I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine, who is not an educator, about his daughter who goes to school in our area. She is a very bright girl, who is well above grade level in both reading and writing and is not challenged (or for that matter engaged) in the Language Arts that the class is doing.
His daughter is new to the school and they were unsure how to proceed. I encouraged my friend to have a conversation with the teacher and express his concerns. My friend went in and had a talk and came away encouraged. He explained to me that they teacher was open to challenging his daughter and was going to find time to let her pursue some of her creative endeavours in class…which is great. He felt that it was the start and that there was more conversations to be had.
Talking to my friend and thinking about the meeting I have a few concerns about how effectively we respond and differentiate for our students?
First, the teacher said that his daughter was quiet, self motivated and didn’t draw a lot of attention to herself and that sometimes those kids tend to slip through the cracks. It’s true, as a teacher I have said the same thing. The kids with the biggest needs often take a majority of time and energy. No doubt they need it and we have to continue to work with them, but the quiet kid who is not challenged is also at risk for being disengaged. As a system, how do we respond when kids can’t do the work, or find the work too easy? How do we make sure everyone is on the edge of improvement?
It is a huge challenge – one that will take a huge investment of resources (money would be great, but in reality time) and reflection. I think it begins with flipping the current paradigm. Too often as Will Richardson says, school is something that we often do or impose on kids. We need to change it so that students are the drivers and control their learning. While seemingly a simple idea, the practicality of it is incredibly complex.
That said, I think it all starts with a conversation or a question:
What do I (we) do to make our classrooms focused on our students and their individual learning needs?
At this point we don’t have to have an answer, but we should be willing to take the journey of discovery.