I am now in my third year as a Middle School teacher. Definitely still a novice with much to learn from my veteran teacher peers. However, some of the best lessons I have learned in my short career as a teacher have not come from other veteran teachers, but rather from my students. Perhaps two of the most important lessons I have learned are the immensity of student differences and the importance of flexibility.
Probably the first thing I picked up from my students is their many differences. Differences in how they speak, act, and of course how they learn. The differences in how students learn are the primary argument of why teachers should differentiate their instruction. The basic definition of differentiated instruction (DI) is when teachers specify their instruction for a particular student or a small group of students depending on their individual learning needs. Despite this fairly universal definition of DI, there are many arguments of how it is best applied and used. In his blog post, “23 Myths of Differentiated Instruction” Mark Pennington discusses some of the different opinions on DI. One of the “myths” of DI that Mr. Pennington mentions is that DI needs to be done through small groups. As Mr. Pennington mentions small groups are important to DI, but it is not the only instructional strategy of DI. I have seen this in my own classroom. Some students really do benefit from small group work, but others do not get as much out of it. I have also witnessed that these differences do not only depend on the individual student, they can differ from day to day. Particularly true with Middle School students, people are always changing and on any given day they may not be as receptive to small group learning situations. The answer that I have found to this phenomenon is to change my instruction up. I believe that some days and for some lessons small group instruction or projects are the way to go, but other days/ lessons should be taught with a more traditional approach or direct teaching method. I have learned from my students that one universal teaching method does not exist and that many different teaching methods should be used.
One of the characteristics that I have come to understand as key to my success as a teacher is flexibility. I am a teacher that loves to have a plan. In fact, I have my entire years worth of lessons decided, tests scheduled, and assignments created before students arrive on the first day of school. Unfortunately, despite my best-laid plans, things change. Unplanned field trips arise, snow days occur (occasionally), and sometimes students need to spend more time on a particularly difficult area. I have to be flexible with my plans to meet the needs of my students. My students have helped me learn that I need to realize that each student has different responsibilities and different things going on in their lives. On several occasions I have had to be flexible with assignment due dates and assigned tests to meet the schedules, family issues, and illnesses of my students. Perhaps Arthus Erea put it best in his blog, “5 Qualities of Good Teachers” (link to http://myfla.ws/blog/2008/05/24/top-5-qualities-of-good-teachers/) when he says, “Learning is not static and you cannot be either”.
Guest blogger: Jeremy Larson is a 7th and 8th grade American History teacher at Grace- St. Luke’s Episcopal School in Memphis, TN. He received his Bachelors degree in Elementary Education (K-8) at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, MN. While at SCSU, Jeremy also received specialties in Instructional Technology and Social Studies Education. Jeremy is currently working towards his Masters degree in Instructional Design and Technology at the University of Memphis. He is interested in K-12 technology integration and helping school districts bring technology into the classroom.