January 23, 2012 The education world often talks about individualizing instruction, a concept that is hard to picture in traditional classrooms of 1 teacher to 25 or 30 students. At our August community meeting, when asked to list their reasons to attend The Magnolia School, at least one family mentioned that “students receive some individual instruction.” As it is time to advertise our school for next year enrollment, we wish to clarify what individualization means in our setting, so all of us can convey an accurate description to prospective families.
Our small class-size (20 students or less), the constant presence of a second teacher in each class, the flexibility inherent to multi-grade classrooms are all factors that support increased individual attention. Individualized instruction does occur for instance at publishing time in the front-room, at teacher edit time in the back-room and the middle school. It also occurs at DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time in the back-room and the middle school when a teacher pulls aside a student for a mini-lesson while the others are busy reading independently. And it occurs at math time when teachers may provide some direct instruction to a student while the others continue their work.
Understandably though, most of our students' instructional time is not spent in one-on-one sessions with a teacher; it is spent in small and larger groups. And although accommodations can be made, we cannot change our whole educational approach of learning through inquiry using an integrated curriculum for the benefit of one individual. As explained in our handbook, when our inquiry model turns out not to be a good fit for the learning profile of a particular student, the family may be encouraged to supplement our curriculum with better-adapted services, or to seek an alternative placement that better meets their child's needs.
What are systematically individualized in our settings are the expectations. An assignment may very well be the same for an entire classroom, but the expectations, based on each student's individual level and needs, can be totally different from one student to the next. Individualizing expectations prohibits comparisons between students, in line with our policy of not giving grades or report cards, expecting instead individual students to do their personal best.
Do feel free to contact Sophie or Katy if this column stirs more questions than it answers!