Narda Robbins' DIA Blog

June 26, 2010

Year End Wrap-Up (June 2010)

Filed under: Semester 2 final — nrobbins @ 11:29 pm

As with all of my years in teaching, this one went by just as quickly.  It is so hard to believe that it is now June and I am finishing up with my marking.  The entire school year has truly been a journey and exploration for me.  I started out not knowing much about Differentiated Instruction and I ended up learning so much (and wanting to know more).

I have explored, experimented and examined various strategies surrounding DIA. I have met many great people and I have grown professionally in so many ways.  My students have taught me so much as well.  They showed me that it is okay to take risks together; to delve into the unknown; to learn from each other.  I have to commend each of my students this year.  They came along on this journey with me and never did I hear a complaint.

They handled visitors to our classroom in an ordinary fashion; they stuck with me when I tried something new; they eagerly gave me feedback about what we were doing.  I am so proud of each of them!

This year taught me that as a teacher, I need to keep progressing myself. I constantly tell my students to take “positive risks” within the classroom. Well, I am embarking on one of those risks myself.  I am leaving East Elgin Secondary School at the end of this year and I am heading to work at the Board Office as a Learning Coordinator.  I must admit that I am nervous and excited all at the same time.  Firstly, I am saddened about leaving my EESS home.  I have loved my time there more than words can say.  It never was a chore for me to get up in the morning and I have often said that it is rare to hear me say “I am going to work”.  In fact, I daily say that “I am going to school”.  Teaching isn’t work for me — it is a love and a passion.  I love what I do and that is why it is so sad to leave. But… I know that in order to grow as a teacher I need to learn more. That means learning from other great teachers within Thames Valley.  It means exploring my colleagues’ world at the elementary level. It means finding out what is happening in other disciplines.  It means realizing it is time to spread my wings beyond the walls of my classroom.

I have a firm belief that I will teach again…but I will bring back to my classroom a renewed sense of what it means to be a teacher.  I know that my journey in DIA has opened my eyes and opened doors that I could never have imagined.  I want to thank everyone who has helped me along the way.  I have learned from the visitors to my classroom, from my students and from those of you who have read this blog and who have posted comments.  If I could leave a suggestion to any teacher who may stumble across this it is this—-remember why you entered teaching in the first place — for the students. If you face each day knowing that you may be the only source of positivity and guidance in these young people’s lives then you truly will make a difference.  Teach from your heart because that is all that matters!


May 24, 2010

Semester 2 Week 13 – 15 (May 2010)

Filed under: Semester 2 Weeks 13 - 15 — nrobbins @ 3:10 pm

Students working in pairs to join up terms and definitions


May has been a full month of Differentiated Instruction activities.  I had 2 demonstration lessons (which will be described in more detail below) and some related professional development at the Board Office.

The 2 demonstration lessons this month truly involved a lot of “risk” on my part.  I have felt like my DIA journey this year has come full circle and I wanted to end my TOSA position with the full knowledge that I tried everything that I could to ensure I felt fully satisfied with my work.

The lesson on May 10 dealt with the influence of skateboarding  in popular culture.  The idea for this lesson has been brewing in my mind for quite some time now.  Ever since I started using Michael Harmon’s Skate with my classes, I knew I wanted to incorporate boarding into my lessons somehow.  So, the DIA position allowed me that opportunity.

The class just started its media unit and students were investigating the conventions put forth in many types of media. 

The introductory hook (as soon as the bell went to indicate the start of class) was the playing of Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8ter Boi”.  Almost immediately after, I went to the doorway and had a “confrontation” with 2 students who were in full skater gear and who were riding their skateboards down the hallway in front of my room.  (**I had arranged for these students to do this and for them to act “in role”—although they are actual skaters—and had received permission from my principal for this activity).  I told them to come into my classroom and my students and these former students began to have a dialogue about the stereotypes surrounding boarders (i.e. how they act, what they wear, how they are perceived by others in their community).


Cards used at the beginning of the lesson

 Next, students were each given a card.  Some students received a skateboard ‘term’, other students received a ‘definition’ of that term.  They had to work collaboratively to find their appropriate match.  Once they thought they had a match, students were asked to sit down with their partner until all students had completed the activity.  We  shared responses afterward.

Students were shown many videos from You Tube which dealt with skateboarding.  We started with the history of boarding and worked our way to Nike SB commercials and Paul Rodriguez.

Next, was a learning station activity.  Students were divided into 4 different groups (based upon their learning profiles & their readiness to this activity).  They rotated through these stations to uncover more information about the impact of skateboarding on our popular culture.

STATION #1 – A look at Nike SB clothing, hats, shoes etc.  On the chart paper provided, students  made notes on what they noticed about these products in terms of colour, style etc.  Is Nike promoting a really good product here? Also, students  looked at skateboard magazine covers through the years.  On the chart paper provided, students examined how these covers have changed or how they have stayed the same.  Which magazine covers are better? Why?


Looking at skateboarding magazine covers


Recording thoughts on the chart paper

 STATION #2 – An activity which  allowed students to put together a graphic novel about the Z-Boys & Dogtown.  They were given copies of the story boards from the graphic novel and they  had to determine the order of the story boards.

