Honouring the uniqueness of each child

Michelangelo, 16th Century

…we seek to find this lovely apparition and chisel each student to display their strengths and magnificence.

As a new college, we are committed to honouring the uniqueness of each child, and this means meeting each individual at their particular point of challenge in their learning. Each child should feel success in their learning, from those who may experience great challenge and difficulty to those of whom learning may come much more easily.

Our recent recruitment drive has resulted in a team of high-quality teachers who have the drive and passion to co-create deep learning experiences with their students. What is essential is differentiating the curriculum to provide appropriate learning opportunities for students of many different abilities.

“The most important factor affecting student learning is the teacher…. More can be done to improve education by improving the effectiveness of the teacher than by any other single factor” (Wright Horn, 1997 )

Differentiation requires skilled practitioners, and this requires the school to provide the ongoing professional learning, along with a culture of reflective practice, to successfully achieve this. A differentiated curriculum is the provision of learning experiences that offers a variety of entry points for students who differ in abilities, knowledge and skills. In a differentiated curriculum, teachers offer different approaches to what students learn (content), how students learn (process) and how students demonstrate what they have learned (product). This involves using meaningful data to inform planning and teaching that responds to the needs of individual learners.

Recently, I came across an excerpt from the children’s novel Understood Betsy written in 1916. A young Orphan by the name of Betsy leaves a traditional city school to a one-room schoolhouse in the country where education is done differently. The new teacher recognises Betsy’s academic strengths and weaknesses and responds accordingly to her learning needs. As a result of this, Betsy now experiences independence, self-discovery and genuine joy in her learning. Betsy finally understands why she goes to school!

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 5 in the book (Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher Published 1916 Public Domain in the USA).

 “If I’m second-grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third-grade spelling, what grade am I?” Betsy asks.  The teacher laughed at the turn of her phrase. “You aren’t any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You’re just yourself, aren’t you? What difference does it make what grade you’re  in? And what’s the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don’t know your multiplication table?”

You’re just yourself, aren’t you? … We recognise that, like Besty, we will be supporting a variety of young people with their own unique learning needs. In educational speak, we refer to the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’. In simple terms, it means providing just the right amount of challenge and appropriate support for each individual learner – too little or too much challenge leads to disengagement and this, sadly, removes the joy from learning.

Despite being written over a century ago, there is much to take away from this 1916 narrative. While our college vision is contemporary and paves the way to empower our learners to thrive in a fast paced, changing world, we also recognise the wisdom of earlier days. Sometimes experimentation in the past can look similar to the innovations of today!