All Students Can Learn

Students learn differently depending on many variables that include the students themselves, the material they are being taught, the moment, the environment, and the teacher.

Every student is a different person; an individual with her or his own unique self. Each student possesses uniqueness including differences in ability, background, knowledge, personality, interest, culture, and skills. I believe that every student can learn difficult material; how the material is taught and how long or how much instruction is provided are the affective factors. Allowing varied amounts of instructional time for students is important. Some students can learn very quickly or already possess knowledge of the subject, while others may need extended time and instruction for the same material. I set up my class to allow for all levels of learners to progress as they need in each area that I teach, including the use of differentiated instruction and mastery learning.

I use differentiated instruction to allow students on multiple levels to participate successfully using the same content, and mastery learning to allow for peer teaching. This model uses knowledge of some students to teach others who have not yet mastered a concept, allowing all levels of learning to progress and grow, giving all students more opportunities to learn.4 In a first grade math class that I taught, ability levels varied significantly. I differentiated instruction throughout; during whole group discussion I included questions on multiple levels which allowed all of my students to have successes. I also gave alternating assignment sheets to students using the same core subject matter, which permitted me to differentiate tasks without stigma. I used mastery learning by heterogeneously combining the students, allowing more advanced learners to assist students of differing abilities and I encouraged students who finished an assignment early to assist others. I also provided materials for students to learn and practice their skills further and more deeply when they demonstrated an advanced understanding of a concept.

Encouraging and assisting students to learn and to use their learning in ways that work for them promotes deep learning and understanding of what is learned. How a student learns different material varies for each student. With this in mind, I believe that a teacher should explicitly instruct the basic skills, informally and formally assessing and reassessing to confirm that students have a deep enough understanding, changing and re-teaching, and re-assessing until understanding is met. Concepts should be taught by allowing the students to explore and construct, varying the modes of delivery. Research based instruction is important for a teacher to use, but it is only good instruction in that instance when it is working for that student.

Asking "how was this made" rather than "what does this mean" when analyzing a text can change the results of the lesson, allowing students to look at material in a different way.5 If a student is shown difficult material in a way that they can manipulate, it can be seen as a whole yet broken down in a way that is relevant to each student. Looking at learning as connected, relevant to students, understandable and decodable from their level and their perspective avoids shut down due to being overwhelmed. Implementing accommodations that suit a student's learning needs allow all students to learn difficult material, overcoming obstacles to concept attainment and mastery. Students should be given power over their own learning. I help my students to see that they are strong, that they are able to learn. For example, one of my first grade students had physical difficulty in writing. He received occupational therapy to improve his fine motor skills, while his cognitive and reading skills were very advanced. As handwriting was not the goal in my 6-Trait Writing Instruction, I permitted him to type on an Alphasmart™; removing a barrier to his expression. His quality of work went from a few illegible words to long passages demonstrating a deep understanding of the subject matter and skillful use of the English language well above his grade level. I believe in helping students to learn how to learn, removing obstacles to allow their strengths to shine, building self esteem and self confidence.