Organizing the graphic novel


Figuring out the graphic novel sheets

 STATION #3 – A cloze activity that examined the history of skateboarding. This tested student knowledge from the lesson and  allowed for students to predict answers.

A former student assisting my class with the cloze activity

STATION #4 – An activity where students could either  watch a video which instructed them how to do a trick with the popular toy “Tech Decks”. I also had a former student at this station who was available to show students how to do these “tricks”.  Most of my class wanted to work with the former student rather than watch the video.


Learning from each other at the Tech Deck station


At the Tech Deck station

 What was so interesting about this lesson was the fact that by incorporating my former students, they gave the lesson some validity and realism.  It also offered them a chance to share their knowledge about a topic which I really know nothing about. 

The final part of this lesson had students designing their own skateboarding shoe


Looking at actual Nike SB shoes in order to complete an original design


Starting to complete the RAFT project

 My second lesson of the month was also my final DIA demonstration class.  I had wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary. So, I asked a colleague, Adam McBurney to work with me on a “team teaching” approach to our 2 units in drama.  Adam’s class was just beginning its study of Romeo & Juliet and my class was starting 12 Angry Men.  We decided that Adam’s students would be technicians in a murder mystery and they would instruct my students (acting as investigators) through a series of stations.  While this did occupy a lot of our spare time (in terms of getting the lesson and the props ready for the stations) we were really happy with the final result.  There were definitely some things we would change if we had the opportunity to do this a second time.

A few students from Adam’s ENG1D1  began our investigation of the “case” by giving a briefing about certain particulars which my ENG 2P1 students  needed to know in order to begin their analysis of the data. 

We had decided to join our 2 classes in the library to give us ample room to prepare the stations.


Badges made up for ENG 2P1 (as investigators)

My students were divided into 6 different groups (based upon their learning profiles & their readiness to this activity).  They rotated through these stations to uncover more information and evidence about the case.

STATION #1 – A look at fingerprint analysis.  Weapons found at the scene of the crime were revealed. Students investigated the identity of weapons’ owners. Students also compared prints from 3 suspects.


A video showing how fingerprints are dusted


Some of the weapons involved in the incident


The shotgun involved with the case


Blown up fingerprints assisted the students' examination


Fingerprints of all suspects were examined


Students looked at the fingerprints on each weapon involved with the case


STATION #2 – An analysis of the uniforms of the 2 officers.  The students examined the gunshot residue and blood spatter that was evident on both shirts.


Students examined gunshot residue and blood spatter on the 2 shirts


The officers' uniforms were examined. Sleeves from the uniforms were in the plastic bags for analysis

 STATION #3 – An examination of autopsy results.  Students  examined the shotgun wad, the perforated kidney, the original rib bone and the 3 test bones. Students also needed to understand how the striation pattern in the original bone was significant.

At the autopsy station, students compared bone fragments that were blasted by different types of guns


The two classes working very well together in the school library


ENG 2P1 students had to fill in their notebook graphic organizer while they visited all of the stations

 STATION #4 –Students investigated the research files of the 2 officers.  They also worked their way through a crime scene reproduction.

STATION #5— The interview of 3 suspects involved with the case.   Students were given a series of questions (it was their decision which questions to ask of the suspects).

STATION #6—The audio analysis of Officer Reeves. Students were to examine the timing of the calls, the timing of the actual incident and the timing of the gunshots.

Upon finishing my last demonstration class I noticed that my lessons in DIA have really become less about me and definitely more about my students.  I think back to my trial session (where I was using grouping and graphic organizers—I was at the center of that lesson).  But my final lesson didn’t see me actually speaking with my class until the end of class (where we spoke briefly about the results of the case).  This final class truly showed the effects of differentiated instruction.  Here were 2 groups of students interacting with each other in learning stations and teacher involvement was minimal to non–existent (except for the fact that Adam and I had prepped all of the material ahead of time).  While we did oversee the lesson, it was the students instructing and questioning each other.  Wow! What an amazing ride in teaching this has been. To go from being completely unaware of DIA to having a lesson that was geared to show the best of students’ abilities and strengths.


Students looking at the crime scene model prepared for them via a computer program

April 30, 2010

Semester 2 – Week 11 (April 19 – 22) & Week 12 (April 26 – 30)

Filed under: Semester 2 Week 11 & 12 — nrobbins @ 12:16 am


This has been a busy time in the world of the Learning Classroom Teacher.  I have spent a good deal of time at the Board Office during the last 2 weeks.  Primarily, I was getting ready (with colleagues on the DIA Task Force) to present a PD session at Montcalm.  As well, there have been follow up sessions for those who have visited our classes . 

April 28 was another demonstration class for ENG 2P1.  This class has just started our poetry unit.  Knowing that this can be a very awkward and stressful subject for applied level students,  the lesson tried to bring poetry to a relatable and accessible place for them.  At this point, we were just looking at the meaning behind the poetry rather than the impact of specific style.

The focus of the lesson was on how much the 5 senses have an impact upon our understanding of poems / lyrics.  I wanted the students to understand that perspective needs to be brought to everything they read in order to fully appreciate meaning.

