No two people are the same. We see this principle clearly in the great variety of students that grace our classrooms. We see one student picking up a liking for history, and another student showing talent in music. Everyone learns differently and achieves differently.
If this is empirically true, why do schools continue to teach as if all students are the same?
We see teachers being forced to implement rigid academic plans for the entire class, without taking into consideration each student’s learning ability and pace. In other words, our education system tends to treat all students the same.
What kind of impact does this method of teaching have on our students? Is it molding them to truly succeed? Does it adequately address the needs of students who may be falling behind?
In other words, does it work?
Let’s look at how this style of teaching impacts students today and see if there is a better method that can truly help all students thrive.
The Problem With Rigid Academic Plans
Many schools, particularly public schools, are handed a specific academic plan for the year that dictates the pace of instruction, including what students must know by specific dates in order to meet testing goals and standards. This can cause a variety of problems for students whose learning styles may not conform to this rigid standard.
In other words, teaching today is organized around a year-long schedule: Lesson 1 in August, Lesson 2 by September, and so on. Exams are scheduled routinely every few months, and teachers often feel like they have to rush through their lessons in order to ensure that students are taught the lessons that they are being examined on.
This means that school life revolves around pre-determined lesson plans, exams, and school holidays. The actual needs of individual students simply do not come into the picture. It is a “one size fits all” approach to education.
A customized curriculum that utilizes personalized learning strategies to meet the needs of individual students is particularly beneficial because it seeks to address the personal needs of individual students. It is “customized” in that it is personalized – students that are fast learners can benefit equally as students who may need more time.
Schools that are able to customize their curriculum stand a much better chance of meeting the needs of students, as students’ abilities become the priority. Their pace of learning sets the learning agenda, rather than a set of state checklists and guidelines.
In a sense, we need our teaching styles to ‘catch up’ with our students; we need customized curriculums that match their talent and their pace of learning, as well as address the difficulties they may face in certain subjects.
Here are just a few of the benefits this educational style can provide:
Students Set the Pace
The primary difference between most schools and those that offer a customized curriculum is that students, rather than state deadlines, set the pace of learning within a classroom.
Let’s look at a common classroom scenario: little Tommy has problems with learning additions in math class. It is clear to his math teacher that he needs personalized attention for his difficulties to be remedied. However, the established learning timetable means that the teacher must move on to teach multiplications by a certain time in the year. Poor Tommy, who hasn’t yet mastered additions, is forced to learn multiplications with the rest of his class. Predictably, he struggles with that too.
The fact is that not all students will absorb material at the same speed, as not everyone’s brain works the same way. Some students may need more time than traditional deadlines would allow in order to learn the material, while other students may require less time to learn the same material.
Once again, a casual observation in the classroom will suffice to indicate this fact. Some students grasp concepts very quickly and become distracted; they’re typically the students that talk to their classmates during lessons or do something completely unrelated, like reading a storybook. Other students have more difficulty in grasping lesson points and need personal attention from the teacher.
A customized curriculum allows teachers to personalize their lesson plans to meet the needs of individual students, allowing these students to move at the pace that will best help them reach their potential.
Maintain Student Engagement
Tailoring lessons to meet the needs of students and allow them to learn at a pace that is natural for them, helps to ensure that students stay engaged in the material. Classroom engagement is a key predictability of student success; the more students pay attention, the more they’re likely to absorb.
The classroom also functions as a more coherent unit when the teacher commands the respect and the engagement of all the students. Students who are faster learners can contribute to helping their peers who need more time; their peers who need more help can ask questions freely and get the answers that they need.
At a deeper level, a classroom is like a child’s first social setting; it teaches students how to respond well to authority and to their peers. They learn to share ideas and help each other. All this can only be achieved when students are fully engaged in class.
The problem that occurs when students must conform to specific timetables is that some students, who may feel as though they do not have enough time to learn the material, may become frustrated, and give up altogether. Discouragement, when left to fester, can quickly turn into disengagement, which then reflects as failing grades in the report card. Students need to feel motivated and inspired to continue learning at their optimal level.
Conversely, students who learn the material quickly may feel bored or feel like they are wasting their time. The problem with this is that students who are bored tend to crave play – and who else do they turn to but their fellow classmates. This means that students who need to pay attention in class get distracted, and the atmosphere for learning becomes interrupted. When that happens, learning goes down for every student.
