Friday, September 12, 2014

Be Brave for Our Learners

I am the proud mother of 3 growing boys. Everyone asks, “So, are you going to try for that girl?” My answer is always, “No. I’m done.” I guess I won’t take the risk of having yet another boy to fight, wrestle, and destroy, and then again, I don’t think I could have a girl - I simply wouldn’t know what to do with a girl, and she would have to be pretty tough with these boys of mine. Nevertheless, my boys inspire me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

What I find most intriguing about my boys is that they are all so different. I have one who wouldn’t touch finger paints and another who smothers himself in it. I have a picky eater, and one who just won’t stop eating! I have a planner, a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, and I also have a plotter. I have a musician and artist, and then I have a brute who will take anyone down, even though he is a mere 30 pounds. They question, create, battle, wrestle, and sometimes say the funniest things. Each one excels in different areas and in different skills. They are my boys, each one different than the other, but best friends.

From the same parents, and yet so different. And different is GOOD!

We need to remember all kids are different, learn differently, act differently, even when they are from the same family. Instruction designed for “one size fits all” doesn’t fit kids. It is not responsive to the needs and personalities of kids. While we want all our students to learn particular skills, our instruction should be different in helping each child attain those skills. We know children will be ready to attain and learn skills at different times and at different paces.

Needless to say, I often am frustrated by our current educational system. We expect every child to be at the same level, move through the “grade levels” at the same pace, and each child should show “mastery” of “grade-level” standards on standardized tests. Our system tells us daily that all students should be at the same level at the same time, while we know this is not true, not what research says, and not what best practices tell us. When we give kids the same worksheet, we know this isn’t best practice, but we still do it anyway because our system pushes us to conformity instead of celebrating and fostering individuality.

Our greatest challenge is finding the balance between the standardization of the educational system and fostering the individuality and creativity we know our students should develop in order to be successful adults. How do we design an environment that fosters this individual development, while not being stricken by the system of uniformity?

Educators everywhere must be courageous to step outside their comfort zone and try something new, taking a risk to push students thinking and build creativity everyday. Textbooks do not drive what we do; kids do. Be responsive to the needs of the students, meet them where they are, and push them from that point forward. Be brave to construct a different learning environment for kids to explore, research, read, write, problem-solve, and think.

We are not teaching ourselves in the environment we grew up in. We are teaching this generation’s children, a plethora of differing learners, being asked to do more and know more than ever before. Our current system will not be enough for them. We must work together, be brave together, to step outside this current system and try something new.

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