Although I have recently received what I would call flack for writing about local educational issues, I know it is important to continue to raise community awareness about both the things we can work on and the things that are working well for our students.
So, today, I offer an encouraging, down right positive, story. My high school senior is taking an elective class that has recently been focusing on belief and value systems, as well as other “adult” topics such as the stock markets, and career choices. It has been a great fit for my student who is enjoying the class immensely. He is also doing extremely well, which is decidedly a bonus for him, and a relief for me, after watching him struggle last year.
Recently, his teacher asked him, “why are you taking this class? You seem to already know the material.”
My son replied, “I am taking it for you. I like you as a teacher and enjoy how you teach us.” This statement was in reference to him having this same teacher last year, for a required 11th grade class. His reply was meant as a compliment, and I believe, also received as one.
The teacher then replied, “Well, then, I have a goal for the rest of the semester. I will try to teach you one new thing each day in this class.” I think my son got a kick out of this, but when he relayed it to me, I told him – “this is an example of what differentiation looks, like. You have not had much of it before and lucky to have this teacher.”
Differentiation means many different things to people, even among educators. To me, in part, it means having your child’s educational needs met, whether they are above, below, or at benchmark. It means not teaching to the test, but teaching what they are ready to be exposed to and hopefully, learn. Differentiation means supporting the individual’s learning needs.
Now, some of you might try to put a negative spin on this by saying – well, your son is not being challenged in this class. Why did he take it if he already knew he would do well? I would argue that this is no different from taking AP Language if you are already good at language arts, or be in an accelerated mathematics class if you already understand the basic mathematical concepts. He is well versed, and already competent in this course content, in part because we have previously talked at home about the issues now being covered in this class. As humans, we all gravitate toward that of which we excel. This is a student who has worked hard throughout his high school experience. His transcript screams rigor. In part, that is what frustrates him.
I need to regularly remind him that while he might not have straight A’s, he has worked hard. I wish that all his teachers had differentiated course material. My wish applies to not only course content and pacing, but also learning style. He is not a student that fits well into the “box.” I am very grateful that some of his current teachers recognize that you can be “outside” of the box and still be successful as a learner. All students deserve that flexibility, recognition, and being offered that “one new thing” a day to learn! He is lucky this year, indeed!