Sharing ideas on Education, Leadership and Life

Thursday, November 20, 2014

An Intro to Creativity


Many of you are aware that a few months ago I started a 30 day blog challenge which I  successfully completed a while ago.  I got to feel a bit complacent and began a new challenge. My new challenge  is to write five blog posts on 4 different topics. My first top was differentiation and if you look at previous posts you will find 5 a posts on that topic. Today begins a series of posts on my second topic creativity and innovation.

As a first post I would like to use the article

"Fundamentals of Creativity" which was written in Feb 2013 and published in ASCD Educational Leadership magazine. 

What is creativity? Does it mean just not conforming to the way things were done, or by thinking out of the box. 

Ronald A. Beghetto and James C. Kaufman the authors of the article say the following: 

"Creativity Takes More Than Originality

The first question educators should address is, What is creativity? People commonly think of creativity as the ability to think outside the box, be imaginative, or come up with original ideas. These are aspects of creativity, but they tell only half the story.
Scholars generally agree that creativity involves the combination of originality and task appropriateness(Kaufman & Sternberg, 2007; Plucker, Beghetto, & Dow, 2004). This combination may seem contradictory. How can something be original and at the same time conform to a set of task requirements? And isn't originality sufficient for something to be judged creative? Why must it also be task appropriate?
A quick example (adapted from Beghetto & Plucker, 2006) may help. Consider a teacher who wants students to express creativity in their science fair projects. Before assigning students to create their own projects, the teacher discusses the scientific conventions and requirements of the project. (For example, each project must pose a hypothesis, gather evidence to test the hypothesis, and explain whether the hypothesis has been supported.) Students are then invited to work within these conventions to create their own original, personally meaningful science fair projects.
Teachers who understand that creativity combines both originality and task appropriateness are in a better position to integrate student creativity into the everyday curriculum in ways that complement, rather than compete with, academic learning. For example, during a lesson on ancient Rome, students might create a diary for a person living during this time, with period-accurate details. A biology class might have students brainstorming about the conditions under which a plant might grow best. Or a math teacher might have students explore how many different ways they can solve an algebraic proof."

I believe this combination is important. Without it I fear that creativity could become a buzz word like technology. 
On more than one occasion I have asked teachers do they use technology and I also got a resounding  YES!. However when I would pop into the classroom the teacher was using the iPads but the lesson /activity was a simple pen and paper activity and the teacher replaces the paper with an iPad. That is not incorporating and using technology. If we don't incorporate creativity with appropriateness and meaning we will get similar answers and results. 

They continue to point out that: 

"Creativity Comes at a Cost

Creativity is often associated with fun, fluff, and frills. A quick Google image search on creativity yields a vast array of playful images, including laughing faces, smiling light bulbs, colorful arrays of crayons, and explosive bursts of paint. These images belie the more serious aspects of creativity. Creativity can have benefits that transcend temporary enjoyment. It can produce effective solutions to highly complex societal problems; lead to higher levels of career success; and create intense personal enjoyment, engagement, and meaning in life (Kaufman, 2009).
But the benefits come with a cost; creativity requires work, effort, and risk. Many years of painstaking effort are needed to develop the expertise to make creative contributions that go beyond the everyday level. Moreover, even everyday creativity takes effort, subject-matter understanding, the ability to put a new spin on the task at hand, and the willingness to share one's creative expression with others—risking rejection, ridicule, or worse.
When a young student shares a new and personally meaningful perspective on how to solve a math problem, she risks having her idea dismissed or misunderstood by her teacher. A student who volunteers to read a story in front of the class is taking the chance of being laughed at by his peers. It does not take many such incidents for a student to learn that it's not worth the effort and risk to share personal ideas—it's much easier to provide the answers that teachers and peers expect."
It should come to no surprise to many of you what I am going to say next. Creativity requires a culture of risk taking and one where its joke to fail In other words creativity is predicated on having a growth mindset. 
I believe there is another "cost" too often creativity is seen as a frill or if I have extra time we will do a creative project. This idea  I believe comes from the fact that creativity is subjective and is harder  to assess and definitely doesn't  fit into a culture  of standardized testing. Therefore teachers  see creativity as a "cost" in not being able to focus on the core curriculum. 
Again this idea and culture needs to be changed. Creativity is not an extra but needs to be incorporated  into all aspects of the curriculum. Creativity also affords us the ability to reach those students who may think more abstractly and tend not to do as well as  in the standardized environment many schools have created..

