Author’s Note: This blog evolved from an interpretation that my son had with a question I presented to him, to a revelation that I had regarding his answer, to being a post on Facebook, to being expanded and posted on a discussion board for my graduate class where I had to read The Future is in the Margins: The Roll of Technology and Disability in Education Reform (short version) by Rose and Meyer.
(Image found at www.opencolleges.edu.au )
I have always had problems with the “one size fits all” idea of education. As Rose and Meyer pointed out in The Future is in the Margins: The Roll of Technology and Disability in Education Reform (short version), “New technologies for studying the brain are yielding an increasingly more accurate articulation of the concept of learning—revealing not one generalized learning capacity, but many different “modules” and “distributed processes” for learning within the same brain. Further, it is becoming clear that individual brains differ from each other not in a general ability (like IQ) but in many different kinds of specific abilities.”
Everyone has their own way of learning and everyone has their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes people are similar in the way they learn and other times people have very different learning styles. The “one size fits all” approach might make things easier for the teacher to present material, but it does not work when it comes to reaching all students. I have had to start this year homeschooling my son while I am still working as a teacher. My son is in seventh grader and is considered gifted, but only in Reading and Math. Due to him being gifted, his learning disability has been often overlooked by his teachers who have 29 other students to worry about. His learning issues have never been addressed even though it was in his IEP. He has a learning disability in writing and has developed a very big fear of Language Arts. He has also been diagnosed with Autism, so he sees the world differently and can think in ways and find solutions where many others may not. I am also autistic, but Autism is on a spectrum and everyone is unique no matter what their neurology is.
My son is also my student and he has given me permission to tell an interesting interpretation that he made about one of the questions on his worksheet he completed today. Since one of son’s passions is Ancient Greek mythology, I have been focusing his geography and history lessons on Greece. One of the questions on a worksheet I created asks to describe where Greece is located with a hint that North, South, East, and West should be used in the description. Basically, I would expect an answer like this, “Greece is north of the Mediterranean Sea, west of Turkey, east of Italy, and south of Bulgaria”. My son interpreted the question as meaning to write down the latitude and longitude coordinates of Greece.
I use this same worksheet with my “Meet the Greeks and Romans, too!” class that I teach and I have never had a student write down latitude and longitude coordinates as an answer. I thought his response showed his prior knowledge and uniqueness of his thinking processes. When my son thinks of the compass rose, he thinks of latitude and longitude. When he thinks of a map, he thinks in a grid system. When I think of a map, I think shapes and what is on either side of the shapes. It is just a different way of thinking, but it made me realize that I create curriculum based on my own learning style and how I view the world. That worksheet I created about Greece was focused on landforms, not coordinates. I have a degree in Earth Science Education, Geology is a passion of mine, and I think of landforms when I think of places on the Earth. I have a learning disability in math, numbers are difficult for me, but my son thought in numbers when thinking about where Greece is located. That piece of knowledge is relevant to him and who he is. That is a strength that he has, so how do I, as the teacher, foster that strength so he can achieve higher levels of learning that is relevant to him? How do I achieve this same thing with all of my students when I design curriculum and not have my own learning style get in the way?
I think collaboration with other teachers is one way to try to achieve it, but this only goes so far. If the administration insists that a certain standardized curriculum be used and only a certain standardized assessment be used, we are going to lose a lot of students when it comes to demonstrating their strengths. If you live in a state that uses student test scores in teacher evaluations, this “one size fits all” idea is going to hurt.
Variability does matter, but here is my problem. I teach at Home Link that is connected to the public school district in my area. The kids are 50% taught at home and 50% taught in enrichment courses where they come to the Home Link campuses to attend classes. Some of the Home Link teachers are certified and some are parents coming into teach. Teachers are allowed to create any curriculum they want within public school guidelines (no religious or military classes). There are no staff meetings, no collaboration meetings, and classes are cancelled during state testing days in the spring. There is no discussion of ELL students, special needs, 504 Plans, or IEPs. I teach 10 different classes this semester (Science/Math and Social Studies/History) with ages ranging from Kindergarten to twelfth grade. How does a teacher figure out how to adjust the curriculum that they have developed on their own to address all the needs of his or her students so that all students have access to higher learning? Is this even possible?