The Child as the Curriculum — What's the Challenge?

On the month of my son’s fifth birthday, during the 2010 Olympics, he was fascinated with countries, flags and everything Canadian (hockey at the forefront of course).  At his Montessori preschool, he pinpricked every Canadian province and territory, labelled them with the capital cities and then pasted a corresponding hockey sticker for each Canadian team.  One project accommodated his most pressing passions and the result, a masterpiece to be proud of and an appetite to learn more.  My husband had it professionally framed and hung it in Massimo’s bedroom as a keepsake and a tribute to his accomplishment.

Having been a principal of a public Montessori school, I can go on and on about the elements of Montessori that I love but it comes down to one critical aspect that is most important to student learning — treating the child as the curriculum.

I recently read Shelley Blake-Plock’s post on ’21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020′ http://bit.ly/ePy2Fm, retweeted by @C_SABI_Go, and number six struck a cord with me.  It speaks of differentiated instruction and how it will become the norm rather than a sign of a distinguished educator.  She writes:

The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn’t yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won’t make you ‘distinguished’; it’ll just be a natural part of your work.

I was recently in discussion with a colleague, a supervision aide, who has a remarkable teenager and as a parent she followed his passions.  For example, when he was interested in bugs, they joined the Young Naturalist Club, went on treks with a local naturalists, read books, watched videos, etc. His curiousity was honoured which sparked even more curiosity.

Most parents follow their child’s passion — be it dance, hockey, dinosaurs, etc.  However, students enter schools and I would say the greatest challenge to teachers and support staff is the ability to personalize learning for each student.  A child to parent ratio is very different than a teacher to student ratio and the difficulty of meeting student needs within any given age group is compounded because the capacity of students differs immensely.  For instance, students enter the same Kindergarten class — some reading (even simple chapter books), others not recognizing the letters in their name.   All the reason to differentiate instruction, I know.  However, how does one educator manage?

Does differentiation occur?  Absolutely.  Is it mainstream?  Not at all.  Why and why not?  (please add to this discussion)

Some teachers would say that they don’t have the resources to accommodate.  That’s a fair enough statement.  An aspect of Montessori is a prepared environment with the Montessori materials that are self-correcting and used differently based on a child’s ability.  The same Montessori material can be used in preschool and in grade 3.  One resource accommodates years of learning.

Having acknowledged resources, I believe it starts with an educator’s statement of beliefs.  Here are a few . . .

– I can’t use this novel, textbook, resource, etc. because it’s for grade 4.

– I don’t teach the number facts to 20 because it’s not part of the math curriculum at this grade.

– What will he do when he gets to grade 3 if he learns it now?

– She already knows a lot about that topic so why foster it even more?

The above statements would not be the core beliefs of a classroom that treats the child as the curriculum.   Which brings me to the reason why I believe in iPads and technology in general, to better meet student needs.  The iPad is a storage device (with access to thousands of educational apps) and an avenue for integration of curriculum (if you have Internet that is) all in one device, no matter the age or ability level.  If you want more information about how we’ve deployed iPads at Elsie Roy please check out http://roy.vsb.bc.ca/ipads.

I must acknowledge that the mere fact that one integrates the iPad in a classroom does not indicate differentiating of instruction.  If the same close-ended single level app is used at the same time with the whole class, I would question how much it addresses differentiation.  However, the iPad increases the likelihood and possibility that a teacher will challenge students at different levels.  Yes, this can be done through traditional means, but technology will make it more mainstream.

Every educator wants to better accommodate student need.  It’s important to respectfully challenge beliefs, share examples of best practice (here are the Innovative Educator’s tips http://bit.ly/evSqka as tweeted by @gcouros) and ensure educators have the tools to treat the child as the curriculum.

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