There is a lot to say about the topic and this was merely an intro. Stay tuned for more posts about creativity and innovation. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014



This is my last post in my series on differentiation.  I thought I would try to summarize  some of the key ideas  with this post.

To me there are a few bottom line and basic ideas that we need to remember

  1. Differentiation is Just Good Teaching 
  2. Fair doesn't mean Equal
  3. One Size Doesn't Fit All 
  4. Know Each child's story 
  5. The Importance of having a Growth Mindset 
I am sure there are others but those are my top five. However I think this is one over arching idea or theme that encompasses all five.

We need to remember that our job is to educate the whole child. Therefore we need to know their unique needs and background and each child is unique. We also need focus on more just the academics but a child's social and emotional well being is also going to play a role in their school experience and success or failure. 

There was one area related to differentiation that I did not  write about or focus on but if we are truly going to reach the Whole Child then it need to be mentioned and that is our grading system. There is a whole group on Facebook and Twitter about Teachers Throwing out grades and I have blogged about it myself but it worth mentioning in this context as well. 

Grades typically focus only on the academic success or our students but if we are truly going to differentiate and educate the Whole student then the feedback we give needs to take into account not only growth and effort in academic but non academic areas like the arts as well as the students emotional and social well being. 

I think all of us want all of our students to succeed and at the same time many of us seem scared by the idea of differentiating. So let's not call it differentiating  but rather we are focusing on meeting the individual needs of the WHOLE CHILD

Monday, November 17, 2014

Buzz Words and Silos Need to be Replaced with the Proper Motivation


I have been giving a lot of thought about writing this post. It may seem to some as being hypocritical and undermining what I have written or may write in this new series of posts that I hope to write on different educational topics. That being said I will admit I may be guilty of doing some of these things but I still feel its important for me to express my thoughts and feelings.

I once gave a presentation the focused on the fact that Differentiation and " 21st Century Skills" are not fads but are good teaching.

I  would like to see those 21st century skills called life skills since that is what they really are, and I have written how differentiation is just good teaching.

Unfortunately too many people get caught up in buzz words like differentiation, 21st century skills, educational technology, 1:1 programs, and blended learning.

These  words and ideas are very important and I am by no means making light of them.

At the same while people talk about collaboration and working together we tend to put up silos while preaching about transparency and collaboration. Just as example, I know of 5-6 different programs and organizations that are working on and claiming to be at the forefront of blended learning.  So while some may be collaborating there are still silos and territories being staked out and put up.


The buzz words and concepts are important and we should be and need to be focusing on them and talking about them.  I also think it's great that some many people are talking about  blended learning.

So what's my problem and what's my answer

To me the problem is what's behind it all. For too many  it's to be seen at the cutting edge of education. We throw around these terms and invest in something because if we don't we will be seen as old school and missing the latest trend. It may cost in getting students or getting funding and donors to invest in out program. However in reality they are paying lip service to the ideas.

The answer lies in the motivation as well.

Are we interested in meeting the needs of our students?
Do we want to know our students individual stories ?
Do we believe that things must be fair but not necessarily equal? 

There are others but that needs to be the motivation behind differentiation. I believe those questions and others need to drive many if not all of our decisions.

Why are we going to a 1:1 program? Will help meet the needs of our students? 
Is a blended environment best for our students and our school culture? Will more students needs be met in a blended classroom? 

Are these the motivating factors or are we just trying to fit in with the "Cool Group"

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Mindset for Differentiated Instruction


In the last two blog posts I have written about some of the ideas and techniques behind differentiating instruction. Truth be told there is no shortage of books articles and experts on the topic. Therefore when I saw the following I said I need to put this idea in a blog post. 

