Knowing Every Student

Every morning a group of faculty are at the front of school greeting, conversing and engaging each student and parent that arrives. Very few slip by without at least a hello or good morning. I often will check in on a recent sporting event, ask about a book a student is reading, or comment on a learning experience that I observed. This is the beauty of a small school. Every child is known. But what do we do with this knowledge? How do we adapt our program to meet the needs of every child? I see relationships, independence, and differentiation as three ways we meet the needs of every child.

As we have learned more about the brain, we also have also verified that positive relationships have a direct impact on learning. Cognitive growth must pass through emotional filters. Translated, this means that negative learning environments slow cognitive development. By establishing relationships through our advisory program, small size, family groups, journeys, and leadership curriculum, we have a school culture that fosters positive relationships. This does not mean that conflict does not exist; it means that there is a safe culture within which conflicts can be addressed. Because we have a relationship with each student, we understand how to make each child feel welcome in our school community. Developing a relationship with each student requires that we know each student very well – as an individual.

I also believe that by teaching students to be independent learners, we give them chances to customize their own learning. This is most evident beginning in 5th grade at Journeys School, where students choose thesis topics, create capstone projects, complete service learning hours, design grass-roots community impact projects, and lead others on extended trips. Over time, they develop the courage and meta-cognition to understand their own needs – both social-emotional and cognitive – in order to best tailor their education to meet individual needs.

Finally, as a faculty, we are focused on differentiation in every classroom. Carol Ann Tomlinson, a national expert in differentiated instruction, provides the following definition: “consistently using a variety of instructional approaches to modify content, process, and/or products in response to learning readiness and interest of academically diverse students.” We approach this in two ways. First, we offer a variety of ways for students to demonstrate learning – through portfolios, projects, exams, presentations, debates, etc. This allows students to develop both strengths and weaknesses. Many times, students are offered a choice of different products based on different learning styles. Second, we differentiate based on previous knowledge through pre-assessment (learning what students know), tiered instruction (instruction based on what students know), and assessment options based on Bloom’s Taxonomy (each option requires different levels of higher-order thinking). This may appear as a choice concept, where all students complete one box, but then are directed or choose other assignments that push students to extend, evaluate, create, or apply knowledge. A basic assignment on finding five facts on Westward Expansion may offer a subsequent choice of analyzing and connecting newspaper events from the national archives – for those students who are ready.

Every day I am reminded at drop-off and pick-up how well we know children at Journeys School. This allows us to individualize our program through relationships, independent learning, and differentiation.

Emotion and Learning: Instruction: Bloom’s Taxonomy: National Archives:

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