Monday, January 10, 2011

Ding Dong for Differentiation!

Ring the Bell! I leave this profession of teaching after more than 35 years, and I have a declaration to make; an appeal to ring out; an alarm to sound. I am concerned about that dread topic, accountability; specifically, grades.

Excellence is our watchword. Yet I do not believe ‘excellence’ ought to be bruited about as a generality for students. I believe in putting people before product. I do not believe in putting product first. I believe in developing discipline and passion in the individual; I do not believe in conscripting a student to hate, loathing, despising, or even dislike of a subject. I do not believe in raising the bar so high for a given class that curriculum expectations are a series of frustrations and failures for an individual. I do not believe that a curriculum should equally challenge a general class, that a test should equally challenge all students, that a rule should equally apply to all pupils, that a standard should equally be applied to every learner, or that a student should have to take every level. I do not believe that I should have to take a subject beyond a proficiency level according to my life-needs or interests. (I personally have never used cosine theta, though no doubt my life over a bridge has depended on it, thanks to Penelope, who loves Math.) I do not for that matter believe in Drama 30 for Percival, per se, but since he chose it (or worse, was assigned to it) I am prepared to accommodate his interest and modify my expectations of his participation in order still to challenge him individually. I do not believe his grades should be a measure of comparative accountability. I do not believe in comparisons for grades. I do not believe that comparative grades are a measure of a program’s success, or a teacher’s success, or a school’s success, or a district’s success. I believe school is for everyone. It is for the individual. And for it to be so we, the education professionals and experts, should be allowed to treat students as individuals, to test students as individuals, to challenge and to promote the student entirely as an Individual.

What rings a personal bell for each is the opportunity to get lessons related to oneself, to have learning be made useful, to not have to be tested on the “clearly not my cup of tea” lessons. Percival does not care for Shakespeare, but loves quadratic equations; Penelope is just the reverse. Why require either of them to write the same test? Excellence as a goal of the product, per se, is for the rarefied few; to strive as a general populace for perpetual excellence is to court continual disappointment. Rather, let the individual strive for a personal excellence, strive for a personal best, strive to be the very best that he or she can be, and provide him or her with every individual opportunity to excel.

We ring the bell to summon the children to come unto us. Those children are as different from each other as their districts, their parents, their well-spring, and their stars have been aligned. Bells ring for individual reasons. It is for me in the particularized differentiation of lessons according to the needs of the individual that we prove ourselves as educators to be the most efficacious. I submit that implementing along with Penelope’s interests the rigour of an individualized provision for excellence may indeed have her becoming the very best of brain surgeons, and may well have Percival become the very best of mechanics, but whether no best Percival ever, or never a best Penelope, let the bell keep ringing individually for one, for each, and for all. Ding, ding, ding… Ding!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Richard, when I first met you, I was a Lord in Iolanthe (Morpheus Theatre, Calgary). You directed Evita in which I was one of a large enthusiastic cast.

    I realize that you are an outstanding teacher/director (same sort of thing), because you have a magic to get the best out of a diverse group of people. I said that if you could bottle it, market it, you would be the wealthiest man alive. But you are the wealthiest man alive anyway. Think of all those people who you taught & directed over the years. It's like the ripple effect. I learn from you, I pass it on.

    Great to see that your paintings are on the market. I would want to purchase the original of the train compartment. Fascinating!

    Kindest regards from Bill Watson in the Maritimes.