3.   Creating learning communities where small
groups of children are known by their teachers.

                                                                 (continued from "Home Page")

  Parents realize that the most important thing we can give our
children is a good education. It is through this education that our
children will attain the skills necessary to succeed in life. And yet
today’s schools do not meet the learning needs of all students.  

  Meeting the needs of all our students is our biggest challenge. The
development of our children through adolescence is a unique,
exciting, and challenging time of life. It is a time when dramatic
changes occur in appearance, self-concept, and intellectual
development. This development for many children is a critical period
in their lives. Some would argue that to call it a transitional period, to
think of it as something that one is only passing through, would be to
reduce its importance.

  The different needs of our students place extraordinary demands
on schools to provide a structure that will accommodate these
individual needs. But, unless our schools meet the challenge of
meeting the physical, intellectual and emotional needs of our
students, the finest educational program will fail.

  If we look at the needs of the students we are trying to teach, we
must also examine the role of the students’ families and their impact
on the school. Many of our students come from single parent homes.
Less adult supervision means fewer people to assist in the
responsibilities of parenting, including such things as guidance,
discipline, and assisting with homework. As a result, the schools
must assume many of these responsibilities. Our students are
looking for independence, but they still need adult direction. When
this is lacking in the home, the school must become the new family.

  Becoming the new family means that teachers need to gain the
trust of students so that they can go to them for guidance and
confide in them. Educators must not only be capable to communicate
with disadvantaged and difficult students but with their parents as
well.

  Elementary students are developing their independence and
starting to become independent. Social behavior is a new experience
for young children. Their world is expanding very rapidly, meeting
new friends and experiencing new social situations that are not
familiar to them. These social situations are not always of a positive
nature. For example, research shows that most elementary students
have experienced bullying and some have participated in bullying
themselves. A trained caring, observant teacher would react to this
situation by helping young children adjust by introducing new
strategies and ideas to help the children cope and develop stronger
values to see them through these difficult times.

  In middle school this transition to adolescence creates unique
problems for many students. Peer pressure is very powerful,
creating discipline problems in students who are usually quite
passive. Drugs play a very large part in these students’ lives and
educators must be trained to recognize emotional and life issues that
help students solve emotional and life issues they are facing. In
order for the educational system of a school to work, all teachers
must not only be trained to meet the children's educational needs
but they must meet their intellectual, social and emotional needs as
well.

  The rapid physical growth that children are going through puts
stresses on their self-identity. By having an adult connected to every
child will create a supportive, caring environment that will promote
academic achievement. Adult counseling will help students acquire
the positive social skills and values they need to become successful
in life.

  It should also be noted that some of our children live in chaotic
home environments. These environments are correlated with
behavior problems in these children. This social environment that
surrounds our students at home, which is created by friends,
caregivers and siblings has long been the subject of research of
child behavior specialists. This research has proven that children
who come from homes characterized by noise, overcrowding, lack of
order, lack of supervision, lack of a healthy diet, exposure to
inappropriate media on television, radio and by siblings tend to
score lower on tests, have poorer language abilities, show higher
incidents of problem behavior and lack the attention span to function
on a high level needed to succeed in school. Research also shows
that these children are not exposed to books and meaningful
vocabulary thus impeding their ability to develop the literacy skills
needed to function on grade level.

  This is only the start of the educational dilemma that students are
facing in our schools. Today, more than half of the students are
struggling in school. In classrooms across the nation, students feel
discouraged, and alone. Not because they cannot learn but because
the way they learn does not align with the way they are taught.

  Many teachers are also struggling and feel discouraged not
because they cannot teach but because their teaching strategies do
not align with the various learning styles of their students. Teachers
are not receiving the training needed to keep up with brain research
on learning and how to respond to individual student needs.

  When students are taught in a way that is incompatible with how
they learn, teachers interpret this as a student deficiency and their
disengagement from the learning process. This is a totally wrong
conclusion. When we look at all the current literature on improving
the educational system, the conversation has been how we can
improve the education process in schools. But improving education
through Common Core Standards or holding teachers accountable
for test scores is only a small part of the problem.  The real question
we should be asking is how can we ensure that all children will learn?
This question makes us look at the student and how he or she can
understand the education he/she is receiving.

  Child and adolescent psychology tells us that every student is
different. Every student has different talents and skills. Every student
has different interests and needs, yet our schools do not look at the
personal uniqueness of our students and they force students and
teachers into scripted models of education where all children learn
the same and teachers follow models of scripted lessons.

  Educational leaders force teachers to use the factory model of
education where all students are treated the same. This factory
model creates routines that engage and reward some of the
students while many of the students slip through the cracks in the
system. Brain research tells us that each student has a range of
strengths and weaknesses that influence learning.  These strengths
and weaknesses shape how individuals learn based on their talents,
skills, interests and needs.  

  Research also shows that when educators develop greater
knowledge of how students learn, and when they use this insight to
develop a curriculum that focuses on individual student learning
styles, teachers will be able to reach a majority of students solving
many learning issues in their classrooms.

  A very sad fact is that educators receive very little any training in
how students learn.  Educators do receive training on what students
need to know (Common Core Standards), but, without an
understanding of how students acquire this knowledge the delivery
system is lacking the capability to transfer this knowledge to the
students.

