school may have on effective feedback.


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Linking Children’s Literature to PYP Profile/Attitudes

“The aim of all the IB programmes is to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world.” (Making the PYP Happen)

The IB Learner Profile Attributes and Attitudes are relevant to both students and adults in a PYP school. By modelling and including them in all aspects of the school, students become more aware of them and build an appreciation for them.

IB Learner Profile

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IB Attitudes

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Teachers should look for authentic demonstrations of the Profile Attributes and Attitudes in the daily lives of the students in order to help students reflect on and develop their own set of values.

Using children’s literature has always been a valuable resource in classroom instruction. Children often are able to connect to the characters, situations, etc. that come alive when being read aloud a book or when reading independently. A lot of international schools have generated library lists linking various texts to the IB Learner Profile Attributes and Attitudes for teachers to utilize in the classroom.

Bleagh! A book about values is a new children’s book by Leana Doray, a former PYP teacher. I’ve already had the privilege of reading this new release and am excited to share it with my class this coming August. It will provide a nice link to the ongoing discussions and vocabulary in my PYP classroom.

front cover v14-copy


As a lot of international students have experience with, Bleagh is the new student, or Monster, at school! He is on a journey to learn important values and make new friends.

As you can see from this sample page, there is a clear link to some of the IB Profile and Attitudes throughout Bleagh’s first day of school.



Visiting the Bleagh Website will provide more information on the book as well as offer learning engagements and resources related to the book. Click here to go directly to the website. 

Bleagh! A book about values is available at all Kinokuniya outlets, online at Kinokuniya’s website and all Times Bookstores. For international readers, “BLEAGH!” is now available as an eBook on the Amazon Kindle and will soon be available on Barnes & Noble Nook, and Apple iBook platforms.

I hope to share a future blog post after I use the book with my G3s in August.

Does your school have any relevant/favorite titles they use to support a specific IB Learner Profile or Attitude?

Posted in international teaching, PYP, PYP Attitudes, PYP Profile, Reading, teaching | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Share what you know, a good place to start

Before moving ahead in our inquiry into shapes, angles, and lines, my grade three students took time to share their current understandings.

Armed with cameras, small groups walked about the school to take pictures representing any 2D shape, 3D shape, angle, or line they were familiar with. They then added their photos to a Voicethread to record their thinking.

They also used different materials to share and tweet their prior knowledge on the properties of 2D shapes.
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By having the students do this I was able to gain a lot of information to inform and differentiate my planning.
This included:

-strengths and needs of individual students
-student readiness levels
-vocabulary needs
-possible flexible groups

The voicethreads will be revisited throughout the unit to adjust, modify, or to add information as the students continue to construct meaning, transfer meaning, and apply their further understanding.

Have you used Voicethread for pre-assessing?

Posted in assessment, Math, technology | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Students leading the way

One of the ways my school shares information with parents about their child’s learning is through SLC, Student-Led Conferences.

(From Making the PYP Happen, pg. 52)

“Student-led Conferences involve the student and the parent. The students are responsible for LEADING the conference, and also take responsibility for their learning by sharing the process with their parents. This may involve a variety of different learning situations.”


-Students LEAD

-This is not a parent-teacher conference

-Teachers are present as support when needed

-Students can speak in their Mother Tongue to parents if necessary

-There can be several SLC conferences taking place at the same time

-Students decide what to share with their parents

-Students need time to prepare, they need time to practice

-Both Paper and ePortfolios can be shared

-Students can share any part of their learning space they wish

-Encourage reflection and discussion on the student’s work

-Talk to parents beforehand so that everyone has the same understanding about the day

-Celebrate with the students

Things to think about:

-does there need to be a time set (i.e. one hour)

-how to include specialists?


This year, some of my G3s wanted to tweet out their conference on our class account.

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As a class we reflected the next day on our time with our parents and shared a blog post. We have already received comments from our parents.

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A short view into our SLCs last week

I have always enjoyed these days in school. I love watching the students celebrate their learning with their family. I am always impressed with the increase in confidence and independence as well. This pic I took last week at our SLCs sums it up for me.


Do you have Student-Led Conferences at your school?
How are they organised?

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Being a PYP Exhibition Mentor

9877724In the final year of the PYP, students engage in a final project, the PYP Exhibition. The exhibition is a transdisciplinary inquiry conducted in the spirit of personal and shared responsibility. This exhibition is a significant event for both the school and the students, synthesizing the essential elements of the PYP and sharing them with the whole school community. (-Making the PYP Happen)

My first experience being a mentor for the exhibition was back in 2008 at ISD in Germany. At the time I was teaching Grade 3 at the school and I had the privilege of being guided through the experience by a Grade 5 master teacher, Mary Kay Polly (@MKPolly ). The Grade 5 teachers led the mentors through the exhibition process and shared their expectations for us as mentors.

This past February, 2013, I had the chance to revive my role as mentor for the exhibition once again. I am again teaching Grade 3 and was a mentor to a group of 5 students for their PYP Exhibition at ISS International School in Singapore. I found myself so glad to be back in this role and strongly encourage any teacher in the PYP to take the opportunity to do so in their own schools.


I met with my group once a week during lunch. The first time we met, we looked through our PYP Exhibition Journal and the timeline. They shared their burning questions with me and the work they had already done on a shared understanding of the vocabulary in their Central Idea. We then set a goal for our next meeting.

Every meeting after that included an update on their progress, reflection on the goals we set, self-reflection on the Transdisciplinary skills, and any questions/concerns/ideas they wanted to discuss.

Everything was organized on Google Docs which allowed us all to have access to their research and resources. These weekly meetings were led and organized by the students.

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In the spirit of the PYP, students, teachers, and parents are seen as partners working towards a common goal.  As a Grade 3 teacher, I am a member of this partnership and have found great value in mentoring the Grade 5 students. The experience not only allows me to contribute to and support my school’s Programme of Inquiry, but it also allows me to reflect on the progression of the essential elements of the PYP throughout the elementary school.

photo-1As I engaged with students in their demonstration of research skills, balancing primary and secondary sources, interpreting research and data, and planning presentation methods, I was able to reflect on how these elements are present and developed in Grade 3. This then leads to further reflection/discussions with other grade level teachers and continuous improvement of our Programme.

Overall, mentoring the PYP Exhibition is a valuable experience. Be a part of this inquiry and celebration of the PYP years. You won’t regret it.



Posted in international teaching, PYP | Tagged , , | 6 Comments