Often parents will stress about the fact that their child isn’t progressing at the same rate as a classmate. At Sycamore, we’re sometimes asked where a child “ranks” in his/her class. Because of the nature of academic development and progress, questions such as this are harder to answer than you might imagine.
First of all, while one of Sycamore’s strengths is the fact that we bring gifted kids together with intellectual peers, classrooms are not homogeneous groups. Students differ in all sorts of ways: specific skill levels, interests, background experience, language, learning preferences, personalities. There is no such thing as effective one-size-fits-all instruction. So at Sycamore, like everywhere else, there is a need to differentiate instruction. Differentiated instruction is Sycamore’s foundational instructional philosophy.
We know quite a bit about how kids learn best, including:
- 1. Curriculum and learning goals should be clear and organized.
- 2. Assessments should be informative and varied.
- 3. Learning experiences should push a child just a little beyond his/her independence level—“mental tiptoes.”
- 4. Learning should engage children’s passions and interests in a wide variety of ways.
- 5. Every student needs challenge and support.
Employing the philosophy and strategies of Differentiated Instruction enables a teacher to plan to meet a variety of learning needs in response to student differences in readiness, interest, and learning preferences. The challenge for a teacher, then, is to provide the best learning experience for each and every child at the right time, the right pace, and the right level. This is a challenge because of the inherent variety in a classroom. Most of the time we can get it right. Adherence to the philosophy of Differentiated Instruction provides for a variety of avenues to learning content, processing ideas, and sharing evidence of learning. At Sycamore, we differentiate on two tiers: 1) the entire school is already differentiated because we exist to serve the needs of gifted learners; 2) we differentiate to meet the variety of needs within that population of gifted learners.
In a differentiated classroom, many things might be happening at once. Students may be acquiring content in a variety of ways and in a variety of learning structures. As students progress, ongoing assessment and flexibility help to guide decisions as to the learning process and adjustments going forward. That is not to say instruction is individual in nature; individual needs are met, but often in a group setting. A teacher will employ a nice blend of whole group, small group, and independent work, as well as a variety of strategies to achieve learning goals.
So children progress along different learning paths and at different paces. Where they are at any given moment is not a big consideration; where they are headed and how they are progressing is. So, the only really worthwhile benchmark against which to measure your child’s progress is his/her own learning path. Comparing your child to another in the class will not yield valuable information.
At Sycamore, our teachers communicate fully and proactively. You will hear from your child’s teacher if he/she has concerns about your child’s progress, and then together you will be able to create a plan to address the concerns.