  Thus, we can see that many students are failing simply because
the way they learn does not align with how they are being taught.
Students feel disengaged because they do not see the relevance in
what they are being taught in the classroom, and how it applies to
their lives.

  We must do better. Instead of cultivating individual talents we are
using the mass production approach. It is time to change the culture
in our schools. The science of how students learn must become the
practice in our classrooms. The teachers must become the learning
experts that understand how the process of learning varies from
student to student.  We must look at students as unique learners
and stop creating curriculums of “one size fits all” approach.

  We have all seen the model of "Student-Centered Learning" where
the student is in the center of the learning process. The
student becomes an active participant in his learning process. This
is different than a "Teacher–Centered Learning" process where the
teacher who is highly trained transmits information to usually a
passive student.  In this situation, learning is standardized and does
not take into account the learning styles of the students.

  While in "Student-Centered Learning", learning is considered
individualized instead of standardized. Students develop
the skills necessary to become problem solvers and critical thinkers.
Student centered learning also adapts to the different learning styles
of students' by focusing on their experiences, backgrounds talents,
interests and needs. This style of learning also raises the student’s
motivation making them active in their learning rather than a passive
recipient of knowledge.

  The challenge that educators face is to create a model for
teaching, curriculum design and classroom practices which make
students actively involved in their own instruction. Instruction should
no longer be delivered to the students but students must live it in
their educational environment where they are active participants.
4.  Learning based on the uniqueness of each
student. Why we must differentiate instruction.

                
                                     (continued from "Home Page")

  We understand that every child is different. Each child has
individual needs and personal factors that are motivational. No two
students are motivate        d by the same learning activity to the
same degree but we must expect all students to be successful
learners. We must present materials to students that is within their
capacity to learn yet is challenging and tied to prior knowledge.

  Children learn best if they are immersed in their experiences and
are given opportunities to actively process what they have learned.
The best learning takes place when necessary facts and skills are
embedded in experiences that relate to real life.

  Some outcomes of this model are that students feel safe and
involved in their education with a sense of self-worth and
acceptance. There is a mutual trust between teachers and
students with a sense of community and family. There is genuine
caring among individuals and a sense of responsibility for the
student’s success. Teachers demonstrate an understanding of
their subject matter and continuously strive to better themselves
and model caring attitudes for students thus students value
themselves and others.

  No one can disagree that children learn better in smaller classes
than in big ones. In smaller classes, children do not get lost in the
crowd. There is a large cost that is incurred but in order to realize
the benefits of child centered classrooms, this is a small cost to
pay.  The bottom line is that every change to public education
requires an investment of funds. Creating smaller learning
communities does incur additional costs notwithstanding that the
positive effect of smaller classes becomes very cost effective in the
long run.

  The greatest advantage of small classrooms is the ability to
differentiate instruction. When we use differentiated instruction
especially with low achieving students it provides different
pathways that all students within a classroom will be able to learn
effectively, regardless of differences in ability.

  It is the process of ensuring what a student learns is a match for
that student's readiness level and preferred mode of learning. It is
teaching to the students ability level which is responsive teaching
rather than one size fits all teaching.

  The Characteristics of a Differentiated Class

  • Teachers provide different learning opportunities to explore
    concepts through different approaches.

  • On-going assessment of students' growth to provide support
    for additional instruction.

  • On-going assessment also provides AIS (Academic
    Intervention Services), and extending student exploration
    when some students are prepared to move ahead
.
  • Groupings should be flexible.  Students can work alone, in
    pairs and in groups. whole-group instruction can be used for
    introduction of new concepts as well as sharing outcomes.

  • Students should be active explorers with the teacher as a   
     guide. Classrooms should be student-centered.

  • Tasks should be:
           - readiness-based
           - interest-based
           - or should match student's learning styles

  Many teachers have been known to adopt all kinds of new
strategies to try to teach more effectively. One promising strategy
involves using adaptive learning to tailor instruction to each
individual student. Teachers are moving away from the traditional
classroom model where one teacher works with an entire class
having all students doing the same things at the same time to a
classroom where teachers give more focused attention to small
groups while other groups work independently.

  In the traditional education model, each teacher works alone,
isolated in his/her own classroom. This is a factory-style model.
Teachers need to work with other educators, sharing information
about their curriculum and how it can be tied to other subjects so it
becomes interdisciplinary. There also must be ongoing
conversations about the students they teach in common, sharing
observations and coordinating efforts to monitor how the students
are performing throughout the day.      

  By schools restructuring to support small learning communities,
teacher effectiveness multiplies. Second, schools should identify
who their best, most effective teachers are and then empower them
to lead and help train other teachers. Teacher mentoring have
been proven to help solve the problem of retention and help to
reduce isolation, allowing teachers to problem-solve together.

  By creating schools within schools and reducing the size of a
school by creating mini-schools, we are rethinking the role of
teachers and their place in the educational structure. In this model,
teachers will become critical thinkers and problem-solvers adjusting
the educational process to effectively meet the ever changing
needs of their students.

  By understanding how children learn and why they are having
difficulties, not just how successful or poorly they are doing based
on exams, we can build an expertise on how these students learn
that will tell us why they are successful or why they are doing
poorly on their exams.

  Research on how students learn is not a new notion but when
one puts that knowledge into practice, educators will be able to use
it to close the achievement gap. Students who are not engaged in
their educational process will be decreased in numbers and the
underachievers in our educational system will diminish.
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