Targeted Learning

This weekend’s trip to Portland for the PNAIS conference was really good and validating to much of what we do at our school.

I was reading several articles from this month’s Ed. Leadership issue which focuses on ‘intervention’. There were several articles about RTI (Response To Intervention). Sadly, many schools use RTI to boost test scores and support only students on the bubble, or they see it as something mandated that is just added work. We need to support all students (whether they are high achieving already, or severely lagging behind) and make sure that they are receiving targeted instruction. At my school, we haven’t called it RTI, but we have been trying to target instruction or personalize it, as Yong Zhao suggested, for quite a while. There are some things that work with all children, and some children may need more help in one area and/or be given more challenging and meaningful work in another.

There are many who criticize rote learning, but it depends on what you’re learning. Author of Brain Rules, Dr. John Medina said that rote learning was crucial had a great metaphor in his talk this weekend. Think of a Jazz musician. He is going to have to have that circle of fifths memorized somewhere (learned by rote) before he can improvise upon it. This is the same with math facts, or knowing your vowels. Memorizing the capital city of every single country or all the major dates in French history may fun for some kids, but it won’t necessarily boost their performance in history or geography. Perhaps if you were going to be the Secretary of State or majoring in French history, those cities or dates would be very handy, but do elementary school children need to know this? We need to nurture both rote learning and improvisation. We need kids not only to be able to read and do basic arithmetic, but also who can dream, innovate, and be motivated intrinsically.

Medina also discussed how brains are all wired differently, and that sometimes there are gaps in a student’s learning. It is part of our job to discover those gaps, or make the students aware of those gaps, so that their instruction can be targeted or personalized. Whether those gaps are a math skill or an executive skill, learning about your student is key to their learning.

Finally, there was a session about mean girls, and there were a lot of great things offered by the presenter, Michelle Anthony (author of the book, Little Girls Can be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades) that we are already doing at our school. Some of those things included teaching kids to differentiate between tattling and reporting, asking and validating kids when they come to a grown-up for help rather than dismissing it, and most importantly taking action. If we want kids to avoid being bystanders, the grown-ups can’t be bystanders as well.

Does that mean we can’t keep growing and improving? Of course not. There are still many areas in which we as a school can grow – perhaps a few gaps here and there – as all schools have their own areas of growth. I guess we need to be able to identify our own gaps, like we are doing with our social-emotional learning curriculum this year, and target our own instruction. We also need teachers and administrators who not only know their stuff, but can dream, innovate, and be motivated intrinsically.



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