The first activity had students selecting one button from a larger group.  Then, they were directed to gain a different perspective about the button and perhaps its owner.  I asked them a series of questions about their buttons.  They recorded their answers on the graphic organizer provided. Afterwards, I had volunteers share their responses with the class.  What was neat for the students to see was that even those who selected the same button were able to create different “lives/stories” for their buttons.


Students selected a button and examined it. This activity was to introduce the concept of perspective.


Next, students were shown the poem “Cat in the Window”.  We  investigated what the cat senses while observing a room.  Then, a ‘fly’ was posted in the room.  Students  worked with partners (see Shopping Buddy Guide) to answer questions regarding the 5 senses. They  needed to truly observe their own surrounding to figure out what the fly observes. They recorded their answers on large slips of paper and then posted them at the front of the room.  As a class, we then built a poem from the posted responses that resembled “Cat in the Window”. I was truly amazed with the answers we got at the front of the room.  I was completely unaware about how much the students do take in their own environment. There were comments about the ceiling tiles, the can in the recycling bin etc.  Cool stuff indeed!


The first part of the Fly on the Wall activity encouraged students to think about our classroom from another's perspective.


Students worked in partners to come up with lines for our sensory poem.


The actual Fly on the Wall that started the whole activity. The fly was observing us for the day.


Some of the objects used in our sensory activity.


After working in partners, the students needed to come to the front to post their findings about The Fly on the Wall.


Students posting their responses


Beginning to share the class' findings with our Fly on the Wall activity.


Discussing with the class their findings.


Responses for what the Fly on the Wall would smell in my classroom.


Responses for what the Fly on the Wall would touch in my classroom.


To continue this, student volunteers were asked to come to the front to participate in a sensory activity.  They were investigating objects such as sugar / a stain / crown of thorns / needle / dirt / a hole.  We came up with words that related to these objects and made connections.  The objects selected were images / words from the song “Hurt”. 


A student volunteers to"feel" the contents inside the mystery bag. Again, this goes to show how senses play into our perception.


A student examines a needle (and then pops a balloon).


We also tried to make connections to the title of the song (poem). Students recorded their answers on the inside of a foldable.

On the outside of the foldable students recorded information after viewing 2 versions of the song “Hurt”.  The 1st is the 1994 version by Nine Inch Nails and the 2nd is the 2002 version by Johnny Cash.  They came up with 3 images per song and wrote these on the foldable.  A discussion occurred about similarities and difference between these images. We also took notes of the perspective of each version (& the use of senses to achieve that perspective).

After viewing the videos, students were shown how a series of images can relay a message (through sense & perspective).   Using a graphic organizer, students made connections between photographs and poems. 

Next, each student selected an image from those provided.  They had to construct a 5 – 10 line sensory poem of their own. Firstly, they had to fill in a graphic organizer about the RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) of their poem. 


Students look at their pictures first and then complete the RAFT organizer. This will allow them to determine role, audience, format and topic.


Students work on creating their sensory poems based upon the pictures they selected.


  • “I really enjoyed comparing the ‘Hurt’ videos. I also enjoyed the sense / perspective activities because they were both different.”
  • “I thought the lesson was fun because we got to do more than just sit around like we do in other classes.”
  • “I like the videos of ‘Hurt’. It really inspired me to listen to old school music. I like the activity with senses too. It really made me look at pictures differently.”
  • “I enjoy your lessons very much.  I think they are interesting because they are different than others in the school.”
  • “I enjoyed the videos of ‘Hurt’ because it’s a visual way of learning to me. I’m a visual learner that needs to see what I’m learning. Learning about the senses was interesting and neat way to look at poetry. The Fly on the Wall activity was fun because we got to write cool sentences.”

April 16, 2010

Semester 2 Week 10 (April 12 – 16, 2010)

Filed under: Semester 2 Week 10 — nrobbins @ 8:58 pm



I have really tried to focus my attention this semester on allowing my ENG 2P1 students to visualize texts in different ways.  We have been using Big Ideas after our reading analysis, as well as transferring information via creative outlets.  I feel that the class is responding better to this approach rather than simply the tried and true version of read the text and then answer the questions. 


While reading Michael Harmon's SKATE, we drew our depictions of each chapter.

Big Ideas from the novel. We also tried to match up the hobo badges which we created in our first lesson dealing with Of Mice & Men.

Transferring information in the text-- allowed students to visualize the characters on their own before we watched the film.


This week was another demonstration class for ENG 2P1.  The focus was Learning Stations centering around review of Of Mice & Men

Students started class with a  Quiz, Quiz, Trade activity. This was the first time we had ever tried this.  It went better than I could have imagined.  Students appeared engaged and were willing to take risks (by moving around the room and asking unfamiliar people questions).  Interacting with others can be very intimidating for 2P1 students so I was pleased with their efforts to try and go beyond their fears. 


We started class with a Quiz, Quiz, Trade activity.


Next, was an activity called Content Puzzles.  Students were put into heterogeneous groups and each group  was given an excerpt from the text.  Students  needed to select 2- 3 major images from this excerpt and write these down on the accompanying sheet of paper.  They were looking for parts of sentences that related to the 5 senses.  After writing the words down, students taped them to the appropriate section on the chart paper at the front.  Content puzzles help students remember information and allow for focus in an activity. 