I saw the following article 

Response: Several Ways To Differentiate Instruction

"Rick Wormeli is a well-known author, workshop leader and educator. He has written books on the topic of differentiation, and I'd recommend you read another essay he's written titled Differentiated Instruction: Setting the Pedagogy Straight.
There is no one book, video, presenter, or Website that will show everyone how to differentiate instruction. Let's stop looking for it. One size rarely fits all. Our classrooms are too diverse and our communities too important for such simplistic notions.

Instead, let's realize what differentiation really is: highly effective teaching, which is complex and interwoven; no one element defining it. Reading multiple books and watching many videos on accomplished teaching as well as listening to presenters speak on effective teaching and augmenting all those insights with perspectives gained from on-line communities, faculty conversation, PLC's, and dedicated Websites prepares teachers best for teaching, i.e. differentiated instruction. 

Professor and differentiation expert, Diane Heacox, reminded me a few years ago that differentiation is foremost a mindset. It's only 10% craft and mechanics of pulling it off. If we're attentive to the results of formative assessments, for example, we realize that Michael needs 15 minutes with a mentor to review proper lab write-up procedures, LaShawn needs help with Punnett Squares in the Genetics unit, and Umber is ready to write something more compelling in her studies on political rhetoric. Without the focus on formative assessment and adjusting learning in response to what it reveals, however, these students drift with needs unmet, academic potential dwindling. Are our minds tuned to differentiation possibilities? 
In a successful differentiated class, we stop hiding behind the factory model of teaching. We teach in whatever way students best learn, even if that's different student to student, or different from the way we best learn ourselves. Many of us are guilty of that from time to time - teaching the way we best learn, not the way our students best learn, myself included. We can do better. We can embrace the root of differentiation: responsive teaching. As students' learning story is revealed, we adjust our instruction in order to maximize their learning. If a student needs more, less, or a different challenge, we provide it as we can. 
As institutions, they are designed to meet the needs of students who "get it" first or easiest. This curriculum-by-age approach protects the status quo, and it provides a false sense of orderly effectiveness. Since teaching and learning can be messy processes, we seek easy schematics; they make us feel like we know what we're doing and we are in control. As a consequence, we are our own worst enemies when we try to teach so students actually move content and skills into long-term memory. In order to live up to a school's mission, we sometimes have to part way with its protocols.

Accepting differentiation more as a collection of principles about responsive teaching than a collection of quick recipes for someone's diversity cookbook is my first piece of advice, as practical as those recipes may be. Mitigating the negative aspects of the factory model of schooling is my second. " 

It is worth it to read the entire article. However what caught my attention was the idea that differentiation  is rooted in a mindset, that we can meet the needs of our students. That ones ability is not fixed and that we can grow and change. Second is the idea that differentiation isn't a bunch of techniques to help only the weaker students but rather as Wormeli puts it is based on principles and a philosophy of knowing all your students and being responsive to the needs of your students. 

Nothing that I can write or say about differentiation is going to be new and as I mentioned before there are experts in the field far greater than me that I have spent their lives writing about differentiation and meeting student needs.  So accept this post as a reminder that if we believe in a growth mindset and that we can grow and change and our abilities are not fixed, and we want to be  responsive to the needs of all students then we have the building blocks and the foundation to differentiate. The rest is  just following a recipe. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Creating A Differentiated Classroom

Here is my second post on Differentiation

Another myth about differentiation is that teachers need to construct 30 different lessons if they have 30 kids in their class. 

In reality differentiation is about good teaching and wanting all of our students to succeed. 

