Finding the Gift in Every Student

ID-100281002My SmartBlog on Education article from 02.19.15

While scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw a Rick Wormeli slide someone shared about “What Doesn’t Motivate?” posted from his presentation at the 2013 National Conference on Differentiated Instruction. The last bullet point on the slide struck a chord with me: “Students spending the majority of their day working on their weak areas, being reminded of their deficiencies.” As a former special education teacher, this is a practice I have fought against my entire career. Sadly, with the added emphasis on standardized testing, this soul-crushing practice has become even more common. Is it any wonder that many students are disenfranchised? There has to be a better way. I believe one large piece of the motivation puzzle lies in emphasizing children’s strengths — not dwelling on deficits.
Educational researchers have extensively studied how students learn best. Many of the best techniques we know of are now primarily used with students identified as gifted. Herein lies my frustration. If these are our best teaching practices, why are they not used with all of our students?
I am known to say that I teach all of my students as they are gifted with learning differences. While this is meant to be facetious, it is somewhat based in my truth. I believe that all students can be successful in a classroom designed with them in mind. I saw how students who were all but written off by their general education teachers because they could not memorize basic multiplication tables could perform incredibly well on complex problem-solving tasks in algebra with some basic scaffolding. We do our most challenged learners a great disservice when we leave them mired in the depths of repeatedly failing at rote learning tasks. They may never be able to memorize those facts, but they are more than capable of rising to the challenge with proper support. By not providing critical thinking and problem solving opportunities for all students, we are holding them back and we may never discover their unique intellectual gifts.
In Carol Ann Tomlinson’s 1997 article, What it Means to Teach Gifted Learners Well, she states,
“What it takes to teach gifted learners well is actually a little common sense. It begins with the premise that each child should come to school to stretch and grow daily. It includes the expectation that the measure of progress and growth is competition with oneself rather than competition against others. It resides in the notion that educators understand key concepts, principles and skills of subject domains, and present those in ways that cause highly able students to wonder and grasp, and extend their reach. And it envisions schooling as an escalator on which students continually progress, rather than a series of stairs, with landings on which advanced learners consistently wait.”
In short, this is a student-centered classroom that addresses individual needs. Although this article is nearly 20 years old, its core premise still rings true. My philosophy of teaching encompasses all of the above criteria, but I believe it is common sense to get all of my students onto that escalator instead of leaving any waiting on the landing.There are no easy solutions to providing needed support to struggling students while not simultaneously killing their love of learning, but there are better ones. My educational goal is lofty. I want to develop the “just right” Goldilocks class for my students and myself. I want to reach every student where they are and take them to new heights. I constantly strive to uncover the giftedness in all my students, regardless of labels. Providing rigorous, engaging instruction to all students, I believe I can achieve this goal.

http://smartblogs.com/education/2015/02/19/finding-the-gift-in-every-student/

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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Finding the Gift in Every Student

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and saw a slide about “What Doesn’t Motivate?” posted from a presentation given by Rick Wormeli. The last bullet point on the slide struck a chord: “Students spending the majority of their day working on their weak areas, being reminded of their deficiencies.” As an educational psychologist and former special education teacher, this is a practice I have fought against my entire career. With the added emphasis on standardized testing, this soul-crushing practice has become even more common. Is it any wonder that many of these students are depressed and disenfranchised? Does this practice anger anyone else as much as it does me? There has to be a better way. (http://www.amle.org/BrowsebyTopic/WhatsNew/WNDet/TabId/270/ArtMID/888/ArticleID/372/Perseverance-and-Grit.aspx)

There are no easy solutions to providing needed support to struggling students while not simultaneously killing their love of learning, but there are better ones. Educational researchers have extensively studied how students learn best. Unfortunately, many of the best techniques we know of are now primarily used with students identified as gifted. I was enrolled in these gifted programs in school and remember that time as being highly motivating and enjoyable. Herein lies my frustration. If these are the best teaching practices we know of, why are they not used with all of our students?

 

I am known to say that I teach all of my students as they are gifted with learning differences. While this is meant to be somewhat facetious, it is based in my truth. I am a constructivist at heart and believe that all students can be successful in a classroom designed with them in mind. To that end, I’ve always incorporated techniques recommended for teaching gifted learners. In an article on teaching gifted children written by Carol Ann Tomlinson in 1997, she states, “What it takes to teach gifted learners well is actually a little common sense. It begins with the premise that each child should come to school to stretch and grow daily. It includes the expectation that the measure of progress and growth is competition with oneself rather than competition against others. It resides in the notion that educators understand key concepts, principles and skills of subject domains, and present those in ways that cause highly able students to wonder and grasp, and extend their reach. And it envisions schooling as an escalator on which students continually progress, rather than a series of stairs, with landings on which advanced learners consistently wait.” In short—a student-centered classroom that addresses individual needs. Why is this not what we want and demand for all students?

This leads me closer to solving the issue I posed in previous posts–developing a “just right” Goldilocks class for my students and myself. I’m going to continue to develop and provide more Project Based Learning and Genius Hour experiences. This will not only address the standards I want to teach, but it will do so in the manner I want to teach. Since I believe all of my students possess their own gifts and that all of them need motivating learning experiences, I’m looking forward to exploring how to make all the puzzle pieces fit.