Skip navigation
All Places > K-12 > Blog > Authors Amber Hainline


5 Posts authored by: Amber Hainline

You Do You!

February may be short, but for teachers it is often one of the longest months of the year. Students are tired. Teachers are tired. Tensions are high. Morale is low. It is hard to find the motivation and energy to pour into others if our own reservoirs are not filled to capacity. Christopher Doyle wrote on this very subject last February in Ed Week. He noted, “Not unlike other professionals devoted to nurture, such as doctors, teachers are measured—and measure themselves—against an idealized image of excellence that involves incessant work.” There is no doubt that YOU WORK HARD. However, when is the last time you put YOU first? Have you made yourself a priority lately? Students need you, of course, and duties call. Yet, it is vital that teachers, that you,  make time to nourish yourself. Otherwise it’s like riding a bike on fire; eventually you’ll burn out.

Be a Priority

Schedule some time on your calendar this month for yourself. Do it now, and don’t let yourself cancel! Love nature? Check the weather and hit the trail after school. Love to read? Treat yourself to a new book and head to a quiet place to enjoy it. Does the gym soothe your nerves? Then grab a bench and get to it. Steven Covey suggests these areas of renewal and balance:

Physical: Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting

Social/Emotional: Making social and meaningful connections with others

Mental: Learning, reading, writing, and teaching

Spiritual: Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through meditation, music, art, prayer, or service

Grab a coworker to keep you accountable for renewal this month! You will feel better and garner the motivation to tackle Quarter 3 like a boss.   (And you might encourage someone to do the same along the way!)

Quote: You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage -- pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically -- to say 'no' to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger 'yes' burning inside" Stephen Covey


Differentiated instruction allows teachers to tailor study to a student's needs and/or interests. Nothing is more frustrating than having to watch a student who has easily mastered the material not be challenged as he/she waits for others to grasp the material or to watch a student struggle so intensely with a concept that he/she continues to fall behind.


Canvas makes approaching differentiated instruction easy, and that is always good news for teachers who often feel pulled in multiple directions in any given class period. Reach both the soaring and struggling student at the same time! Below are several strategies to leverage differentiated instruction in your classroom through Canvas!


Individualization in Assignments


One of the key features of Canvas is the ability to assign one assignment to individual students. Assume a student in your classroom has mastered the material well before the majority of other students. Having WebQuests or supplemental reading/assignments that meet more rigorous standards for the given standard set is a great way to help these students dig deeper into the material without having to assign to the entire class.


Likewise, a student who is struggling with material might be given some supplemental or alternative assignments that further break down concepts, provide alternative methods of demonstration of knowledge, or allow students to have additional practice.


Exempting Students


Instructors can exempt students from assignments in the gradebook by entering "EX" in the gradebook cell. This would be helpful if the instructor has created a different assignment for the student that the rest of the class is not working on, or if the student is so far behind due to extended illness that some work is being excused. While the assignment still shows up in the student's "to do" list, when she tries to submit the assignment it will show it has been excused.



This feature is being addressed for quizzes and discussions.


Extended Due Dates


Often with IEPs, students struggling with concepts, or those that have simply been absent,  providing an extra day or two to complete assignments is necessary. Canvas allows instructors to assign individual students different due dates and access dates on an assignment, discussion, or quiz. This is also a helpful feature if one period of a class has fallen behind due to lost instruction time (think snow day, intruder drills, pep assemblies). This feature is available for assignments, discussions, and quizzes.


Extra Quiz Attempts


It is easy to assist struggling students in quizzes by offering extra attempts using the Moderate this Quiz feature. Choose  "Moderate this Quiz" from the right side of the quiz section. Click the edit pencil to the right of the student's name to add attempts. This is another great feature for IEP students who might need to complete the quiz with the assistance of a SPED instructor at another time.


Student Choice


Jim Knight (2012) in his book High Impact Instruction suggests that for authentic learning to take place, students need to see the work "as relevant, interesting, and meaningful." One of the  features in Canvas allows students to choose from two assignments in order to complete a module/unit. This allows students to choose a task that best meets their learning styles and interests.  To do this, set up module completion requirements. Students can choose from the same type of task (two discussions, for example) or different tasks (a quiz vs. a paper or presentation). The student will see he has an option when he is working in that module.


Likewise it is always a good idea to give students choice within an assignment. Instructors can give students a choice to submit a video, a paper, an audio file, or link to external work on the web to demonstrate their understanding of a concept within one assignment. Simply check the allowed methods of submission when creating the assignment.



Intervention Strategies


Here are some innovative ways our teachers are using Canvas for intervention. Check them out and see if you can utilize their ideas!