Students did an activity called "Content Puzzle". It worked really well in getting them to realize that we do use our senses when we read literature.

Then students worked in Learning Stations.  There were 5 activities which students needed to complete.  I have learned that this group cannot handle moving around, so I constructed the learning stations so that all groups had the same materials (put in prepared envelopes).This alleviates a lot of chaos by moving to different stations. The learning stations dealt with the following: 

  • Learning Station #1 –Tactile / Kinaesthetic – creating symbols based upon the novel and its themes OR creating cartoons based upon chapters in the novel.
  • Learning Stations #2 — Artistic / Verbal– using key words from the novel to play Pictionary.
  • Learning Station #3 — Cognitive – Matching & ordering key components of the novel.
  • Learning Station #4 — Auditory / Musical – Investigating song lyrics to make connections to the novel
  • Learning Station #5 — Visual / Interpretive – watching clips from 1939 version of the novel to make comparisons to the 1992 version.

One station allowed students to use their creativity with Play Doh to create symbols from the novel. I got everything from animals, to guns to horseshoes. Really neat stuff!


Students decided to create a rabbit (a key symbol in the novel).


The 2nd choice for this stations was to create a scene from one chapter in the novel. Students had to fill in blanks about what the importance of the chapter was and then create an image.


One stations allowed students to play Pictionary with key words from the novel. My artist learners thrived with this activity.


One of the stations had students matching slips of paper dealing with key points from the text. This allowed my students who enjoy moving around the opportunity to really take the lead.


Beginning the process of matching the statements together. The class worked so well on this task.


Students used large white board sheets to transfer words from song lyrics. This allowed them to share their ideas with each other and the rest of the class.

The lesson went very well and I was quite pleased with the students’ progress.   They all worked well together .  We are slowly learning how to make DIA relevant in this class’ weekly learning.  I know that I have had to alter my lessons to fit with this group and this has made me much more aware of how my overall teaching changes depending upon the needs of my students. 

April 12, 2010

Semester 2–Week 8 (March 29 – April 1) & Week 9 (April 6 – 9)

Filed under: Semester 2 Week 8 & 9 — nrobbins @ 10:00 am


On March 30, a colleague and I presented at the TVDSB Principals’ Council.  We had to speak about Learning Stations, so we decided to do this using “stations”.  The principals could choose from between 5 stations: a video of Learning Classroom teachers using stations with their students, 2 actual stations set up by my colleague and myself, a station with Ministry lesson plans, and a station with some professional reading articles.  Overall, I think it went well and that we addressed a few questions that some of the administrators had.

In ENG 2D1, we finished up work on our Mockingbird essays. Once again we used learning contracts to help us achieve our set goals while writing.  See first semester notes about this in the entries below.  For student reaction to Learning Contracts see the Exit Card section below.

 In ENG 2P1, we are continuing our study of Of Mice & Men.  I have been trying to tap into my students’ learning preferences by allowing them to look at the novel in many different ways.  Of course, the obvious way is auditory (by reading aloud the novel), but we have also been using our tactile sense (discovering objects in the novel – such as the bindle) and our kinaesthetic senses.  Movement is key in a classroom.  I have tried to simply allow by class the opportunity to move into groups, partners etc. As well, students have the option of putting up our Big Ideas and adding to our posters on the back wall.  We have also tried to link lessons from previous weeks into this week’s classes.  During a demo lesson a while ago, students created badges using hobo sign language. We have been trying to use these badges when we put up our Big Ideas so that we can see how George and Lennie are much like the hobos of the 1930s (i.e. the things hobos would write about can be definitely seen in the novel). I believe we have been successful in linking the two together.

We have also finished our reading of Michael Harmon’s Skate.  Daily we added to our visual wall about the novel.  Students have enjoyed been able to take turns drawing and re-telling the plot.  We have now started Michael Harmon’s Brutal and are continuing with this in the same manner as Skate.

A colleague gave me an article from The Globe and Mail this week entitled “Choice Leads to Genuine Reading Interest”.    The article discusses the debate in letting our students “freely choose what pages they want to turn”.  It follows an American study (in a Virginia Grade 8 class) whose goal it was “to get every student engaged in reading –the kind that you do in your own free time”.  The article emphasize that students would perhaps start out with the Twilight or Gossip Girl series but “as [students’] appetite for reading grew, so did their interest in more challenging reads”.   One of the lead researchers, Dr. Gay Ivey,  indicated that “there is a perception when you give choices, [students] will choose something that’s not good for them. But that is not the case at all.  We wouldn’t have kept kids from reading Captain Underpants. But quite frankly even our least experienced readers didn’t choose books like that”.   It is revealed that a lot of teachers stick to certain ways of teaching because “they’re tradition […] but the bottom line is engaging students on their level so they can become readers who can distill all the information being fired their way”.


