Recently, I recorded a three-part mini series podcast all about teaching to each learner. I find that it is this very area that overwhelms teachers, leaving them feeling defeated. Once, I was watching a Youtube influencer whose video discussed why she left teaching. She couldn't find a way to teach to all the needs of her students, so she left the education altogether. In fact, to hear her speak, she believed it was impossible to meet all of her students' needs. I am here to tell you that while the task of teaching to every stident's needs seems daunting at first, it is not impossible. In fact, once you begin to teach to each learner, you find a rhythm, it begins to flow, becoming a much easier task. Read on to learn how you can meet the needs of all your learners while keeping your sanity.
The magic begins in keeping your lessons short. Why? Because students have better things to do than sit and be idle. Okay, that's kind of why, but there's more to it than just that. Passive learning doesn't result in much learning. We all need some small tidbits of instruction, information, or demonstration to get going, but we don't learn much from others talking. Time is precious and of the essence, so lessons need to be fast and direct. "But I have so much to say, how can I do that?", you might ask. Simple. Just stop talking. Just stop it. We all need to stop it. It's a waste of time. What do you really need to say? Figure out the most important information or talking point that you absolutely must say, couple it with a demonstration, perhaps get the students to practice it with you, and then send them off. It is only then, when your students go off and work, that the real magic happens. They begin to make sense of all those words thrown at them, and the process of learning and understanding starts to construct.
Once your talking time is minimal, you will have more time to teach to each learner. This is going to require organization on your part. Good organization. I like to keep a binder (some teachers hate binders. Some teachers despise binders. Choose whatever system works for you) to help with this. In my binder, I have a sheet for each student (it grows as my student notes grow). This is where I keep anecdotal notes of behavior, work habits, strengths, areas of improvement, my goals for them, their goals for themselves, etc. You name it and it's in there.
My binder keeps me organized so that I can keep track of the individual learning happening in my classroom. I do a lot of my teaching while conferring with students. Through observation (this can be fast), I can quickly determine a student's strengths and next steps. I begin by complimenting my student on what he or she is doing well (you always want to start positive). From there, I teach something new. Just as I would do in front of the whole class, I demonstrate the skill, then have the student practice it. Before I move to the next student, I like to make a note of the next teaching point for that student. Typically during an observation I might notice several things a student could work on. However, it's important to give students one thing at a time, otherwise it can be overwhelming and difficult. Choose the next step that seems most appropriate to help move them along in their growth, and save the others for teaching points for another time. Once a student is practicing the skill or strategy, I am ready to move on to the next student.
This same kind of work can be accomplished by pulling small groups of students instead of conferring. Based on all your observations of your students, you're probably going to find some overlapping needs and shared next steps. When you have a handful of students with common needs, you can pull a group instead of conferring one on one. This implies that you'll need a spreadsheet where you can see all your students at a glance. This might be a spreadsheet of their next steps, your goals for them, of their goals for themselves. There are many ways to do this, and it will likely stem from what your current goals and objectives are.
This all sounds great, but how will I logistically do this?
If you're asking this question, then keep reading. You're almost there. I suggest you use a calendar. This could be a monthly and weekly calendar, but you'll definitely want to have a weekly calendar to stay organized and focused. Perhaps you dedicate Mondays for conferring, and the rest of the week for small groups. Or, maybe one day you confer, and the next you pull small groups. Either way, you want to have a fixed schedule that you adhere to if this is going to work. Even so, don't forget that we also need to be flexible. Having a schedule keeps this kind of teaching and learning well organized, making it possible to teach to each learner. However, you'll also want to make room for learning priorities. Let's say it's a day that you planned to confer, but you saw a great need that was shared between a group of students. You don't have to wait for your small group day if you feel it's urgent now. Be organized and consistent, but also be flexible.
In sum, students will always have varied skills and abilities, as well as different appropriate next steps. This is never going to change, but it does not have to defeat us as teachers. It might be easier to teach the entire class one thing, but easier doesn't equate to better. We can teach to each and every learner, but it requires ample time, organization, and really knowing our students. Are you ready to teach to each of your learners?
If you would like even more detailed information on how I teach to each of my learners, you can check out the three-part series from my podcast, Time to Teach. The third part will not be published until a few more days, but I will come back and link that episode when it's ready.
Teaching to Each Learner: Part 1
Teaching to Each Learner: Part 2
Has this post helped you in some way? If so, I'd love to hear from you. Leave me a comment, or tweet me at TamiJ123.