Leslie Owen Wilson,1997, revised 2005
There are several common mindsets that can hinder
teachers in creating more personalized pathways for individual learners, or
for specialized groups of learners. Many of these mindsets result in
teachers and students wasting valuable instructional time.
First and foremost, many
teachers think that they are responsible for trying to teach everything in a
text and/or curriculum. In this mindset some teachers start the year by
slowly reviewing baseline, rudimentary skills, or prerequisite materials.
Targeted instructional levels are geared toward those students who lack
preliminary skills, but not to those students who retained information. For
those students who have retained material from previous grades, or who catch
on quickly from brief reviews, this approach wastes valuable instructional
time. Often it is only after this period of laborious review that new
materials or concepts are introduced. A period of pre-assessment at the
beginning of the year, followed by appropriate placement or readjustment of
curricula, would be a better approach.
Frequently, what happens when
teachers review without pre-assessment is that
after the first part of the new calendar year they panic because they come to realize
that they have not progressed very far into the new material to be covered
and time is running out.
Unfortunately, the common response is that they simply accelerate the pace
of teaching and the speed of presentation. Like a runaway train or bus, the
pace of instruction is increasingly accelerated to such a degree that many
slower students are simply passed by or left along the way. Teachers using
this form of instructional delivery may confidently say that they have
"covered" the required material, but the ultimate question is
students actually learned the material presented?"
This situation can be
avoided by creating simple pre-assessment devices whereby students
demonstrate competencies in baseline concepts, rudimentary skills, or prerequisite content. In pre-assessing skills, it may also be
helpful to devise opportunities for observation so that you can survey skill
levels. With older students you can also employ verbal assessments by giving
students lists of skills or content and asking them to indicate mastered
concepts, previously learned information, or ask them to discuss knowledge
levels, or areas of personal proficiency. If students indicate that they are
knowledgeable or proficient in an area, then you can ask them to demonstrate
competencies in some meaningful way.
The second common mindset
that is a barrier to more personalized instruction is that many teachers are
tied to whole class, direct teaching models. Sometimes this occurs because other
ways of teaching have never been modeled for them, or they simply do not
know how to create more personalized educational experiences through the required
content. Unfortunately, this dilemma is often compounded by overly large class sizes.
I am not going to pretend that personalizing individual
or small groups instructional journeys is easy. However, there are ways
that can help create more individualized pathways through curricula. One
of those ways is to prioritize teaching goals or objectives. Begin by
taking a good long look at your curriculum and/or texts. Say to
yourself, "Okay, my time is limited, what can I do effectively? Which
concepts or content are essential?
Using the categories and
definitions listed below, plus the curriculum scope and sequence for your
area, pick and choose the most important concepts, and begin to rank them.
Assign a ranking value to each curricular component. This should be done by
viewing curriculum as a continuum of more than one grade level. In order to
make good instructional decisions, the continuum should include previous
grades and following grades. Ideally, teachers practicing prioritizing
material should have a sense of the curriculum as a continuum from one
grade to another, or from one subject level to another. In creating
prioritized objectives or goals, you can accelerate students who have
mastered rudimentary skills toward more advanced concepts, or provide
remediation for those students who have not mastered baseline skills from
pervious units or grades.
Also, students may be held at a particular instructional level, but enriched by being given
content at deeper, broader, more complete levels. This process is akin to an
instructional planning technique called curriculum compacting, one
frequently used with gifted and talented students. But in this process you
are applying instructional prioritization so that it creates multiple
pathways applicable for all students. This technique can be very
helpful in creating IEPs too, or in working with students who need remediation.
These are prerequisite or rudimentary skills or
knowledge, or survival skills or knowledge, considered imperative to
understanding. Must know objectives may be used for rapid acceleration
or for remediation.
Need to Knows:
These are less imperative knowledge or skills (this
judgment is often based on students' current grade placement), but they
may become a must know at a later date. They may be put off or
de-emphasized without placing the learner in immediate jeopardy. Need to
knows may be used in conjunction with must knows for purposes of
Nice to Knows:
These are usually information or processes that add
substance, breadth, or interest to a subject or skill. They may be
skipped entirely without jeopardizing students' progressions through
basic skills. Or they can be used to broaden a subject area, or
used as enrichment material. In order not to trivialize these concepts,
Nice to knows are often materials that attract students to areas of
discipline as this material frequently reflects affective needs and
emotional connections to particular content or subject areas. However,
when time is an issue, these concepts can be put off until later. Nice
to knows can also be part of deeper learning experiences.
This method of
gradient arrangement of objectives has been adapted and expanded from the conceptual framework of Dr. Kay S. Bull
at Oklahoma State University.