  • “I like learning stations because I find the material more interesting and it’s easier for me to learn when I’m moving around and actually doing something.”
  • “Group work (stations) allow interaction with classmates and it’s a fun creative way to learn. I actually use my eyes and hands instead of just listening.”
  • “The stations are fun and it’s easy to learn when you are having fun! Plus, everyone gets a say in what we’re doing.”
  • “The learning contract keeps everything organized and keeps me on course. It helps me to finish one thing first before moving on.”
  • “I like the learning contracts because they are checked by Mrs. Robbins and I know that my work is correct.”
  • “I think that the learning contracts are superb!  It made it easier for me to effectively complete my work on time and still get it checked by Mrs. Robbins. I would get little ‘pointers’ to further improve my work. The contracts help me to decide what to do and how to organize my time.”

March 28, 2010

Semester 2 Week 7 (March 22 – 26, 2010)

Filed under: Semester 2 Week 7 — nrobbins @ 3:51 pm



Well, we’re nicely back from the March Break and certainly into full swing with DIA.  Tuesday, March 23 was another follow up session at the Board Office for those who have come to visit my classroom.  Then, on Wednesday, March 24 I had another demonstration class where 4 colleagues from across the Valley came to observe my lesson. 

In ENG 2P1, students have just finished reading Chapters 1 – 3 in Of Mice & Men.  The demonstration lesson was an examination of events that occurred in Chapter 3. 

We have been working on examining the vocabulary in the text (since some of it is 1930s slang).  I decided that instead of having students do work sheets or take time to look into the dictionary, they would predict meanings as we encountered the words in the text. I think that having them look at the word in the context of the sentence, and then make a prediction on meaning will enable them to remember the words more. 


Making predictions about vocabulary in the text so far.

The lesson was arranged around whole group activities and pairing activities

Initially, students organize themselves according to their “Shopping Buddy” guide.  This is a handout we have used since the beginning of the semester which arranges students into partners.  While in their pairs, students were asked a series of content questions for Chapter 3.  They used white boards to reveal their answers. 

Next, students were asked to come up with some Big Ideas for Chapter 3 (these are posted on the back wall). 

Student pairs were asked to select a picture of a dog.  They had to “write in role” as the dog to determine perspective.  Students  shared answers with each other and then wrote these thoughts down on the graphic organizer provided.  Volunteers were sought to share responses. 


Students had ample selection of dog photos to choose from.


After selecting the image of a dog, students need to think about how to address the task at hand -- writing in role as this dog.


Students, in pairs, begin the process of "writing in role"


After the writing in role, students were lead in a WORD SPLASH Activity (graphic organizer) – they were asked to determine words which answered the following questions: 

1) How would you feel if something of value was taken from you? 

2) How would Candy be feeling after Carlson shoots the old dog? (** I wanted to see if students could relate to Candy’s pain) 

The next activity had the class watching a montage of clips from “OLD YELLER”.  The students needed to compare the events in the clip to those events which occurred in Chapter 3.  They were asked to determine: What is the problem for the dog? For its owner? 

After viewing the DVD, students got back  into their pairs to work on a graphic organizer re- conflict.  Students had to determine a definition of the term “conflict”. They also tried to figure out 4 characters who faced conflict in Chapter 3.  Answers were shared in a whole class format (via the overhead). 

The last activity of the day involved students using a variety of learning styles to sum up everything discussed in class via a paper bag activity – Students (in partners) selected 1 of the 4 characters from the  previous activity.  They used a paper bag to reveal this character’s external and internal conflict (i.e. what he is feeling on the inside and on the outside? What does he show to others and not show to others?)  They used the handouts provided to enhance their paper bags (I had given them numerous pictures from which to select).  They were also encouraged to add their own flair to the bag. 


Students needed to select one character from Chapter 3 that deals with conflict. This character will be examined in a Paper Bag activity.


Students now select images that indicate their characters internal and external conflict. These images need to be cut out, pasted onto a sheet and given some explanation.


  • “I really like the lessons we have been doing.  I enjoy doing all of the little activities. I feel like I learn better this way rather than just reading out of a text book.”
  • “It was nice to be working in partners this week.  The DVD was a good view on how Candy felt about his dog.”
  • “I like working with the white boards.  It’s more fun than graphic organizers.  The writing in role as a dog was fun.”
  • “The white boards were a very fun activity. The DVD was very sad but good at the same time.  The activities this week were very fun. I loved meeting the visitors who came to our class.”


Semester 2 Week 6 (March 8 – 12, 2010)

Filed under: Semester 2 Week 6 — nrobbins @ 3:40 pm


 ENG 2D1 This Week 

The class has its unit test for To Kill a Mockingbird and once again I chose to offer my students a “graphic organizer” type of test.   Students had much chance to use their knowledge of the past few weeks and apply this to the test.  

On Tuesday (March 9) the students were grouped in a heterogeneous fashion to work on themes in the novel.  They worked in Learning Stations dealing how the “mockingbird” is an important symbol in the novel.  See Week 6 from semester one for more on this lesson. 

Students were also given their Mockingbird essay topics this week.  I am continuing to use a Learning Contract so that all students can keep track of their process work. 