  • record lessons (math instruction, reading a book, labs) for students to view or listen to later and post in the module
  • post pre-quizzes with multiple attempts to help students study for tests (be sure to use question banks so that students are learning material and not memorizing questions/answers)
  • hold after-school "office hours" or tutoring hours via the Conference tool in Canvas at set times or meet in a Google Doc via the Collaboration tool
  • use the Calendar to post an event of the day's tasks for students who were absent so they can quickly see what was done in class
  • use the "message students who" feature in the gradebook for students who are missing work or have low scores to either remind them of the assignment or to prompt them to come in for tutoring or to complete additional work
  • set module prerequisites and requirements for module completion (be aware that this method can snowball with students who have fallen behind)

Mastery Paths

According to Glen Whitman in the Edutopia article, "Assessment, Choice, and the Learning Brain" students striving for mastery goals as opposed to performance based goals (grades) had greater growth mindset and grit. The new Mastery Paths feature in Canvas, allows teachers to create a formative assignment that will automatically send students to differentiated paths based on the score they received on the initial assignment.


By anticipating the needs of learners and preparing meaningful work to supplement or extend learning for major concepts, the instructor alleviates the need to use class time creating on-the-fly assignments. It is easy to call a specific group back for a mini-lesson because it is already assigned, and other students have their own work to do. Mastery Paths allows the instructor to offer feedback quicker than before. 


Embedded within each mastery path is the ability to give students choice in the types of assignments they complete. If a student does better processing orally, they might choose to turn in a verbal summary of a the importance of an event instead of writing it out. Research suggests that giving students choices increases their engagement and performance on tasks. 


Additionally, Mastery Paths can be "hacked" to send students down intentional activities based on choice. Kona Jones has detailed this approach in a helpful blog post Hacking Mastery Paths. This is a fabulous option for reading assignments, research based and project based learning, and other inquiry projects.


A note on extension activities:

Based on research from Jenny Ranking in Engaging and Challenging Gifted Students: Tips for Supporting Extraordinary Minds in Your Classroom, extension activities should fit the following guidelines:

  • students have choice, which is important for engagement
  • work involves higher order thinking skills, deeper depth of knowledge, and/or more complex tasks
  • work includes advanced lessons 
  • work makes connections between the learning presented and students' passions/interests


Summing Up 


Differentiated instruction is nothing new, but it can be hard to implement effectively. With solid instructional design that includes clear goals, modeling, ample formative assessment, and plans for reteaching, intervention, and enrichment (whew!), we can help all students be successful learners. Canvas makes it easier for teachers to do what they do so well--positively impact the lives of students!


How often do you view your course through the eyes of your students?

Is your course organized in a logical manner? Can students easily find the content they need? 

Is content placed into modules? Are titles of content explicit, pointing to lesson, topic, or week?

If not, your course might be a stumbling block to learning.


What elements must be present for an efficient course design in Canvas?



  • Have a clear syllabus posted, with expectations, contact information, and rules and procedures.
  • Make sure the syllabus is an actual page. Do not simply add a link and cause the student to have to chase down information that should be readily available.
  • Make the syllabus publicly visible.


Set Your Home Page

Give students an anchor page. Whether you choose the syllabus, activity stream, assignments, or the modules list, choose something to show that the course is professional and consistent.



Modules are like units of study. Organizing content in order of the how you teach it does two things. 1. It gives the class structure and 2. helps both teacher and student find content easily. A student shouldn't have to click multiple times and search for several minutes to find an assignment or quiz that needs completion.  You are the expert--organize your course to support how you teach and what you want students to know. However, keep in mind the purpose of the course is to be student-focused.


Organize your modules by

  • theme or topic  (The Renaissance, Factoring Whole Numbers, Leadership in 18th Century Literature),
  • by week (Week One: Drawing, Week Two: Shading with Pencil), or
  • by content (Presentations, Videos, Quizzes, Articles, Assignments, etc.). 

Indent content that nests under topics and use headers to separate content within a module (even blank headers create space).



Clear Titles

Having all of the quizzes in a course titled "Unit Quiz" can be confusing and lead to frustration, especially if clear dates have not been set. Make sure all content (assignments, pages, quizzes, discussions) points students to the topic or week or date. Be consistent with naming patterns so students easily find work. The work itself should be rigorous, not the finding of the work. Finding content shouldn't feel like conquering a labyrinth.






Course Flow

Decide how you want students to flow through your course. Do you want to gamify the course? (Excellent tips from Travis Thurston Admin, Gerol Petruzella, @Cijaye DePradine) Do you want to offer a lot of choice? Do you want students to progress in order and complete certain tasks to complete the module? These decisions will impact your organization and your use of prerequisites or badges in a course.(Jared Ward's fantastic resource.)     





