Valuing Students as Individual Learners

I value every student as an individual learner.  I truly believe that all children have the potential to be successful in school if they are provided with the necessary tools and support.  Making sure that every child is provided with the necessary support to achieve success means that differentiating my teaching and my lesson plans in order to meet the diverse interests and needs of my students is imperative.  By using a variety of approaches in my lessons to meet the needs of all learners (kinesthetic movement, reading, writing, oral instructions, partner and teamwork, individual assignments, hands-on manipulatives, etc.), I am able to meet the needs of students with a vast array of learning styles.

In each of my lessons I attempt to accommodate the needs of as many diverse learners as possible.  What is effective for one learner may be ineffective for another.  In order to provide equal learning opportunities for every student, I need to differentiate my teaching to meet the needs of all my students.  A detailed description of this can be found in my “Connection to Students” section of the Social Studies Showcase Unit Plan I designed for my second graders (Artifact IL5).  Often this comes in the form of providing opportunities for different types of engagement.  For example, in “Shape Poems—Day 2,” which was part of the Writing Workshop poetry unit, students work in teams to observe and brainstorm, as a whole group helped me model an example  of a shape poem, and worked independently to write their own shape poems (Artifact IL1).  Use of multiple strategies can also be seen in the “Nonfiction Reading: Very Important Points” lesson.  In this lesson, students worked as a class, discussed in their cooperative teams, and worked independently; and they identified the very important points in various ways: orally, using Post-It notes, and writing out the points on a worksheet (Artifact IL2).  Again, using various forms of instruction and engagement allows students of varying skill levels and strengths to be accommodated, while still providing the opportunity for them to engage in the assignment in ways they may be less comfortable with to strengthen their skills.

Often, in Reading, students with the highest reading levels get to read independently, while middle readers read with a partner, and learners who typically struggle with reading read with a small group with me.  This allows students of varying skill levels to be accommodated.  Using such differentiation, readers who are independent are able to participate in enrichment activities, while readers who require more scaffolding and assistance can receive it.  Reading assignments also allow for differentiation.  Each week students receive vocabulary words for the story they are reading.  Every Monday they fill in a vocabulary “worksheet,” where they write the vocabulary words, use a vocabulary code (posted on the walls of the classroom) to determine how well they know the word, write related words or that they think of when they hear the vocabulary word, they choose to draw a picture of the word or write the opposite, and they write the definition of the word (Artifact IL3).  Students are required to choose four of the six vocabulary words to work with.  Students who need more enrichment, however, choose five, and write them in alphabetical order, add more words to the “word web,” and write sentences using the vocabulary words on the back of the worksheet.  Such an assignment allows all students to learn the vocabulary for the week, but students have the freedom to engage in it based on their ability level.

Differentiation in Math occurs in a few different ways.  Sometimes it comes in the form of enrichment activities, such as having an additional worksheet for students who finish early, or requiring early finishers to find alternate methods or solutions for the problems (Artifact IL4).  This allows students who are more confident or comfortable in their abilities in the subject to be challenged and continue expanding their knowledge, while not overwhelming students who may require more time or assistance.  Another way differentiation occurs during Math lessons is by allowing learners who are comfortable with the material to work independently, and taking a small group and helping them more directly.  Students who work independently and finish early may either have further enrichment work or may work on their flashcards.  In allowing students to work at their own pace, their individual learning needs are accommodated.

I believe that setting up my classroom so that students are arranged in cooperative teams offers many benefits.  However, some students do not work well in teams, or need to be given space in order to be productive.  Therefore, I give students the opportunity to move from their team to an “island,” in which they are by themselves.  Students are allowed to move their desk, but to be at an island means that the conversation that occurs within teams is not permitted.  This year there is one student in particular who has two desks—one in his team and a separate one at the front of the room, which he is encouraged to move to whenever he feels himself becoming impulsive or anxious (see Artifact IL6).  Allowing students the opportunity to move to an “island” accommodates their individual learning needs by recognizing the fact that not all students are productive or comfortable in teams.  However, I also make sure to highlight the benefit of arranging students in cooperative teams and encouraging students to sit with their teams as much as they can handle.  There are no negative consequences for moving to an island, however.

As always, I encourage all my students and let them know what they are doing well.  In valuing the individual learning needs of all students I hope to help all students feel comfortable and confident in the classroom, determined to succeed, and eager to learn.