Thursday, June 14, 2012

Let’s Get Personal: Teaching Away from the Middle

Personalized Teaching in the Common Core

By Amy Esselman

When teachers focus on the average, students at either end of the spectrum are left out.

In school, I dreaded being the last to finish or “the one who didn’t understand.” It was risky raising your hand, because you weren’t sure if you’d be ridiculed for asking questions, or would possibly hold up the class. And yet I was afraid to stay silent if I didn’t understand something, just in case I got left to figure it out on my own.

Times may have changed, but I bet the same insecurities continue to exist for students. How many times do you think students in either the top of the class, or those on the lower end, feel neglected as a result of the teaching style? Too often teaching is viewed as a “one size fits all” operation. But, whether we like it or not, it’s far from the truth.

Gone are the days when you can teach one lesson, one way, and expect every student to catch on.

Of course teachers know that they need to differentiate education. A select few do it with aplomb, most of us are up to our eyes in everything else, and on the other end of the spectrum are the frustrated teachers who can do nothing more than throw their hands in the air. It’s a problem. But it is a problem with a solution.

The Common Core State Standards help to address part of the problem—you may have seen that line coming, but what you don’t know is how much the Common Core can actually help a teacher. The Standards help teachers focus on necessary skills that students should develop, rather than dictating exactly “how” students should learn them. As the Common Core Standards begin a more widely spread implementation phase, personalized learning has moved to the forefront of many classroom agendas.

The Standards will integrate perfectly with the idea of personalized instruction. Sure, it’s easy to teach to the middle of the class, focus on what the “typical” student should understand. But, this presents a problem. It’s just not the reality. Some students are bored and unchallenged waiting for others to catch up. Then, there are the students struggling to keep their heads above water. Something has to give, and overtime, with the implementation of the Common Core, I think it will.

Teachers will work on ways to customize and hone in on individual student needs. Students who don’t feel challenged can work with their teacher to set different goals and vary their lessons. Students at the bottom of the class will be able to seek guidance and one-on-one time to improve. Teachers are spending time figuring out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to their students. But, is that enough?

Let’s get as far away from teaching to the middle as we can. If teaching styles and instruction become more aligned with the individual needs and interests of each student, we will see a shift in all areas of the classroom. Students will feel engaged and productive at every level and will work to improve at their own pace.

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