Tomlinson, chair of educational leadership, foundations, and policy at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and perhaps on e of the foremost experts on differentiation says the following; “People differ in their gifts and talents; to teach them you have to start where they are.While she would never say that differentiating instruction “is a piece of cake,” Tomlinson believes the approach is a path to more expert teaching. Like someone asked to make a meal. You could have dinner with butter on toast with an egg. But if you want to grow as a cook, you need to expand your ingredients list.” 
“Her four “non-negotiables”—a high-quality curriculum with clear goals, the use of data to monitor and provide feedback on student learning, the ability to recognize when something isn’t jelling and modify it to fit the student, and the creation of an environment in which students are supported and challenged—she says, “are not about differentiation. They are about a good classroom. That is good teaching.” (  

When we break differentiation down even further she says there are three  areas within the curriculum that can be differentiated. Those areas are Content, Process and Product. 


Now that we have the areas within the curriculum what are some practical guidelines to help teachers not feel so overwhelmed. At the core of differentiation is knowing your students and knowing “their story” One size doesn’t  fit all.  Then there are some key sills that need to focused on and addressed in a differentiated classroom. They include but are not limited to Critical thinking, Creativity, collaboration, and questioning. 
There are there other crucial things to help transform your classroom into a differentiated classroom. They are; flexible grouping, assessments, and good classroom management. 
Here are some ideas from the follwing paper

  Flexible grouping is consistently used. Strategies for flexible grouping are essential. Learners are expected to interact and work together as they develop knowledge of new content. Teachers may conduct whole-class introductory discussions of content big ideas followed by small group or pair work. Student groups may be coached from within or by the teacher to complete assigned tasks. Grouping of students is not fixed. Based on the content, project, and on-going evaluations, grouping and regrouping must be a dynamic process as one of the foundations of differentiated instruction.
  Classroom management benefits students and teachers. Teachers must consider organization and instructional delivery strategies to effectively operate a classroom using differentiated instruction.
 Initial and on-going assessment of student readiness and growth are essential. Meaningful pre- assessment naturally leads to functional and successful differentiation. Assessments may be formal or informal, including interviews, surveys, performance assessments, and more formal evaluation procedures. Incorporating pre and on-going assessment informs teachers to better provide a menu of approaches, choices, and scaffolds for the varying needs, interests and abilities that exist in classrooms of diverse students. 

 Students are active and responsible explorers. Teacher’s respect that

  Use assessment as a teaching tool to extend versus merely measure instruction. Assessment should occur before, during, and following the instructional episode, and help to pose questions regarding student needs and optimal learning.
  Emphasize critical and creative thinking as a goal in lesson design. The tasks, activities, and procedures for students should require that students understand and apply meaning.
  Engaging all learners is essential. Teachers are encouraged to strive for development of lessons that are engaging and motivating for a diverse class of students. Vary tasks within instruction as well as across students. In other words, and entire session for students should not consist of all drill and practice, or any single structure or activity.
  Provide a balance between teacher-assigned and student-selected tasks. A balanced working structure is optimal in a differentiated classroom. Based on pre-assessment information, the balance will vary from class-to-class as well as lesson-to-lesson. Teachers should assure that students have choices in their learning

There is no one way to differentiate nor is it easy. However as Tomlinson said,differentiation isn't a tool or some type of fad but rather it is merely good teaching 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fair but Not Equal


As I mentioned yesterday I will be writing a four part series of blog posts on differentiation. This is the first post in that series.

One of the myths about differentiation is that, "how can you do that because you are making things easier for those students"

This is a misunderstood myth about differentiation. Rather differentiation is making things fair and  leveling the playing the field if you will.  To believe in this myth is like saying a student who wear glasses has an unfair advantage over students who don't wear glasses. I don't think anyone would ever say that, and by the same means differentiated instruction is giving the students who need "glasses" what they need to succeed.

Kelly Tenkely, a good friend mine, gave the following analogy; No parent would expect all the students in a first grade class to all loose their baby teeth at the same time. Yet parents and sometimes teachers expect all students to be able to read at the same time.  Imagine a parent being upset that other students in the class have lost more baby teeth than their child.

Therefore we do accept this idea and concept of fair but not equal but for some reason when it comes to teaching we believe everything has to be equal.