Look at Your Course Through Students' Eyes

Take a look at your course from a student perspective, literally. Follow these steps:




Using Student View allows you to check for faulty links, posting mistakes,  or incorrect formats and messy organization.


Other Considerations

Think of the many types of learners in your courses. Include a variety of material (articles, games, content pages, webquests, performance activities, etc. to engage all levels of learners. For students who need extra assistance, posting helpful videos or recording lessons can provide the support they need outside of tutoring. For students who want to move ahead or dig deeper, providing extra material for enhanced learning opportunities can help them stay focused and engaged when they easily become proficient with the material.



Even though Wright is talking about architecture, his point is relevant to educators. If we strive for student-centered classrooms, then our course design will reflect that focus.


Happy Designing!

I don't know many people, especially teachers, who are not pressed for time. However, Canvas can help you save this precious commodity. Here's how:


Canvas Quizzes Can Score Themselves: Use a variety of questions from matching to multiple choice to fill in the blank and let Canvas do the scoring for you. Open the quiz to randomize questions and allow students to retake the quiz multiple times as a great self-assessment tool.



Let Canvas Be Your Study Guide: Tired of creating study guides from past quizzes and notes? Keep your past modules open, allow students to revisit old quizzes, and post your video lessons/notes for easy reference guides for your students as they prepare for high stakes semester exams.


SpeedGrader is FAST: Easily score student work (discussions, assignments and quizzes) in Canvas using SpeedGrader, which sorts student work by class and in alphabetical order.)


Canvas Can Accept Just About Everything: Which makes scoring multimedia projects a cinch, because everything opens in SpeedGrader for you!


Keep Absent Students in the Know: By posting lectures/notes in modules and using the calendar to post the day's work. Let students know to check Canvas when they are gone. Then when students ask, "What'd I miss?" you can simply respond, "Check Canvas!"


Collaborate With Your Colleagues: Add colleagues as collaborators in your course to share content between classes.



Use Audio/Video Comments in Assignments: To leave quick feedback for students.

leaving comments.png

When you are leaving feedback on an assignment in Speedgrader, did you know you can leave comments four ways?

1. Type in the textbox and select "submit comment."

2. Upload a file from your computer.

3. Record either a video or audio comment right in Canvas!


4. Speak your comment and let Canvas do the typing! (I'd keep these to minimal statements as precise pronunciation is important.)


Use Automatic Time Control Features and Prerequisites: In modules and individual assignments/quizzes/discussions to control when content is available to students automatically.

Use Rubrics to Give Clear Expectations: And score them with the click of a button in SpeedGrader!

Check out the Commons: For modules, assignments, discussions, quizzes, and other content other users have already created! Import them into your course and tweak them to serve the needs of your students!

Import Past Courses into New Course Shells: To save creation time each semester/year. You can import the entire course or selected course content. Don't forget to check to the box to "adjust dates" before hitting that submit button!


With all that time you save, you can enjoy a nice cup of Joe and watch reruns of Miami Vice.

Looking for ways to increase teacher collaboration in your school?


Lucky for us Canvas is a perfect tool to increase teacher collaboration within and across disciplines! Here are a few ideas!



1. Develop a teacher course housing Professional Development Modules  with ample discussion and collaboration pages for staff to use. Model the use of these pages within the PD itself whether delivered solely online or in person. This is relevant as well for department heads sharing information in weekly meetings or PLC time.


2. Add teachers as collaborators in your course. This is a great tool for CWC courses or co-taught classes, as well as departments that want to share ideas and strategies. In this way great minds work together instead of struggling to design innovative lessons on singularly.


3. Add a co-teacher to your course to work across disciplines in specific modules. For instance, perhaps Greek Mythology and Astronomy want to collaborate and share a module in their courses on finding Greek stories in the stars and the science behind the stars. Materials can be added to the Commons and shared easily with one another.


4. Add special education instructors and paras as observers of the students' they serve in your courses. This easily helps them perform tutoring tasks and other needed support like printing of material for visually impaired students into appropriate formats.


5. Share material within a department. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. (whew!) If you have a stellar module in your course, upload it to share with others in the department.


6. Use Canvas for faculty meetings; encourage the reading of relevant material and interactions through discussions or creation of staff wiki pages before F2F meetings.


These tips have worked well at my high school this year, our first year using Canvas. Not only are staff jumping on board to share and create materials together, but they have become more easily sold on the idea of using Canvas when they see all of the ways it benefits them as teachers. The biggest benefit these ideas offer is the efficient use of time.  And let's face it, time is one of the greatest gifts we can give back to our overworked teachers.


"The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives." Robert John Meehan

Filter Blog

By date: By tag: