We teach among a cacophony of learners. Students with diverse learning styles and abilities. Long gone are the one size fits all mentality of teaching. Teachers are called upon to meet the learning needs of ALL students and to differentiate to help all students succeed. Just as a growth mindset is a term that teachers have been reading, writing, and promoting among students, teachers also need to have a growth mindset when thinking about their students and learning. With the right tools, strategies, and scaffolds our students can all reach excellence.
Differentiation guru, Carol Ann Tomlinson calls it “Teaching Up — educational experiences that stimulate and stretch students” (ACSD, 2012). Tomlinson identifies seven principles of teaching up in a 2012 article for ACSD I have copied and posted below.
1. Accept that human differences are not only normal but also desirable. Each person has something of value to contribute to the group, and the group is diminished without that contribution. Teachers who teach up create a community of learners in which everyone works together to benefit both individuals and the group.
2. Develop a growth mind-set. Providing equity of access to excellence through teaching up has its roots in a teacher’s mind-set about the capacity of each learner to succeed (Dweck, 2007).
3. Work to understand students’ cultures, interests, needs, and perspectives. People are shaped by their backgrounds, and respecting students means respecting their backgrounds—including their race and culture. Teaching any student well means striving to understand how that student approaches learning and creating an environment that is respectful of and responsive to what each student brings to the classroom.
4. Create a base of rigorous learning opportunities. Teachers who teach up help students form a conceptual understanding of the disciplines, connect what they learn to their own lives, address significant problems using essential knowledge and skills, collaborate with peers, examine varied perspectives, and create authentic products for meaningful audiences. These teachers develop classrooms that are literacy-rich and that incorporate a wide range of resources that attend to student interests and support student learning.
5. Understand that students come to the classroom with varied points of entry into a curriculum and move through it at different rates.
6. Create flexible classroom routines and procedures that attend to learner needs. Teachers who teach up realize that only classrooms that operate flexibly enough to make room for a range of student needs can effectively address the differences that are inevitable in any group of learners.
7. Be an analytical practitioner. Teachers who teach up consistently reflect on classroom procedures, practices, and pedagogies for evidence that they are working for each student—and modify them when they’re not. They are the students of their students.
What does “Teaching Up” look like and sound like in the classroom? What are the ways that teachers can scaffold and support the diverse learners in their classrooms?
My students are currently working on a new Dystopian Literature Quest. Students are reading different dystopian literature in reading and writing workshop and then have a “choose your own adventure” menu board of activities for students to show their understanding and thinking about their text. There are some required missions that all students are going to complete among the choices. You can check out the Dystopian Quest Here.
Thinking about my EL students and students with learning challenges, I have also made a modified quest board in which I have reduced the amount of work required and added additional scaffolds to help these students succeed in the quest. These modifications include links to graphic organizers, “I do, We do, You do” mini lesson opportunities and modeling, creating opportunities for students to collaborate, and making a variety of resources available to all students.
If we expect student success, we must define excellence for EVERY students to attain and support ALL our students to meet those objectives.