Last night ended a very long two days of dance recital and sweltering heat...my daughter and I were finishing up our dinner at 11:30 when our waitress came to make chit chat. She asked my daughter about how she juggles school and dance and somehow it turned into her expressing her views about Common Core and teaching. I did not reveal to her that I was a teacher, and didn't have the energy to have a discussion, so I just listened. What was interesting was she talked about the idea that we, in the US, are not teaching to one specific kind of kid. That we must figure out ways to reach the many different learners we encounter. She also talked about how she understands the basis of Common Core is to get students to think critically. When she left, my daughter said "You like Common Core, right mom?". My response was "I like that there is not one way to solve a problem and there isn't always one correct answer." She replied "I don't know, I just know it makes so much sense to me." My kid has an incredible abstract mind and can maneuver numbers in her head like crazy. She needs different.
This is not a post on Common Core, but a post on teaching and learning. I taught at a Title 1 school for 14 years and encountered every kind of student you could imagine. Both of my former principals believed in meeting kids where they are and moving them forward...in whatever means necessary. This often meant, ditching the textbook (prior to Matt Miller's fantastic book) and figuring out what works for kids. This is something I am incredibly passionate about.
One of my favorite TED Talks is The Myth Of Average...it is worth the 18 minutes, I promise. My team uses this often in training, and I cry every time.
The premise of the talk is that there is NO AVERAGE learner, so we can not teach to the average, the middle. If we do, we are missing all of those students on the "edges" (where a majority of them lie).
I cry because most of my students and my daughter live in the edges. They don't fit into a box and a box isn't going to teach them. They think differently, they act differently, they come with different backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, passions, personalities. These ALL come into play because it is the anatomy of the learner. We CAN NOT ignore the differences in our students. We need to celebrate them AND play TO them.
I cry because I think of all of those amazing students who would have missed out on learning had I just "shot down the middle". I think about the students who struggled in academics, but excelled in performing arts...I used that to their advantage. I think about the students who told me at the beginning of the year that they couldn't do math and were scared of it...only to shine and reflect at the end of the year that they LOVE math. I think about the little girl who struggled to speak in class, but we figured out if she wrote her thoughts out first, she could contribute greatly. Or the little boy who in second grade, could barely read pre-primers but had an amazing critical mind, his door was opened when he could use that gift to discuss read alouds. The list goes on and on.
I also cry for those students that are left to hang out in the edges, never getting tethered in. Those are the kids I worry about...those are the kids I fight for. Why change? I don't even think that is a question...we need to change because our kids deserve it.
For some, the thought of personalizing learning is overwhelming and an impossible task...they immediately think of 30+ IEPs. That is not the case. So how do we meet those "edge" students? Here are my thoughts...
1) Start with relationships: We really need to know those in which we serve. What works, what doesn't work, what are their passions, their strengths...what makes them tick? This takes time, but believe me, this important time on the front end will offer great rewards on the back end, for students.
2) Teach protocols: This is something I learned from my friend Jon Corippo. If we create a framework that students become familiar with, the content can be differentiated to meet their needs. One of his favorite examples is using the Frayer model. You first teach these protocols with a very low cognitive load, something fun and familiar. Students become familiar and at ease with how this works, and their affective filter is lowered. After a few rounds, the content can be ramped up at the student's pace.
3) Provide multiple entry points and exit points: This is the idea from Jo Boaler's "Low floor, High ceiling". activities. This means your questions and your activities are open ended. Students will enter where it works for them, and take it as far as they can, and with a little scaffolding...they will take it further. They will feel success and valued in their thinking.
4) Give students choice: Allow students choice in how content is taken in, how they process it and their output. This may seem like a lot of work on the teacher, but it really isn't if your tasks are student centered. The students are doing all of the work, you just set up the options. You could use a "choice board" to help facilitate. The choices can stay the same (or add new one in every so often), and the content changes.
5) Honor differences: Acknowledge, honor and celebrate students' differing ideas, answers, solutions and paths. One thing I loved about teaching math was the different ways in which students would come to a solution. When they shared out a new way, we would name it: "Shane's Way" and make a poster that would hang in the math area. This not only empowered the originator, but gave other students new ideas as jumping off points or something to grip on to. The ultimate was when a student would come up with a new idea that clicked with me...I had many "aha" moments from my students.
Those are just a few ideas that come to mind, but there are many. My call to action is to start thinking about the edges...how can you design to them? When you zoom out and think of your students, and their "profiles" you will find many hanging out in those edges...We need to design to the edges, our students need US to meet THEM.
Mother, Teacher, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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