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Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Between Here and There

Manhattan, Kansas is located approximately 1,300 miles west of Green Island, New York. Camerino, Italy is situated nearly 4,400 miles east of Green Island, New York. From Manhattan, Kansas to Camerino, Italy is almost 5,700 miles. Those two endpoints represent the farthest distance traveled by learners who enrolled in our school district during the summer break. We have two sisters from Kansas and a foreign exchange student from Italy joining us in Green Island.
Our enrollment has increased slightly compared to last year after accounting for those who have become residents of the village and those who have relocated from Green Island. We have added 18 learners at the elementary level and 9 at the secondary level. We welcome the newest members of our learning community and pledge ourselves to successfully assimilate them into the school culture.
In addition to the distance that separates these learners, there are differences as well. That can also be said about any group of learners in any classroom. General ability levels range across a spectrum in any classroom. A typical fourth grade room, for instance, may have any many different skill levels as children. Even if two members of the class tested out at the same Reading level, there would still be variance in performance levels among the many specific skills that comprise the subject of Reading. One learner may be high in comprehension and low in vocabulary, while the other may score at opposite levels - leaving them with very similar overall achievement levels.

Appropriately attending to the unique and individual needs of all learners in a class requires a teacher to be adept at diagnosing skill levels and subsequently prescribing instructional strategies designed to extend the child's learning. Flexible, skill oriented grouping that adapts to the content and coverage of concepts in the curriculum, where configurations of learners are periodically adjusted based on teaching the specific skill to learners deficient at that particular skill, and enables teachers to better accommodate the different learners that compose the class. Using data to inform instructional decisions, agility in planning lessons, versatility in delivering alternative instructional methods, and adaptability in organizing for instruction represent key attributes necessary for differentiating instruction and accommodating all learners within a class.

This challenge places the teacher in a role similar to that of an orchestra conductor. The conductor is responsible for working with many different musicians and instruments, from tuba to piccolo, and exercising the perception and insight to know how and when each instrument can contribute to the piece of music without disrupting their colleagues. Harmony results from the effective and efficient coordination of varying skills among the many different members of the orchestra. It's certainly not an easy task. However, respecting and accommodating different learners - whether stretching to reach all achievement levels, or stretching to incorporate children from thousands of miles away - is the basis for operating an organizational culture based on relationships.

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