Students as Individuals: How and Why We Differentiate

Updated: Jun 27, 2019

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This statement is often attributed to Albert Einstein and begins to explain why it’s so important for our students to be treated as individuals when it comes to their learning.  Emotional intelligence and learning style and diagnosed learning needs and interests and skills and background knowledge and level of internal motivation are just some of the factors that help us understand which of our students are “fish” and which are “monkeys” or “elephants” or “tigers.” And that doesn’t even account for a student’s mood on a given day or individual teaching style, so not only do we have to understand who is a “fish,” but we have to know who is a “trout” and who is a “salmon” and who is a “beta fish,” and we have to be flexible enough to understand that sometimes a “fish” becomes a “whale.” One student may be highly achieving gifted student, for example, with a sensory processing disorder who loves to write while another student might be someone with ADHD who learns best through experimentation and hands-on learning. One student may struggle to find internal motivation to learn while another student may be interested in whatever is happening that day. One student may be three grades ahead in reading level, and another student made have undiagnosed dyslexia. All of this is essential information for our teachers in order to best understand the learning (both academic and social-emotional) of students, so at Einstein Academy, we spend time at the beginning of the year creating personalized learner profiles. The learner profile is a document created for each student and includes valuable information about students’ strengths and challenges (academic and social-emotional), interests and dislikes, learning preferences, and other valuable information. Through the process of creating the learning profile, our teachers truly get to know their students and begin to understand how to best reach each student. Once created, this learning profile serves as guiding document for teachers to reference throughout the year in order to best meet the needs of individual students. Additionally, we share these learning profiles with parents in order to strengthen that home/school partnership, and we welcome feedback throughout the process.  According to current research, the best way to support students is by the teachers in the classroom, so rather than have our students work with “specialists,” all of our teachers are trained to work with gifted students as well as students with mild to moderate learning needs. Our teachers have significant support in differentiation, both through professional development resources and also time built into the week in order to prepare for their classes, so they are truly able to meet the needs of each student in the classroom. Additionally, through the nature of our academic program, students have significant space to get to know themselves as learners and use their own voice to tailor the program to their interests and passions. With our focus on REAL Learning, students are involved in real-world, authentic learning, helping to diminish the question of, “When will we use this?” and contributing to higher motivation and engagement levels. Furthermore, differentiation is inherently built into the student-centered methodologies we use, giving teachers the opportunity to make adjustments to the learning program in order to challenge and support individual students at just the right level while also structuring the learning environment in a developmentally appropriate way in order to best support all students (so, for example, first graders are not expected to sit for long periods of time, which is essential for students with hyperactivity and/or attention deficit challenges).  Einstein Academy understands, appreciates, and celebrates that no two students are the same, and no two students have the same needs when it comes to what they need from a school (or even from a class on a given day), so we work to give them each a program that is just as unique as they are.

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