  • “I like working in groups.  I think it’s a good learning strategy for me, and it also helps us get to know our peers.  I think the Big Ideas for the end of each chapter are good because if someone misses a day, it’s easy to catch up.  Also, if someone doesn’t understand something this could help clear things up.”
  • “Yesterday the learning stations were fun and easy.  We learned a lot about mockingbirds. They are very interesting birds. I liked learning about how they sing a variety of songs.”
  • “I really liked the learning stations on Tuesday.  They were a nice way to change up our normal work.”



ENG 2P1 This Week 

I hosted another DIA demonstration class on Monday, March 8. Five teachers from across TVDSB observed the lesson.  Students were introduced to the concept of the hobo life. I wanted them to get a true picture of George and Lennie’s life (the 2 main characters in the novel) before we began reading the book. 

Initially, students worked as a whole class to discuss the differences between “mice” and “men”.  We filled in a graphic organizer to display our comments.  Then I posed the question to the class :  “You can help one person in this story. You can give this person a farm with animals. Which one person do you want to help? Why?” — (Do you want to help a strong man, a weak man, a black man, a white man, the woman?) 

Students were shown maps of the USA and California so that they could determine the setting of the novel. 

Next, students moved into their arranged groupings (according to Student Learning Profiles done earlier in the semester).  They worked (as a whole class & in their groups) to investigate the life of the 1930 hobo.  They examined photos by American photographer Dorothea Lange; listened to and viewed a DVD of “Hobo Bill’s Last Ride” by Jimmie Rodgers; looked at replicas of hobo sign language and created their own hobo badge. 


Examining the hobo sign language sheets.


A student transfers information about hobo sign language onto a foldable


Students created hobo badges. They needed to use hobo sign language to create the badges. We will continually come back to these badges during our study of the text.


These badges give more insight into the hobo mindset.


Afterwards, I had brought in my own version of a hobo bindle (as it would relate to characters in the novel).  Objects were pulled out of the bindle (for student examination).  Students needed to determine what the objects were and the class reflected upon the objects’ significance for characters in the novel.  


The bindle, sack and banjo before our class examination.


The emptied contents of the bindle. I tried to include many items that George and Lennie (and men like them in the 30s0 may have in their possession.

A closer look at objects in the bindle.

Next, students were given a chance to volunteer reading out 12 quotations from Chapter One of the novel.  These quotations were posted in the classroom and students were asked to make predictions about the characters responsible for the quotations.  Students also completed an accompanying foldable for character prediction. 



Students were given selected passages from Chapter One of the novel. They then had to make predictions about character and plot.

Lastly, students were also introduced to the concept of “transforming information in the text”.  They will be responsible (during our study of the novel) for reading sections of the text and then graphically revealing character appearance / personality via 11 x 17 sheets of paper. The characters they are responsible for tracking are: George, Lennie, Candy, Crooks, Curley & Curley’s Wife. 


The start of "transfering information in a text". Students will have to decide what each character looks like (depending upon the information we uncover during our reading)

Students' perceptions of our main characters: George Milton and Lennie Small

Tuesday (March 9) I met with Brendon White (my principal), 3 other principals and 1 superintendent of education to discuss the Learning Classroom program and my observations about DIA. 


  • “The introductory lesson to Of Mice & Men was interesting. We learned about hobos through pictures and the bindle that Mrs. Robbins brought in.  I like visuals like the hobo bindle. I think it is different than just looking in a text book and describing it by reading.  I really enjoy this class.”
  • “I think that putting us in groups and letting us look at the hobo pictures really worked.  I also liked the hobo song that we listened to.”
  • “The lesson on Monday involved all of us and it was educational plus fun.”
  • “The hobo lesson was fun.  I would rather be in a group working together than independently.  I like how we were working on the badges, looking in the bindle and listening to the song.  I think we should do these kind of activities more often.  This is the best English class ever!!”
  • “The lesson about hobos was very neat and cool. I loved the photos and the badges we made.”


March 6, 2010

Semester 2 Week 5 (March 1 – 5, 2010)

Filed under: Semester 2 Week 5 — nrobbins @ 6:13 pm


This week, EESS received some very good news from the Ministry of Education. We have been granted some funding to help support our DIA initiative at the school.  This will start in May of 2010 and last until May 2011.  Primarily, the Professional Reading Group at the school will be involved, but we are hopeful that we can bring more people on board over the next few months. 

As well, on Wednesday, March 3 the Learning Classroom teachers had another follow up session at the Board Office with those who have come to view our classes.  I had the great opportunity to also meet with my fellow Learning Classroom teachers during the morning to discuss the “assessment” portion of DIA. 

Often we get asked how “assessment” fits into a DIA classroom.  Carol Ann Tomlinson suggests that “in a differentiated classroom, assessment is ongoing and diagnostic. Its goal is to provide teachers day to day data on students’ readiness for particular ideas and skills, their interests, and their learning profiles.  These teachers don’t see assessment as something learned; rather assessment is today’s means of understanding how to modify tomorrow’s instruction” (from The Differentiated Classroom).  I have really tried to use these ideas with my classes this year.  Of course, I was always aware of assessment and how it factored into my classes, but being aware of it every day takes practice and dedication.  Teachers truly do need to reflect upon each lesson to determine where to begin the next.

