Individualized instruction is a hot topic in the education world today. Not long ago, this term was only associated with children who require special assistance, or students placed on Individualized Education Plans (IEP), such as those impacted by autism or ADHD. However, parents and educators have come to realize that there’s a flaw in this way of thinking. If you ask a parent if their child has the same interests and strengths as his/her peers, you will get a load of information that highlights the child’s individual strengths, weaknesses, interests, and eccentricities. We see each child as an individual, gifted with a unique set of talents and skills.
As a teacher, I have always felt that schools, both private and public, needed to arrive at the same conclusion that parents have always known: children also need to be educated on an individual basis. Luckily, the educational tides are shifting, and educators are finding the worth in modifying instruction to meet the developmental needs of all children. As the saying goes, “you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole!”
So how can we practice this child-centered teaching with our little ones
Get to Know Your Students
- Whether you’re a parent or an educator it is important to know what makes each child tick. What do they enjoy or value? What are they capable of doing? What motivates them? All of these questions can be answered by way of a simple assessment, ‘getting-to-know-you’ activity, or my favorite way, sit down and have a conversation with each child. Adults who take the time to interact one-on-one with the child will gain a greater understanding of his/her abilities, learning style, and interests.
Create Opportunities for Learning
- A successful educator will build on a child’s interests to create a love for learning regardless of ability. I really want to stress finding out what interests and motivates them, because that is the key to success. If they love dragons, but dislike reading, introduce books that have dragon characters or themes! It may seem like such a simple idea, but it will create a stronger relationship with the student. Having someone acknowledge their unique interests means the world to them!
Monitor Children’s Progress
- Taking note of their individual progress not only provides a basis to celebrate success, but it also informs your teacher’s instructional approach. It is important to create a way to assess their progress. I find that a non-formal assessment, such as observation, works the best in identifying their growth. Not every student is a good test taker, so formal assessments do not work for every child. Working one-on-one or in small groups will give you a window into their thought process, what areas they have mastered, or areas that still need to be developed. An effective educator will then use this information to modify their instructional approach, which will then help them decide when to introduce new content, or increase support for a difficult skill. Ultimately, it will allow you to meet the varying needs of ALL children.
Celebrate Every Success
- This is the most important thing! At the end of the day as parents and educators, we are preparing these little people to do big things! It is important to keep in mind that success varies among children and comes in different forms. Whether it’s tying their shoes, reading a sight word, or writing their name, it truly is unique for every child. Celebrating every success, no matter how trivial, encourages them to persevere through difficulties and creates a positive and uplifting learning environment.
My biggest successes as an educator came when I relaxed, saw each child for who they were, and threw away any preconceived notion of how school should “look.” I instead focused my energy on creating a diverse learning environment that was tailor made for each student. As a result, we are in a much more joyous and productive place. I encourage everyone to slow down, get on their level, and have a conversation. The results will astound you!