The realization of how superior homeschooling is once again hits me. Who ever thought of teaching twenty-four kids the same thing at the same time and expecting all of them to get it? And I know that twenty-four is not even that many students compared to what a lot of public school classrooms look like. Last week was just back-to-school introductory material, so the differentiations were not that noticeable. It has taken me this second week to realize how frustrating it is when you have some kids lagging behind (already!) and others finishing tasks in record time and seeming really bored. I guess every new teacher has to go through this, but I am feeling especially handicapped as I do not even have remembrances of experiences as a student of how my teacher handled differentiated learning. And my teacher’s aide job last year was in a Montessori school where the students learned and worked on projects at their own pace (one of the huge advantages of Montessori education).
So, lest I dwell on my disadvantage too long, what am I going to do to teach all of these students to the best of my ability with the system that is in place? First, I have the option to recommend students for tutoring. I would be the one doing the tutoring (or most of it) after school, so that would take up more of my time, but I would also be paid for the time and I would be able to give the students the exact assistance and instruction they need to meet my standards in class.
Secondly, I was already planning on giving my students a period of “Free Choice Friday” each week. Is my Montessori showing yet? During free choice time, they can read, write, or play a game from the choice shelf, which includes simple activities for practicing concepts that they already know or are currently learning. I can start using this period to work with students individually on the concepts they struggled with during the week. They might not enjoy having to spend part of their free time doing what the teacher wants, but I can try to use activity based learning during this time. Maybe I can try to present it as the teacher treating the student to a special game not usually available on the choice shelf.
Finally, I am going to simplify my lesson plans quite a bit. I think my expectations for the group as a whole were too high at the beginning and I am going to have to cut out a lot of excess fillers in my lessons to make sure that I can thoroughly teach the main concepts and have several times to review them during the week. In doing this, though, I’ll need to develop specific plans for the students who are ahead of the group. As one of those students who usually finished up ahead of the others, I know how annoying it is to have to wait on others, especially when others are behind just for lack of making an effort. I will need to have some work ready at a more advanced level that will help the more advanced students learn without too much extra assistance from me, so that I can focus on the majority of the class during class work time.
Even though I am stressing over this a little right now, I really am excited about seeing what my kids can do by the end of the year. With God’s help, a lot of work, and a lot of preparation, they will all be better than they were at the beginning of this year and more excited to learn than they were before. Any other sage teaching suggestions for how to cope with differentiated learning? I appreciate all advice and encouragement.
By the way, the photos are mine of my tiny little classroom.