Tomlinson states that  formative assessment can come from “small-group discussion with the teacher and a few students, whole –class discussion, journal entries, portfolio entries, exit cards, skills inventories, pretests, homework assignments, student opinion, or interest surveys”.  This allows for teachers to look at each student individually (and be able to assess where that student needs to start next).

For me, assessment with DIA is no different than any other teaching method.  Teachers need to clearly state what they want their students to learn and structure assignments to allow students to prove their learning. 

Formative assessment has been critical to my DIA classrooms this year.  Just by asking questions (and hopefully types of questions which allow my students to really analyze and think critically about their answers); arranging students into groups based upon their readiness, their ability etc;  and providing feedback (usually verbal)  on what they are doing in class – this has allowed me to assess the ability of my students  and where they need to go next. 

The summative assessments need to be true to the course content and flatter the formative assessments previously done.  They should give students the opportunity to allow their knowledge to soar.  This, of course, can be differentiated to fit the task and the student (but requires the teacher to know when and how to differentiate).

Next week is a busy week for DIA – I am prepping for my next demonstration lesson with ENG 2P1. I now know that I have to alter how to group with this class. The dynamics of the students and the fact that many in this class have A.D.D. and O.D.D .mean that I need to re-work how to group the students and how to incorporate DIA.

February 27, 2010

Semester 2 Week 4 (Feb. 22 – 26, 2010)

Filed under: Semester 2 Week 4 — nrobbins @ 9:32 pm



Students worked on a number of DIA activities this week including heterogeneous grouping to investigate character in their novel study; a Think, Tac, Toe exercise to link themes together; white boards to check for clarification of concepts; a continuation of posting Big Ideas on the back wall to enhance understanding of class material.


The class has been finishing up its literacy preparation unit and moving into an essay unit.  Students completed their RAFT assignment from last week.  They seem to like having the choice in their assignments and have worked really well to complete their RAFTS.

On Tuesday (February 23) students were introduced to the concept of organizing their thoughts for essay writing. I had prepared a box full of odds and ends.  Students were put into groups to determine how to categorize the objects in the box.  It was interesting to note that some students arranged the objects according to colour, shape, use & function etc.  Any way that they organized the objects was absolutely fine. I wanted them to determine the purpose of the activity before we moved into categorizing our thoughts onto paper.

The remainder of the week was spent working on rough drafts of our opinion essays.  Again, students had a choice in selecting their topics.  The issues given to them were : the debate over students with piercing in high schools or the safety of cell phone use. Students were also given a Learning Contract to keep them on track while working on their essay.  I am hopeful this strategy will be useful for the 2P1 class (just as it was last semester with ENG 2D1).

I have been really conscious of trying to build community in both of my classes this semester. I am often asked by observers of my demonstration classes how I build such a positive and safe  environment for my students.  This is a question that I have difficulty answering. I think that often this is just engrained in teachers.  Right from the first day of the semester I am as completely honest and open with my students as I can be.  Teenagers can very quickly see through a facade—so trust and respect is everything.  With both of my junior classes this semester I set up the seating plan ahead of time.  But I don’t just do this with cards.  The beginning day of the semester, students walk into my room to find writing folders on the desk which they will occupy for the next 5 months.  These writing folders become a part of who they are in my class.  We keep all of their assignments in the folders to reveal the progress that each student makes.  Often we do an activity with the folders immediately (i.e. decorate it, write something creative inside of it) just to personalize them a bit more.

We have also been investigating each student’s preferential learning style.  I share with the class that my main focus with them is to tap into how each person learns best.  We have posted each students’ learning styles in the room as a reminder.  As well, my side board is used to arrange groupings for the semester.  I have a spot for ENG 2D1 and a spot for ENG 2P1.  By now, both classes know to immediately look to the side board when they come into class to see their group for the day.  I believe this takes away much frustration for many students who often have difficulty finding groups to work within.

I have also tried to focus on the positive each day. We try to award a “hand” each day to someone who is deserving of acknowledgement.  The door to my classroom is now the place where we post these hands.  So far, this seems to be working well.


Big Ideas posted for ENG 2D1's study of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.


Big Ideas posted for ENG 2P1's study of SKATE by Michael Harmon.


These are posted on my classroom door. They indicate students who have deserved a hand for something during a class. We are gathering quite a few names this semester.


The ENG 2P1 groupings. Each student has his / her name posted in order to know the group he / she is working in for the day.


The side board in my classroom. I have made grouping for both the ENG 2D1 class (luggage tag style) and the ENG 2P1 class (passport style).

Professionally, this week, EESS had another session of D-Force (our professional reading club). As well, I was at the Follow Up Session, at the Board Office, on Thursday. This was to facilitate more discussion of the people who have come to observe my demo classes.

February 20, 2010

Semester 2 – Week 3 (Feb. 16-19, 2010)

Filed under: Semester 2 Week 3 — nrobbins @ 9:57 pm


ENG 2D1 This Week 

Students were given much choice with their assignments this week. Firstly, they handed in their RAFTs  dealing with racism and prejudice.  Students needed to read an article and then choose the most interesting role, audience, format and topic to write about. I had given them a choice of 6 possible writing topics.  Students tend to thrive when given options.  It is interesting to see what choices they select.  Ultimately, students are being evaluated the same way (and this is made clear on the assignment sheet as well as the rubric) yet they way in which they present their response can be unique to them.  Some of my students chose to completely use a written format, while other chose to integrate some form of creative expression into their assignment. 


