Thursday, March 19, 2009

Concentrating on the Individual

Yesterday, on I detailed the way our family celebrates the individuals in our family on their birthdays. As I think about the way we take the time to concentrate on each person's individuality, I realize that I carry that belief into my classroom every day.

I catch myself saying things like, "Jill, you are going to be sooo mad at the end of this short story. I can almost predict what you are going to say about it tomorrow." I know how each and every one of my students is going to react to the literature that I put in front of them because I take the time to know each and every one of them from the inside out. I think this is why I do not ever accept 'zero' as a plausible grade. If I do not find out what they know or do not know, I cannot really know them. I also can 'predict' what kind of problems they are going to have, which vocabulary will be new and difficult, why one student loves grammar and the other hates it, etc . . . Taking the time to know them helps me in ways that are too extensive to list here.

Yesterday I was asked by the elementary principal if there were areas of deficiency in the writing of the students who entered junior high. It took me a long time to answer. I sat there, contemplating this very vague question, thinking about each of my students, one by one, trying to make connections between them regarding their writing ability. I did not even consider that I should be thinking about them 'as a class.' I rarely think about my students as a class. That would be doing a great injustice to the individuals that just happen to sit in the same room at the same time and have the same chronological age. Each individual brings with them strengths and weaknesses that can only be discovered by looking at their work and actually KNOWING them as individuals.

Let me explain more:

One of my classes has a child who is very colorblind. When he enters my classroom, I just 'know' that part of what makes him unique is this one aspect of his being. I do not use anything but black and white during instruction in that period. If I happen to, I correct the mistake, even if it means redoing something that took me hours to do in the first place. The other students in the class KNOW him too. They are sure to remind anyone who uses color, to correct her error. There is no stigma attached to this disability because we have all taken the time to know him for who he is, not what color his eyes see.

In the same class, there is a student who is almost exclusively an auditory learner. He has a very difficult time synthesizing written text in silence. He needs to either read the text aloud to himself or have someone else read to him. Because I have taken the time to know him as a person, he trusts me. I can compare his difficulty in visual processing with the color-blindness of his friend. He accepts that this is just a difference in his learning that is the same as needing black and white. The class knows that we do a lot of oral activities for one classmate, just as we worked almost exclusively in black and white for the other. They also jump in when needed. If I do not read an entire passage to them, one of the students will jump in to read aloud. They are also intelligent enough and articulate enough to comment on the fact that reading aloud helps not only the listener to understand, but the reader too.

I could continue on and on with examples of how I accommodate for all of the different learners in my classes. I make accommodations for those with all kinds of learning disabilities, personalities, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, family backgrounds and situations, behavior issues . . . you name it. The ability to make them is directly related to taking the time to know the person first, so he/she knows that the disability is not all I am concerned with.

So why, you may ask, is my Evan at the top of the page? That handsome little face also needs accommodations. Evan has been 'running in the red' on his Dibbles tests since the time they started testing his reading speed. He is not a fluent reader according to the regular tests. Evan will probably never read quickly. Why? He is thinking ALL THE TIME! When I read a book with him, he will stop mid-sentence to predict what is going to happen in the story. He will stop mid-sentence to tell me how the action of the plot is directly related to the title. He will sometimes just stop to think or react. And sometimes, he does stop because he is having a hard time figuring out a word. God forbid he go on until he does!!!

BUT. . .

Evan scores proficient on any reading comprehension test he takes as long as he is allowed the time to finish the reading. He understands, really understands, no matter how painfully slow his reading speed seems to those around him. Isn't that what really matters in the end.

Concentrating on our students as individuals allows us to know them in a way that fosters trust and understanding. It feeds a teaching style and classroom environment that sees disabilities as simple differences. It removes stigmas. It gives each student what they need to succeed.

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