Kate: Education and Students Essay example

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October 2003 | Volume 61 | Number 2 Teaching All Students Pages 6-11 Deciding to Teach Them All Asking the right questions has an enormous impact on how we pursue equity and excellence in our classrooms. Carol Ann Tomlinson Several years ago, I was talking with a colleague who was teaching in a center-based school for students whose IQ scores registered above 140. She thought deeply about how to stretch her students, whose ceilings of possibility often go unexplored in heterogeneous classrooms. She was a good teacher in that setting. She knew it. Her students knew it. Their parents knew it. So I was surprised by what she said that day. October 2003 "I want to go back to a general education classroom next year," she began. I want to see what would happen if I tried teaching this curriculum to a varied group of students. I believe I could make it work, and it's important to me to know whether I can. She got her wish. Her new group of 5th graders in a different school the following year was certainly diverse. She had students with identified special education needs, students who could not yet read in any meaningful way, students who were learning to speak English, students who were working at grade level, and students who were more capable than many in her previous school. She taught them—all of them—the high-challenge curriculum that she had been using with her class of very advanced learners. To say that no problems emerged and that everyone rose fairy-tale-like to the challenge would be satisfying. But it would not be honest. The truth is that my friend had to make many adaptations in her new classroom that were not necessary in her former setting. She had to find time to work intensively with students who were not yet literate to ensure their growth in the gatekeeper skills of reading and writing. She had to find ways to support some students whose caregivers could not provide transportation, Internet access, or project materials. She had to teach inquiry skills to many students who had not previously encountered them. She even had to figure out new ways to extend the advanced curriculum for students whose reach already exceeded its parameters when the year began. In many ways, this veteran teacher felt like a novice. She wasn't always sure how to arrange time to work with small groups of students with particular needs. She often wasn't certain how to express abstract ideas so that the concrete thinkers could confidently approach them. But from the beginning of the year, one fact was clear: Her classroom was a magnet for each student who spent 5th grade with her. Discovery was a given. Doing was a way of life. Students learned to do better than what they perceived to be their best. Skills had an identifiable purpose. School was the place to be. Learning was the thing to do. No one wanted the year to end. We could say that this teacher decided to "differentiate instruction in a mixed-ability classroom"—that she decided to "teach them all" in a heterogeneous setting. It would be tempting to say that she was a poster teacher for differentiation of instruction. But I learned something more important from her and her students. As I watched their journey, I realized that she was asking a set of questions about teaching different from those we often ask—a profoundly important set of questions. Framing the Questions My colleague had already posed the most fundamental of the questions related to academically diverse populations: Do I intend to teach each individual child? Although there seems to be only one answer to the question, the…