Understanding All Children in their Many Dimensions
Educators should know their students as individuals and as learners, and be able to relate to them in a variety of ways. They should be familiar with the cultures, histories, and values of the communities and families they serve, and know the attributes of the individual children and families with whom they work. Educators should be aware of the range of special needs their children may have, and seek out information concerning the strengths of specific children as well as resources to address their developmental and learning needs. They should use their knowledge of variations in development, second language acquisition, and disabilities to support children’s physical, emotional, social, cognitive, linguistic, intellectual, and creative development. Educators should observe and listen to children as they work, learn, and play in a variety of settings to gain insights into what their students know, how they think, what they value, who they are, where they come from, and what motivates them. Their knowledge of children and families, language and culture, and community development should motivate educators to view children’s actions and responses through multiple lenses. The more they learn about their students, the better they can tailor their teaching to engage children in active learning and meet their specific needs.
Understanding all children in their many dimensions means that good educators look at their students as individuals and not just as part of a whole. Teachers must be aware of each child’s individual strengths and weaknesses as well as his interests to build a curriculum that helps all students to succeed and flourish in school. A good educator will also take her students’ needs and levels of development into account when planning lessons and use her resources to get her students the help they need.
This standard is important because it tells us as educators that we need to be involved in our students’ lives. A teacher who is a passive observer of their classroom never really gets to know her students as individuals and as learners. As a result, the curriculum will not reflect the interests of her students, which may result in the students not engaging in their learning. This standard also reminds us that we have a duty to our students to understand their learning needs and to do as much as we can to make sure that our teaching practices foster the intellectual growth of each of our students.
According to John Dewey (1897) “only through the continual and sympathetic observation of childhood’s interest can the adult enter into the child’s life and see what it is ready for, and upon what material it could work most readily and fruitfully” (p. 108). Dewey is reiterating the importance of observing the students’ interests and developmental levels in order to prepare lessons for that child. This belief fits into component one of standard two, and it reminds teachers that they need to be constantly monitoring students to see their progress, what they are struggling with, and what captures their interest.
I am a strong believer in getting to know students as individuals and then integrating their interests into the curriculum. I achieved this component of the standard through the attached student interest inventory (Artifact 2.1). This inventory was taken during the field experience part of my Teaching Reading class. Each college student was partnered with either a third or fourth grader at the King Open School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During the time I spent there, I was responsible for developing reading lessons for my fourth grade partner. We were in charge of picking books not only at their reading level, but ones that also fit their interests and would capture their attention. Using information from my student’s interest inventory, I selected books that had animals as main characters in the story. We read two books that semester because she didn’t want to put them down!
Going along with knowing students individually, Artifact 2.5 is an excerpt of a guided reading lesson plan that I wrote during my full time practicum. The curriculum required that the students read a text that discusses the Iditarod Dogsled Race. One of my students was from another country and did not have a lot of knowledge about the subject, which is something I had learned from observing her previously in the school year. Knowing this, I made sure to preview the text with her individually as well as with the whole class to make sure that everyone had the necessary knowledge to read and comprehend the story.
Mary Cowhey is another expert whose views match those of the second Wheelock standard. In her book Black Ants and Buddhists (2006) she discusses teaching a lesson about the Tainos to her second graders. After displaying a graph made by Bartolome de Las Casas, which read that there were no Tainos left alive after 1555, one of her students stood up and disagreed with the data because her ancestors were Taino. Cowhey was quick to find the reason behind this information discrepancy because she realized that “Las Casas’ data was for Haiti, not Borinquen/Puerto Rico…there were still more living in Borinquen, where some of your ancestors lived” (p. 141). Cowhey knew the family and cultural backgrounds of the students in her class and because of this she was able to explain why Las Casas data did not include her student’s relations that had lived.
When thinking about Cowhey’s story, I am reminded of components two and three of standard two. These components stress the importance of knowing the cultural aspects of your students as well as their families. This knowledge can be used to strengthen the curriculum and relate the material to the children’s lives. It can also be used to make sure that you are culturally sensitive to each of your students and that you are respecting their family values.
During my pre-practicum experience, I was in a culturally diverse school in Brookline, Massachusetts. We were asked to do a Powerpoint presentation for our Curriculum Development course that displayed the aspects of our classroom as well as gave the viewer an introduction to the group of students that we were working with as a whole. Artifact 2.2 is a slide from the Powerpoint, which displays the cultural backgrounds of the second graders that I worked with. As you can see, we had an ethnically diverse classroom that year. It was important for me to know this information because it gave me a sense of the traditions the students had as well as some of the family histories. For example, on Chinese New Year a number of my students came dressed in traditional costume and passed out candy. Had I not known their backgrounds this would have been confusing for me, but because we were prepared for the day my supervising practitioner and I had set aside time in the morning for the Chinese students to share their tradition with the entire class.
I was also able to focus on attributes of an individual student during my time at the Joseph Lee. For my Meeting Diverse Learning Needs class we had to choose a focus child to observe for the entire semester. At the end, we were asked to make an Eco-Map of the child based on our observations and interviews with the child and the family. The Eco-Map showed their interests, their thoughts on school, the values of their family, and some aspects of their everyday lives outside of school. Attached you will find my Eco-Map as Artifact 2.3. The assignment required me to know my student on a deeper level and helped me to make sure that my lessons included activities to match my child’s interests and learning styles.
When teaching is it important to use the resources that you have, including more knowledgeable teachers or specialists. One specialist that is key to any school is the special educator with experience and qualification in evaluation. Levine (2001) states that these specialists can “provide valuable insights to guide management when their work is process-oriented, that is, when they focus on how the child accomplishes a task or where the breakdown in performing it occurs” (p. 274). This means that when a teacher is having trouble figuring out why a student is having a hard time understanding a concept the specialist can come in and see where the breakdown is happening.
During my practicum I was fortunate enough to have the resource teacher in the room with me for half of the day. After observing her for the first two weeks of school, I came to see how big of a help she was in our inclusion classroom and what a great resource she was for me. Throughout the course of the semester, I was able to consult with her about lesson plans, specific students, and methods of teaching. Her knowledge of the students in the classroom was extensive and it was a blessing to have her as someone that I could go to.
When reflecting on Standard Two I realize that while I have grasped many aspects of this standard, I really need to focus on the fourth component. When I came into my practicum classroom in September, my supervising practitioner already knew the students who had been at the school and what their major learning needs were (including the elements of their Individualized Education Plans [IEPs]). As a result, when I came into the classroom I didn’t sit down and read my students’ IEPs; instead, I just listened to her ideas about what the students needed and followed her routines. In the future, I need to make sure that I take the time to sit down and read all of their plans so I know what each individual child needs and how to make sure those needs are met in each lesson. When I have my own classroom, I cannot rely on the knowledge of others and need to make sure that I know this information for myself. I will also be enrolling in the Master’s of Science Degree in Integrated Elementary and Special Education here at Wheelock College. This degree will give me background in Special Education that I need in order to better serve my students and their learning.
Cowhey, M. (2006). black ants and buddhists: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Dewey, John. (1938). Experience and education. New York, NY: Free Press.
Levine, M. (1987). Educational Care: A System for Understanding and Helping Children with Learning Problems at Home and in School. Cambridge, MA: Educators Publishing Services.