Posted in Education, Teaching

How Do We Reach ALL of Our Students?

I used to have a poster hanging in my classroom that read, “Reach for the moon and even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”  I like the message implied in the poster.  Effort will help you achieve goals, even if those goals aren’t necessarily the ones you set.  Hard work pays off.  Despite the inferences I was able to make from the poster, did all of my students understand what it meant?  Because of the figurative language and English idioms used, I wonder if the ELL students in my class fully comprehended what it meant.  Did they understand the message behind the words or were they just confused?  Is it possible to stretch one’s arm far enough to reach the moon?  That doesn’t make any sense.  To our English Language Learners, posters like the one I used to have in my classroom are probably much more confusing than inspirational.  So, what do we do about that?  Do we remove from our walls any posters that contain figurative language?  Do we simplify our spoken directions so that our ELL students can understand what’s going on?  But then what about our advanced students who need to be challenged?  How do we address them without leaving behind the struggling students?  Is it possible to meet every learner where they are and challenge them appropriately?

To help address the varied learning styles in our classroom, the focus of today’s Humanities class was Growth Mindset.  The students needed to revise their vignette one final time before they are graded and assessed on the following objectives:

  • The students will be able to write an appropriate vignette.
  • The students will be able to revise their writing based on feedback.

So, we began class by explaining the process they would go through to revise their piece:

  1. Open your vignette in Google Docs and read the feedback written by the teacher.
  2. Process that feedback using a growth mindset.
  3. Revise your piece based on the suggestions made by the teacher.
  4. Proofread and edit your piece one more time.
  5. Meet with a teacher to receive even more feedback.
  6. Make any final changes or revisions.
  7. Transition to Reader’s Workshop.

To help set the boys up for success, we then discussed growth mindset.  We explained to the students how vital this habit of learning is to their success as learners and students.  We highlighted this skill as it is crucial in the revision process.  However, we worry that some of our ELL students or non-auditory learners may not be grasping the ideas strongly enough when we only convey the information orally.  So, we then showed the students a video, which explained what a growth mindset is and how and why it’s an important life skill.  The video used words, pictures, and examples to make its point.  Following the video, we then quickly reviewed the steps of the revision process and allowed the students to begin working.

The boys then got right to work.  A few of the boys seemed to “finish” the revision process quickly.  So, I met with those students and provided them more concrete feedback on which to revise their piece.  This seemed to help them.  Some of the other students had questions about the feedback with which we provided them.  So, I addressed their questions.  This helped and they were able to jump right into revising their piece.  Some of the boys changed their pieces based on the feedback we gave them while a few of the students started from scratch as they were not happy with where their piece was headed based on our feedback.  One student seemed stuck.  He didn’t really understand how to revise his piece.  So, my co-teacher sat with him and walked him through the revision process.  This seemed to help him.  By the end of the class, every student had put forth great effort to revise and polish their piece so that it was even better than when they began at the start of the period.  One student came to me at the end of class and said, “The feedback you gave me helped me to rework my piece so that I’m having fun writing it now.”  Wow!

To be sure we are able to attempt to reach all of the different types of learners in our classroom, we need to vary our teaching styles.  We provided directions orally for those auditory learners, had directions listed on the whiteboard at the front of the room for our visual learners and forgetful students, used a video to explain the figurative idea of a growth mindset for our ELL and concrete learners, and provided one-on-one support for those in need of it.  Education is not a one-size-fits-all kind of program.  It’s about meeting students where they are and differentiating the learning accordingly.  If we hadn’t varied our methods in the classroom today, I wonder what result would have come about at the end of the period.  Would the boys have been as productive as they were?  If I take my car to a mechanical engineer to get it repaired, would he have the right tools and knowledge base to get the job done?  Perhaps, but do I really want to take that risk?  I certainly don’t want to assume that all of my students will be able to comprehend directions orally.  It’s not easy trying to reach all of our students, but we need to at least put forth the effort to try.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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