I came across the following Edutopia post written two years ago

"Fair Isn’t Equal: Seven Classroom Tips"

Here are some key points the author makes: 

If you ask students what are the most important qualities they like in teachers, one of the universally top-mentioned is fairness. Teachers and schools strive to be fair and build programs and polices based on this value. 
But what is fair? Many define it as treating everyone the same, but I would argue that doing so is the most unfair way to treat students. Students are not the same. They have different motivations for their choices, different needs, different causes for misbehavior and different goals. I think this is good, because wouldn't the world be very boring if we were all the same?
The most glaring example of the misunderstanding between fair and equal is in progressive consequence organization. The first violation results in the same consequence for all; the second infraction, more severe, is still the same for all. This continues throughout the sequence. A vast majority of schools and classes use this model. There is great danger in using progressive consequence schemes. No one would go to a doctor who treats all headaches the same, since the cause for one may be allergies and the other a tumor. Identical treatment for two students who don't do homework for different reasons -- one who has to help at the family business after school, and one who watches too much television -- is no different than that crazy doctor with the single cure for all headaches."  

Our goal is for all of our students to succeed and for some that's giving them the tools
 ( "glasses" ) to help them.  Does the whole class need "glasses" NO!  is that being Fair ? The answer is YES 
Differentiation isn't making things easier or letting students off the hook rather it is insuring all the students have the same chance to succeed. In a strange way but making things FAIR  while at the time may not always be equal but by doing so we are giving all of our students an EQUAL chance to succeed 

Monday, November 10, 2014



Over the last few months I have tried to get back into blogging and started a 30 day blog challenge which was great for me personally but also was a way for me to connect with some amazing educators. To be honest for a number of reasons I have slacked off a bit as of late. I have also made an effort to promote and put time into my consulting business Star Educational Consulting. I have also put out 5 bi-weekly newsletters and I am working on a Star Educational Magazine as well.

I was talking to a good friend last night who told me that I need more of a focus to my publications and at the same time i also need to get motivated to blog and write more. Her advise was spot on.

So I am creating a new challenge for myself. Over the next month I will take 4 topics and write 5 blog posts about each topic. These posts will also be incorporated into my upcoming newsletters.

The topics I have chosen are:

Differentiated Instruction

Creativity and Innovation

Education Technology/ Blended Learning

Educational Leadership

If anyone wants to join me on this challenge and collaborate on ideas, posts, and future topics I would open to such collaboration.

I would also  be willing to have people as guest authors most their thoughts on my blog.

So if you are interested please reach out as I think through connecting and collaborating we all grow and  become better.

Here's to my next challenge. Stay tuned!


Developing a Growth Mindset with Your Students


Many of you know that I am very passionate about the idea and importance of a growth mindset. Heroes a guest blog from a friend of mine Mrs Becky Walker a friend and colleague who teachers in Memphis . Becky began her career in the field of education in 2000.  In addition to classroom teaching in upper elementary and middle school grade levels, she has taught gifted education and science education for grades one through six.  She has also served as a mentor teacher and instructional coach.  She is currently teaching sixth grade at Margolin Hebrew Academy in Memphis, TN.  

Here is an article she wrote for the school newsletter:

Over the summer, I read a book called Mindset by Carol Dweck (  The book centers on the two mindsets that the author identifies and explains: the growth mindset and the fixed mindset.  

Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that people are endowed with a certain level of intelligence, certain personality traits, and or even a certain moral fiber.  They don't believe that much can be done to change these things about a person.  Those with a fixed mindset are concerned about being judged and therefore strive to prove that they are worthy.  Success for them comes from proving that they are smart enough, good enough, etc.  They must be validated and often fear having their deficiencies exposed.  This fear is driven by the fixed mindset – the belief that having to work at something or (even worse) failing at something, means you aren’t smart or talented after all.  

