Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Meeting the Needs of All Students

How do teachers meet the needs of all students? How do we use modern research, resources, and tools to help us teach every child well? These are essential questions for teachers today.

As I think of these questions, I realize that I try to integrate multiple online and offline processes and tools to meet the needs of all students. I also work to coordinate our efforts as a teaching team to meet these needs. Yesterday's math class provided a positive example of how this can work. Prior to the class, I coordinated the teaching targets with the special educator and student teacher. I also reviewed students' efforts to date and then revised the learning menu accordingly. So when the class started, everyone including teachers and students knew what to do. We all worked seamlessly for an hour moving from one learning/coaching task to another. Students readily asked questions and sought clarity when needed. The room was a buzz of positive activity and the score reports at the end of the session demonstrated that many were approaching mastery of the topic. This was a successful student-centered teaching time.

Not all successful learning experiences look like the one I describe above--that experience occurred about midway into a unit of study and was meant to focus on practice and re-teaching. Other times the learning experience will focus on introduction, debate, presentation, project/problem based learning and more. What's critical, however, is that everyone is engaged in a positive way with meaningful study--that's the bottom line.

Last year, after considerable thought, I created a feedback loop to ensure that I responded to each child's effort with a study review once a week. I designed this effort to make sure that no one falls through the cracks of the learning program and to help students learn successful learning routines from the start of the year. This morning I'll sit down and review the students' efforts. I'll notice the following:
  • who completed the task and who did not?
  • what common errors existed across the grade-level--these common errors will inform teaching to come.
  • what errors were specific to individual students--this will inform some re-teaching and extra support for those students.
  • what confusion did students experience with the routine and how can we make it more streamlined and easy to follow/
  • who did the bonus work and how did they perform with that?
I organized this feedback loop so that I would have good energy, time, and place to review students' work since that's an extra effort, one for which there is no time during the school day. One mismatch with the research and practice today is that teachers do not have adequate time to provide optimal feedback. I believe that re-looking at teaching roles, routines, and schedules will provide that kind of feedback for individual students, the kind of feedback that truly inspires more successful, meaningful, and positive learning. Now, however, most teachers have to give up their own time to provide this kind of feedback due to the numbers of students they teach and the time-on-task ratios in schools. But to see if I can embed this more successful routine, I decided to devote about eight extra hours after school to this endeavor each week--I want to embed what I've read to be right and good to see if it does make the difference I believe it will.

There are many ways to teach well, and it's essential that we continually work to find strategies and efforts that will meet the needs of all students, not just some. That's my aim as I work this morning.