Times have changed and we have to change, too. In the past, teachers have taught to the middle of the grade they were assigned to. They became intimately acquainted with the content and expectations for the subjects for the assigned grade level, gave assignments appropriate for average students in that grade and measured student success against that grade level average.
Good teachers tried to provide enrichment activities for advanced students and remedial help for struggling students. But few felt any obligation to go beyond that.
Obviously student learning needs within a given class greatly differ and always have. But for the most part, students have been slotted into grades by age with little or no consideration for those vast differences. Schools were organized in an industrialized fashion to have education delivered efficiently and economically—sort of like an assembly line.
Students have been expected to fit into the assembly line or they would be retained in the same grade until they did. When faced with constant failure, many chose to get off the assembly line. The result was an alarming number of students dropping out of school and entering the work force illiterate and ill prepared for the responsibilities of adult life.
One response to this trend was eliminating “failing” students who didn’t meet the standard for the grade they were registered in. Most educators came to agree that failing students hurt them more than helping. But though well intended, this change broadened the already wide gap of differences in any given single grade class.
The result is that in any given single grade class, the range of skill level often spans several grade levels. Even in the small number of students in our little country school, I’ve often had as much as a K-6 skill level spread in a single grade.
Combining this factor with the loud cry from business, politicians and the public for accountability from educators leads directly to understanding how essential it is that we learn to differentiate instruction. And that’s not even considering the human aspect of the importance of each individual student as a valuable human being with potential to become a productive, responsible citizen. That’s another whole topic we will certainly discuss because it’s what lead most of us into the teaching profession in the first place, and the reason we are so dedicated to our students. We care!
So, where do we go from here? Becoming converted to the need for differentiation is the first step—perhaps the easiest step. I suggest that the second step is working on a paradigm shift in how we see learning happening. Figuring out the HOW is far more difficult than figuring out why. At least it was for me.
At times, this process of change has been absolutely painful. But more importantly, it has also been invigorating, inspiring, amazing, exciting and just plain fun! I want to share my journey so far and hope that there are many others who will also share theirs. I would love to see if others have gone through some similar trials and I would love to share what I’ve learned thus far. I’m looking forward to hearing from lots of you who are trying to meet the needs of diverse learners.