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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Creating and Managing an Effective Learning Environment By Sherrie Brann


       As an ELA teacher, I teach students who are avid readers, and others who never read for pleasure. I teach students who plan, lead, and become excited by challenging projects, and others who struggle to complete assignments to pass my class. Some of my students thrive on social interaction and collaborative learning, while others feel uncomfortable working with their peers. Some are visual learners, some auditory,
and some hands-on. I strive to reach and engage all of these students and diverse others, to ensure they each meet ELA and technology standards, and to empower them to become critical thinkers and effective learners. To provide differentiated instruction to meet every student’s needs, Tomlinson (1999) says that teachers need to match the content, the method of learning, and the assessment of learning to each student’s level of readiness, interests, and learning style. Using technology wisely, where it improves my ability to engage, assess, and instruct all students, I will create the most effective learning environment for them (Cennamo, Ross, & Ertmer, 2009, p. 193).
Managing Pre-Assessment
To create an effective learning environment for all students, I will begin by assessing each student’s strengths and weaknesses in reading comprehension and writing skills. For example, at the beginning of the semester I will evaluate students’ NWEA reading test scores (Lexile scores) and I will evaluate an initial essay writing assignment using a 6+1 Trait Writing Rubric (Education Northwest, 2011). This will allow me to identify students’ strengths and learning needs in both reading and writing.
The next step in my development of an effective learning environment will be assessing student’s interests, which I will do using an online reading interest inventory, available at http://ahssummerreading.wikispaces.com/Reading+Interest+Survey. I will also assess student’s learning styles, using an online learning style inventory, available at http://www.personal.psu.edu/bxb11/LSI/LSI.htm, and I will assess student’s intelligence preferences based on Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory (Cennamo, Ross, & Ertmer, 2009, p. 124) using the 8 Multiple Intelligences Test online at http://quizfarm.com/quizzes/new/profesorrod/8-multiple-intelligences-test/. To complete my pre-assessment process, I will also use the Differentiated Instruction Learner Profile which I will print from http://daretodifferentiate.wikispaces.com/file/view/di_learnerprof.pdf. I will discuss the results of all the assessments with students, helping them to identify their interests, learning styles, and intelligence preferences. The final learner profile, which is the most comprehensive, will be an assessment students can take home and share with their families, as well.
Managing a Differentiated Curriculum
Once I understand my students’ learning needs, I will modify my classroom to accommodate each student by integrating technology tools to improve instruction. Technology tools allow me to provide more options to meet students’ needs. I will offer students the choice of reading texts in print or online, as many are more accustomed to reading online than to reading books in print (Richardson, 2009, p. 5). I will scaffold reading comprehension strategies and writing organizational strategies using online graphic organizers that can be adapted to student readiness levels. (For example, struggling readers may fill in a graphic organizer I create online, summarizing a story; while advanced readers may create their own graphic organizers to demonstrate understanding and share knowledge with peers.) I will also develop Webquests and collections of book-marked links on content topics, to present class content in varied formats.
To further create an effective learning environment. I will design student-centered, active learning activities. Technology tools provide the means to personalize learning and to create opportunities for students to collaborate on projects, to participate in “authentic intellectual work” (Cenamo, Ross, Ertmer, 2009, p. 35), and to interpret and manipulate information. Carefully grouping students with different strengths and weaknesses so they can learn from each other, I will assign both individual and collaborative projects such as the creation of blogs, wikis, webpages, podcasts, and digital stories to engage students in meaningful literacy work.  
Managing Assessment of Student Work
To provide assessments that meet the needs of every student, I will use the Differentiated Learning Rubric at http://atozteacherstuff.com/pdf.htm?rubric_differentiated.pdf to assess long-term projects. This rubric fits a vast array of projects, with categories for preparation, visuals, speaking and audience contact, overall understanding of topic, and teaching value for other students.
Additionally, I will implement the use of electronic portfolios to allow students to collect work in multimedia formats, including digital images and audio recordings.  Students can create Weblogs that work as showcase portfolios (Richardson, 2009, p. 23), including links to reliable resources and personal reflections on what and how they learned from each activity.
Using electronic portfolios, students will be able to demonstrate proficiency in language arts standards and technology standards. They will have accessible evidence of their learning to share with peers, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community. I will grade all elements of the portfolio, including goal setting, pieces submitted, and student reflections (Duke & Sanchez, 2001, p. 60), and my assessments will become part of the electronic portfolios as well.
Creating an Effective Learning Community
To further communicate with administrators, colleagues, parents, and community members about the effective learning environment and the differentiation strategies being implemented in my classroom, I will continually update my teaching blog reflecting upon what works well to meet students’ needs and what challenges we face. I will share my online resources and student products continually with colleagues via email, and I will share my experiences and ideas during our weekly staff meetings and committee meetings. I have recently become part of the curriculum committee, and I have opportunities there to share research and suggestions regarding technology integration, UDL, and DI. I have already posted much of this information on my blog at www.mssherrie.blogspot.com, and I have created a glog about differentiated instruction, a podcast about UDL and DI, and a Webpage explaining UDL (all of which have links on my blog.) I continue to share these resources with colleagues, receive feedback, and build upon them.
Conclusion
Fortunately, each student at our middle school has a laptop and each student at our high school has access to a laptop; in addition to a computer lab and computers in the library. We all have access to the Internet, to vast resources, to audio, video, etext, blogs, wiki, podcasts, graphing software, art software, etc. Both the middle school and the high school have an active, supportive tech team we can call with all of our technology-related questions. We have the tools at our disposal to facilitate remarkable student-centered learning, to differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of every student, and to ensure that all students in our school are meeting the standards across the curriculum. I will begin in my own classroom. Then, I will share my experiences and my students’ learning with my colleagues and administrators. I hope to spread the message of the importance of empowering every student to succeed by creating an effective learning environment in every classroom. I believe my own students will demonstrate this by becoming active, engaged learners; by setting individual goals, meeting them in diverse ways, and demonstrating their learning through online portfolios and authentic reading and writing projects. I believe it will empower my students to learn what their strengths and weaknesses are, to showcase their strengths and improve on their weak areas (Laureate, 2009), and to find success no matter where they are starting from.

                                                         References
Cennamo, Ross, and Ertmer. (2009). Technology integration for meaningful classroom use.
            Cengage Learning: Mason, OH.
Duke, C. and Sanchez, R. (2001). Assessing writing across the curriculum. Carolina Academic
            Press: Durham, NC.
Education Northwest. 2011. 6+1 Trait® rubrics (aka scoring guides). Retrieved from
Laureate Education, Inc. (2009). Managing the differentiated classroom: VFE™ –
            Montreal/Cambodia genocide project. [DVD] Featuring Megan Webster.
Richardson,W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms.
            Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, CA.
Tomlinson, C. (1999). Differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners.
            Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.  Retrieved
            from the Walden Library ebrary.

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