Every year around this time, I meet with teachers and parents from elementary schools to set up an intake plan for students who are coming to the learning support program at my high school. Here is a collection of descriptors of a typical student who will be coming to my school next year, one who I see as the “modern” child.
- highly verbal, active participant in class discussions and projects
- charming and engaging personality
- loves to read; reads above grade level
- highly capable with the use of any form of technology
- kind, empathetic, has lots of friends
- enjoys being active, outside
- plays piano and guitar
- talented in performance: singing, acting, public speaking
- weak math skills
- poor organizational skills
- difficulty getting started with writing, or completing written assignments
- easily distracted, impulsive/ or/ daydreamer, slow to get started (it’s often one or the other, not always ADHD, but often showing some signs of inattentiveness)
- some history of failure in school
- some conflict with teachers, but very cooperative if he likes the teacher
I call this an example of a modern child, because these are the qualities of so many students today. (I have taken bullet points from the Individual education plans of a random selection of my students.) Most of the students coming into the support program for students with learning disabilities have many of these traits in common. The severity of the challenges that these students face describe the nature of a learning disability, these students have so much potential as learners, but lack success as students.
I think it’s time for all educators, not only teachers in “special education” to take a look at the challenges that schools pose for the modern student. (What if the school could be adapted to eliminate many of this modern child’s challenges?)
I’ll start with his strengths-who wouldn’t want to meet this child-he’s bright, affable, interested in learning, and he enjoys reading and the arts. Is this not the renaissance child? Now, the needs, or challenges he faces in school. How are his impulsiveness, lack of organizational skills and inattentiveness so severe that he cannot perform at an age-appropriate level in math and in his writing? What are the expectations for him in these subjects? Is there not some way that he can be taught math? What is inhibiting his writing voice? I may sound frustrated, but I have met so many of these children, year after year, who have so much potential to learn, yet they are fed up with school by the time they’re 13. Some arrive in high school, ready to give it a try in a new setting, but they are stepping onto a train that is going in one direction. My job is to keep them on track.
The traditional student, one who has relatively easy success in school is one who follows direction, always gives their best effort, is responsible, respectful,and a diligent worker. This child will succeed as an employee, and as a functional member of society. There should be room for both the modern and the traditional child in schools today. The idea that one curriculum should fit all learners is absurd, but it continues to drive our planning. I include myself in this, I am not criticizing teachers -it is very difficult to design learning activities around the needs of each student. But it’s not impossible.
I think the place to start is through innovation. Try out new activities that can incorporate your existing learning materials. You don’t have to throw out every lesson you have in your filing cabinet/computer. Little things, like the arrangement of tables and desks in a classroom can change the learning environment, and consequently the amount of learning, significantly. You don’t have to go all the way to creating a flipped classroom, though aspects of this idea sound great, but make the centre of the classroom the student, not the teacher. If you’d like a place to start researching, start with Barrie Bennett’s Beyond Monet for more information on intelligent instruction.
A final note for the end of a rainy long-weekend Monday: I do hope some teachers find my ramblings to be helpful in some way. Please feel free to share.
ref: Bennett, B., & Rolheiser, C. (2001). Beyond Monet: The Artful Science of Instructional Integration. Bookation.