Monday, February 2, 2009

ISTE Webinar Q & A

During our ISTE Webinar on January 28, participants asked a number of questions about and commented on differentiated instruction and technology. We've posted some of the questions and our replies below so that bloggers can join in on the discussion. (P.S., you can read more about the Webinar in ESchoolNews at

Q1. Joanne: Do you always recommend Web sites or do you let students search for their own?

We do both. We have found that searching takes extra time, so we often prepare a list of good sites prior to an elementary project. Middle and high school students are sometimes given "starter" sites to save them time as well.

Q2: Cheryl: Which strategies would you recommend for special needs students?

Look at the terrific and free 28-page booklet Exploring New Territories at It has many wonderful suggestions for struggling students and students with disabilities plus pages of excellent websites.

Q3: Mark: I have a student who can not type due to his disablilty. In my class I have to teach PowerPoint, Excel, etc.; what would you recommend that he can do with technology due to his disability?

We would suggest that he partner with another student or work in a group so that he can be involved with tech, but not restricted by his inability to type. You might also check with your tech director or special ed director to see if any there are any assistive technology devices that might help. Education World has a a good overview on assistive devices at

Q4: Janis: I am a little confused on how this is differentiation. Are all kids using the technology, or are you giving them options to use other tools that are not technology based?

We advocate using technology when possible. Technology is another choice that helps to differentiate instruction. In our books, we outline more options for gifted and struggling students in our sample lesson plans. In addition, we often suggest additional product options, just as we did today in our webinar. As our focus today is differentiating by interest , the main way we are differentiating is by student choice or passion. However, many of the strategies could be used to differentiate by process or product or another means.

Q5:Allen: What tools do you use to search?

We like netTrekkerDI, KidsClick, KidsGov, and Ask for Kids. You might also try the Kids' Search Tools page from the Ramapo Catskill Internet Guides.

Q6: Shawn: Do you have other suggestions on technology for basis of differentiation like the tic tac toe wiki first presented?

Teachers should start with the technology tool most comfortable for them. Regarding the tic-tac-toe board, it would be easier to start with three choices, then six choices, then nine choices. We have more information in our book about how to use the choice boards.

Q7: Bob: Given that students can choose various topics and ICT products, how do you approach/manage differentiated evaluation?

We provide students with rubrics for each project well as anchoring and scaffolding when needed. With some students, we use learning contracts

Q8: Linda: Is there anywhere where students could publish their Webbes online?

Check out the RealeBooks site for how to embed Webbes on your website. Be sure to look at the Lopez Elementary Library as an example. You can also contribute your Webbes to the RealeBooks site where they will be displayed. A third alternative is to have RealeBooks set up and host the library (fee).

Q9: Jack: Could you provide more information about how the Jigsaw project comes together?

The Jigsaw strategy involves teamwork. Often, teachers will choose a reading based on a theme, whole chapter, or set of pages. In home groups, each student is assigned a subtopic or section of text. Students with the same topic jigsaw to their appropriate expert groups, where they use electronic tools and resources to investigate their portion of the task. They use technology tools to produce information for their peers. They then return to home groups to share their knowledge as they are the only experts in their home groups on their topic.

Note: If you choose subtopics, you will need as many subtopics as there are students in each group. For example, if you divide your students into 5 groups of 5 members each, you will need 5 subtopics.

Q10: Sandi: Another advantage to point out on PBWiki is that students don't need email accounts. The site will generate usernames.

Sandi, you are correct. Using a PBWiki Classroom Account, you can add users without email addresses.