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A Trip to the Dentist

September 18, 2013

Going To The Dentist

I went to the dentist this week to get a cavity filled.  After numbing me, Dr. M. began to drill, and I almost jumped out of my chair.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t numb enough, and so she stopped to give me more novacaine.  After waiting ten minutes, she tried again only to get the same painful response.  “Wow!  You must be really sensitive (I read wimp), why don’t we try something different.”  Instead of just giving me more novocaine in the same manner, she injected it in a variety of points.  Soon, the pain was gone, and she was able to drill and fill the cavity.

In a lot of ways, school can be like the dentist office for kids who have difficulty learning – painful.  When students fall short of expectations, teachers will often blame the student.  Well, Dave is lazy, or Susan doesn’t try hard enough, or Timmy just isn’t smart enough.  Teaching may be the only profession where the person who is receiving a service gets blamed when something goes wrong. and the sad outcome is that the student leaves class with a diminished sense of self-esteem having learned little.

I recently came across a quote that captured the need for differentiation.  It was written by Ignacio Estrada, ”If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”  So true.  We, as teachers, must be vigilant and willing to change our approach if what we are doing isn’t working.  More importantly, we need to have a thorough knowledge of a student’s cognitive profile and learning modalities to make sure we give each student the best possible chance of being successful.

For the last three years, I had the pleasure of teaching Sixth Grade History at the Carroll School in Lincoln, Massachusetts.  The school’s sole mission is to teach dyslexic students how to read, and the Orton-Gillingham method is the cornerstone of their entire academic program.  The OG method is based on the concept of differentiation, and I have seen the power of this approach to not only teach but to transform the lives of my students.  Here are some of the facets of the program:

  • Use a multisensory approach – I am very aware of the fact that my verbal skills are strong, and so I tend to want to talk a lot in class, whether through lectures, debates or question and answer sessions.  But it’s not about me.  Its about the students, and so I need to make sure that I provide information to them using visual, spatial, and kinesthetic means.

    • An example: Sarah was a student with strong kinesthetic and expressive language skills but her ability to process verbal information was weak.  So, I had her “interpret and translate a lecture as if she was using her own brand of sign language.  I would explain a concept and then she would contort her body  to convey the meaning of what I had said to her classmates.  The students had a good laugh and, more importantly, she learned.
  • Structured, sequential, and cumulative – Before each unit began, I created a plan of concepts and skills I wanted to teach during that period of time.  This overview guided me in my daily lesson planning and helped me to create lessons that connected one concept to another in a sequential manner and also reinforced information or skills  had taught previously.

    • An example: I often ended class with a review where students listed and defined the most important points from that day’s class.  When class began the next day, their assignment was to draw pictures that captured the main idea of each concept.

  • Prescriptive and Diagnostic – When I create lesson plans, I do so with individual students in mind.  I ask myself what it’s going to take to get this student to have an aha! moment.  I might use an example that’s relevant to their passions, or I might utilize a teaching style that matches their strongest modality.

    • An example: “The Egyptians learned over centuries how to construct pyramids which were the most advanced buildings of their time.  Imagine that pyramids were like legos…”

  • Continuous feedback and a positive approach – In order to build self-confidence, practice skills, and learn historical information, teachers need to provide their students with feedback that positively reinforces what they are doing while also motivating them to do more.  Students who have experienced previous academic failure are especially in need of guidance and reassurance.

    • An example: While at Carroll, I did away with my behavior system that utilized negative consequences (the first time you talk, I will give you a warning) and adopted a more positive approach where I gave tickets to students when they did something right.  The feedback they received was instantaneous and encouraged others to follow their example.

Now it’s your turn to keep the discussion going.  If you have a few minutes to spare between classes, please leave a comment about something you have done to differentiate your approach to help students learn and gain confidence.

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