Saturday, September 19, 2015

One-Size Does Not Fit All

"There is nothing more 
than the equal
treatment of Unequals."
-Thomas Jefferson

When I look back at my first year of teaching I often laugh at myself.  I still can't believe my students chased the train at Greenfield Village.  I still can't believe I had a class party at my house and two students climbed to the top of a pine tree.  I still can't believe those kids turned out so great in spite of my inexperience.

There was a moment in my first year where I felt thrown to the wolves (so to speak).  It was Spring conference time and I had a fellow staff members child.  I'll admit, I was a little nervous going into the conference.  When we sat down the conference started very positively.  We talked about organization and her daughter's interests.  I still remember sharing her dislike for math and her passion for writing.  But then came the curve ball.

My colleague (the student's mother) asked me how she was doing in reading.  I shared the data and talked about her comprehension.  She then asked me how I was pushing her.  I talked about our weekly meetings and the conversations we had regarding the stories we were reading.  The mom then asked me if I was teaching all the students the same way.  I stumbled...

Was she upset?

She then continued and talked about her daughters weaknesses and asked how I would be individualizing strategies to help her improve.  

I didn't have an answer.  I should have, but I didn't.  

After that meeting I sat in my classroom for a long time and thought about how I could improve as a teacher.

My first thought was simple, I had to stop teaching everyone the same way.  I felt that I was really strong at getting to know my kids, but I didn't use this information to teach differently.  If I was going to be a great teacher I had to create different paths for my kids, because, NOT ALL KIDS LEARN THE SAME WAY!  

As I began my journey to personalize more of my classroom, I quickly discovered it took more preparation and I had to release some control.

When I started personalizing instruction it began with a couple subjects.  I started with reading and writing.  My focus was small and expanded as I improved and grew more confident.

As I became more experienced in the classroom I got better at personalizing for my kids.  By my final year, rarely did my students all take the same could they, they weren't all learning at the same rate and pace.  

So I ask you, do you personalize the learning for your students?

No really, do you?

I've been to Edcamps, I've been to conferences.  What I hear over and over is that teachers are doing some Project Based Learning, some Genius Hour, some personalization.  But what I also hear is that educators still group kids by ability and put them in small groups.  Let me say this, if your centers have every student getting the same worksheet or same instruction, you might as well be doing whole group instruction.  Students are all different, they learn differently.  We as educators need to embrace this, and change how we facilitate the learning.

Here are my keys to getting started with Personalizing the Learning in your classroom:

1)  Pace:  Can we all agree that students will not learn at the same pace?  Let's accept this and create layers to our lessons.  If a student completes work quickly, we should not punish them with more work.  Let's adjust assignments and allow students to creatively learn new things.

2)  Place:  Do students all need to be seated at a desk to learn?  Flexible learning spaces allow students to stand if they have the fidgets or simply sit on the floor if they work best this way. Expecting all students to sit with their feet flat on the floor at their desk is not realistic.

3)  Voice:  Who is doing the talking in the classroom?  We begin to personalize learning when student voice is valued and encouraged.  Too often students are not given the opportunity to share, ask questions and teach others.  I learned long ago a student had a skill mastered if they could teach others.

4)  Choice:  Are students allowed to make choices in your classroom?  I hope so.  One of the keys to motivating student learning is through incorporating more choice.  This gives students a say in the process and adds relevance to their learning.

5)  Prioritize:  If you are still "covering" every single CCSS I feel the need to ask, how is that working for you?  As educators our goal is to have students LEARN the content, not to "cover" the content.  Once we prioritize and narrow our focus we are able to see the real learning in our classrooms.  

Two recent posts were hot-buttons for me when it came to this post.  The first by +Eric Sheninger, titled, Why Personalize and the second by +Jeff Zoul, titled, Homework: Give it Purpose or Give it Death!   These are MUST READS!

I challenge you to make learning different.  Let's stop the One-Size Fits All approach.


Monday, September 21st:  5th Grade Camp Parent Orientation 6:30pm at CAC
Tuesday, September 22nd:  Camp Counselor meeting 7:30am
Wednesday, September 23rd:  K-2 Assembly at 8:45am
Thursday, September 24th:  NWEA PD at the Jackson County ISD
Friday, September 25th:  Staff Meeting in Mrs. Smith's room 8am
Friday, September 25th:  Picture Day

Articles Worth Reading:

Something Tangible @thenerdyteacher

They Look For Me @Jonharper70bd

Videos Worth Watching:

Hilarious!  Kevin Spacey is amazing. (6 min)

#RippleEffect (4 min) shared by @awelcome

Prescribing Homework!  Wait for it... (2 min) shared by @Jeff_Zoul

Life on iPad (2 min)


  1. Ben, this is a great post! As educators, we build relationships with each student and learn their motivations, desires, goals, and fears, but we should also learn specifically what they need to learn as much as they can. Kudos to your colleague for asking the hard questions to you, and kudos to you for reflecting on them and learning from them. Thank you for sharing the posts by Eric and Jeff, too. I will have to check those out, too!

  2. Ben,
    Thanks for the post! I loved the reminder that we are working for students to LEARN the content, not just cover it. Individualized education is more work, but definitely worth it for the students!


  3. Ben, I love that your continue to reflect on your instructional past - a true instructional leader! Very practical suggestions, we need to move beyond getting to know our students and put that into practice. So here's my challenge to you - when you do staff PD - are you differentiating ? Of course I already know the answer to this because I heard about your beginning of the year PD that rocked! Including the challenge here for other instructional leaders to see. We should be modeling with our staff what we expect to see with our students no:?

    1. Geniene,

      That is a legitimate question. I will say that I'm improving as a leader. I believe in a continuum of sorts. Teachers are on this continuum and they bounce between whole group and personalized learning. It is my hope that the differentiation is constant.

      The more I model and lead with research, care and relationships, the better I believe our staff will be.