Guest Blogger PostI 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.

Diversity

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.

Flexibility

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.

About Michael M Grant

Dr. Michael M. Grant is a passionate professor, researcher, and consultant. He works with faculty members, schools and universities, and districts to integrate technology meaningfully and improve teaching and learning. When 140 characters just won't work, then he blogs here at Viral-Notebook.com. He has a beautiful wife and three equally beautiful daughters, who will change the world.

9 Thoughts on “What I learned from teaching kids and how it changed my instruction

  1. Jeremy,

    Thank you for choosing to touch on the diversity of your students. I am not a teacher but I am very fascinated by the concept of different learning styles and individualized learning. From your experience, is there a difference between differentiated learning and individualized instruction? How do you go about assessing the diversity of your students and then shaping your instruction accordingly? Very interesting take on your teaching experience!

  2. Jeremy, you have touched on a subject that many teachers struggle with…how to effectively teach a group of students with a wide range of needs and learning styles. It is definitely challenging and a balancing act. I actually found that many times during the course of small group work, the different learning styles of each student would “mesh” together allowing each student to utilize a strong skill they possessed…therefore making the group stronger overall. Why type of dynamic do you see occurring among your students during group work?

  3. Jeremy on March 20, 2010 at 12:13 pm said:

    @ Suha- Personally, I can see differentiated learning as applying multiple teaching strategies and methodologies to a group of students, while individual instruction requires planning instruction for each individual student based solely on their unique, individual needs. I see differentiated instruction as something that I can personally do, however, given my resources, I could not do truly individualized instruction. Even as a small-private school instructor I still have 99 students that I have come in to my classroom each day and each day there is a new lesson. It would be impossible for me to have 99 individual lessons each day, however I can differentiate my instruction by using multiple teaching strategies and methodologies while teaching to the whole class. As for assessment, it is very difficult. I try to use the same or similar assessments for each student as to make sure no student “has it easier” than other students. However, I do try to keep in mind individual abilities and strengths.

    @ Kristy- The best answer to the dynamics I see is that it all depends. In most situations and for most projects I would say that I often see a “meshing” of skills and growing overall group strength. However, one time this year had to remove two students from a group because they refused to work together. I tried to help them by giving them each individual tasks and ways they could contribute and tried to prompt discussion between the two, but after two days of not really accomplishing anything except fighting I had to separate them and had them work independently. However, this is the except- not the norm. This was the first time in 3 years that I ever had to remove people from group work because they couldn’t behave.

  4. Jeremy,
    Thank you for making the distinction. I can see how it is difficult to reconcile differences in students, handling a big number of them, and trying to complete the curriculum. Knowing how talented you are, I’m sure your students are having a great learning experience.

  5. Terica on March 22, 2010 at 7:28 pm said:

    Great Post Jeremy! Being flexible was a lesson I learned quickly as well. My philosophy- it’s my way or no way diminished after my first year of teaching. The blogger that you quoted regarding differentiated instruction makes an interesting point. I have personally found small groups to be highly effective especially when differentiating instruction. He stated it’s not required-nothing is required in education. We know we must be willing to adjust to address the needs of the students. With that being said, I think small group settings allow student-teacher interactions to become meaningful (depending on the students). In urban education settings, I have always found that students were willing to participate in small groups (given it’s a typical day). Of course it’s not the ONLY way to differentiate instruction, but I think small group instruction is highly effective strategy to utilize when teachers desire to diagnose, provide direct instruction, and evaluate student performance accordingly.

  6. Jeremy on March 25, 2010 at 2:24 pm said:

    @ Terica- Thank you for your comments. I especially enjoyed hearing about how you have seen this in urban educational settings. I also liked the idea of throwing out the “my way or no way” approach. That is so true!

  7. Jeremy, thank you for the insight into diversity and flexibility in secondary education. I’m not a teacher and have never experienced this with kids. However, I’m about to start a new job in corporate training, and I believe that flexibility and diversity are always important. I’ll keep this in mind as I develop training materials for working adults.

  8. Amanda on March 30, 2010 at 5:50 pm said:

    Yes Jeremy, our best laid plans are going to be interrupted by the needs of our students. The diversity of learners exist in every environment. A great teacher will accept this and react accordingly. Maybe spending a little more time on a topic strays from our plans, but it is exciting to see learners engaged, actively participating and excited about what they are learning.

  9. Jeremy on March 31, 2010 at 5:17 pm said:

    @ Stacy- Agreed! Although my experience is with teaching students, flexibility and considering a wide diversity of different people could be used in many settings.

    @ Amanda- Yeah, those best laid plans do not always work out. Which ultimately can be very frustrating for me personally (because I love a good plan) but the needs of our students must come before our own.

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