Some samples of the RAFT assignment in ENG2D1. Students had the choice of adding creativity to their written assignments. The top shows post cards, the bottom left shows a scribbler entry and the bottom right shows a letter.


Students in 2D1 have also been given their next assignment (which again allows for choice).  They have to create a travel brochure of Maycomb or re-create Boo Radley’s house.  In either case, students need to select a certain number of quotations from the text to enhance their description of the topic. They also need to provide a written explanation for this assignment.  The class was given a Learning Menu which clearly states the expectations for the task and also allows for extra work (if the student so chooses). 

Wednesday Feb. 17, students worked with white boards (while in heterogeneous groups) to answer content questions about the novel.  In the past few years I have completely moved away from the old strategy of reading portions of a novel / short story and then answering chapter questions.  I really feel that the tone of my classroom does not warrant this anymore.  I would rather have students read the required material and then work together (via groupings, white boards, whole class activities) to uncover pertinent material.  Solitary seat work does have its benefits but I feel that an English classroom that allows students to share and collaborate will ultimately lead to greater understanding and comprehension in the course. 


2D1 Exit Card Comments 

  • “I like having choice on assignments. It allows us more options.  The white boards are fun to use!”
  • “I am really excited about our next assignment.  It is a good idea because it helps me to create a visual of Boo’s house.  It also is a good way to learn to search for quotations in the book.  The white boards were neat to use this week because we could write down our own ideas as a group and to further understand concepts being learned.”
  • “I enjoyed writing post cards in the RAFT activity.  I love writing and this was the perfect option for me.  I also got to express my creativity by making them into actual post cards.  The book is good so far and I like how we get to choose what we want to do for our projects. I think that all teachers should do this.”

ENG 2P1 This Week 

Students continued with their Literacy Test preparation this week.  We were working on opinion writing and RAFTS. 

Thursday, Feb. 18 was the second demonstration class for DIA with this group.  The focus of the lesson was the essay “Going Home to Auschwitz” in Sightlines 10

Students were firstly arranged into groups according to their interest.  We had completed a survey about how they would like to start the class.  They had to create some sort of representation for the word “HOME”.  Students used paint, Lego, pencil crayons, pipe cleaners, Play Doh, popsicle sticks.  Students then shared with the class. Students were also shown many visuals in the class such as a DVD, overhead photos of Auschwitz, and maps of Auschwitz. 

All members of this group work together at their Learning Station. In this case they work with paint and need to have a consensus of what a "home" means to them.


The pencil crayon group gets started working on images of "home".



Starting to create with Play Doh. This group even made inhabitants of the home (a boy and a dog)



Beginning to create a home from the novel SKATE.



The Lego group begins its work to construct a "home".

The completed Lego depiction of a "home". This group decided that it needed to have a tree, weeds, a garden and a person.



The first group that worked with Play Don created a house and a yard (complete with a boy playing basketball -- notice the basketball net with its pink hoop)



One of the Play Doh groups decided to create the home from SKATE (a novel we have been reading in class).



Here is the "Pencil Crayon" group's final product.

We posted the final products at the back of the room. Here is the "Paint" Group's depiction of "home". Beside the image are words the groups came up with to describe types of homes.

Then students completed a foldable about what they have learned; the essay “Going Home to Auschwitz”; and prints of paintings/sketches from a Holocaust survivor. 




The first step when working with these foldable was for students to examine the visuals given to them about Auschwitz.



After viewing the pictures, student find the correct place on the foldable to write down their ideas.



2P1 students work together in their groups. They discuss ideas to put on their foldable.

Since we ran out of time in Thursday class, students were given their RAFT assignment (which will be evaluated summatively) on Friday.  Students were given 2 pages of pictures dealing with the Holocaust—they had to select 1 picture of a person and 5 pictures of situations. They then needed to combine these images into a paragraph (RAFT style). They cut and pasted the pictures onto their RAFT assignment sheet and then needed to come up with a written explanation of their choices.  We will continue working on this next week. 



Working on the intial part of the Auschwitz RAFT assignment. Students will select pictures and then choose a role, audience, format and topic based upon these pictures.

2P1 students choose which picture to use in their RAFT assignment about Auschwitz

2P1 Exit Card Comments 

  • “Yesterday’s lesson about Auschwitz was fun and very well put together. I enjoyed being able to draw and explain my work.”
  • “I really liked what we did with the paint, Lego etc.  The class was enjoyable because I loved the activities. It was something new and I love trying new things.  The story about Auschwitz was interesting and I like learning about the past, like the Holocaust.”
  • “I thought it was fun doing the work with the Play Doh.  It is so different than book work and it was hands on.”
  • “Yesterday’s class was fun. I really enjoyed playing with the Play Doh because it’s another method of learning to me.  I like to be given a choice instead of a task.  The foldable is something that I would enjoy doing because it is easy.”


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