Personalized learning helps to keep students engaged by allowing children to learn at their own pace. Students who need more time will not feel frustrated, and students who learn quicker can be continually challenged with new materials to keep them excited and stimulated.
Similarly, the customized curriculum allows teachers to use personalized teaching methods that will best help their students succeed. Just as no two students learn at the same pace, different methods of instruction work best for different students.
This means that little Tommy, who was initially left struggling in math class, is now able to get the personalized attention that he needs. His math teacher will have the flexibility to spend more time with him, working through his difficulties patiently until he gains a good foundation on the principles of addition. Then, cheerfully, Tommy can move onto multiplications like the rest of his class. The only difference is that this time, Tommy is energetic and confident, having received the customized support that he needed.
Having the flexibility of customizable curriculums also means that teachers can help gifted students to move through their lessons more quickly. This means that students who display a particular talent in a subject have the opportunity to proceed to more difficult work. For example, students who show a particular passion for science can proceed through the curriculum more quickly and even have a chance to participate in science projects and research. With this teaching style, the sky is truly the limit for our students.
When teachers have the flexibility to customize their curriculum, they can experiment with different teaching methods, and find the ones that work best for their students. This gives them the best chance of success.
One-on-One Time With Teachers
Another benefit of personalized instruction is that most schools that offer this learning method give students more opportunity to have one-on-one time with instructors.
It is important to remember that students in elementary and middle school are children. Like all children, they need to feel care and attention given to them by an adult. It is only in the creation of a safe space where they feel understood and heard that they can truly open themselves up to learn.
The opportunity to have one-on-one time with teachers greatly helps in the creation of this safe space. When students have one-on-one time with their educators, they are more likely to open up and share any struggles that they may encounter in class more freely. They might talk about a particular difficulty in a subject, or complain about mistreatment from a fellow classmate.
The most important thing is that students learn how to communicate and express themselves to a caring and understanding adult. The teacher gains from this one-on-one time too; he or she becomes more equipped in crafting lesson plans and handle class dynamics. It is truly a win-win situation for all.
With opportunities of one-on-one time with their teachers being available, students are given the individual attention they need to ensure they reach their potential and are presented with unique, personalized learning opportunities they would not receive in most classrooms.
When you send your child to a school, you ideally want the child to receive the same amount of attention and care that he or she receives at home. Opportunities for one-on-one interactions open up greater room for this possibility.
Smaller Class Ratios
Customized curriculums also tend to emphasize having smaller student-to-teacher ratios. This means that there are fewer students in a classroom, and gives room for the teacher to interact with and understand the needs of each one.
Smaller class sizes also do wonders to help ensure that your child gets the individual attention that he or she needs. For example, in art class, the teacher has the time to actually go around to each student to examine their progress and offer helpful tips. Each student can proceed at their own pace, confident of getting the attention that they need.
In a class that is too large, both the teacher and the students do not have that luxury. Like in any normal class scenario, some students finish their work more quickly, while others take more time. In a small class setting, students who finish their work more quickly can get their work assessed and be assigned further tasks if necessary. However, in a class that is too large, these students are often left to their own devices.
Meanwhile, students who are struggling instinctively call for their teacher’s attention. However, if they repeatedly do not get a response from their teacher, they might become discouraged from voicing out their need for help. This can lead to the unfortunate scenario of poorer students being quiet because they feel like they aren’t deserving of their teachers’ attention. This, of course, is not how we want any of our students to feel.
Smaller class sizes give teachers the space to avoid these kinds of scenarios by giving equal attention to every student in the class.
Smaller class sizes also mean that teachers have the opportunity to observe things like the interaction between different students. As mentioned earlier, the classroom is the first social setting for many children. For many children, the classroom is the place in which they first learn how to be polite and how to resolve conflicts well. They also learn how to befriend others who are different from them.
A teacher’s job is always more than just teaching a subject – it is also making sure that students learn how to treat each other with respect and dignity. Smaller class sizes give teachers the space to observe how students treat each other and offer correction and advice when warranted.
Far too often, schools are more focused on meeting state mandates than on helping individual students succeed. Instead, schools that employ methods of customized curriculum work to ensure that students are presented with the best tools to help them meet their potential, and get the education they deserve. Contact us to learn more about customized curriculum, as well as to learn about how our unique approach to education could benefit your child.