Saturday, February 26, 2011

Maharishi School: Individualizing the Classroom

Teachers don't teach a curriculum or a lesson plan--they teach children.

This is something I heard a career teacher say a long time ago, and I remind myself of its wisdom and applicability regularly. Of course good teachers plan for teaching, and these plans consist of curricular strategies and lesson plan activities. Nonetheless, these teaching goals and objectives apply, ultimately, to individual children, not "classes."

This defines a dilemma in teaching. How do teachers instruct multiple classes during a day yet also reach individual students?

The answer lies in individualized instructional time that is included in classroom activities.

For some classes, one answer may lie in something as simple as student practice (or drill) time that allows the teacher to circulate through the classroom, attending to the needs of individual students.

For another classroom, a teacher may develop learning centers in which students choose and engage in activities of choice for part of the class, providing the teacher more time to circulate and interact individually with students.

Sustained, silent reading, writing workshop, and journaling are also activities that can open up time in the classroom for individual conferencing.

I remember that when I was a high school basketball player, the coach included the daily practice of shooting twenty-five free throws. As we practiced, the coach circulated and talked to individual players--and the discussion was usually not on free throws. The "evaluation" to keep us on task? A clipboard and running tally of the number of shots "sunk" each practice.

I have found the use of contracts for class assignments effective for structuring individual student contact time in the classroom. 

A simple contract for reading:
  • 4 books read = A
  • 3 books read = B
  • 2 books read = C
  • 1 book read  = D or NI
Something as simple as this contract, with good formative (or on-going) supportive evaluation provides an opportunity to individualize what level of book each student reads, provides a platform for individual and whole-classroom discussion of reading skills, and also provides time to quietly support and instruct to individual needs.

This is important for teachers who have students that change schools often, have English Language Learners, or have advanced (talented and gifted) students or students with remedial learning challenges--in other word, all teachers.

No two students are the same, and structuring activities in the classroom that provide individual time with students increases the opportunities to give students the right teaching at the right time. It's how we learn and teach. We just got away from that basic fact when budgets, demographics, and politics moved teaching and learning into more "efficient" factory models of mass instruction.

At the school where I teach, Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, not only is the individual instruction of students significant to our school mission--the faculty and student body also practice the Transcendental Meditation program, the ultimate instruction of the individual, providing teacher and student daily time to contact their inner "knower," the foundation of all teaching and learning for all skill areas and disciplines. This approach to education is called "Consciousness-Based Education."

Ever heard the old joke about Henry Ford's Model T's? You can have any color you want--as long as it's black. Our children are rainbows. They deserve more than a black and white education.

Copyright 2011 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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