"Meet the children wherever they are."
As teachers, this is a foundational idea that we must never forget. We can plan the world’s greatest lessons, but if they aren’t tailored to the students we have, the lessons won’t be as successful as they could, and should, be. We must remember that we’re teaching specific students with a wide variety of strengths and challenges. Although this makes planning activities particularly challenging, we have to meet the individual needs of the students, not force them to conform to a one-size-fits-all curriculum.
In math education there has been a long-standing debate, with well-intentioned educators and policy-makers taking diametrically opposed positions around how best to meet the needs of students. Some feel that it best meets the needs of students to group them into classes with others of similar skills, abilities, and motivations (of course, how these things are measured is another hotbed of debate). These people argue for “regular” and “advanced” classes (and maybe some type of “remedial” classes as well). Others feel that it’s better to teach a wide range of students in the same classroom at the same time.
Whatever your particular beliefs on this, it can’t be denied that different students in the same grade will often be in different places in terms of their abilities, depth of understanding, and motivation in math class. Some eighth graders might be struggling to add negative numbers, while others may be solving quadratic equations with ease. All students, regardless of their strengths and challenges, deserve to be met where they are, taught based on their skills and abilities and not taught the same content as students with very different skills and abilities.
It is often the case that school services are more readily available for those who struggle than for those who are gifted/ahead of the curve/particularly strong (pick your term). It is my opinion that targeted support should be in place for all students, whether they struggle or excel. This means that a student who needs more time or individualized attention to grasp the basic concepts in fifth grade should be given exactly that, while a fifth grader who has mastered the content in the fifth grade and sixth grade curricula should be provided the same opportunity for educational growth. The support that each student receives will necessarily be different, but both students deserve to be met where they are and helped to grow and learn and excel.
For some students, this means moving beyond what’s typically taught in their grade level’s curriculum, and this can be done in a number of ways: Independently, with the help of others, or a combination of both. Teachers, family members, tutors, online offerings, books, study groups… The possibilities for enrichment, for going further, are limited only by one’s imagination. It’s as much of a shame when struggling students don’t get the support they need as when strong students aren’t challenged in appropriate ways. Both are unacceptable, and both are avoidable.
If you’re interested in learning about an exciting new online math enrichment program, check out www.mathfreax.com! Get a free sample challenge or sign up for the 20-week program. It’s a great way to get that added enrichment so many students need!