Individuals with a growth mindset believe that success is about developing themselves.  In direct contrast to the fixed mindset, the idea is that putting forth effort is what you do to become smarter, better, etc.  This type of thinking allows people to continue to improve their minds, their skills, their talents.  Even when an outcome isn’t what they had wished for, they are able to see value in the experience, learn from their mistakes, and move forward.  This is not to say that failure isn’t just as painful for people with a growth mindset.  What is does mean, however, is that they learn to work hard and overcome obstacles, rather than letting the failure define them and destroy their self-esteem.  

So what does this have to do with sixth grade? Everything.

Dweck states that “as parent, teachers, and coaches, our mission is developing people’s potential.”  Clearly, the growth mindset is focused on doing just that.  As a teacher, I have always tried to acknowledge my students’ efforts, but this book really provided so much clarity about how and why this has such an impact. It is critical that the students know how much hard work and perseverance are valued in the classroom.  This is often a very difficult concept for students who are accustomed to catching on quickly and doing well without much effort.  If they have a fixed mindset, they may feel that being challenged –or doing anything requiring effort – means they aren’t as smart as they thought.  They may be afraid to risk failing.  

Dweck also makes a great point about “yet.”  The kids don’t come to school because they already know everything; they come to school to learn.  When they tell me that they don’t know how to do something, I remind them about “yet.”  The sixth graders and I have talked about this repeatedly throughout the year already, and it’s become a key word for us anytime they start to reach that level of discomfort that comes from being asked to try something they fear will result in failure.  I remind them that they don’t know how to do it yet, but that they are at school to learn.

Of course, it is not enough to discuss with them the need to take risks with their learning and to ask them to trust the concept of “yet.”  As their teacher, I have to provide the type of learning environment that fosters this type of classroom culture, gives students ownership of their learning, and keeps the dialogue open surrounding the concept of success.   The classroom is ours, though, not mine, and the students have been very open and willing to participate in the process of developing the classroom in this way.  Already, their growth mindsets are making a difference, and as we continue along our journey through sixth grade, I look forward to the opportunity to see them thrive.

Monday, November 3, 2014



I know that Connected educators month ended a few days ago. One of the things that I am probably most proud of was the creation of our 30 day blog challenge and the Facebook page created as part of that challenge. Yesterday the following post Inquire Within was posted on the page. The post got me thinking as many of the posts on the page do.

I think we are all aware of the need to create deep and meaningful learning experiences. These experiences are ones that must include innovative and creative ideas, critical thinking, inquiry learning and questioning.

There are many ways to invigorate these ideas into our daily lessons. The ways may be a subject of a future blog post.

However what is clear that we need to focus on the questions. Both the questions that we ask our students and the questions that we want to encourage our students to ask. Therefore we need to move away fro questions that lead to simple answers based on fact and move towards questions of WHY.

In writing this blog post there seemed to be a correlation between the types of questions we focused on and the different mindsets.  One who looks at the big picture and asks WHY would seem to have or at least be willing to develop a Growth Mindset while being limited to simple yes or no questions or basic fact questions would show that the person believes they are stuck or limited in their ability to grow and would suggest a fixed mindset.

Then I came across the following post on twitter today.
"Growth Mindset: Personal Accountability and Reflection"

The post talks about accountability and self reflection by students int order to foster or help them develop a Growth Mindset. The author provides a checklist of questions. The post is a worthy read but here is an excerpt from the post:

"In response to these experiences, I developed a Personal Accountability and Reflection series of questions.  I will suggest that students use this “checklist” in order to develop and enhance their growth mindsets through personal accountability and reflection.
  • Did I work as hard as I could have?
  • Did I set and maintain high standards for myself?
  • Did I spend enough time to do quality work?
  • Did I regulate my procrastination, distractions, and temptations in order to complete my work?
  • Did I make good use of available resources?
  • Did I ask questions if I needed help?
  • Did I review and re-review my work for possible errors?
  • Did I consider best practices for similar work?
  • Is my work something for which I am proud – that I would proudly show to a large, global audience? "
What also struck me is the importance of asking the right questions.

Questions are the key not only to a depend more meaningful learning experience but to developing the proper mindset needed accomplish our learning goals.