On of the qualities of an excellent educator is the belief that every student can and must learn at high levels. High quality teachers also know that some students need more time or support in order to reach expected levels of proficiency and that it is their role to provide the learning experiences necessary to produce student growth. One of the biggest challenges of teaching is that in a typical classroom, the students have a wide range of abilities, interests, backgrounds and readiness for learning the content.
There are a multitude of techniques that excellent teachers use to ensure that they meet the needs of the wide variety of students in their classrooms. Here are just a few strategies for educators to consider as they develop plans to meet the diverse needs of their students. Of course, all of these strategies have a time and a place and are not appropriate on every occasion. Similarly, some of these strategies can require additional work on the part of the teacher and so they should be used as time permits.
Focus on Student Interests
Great teachers take the time to know their students both on both an academic and personal level. It’s important to understand a student’s interest beyond the classroom. What do they enjoy doing in their spare time? What motivates them outside of school? One of the most powerful ways to motivate students in the classroom is to incorporate their interests into what they learn. Determine methods and times to allow students to choose the topics that they want to talk about. When possible, incorporate their interests into the content or assignments. A focus on student interests can also be a powerful relationship builder. It matters to a student that the teacher has taken the time to understand their passions and interests.
Increase Student Choice in Assignments and Assessments
Students can demonstrate an understanding of content in a number of ways. Many teachers successfully use student choice as a method to increase engagement and motivation. Consider offering a variety of options for an assignment. If the purpose of the assignment is understanding of a key concept, why not let some students write about it, allow others to present to the class or have a one on one conference with the teacher. If the learning goal includes written communication, offer choice in terms of the topic or area of research.
Technology as a Tool to Enhance Instruction
Students are digital natives and often feel more comfortable working with technology than adults. Some students are more likely to be more engaged when they use electronic devices in class or to complete homework. It is important to note that technology should not be utilized for the sake of having a device in front of the student. It should enhance the lesson and the content rather than becoming the sole focus.
Student Collaboration in Groups
Students often benefit from collaborative work with their peers. There are a number of ways to group students in order to maximize the learning experience. Some teachers prefer to allow students to choose their own groups so that they are able to work with friends. Others prefer to arrange students into mixed ability groups so that stronger students have the opportunity to re-teach or provide leadership to struggling students. Still other teachers use a variety of groupings so that students have experience working successfully with a variety of peers.
Focus on Equity versus Equality
If we truly believe it is our role to ensure that all students learn, then our focus should be on equity versus equality. A focus on equality would mean that every student has the same instruction and amount of time to learn. However, we know that some students need more time or support and so our focus should be to ensue equitable outcomes. If a student needs more time to learn and demonstrate mastery, then it should be provided. If a student needs more support then the teacher should work both individually and with his or her colleagues to provide it as well. Learning is not a race. Those who master a concept quickly should be provided opportunities to deepen and apply their learning but students who take more time should not be left behind.
Tamalpais Union High School District is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Global Studies Program and its founder and director, Tamalpais High School French Teacher, Brian Zailian. The Global Studies Program provides opportunities for TUHSD students to not only study abroad and experience immersion in another culture, but to host visiting students as well.
“The Global Studies Programs in our district offer life changing learning experiences for our students”, said Zailian. “The traveling students encounter situations which are sometimes difficult to recreate in a traditional classroom: cultural sensitivity, language immersion, geographic comprehension, political and social discussions and most importantly a glimmer of personal self awareness.”
The longest running program within the Global Studies Program is the exchange between Lycee Gaston Febus in Orthez, France and Tamalpais High School. Over 500 Tamalpais High School students have traveled to France over the past 20 years. This year also marks the fifth anniversary of the Global Studies exchange between students at Sir Francis Drake High School and the Lycee Samuel Raapoto in Papeete, Tahiti. Over 100 Drake students have traveled to Tahiti.
TUHSD students in both the France and Tahiti programs host exchange students in their homes in October and then spend 17 days away from the U.S. during the month of April. TUHSD students live with their host families, attend classes at local schools, and visit significant cultural sites and regions. Additionally, students in the French exchange visit Paris. Students who participate in the Tahitian exchange also visit Moorea and Bora Bora, prepare Polynesian cuisine, practice Tahitian dance, and study the coral reef and the tropical forest.
Ah, the good old days… Remember your excitement when the door of the classroom opened and someone from the AV crew wheeled in a cart with a film projector? Can you also remember watching the complicated process as your teacher skillfully threaded a film through theprojector? As a student back in the day, I was grateful for the change of pace that “technology” provided and I recall the disappointment when a film or projector broke in mid-viewing. It seemed so luxurious when we finally had TVs and VCRs in classrooms and we had a less technology malfunction and a greater variety of videos to watch! Although we may remember those days with nostalgia, our own children cannot imagine a world where the extent of technology is a VHS player.
Although the types of technology available to teachers and students have changed rapidly over the past few decades, one fundamental question of schools remains the same. How do we ensure that every student in every classroom receives high quality instruction and how can the available technology support learning? In other words, in our current world of gadgets and unlimited access to information, we must recognize that learning is still a function of teachers and students working together towards a shared outcome. Technology enhances but does not replace great teaching and successful learning.
At TUHSD, we have taken a very thoughtful approach to the roll out of technology in classrooms. For at least the last decade, our tech plans have been based on the premise that our first responsibility is to provide high quality instruction and that technology is a tool to support learning rather than something we distribute and then hope for the best. Two examples of our technology approach are the Classroom 2020 project and the Instructional Technology Teacher Collaborative.
During the process of modernizing our schools, we created innovative classrooms at Redwood, Tam and Drake that are modeled after Wallenburg Hall at Stanford University. These rooms are referred to as “2020 classrooms” and are outfitted with a variety of high tech teaching tools such as interactive whiteboards, lap-tops, HD TVs, and large video screens. 2020 classrooms also have wheeled furniture that easily move and can be converted to as many configurations as the teacher can imagine. 2020 classrooms are available for our teachers to use on a one time basis or for a semester so that they can experiment with a variety of high and low tech tools to enhance their instruction.
Instructional Technology Teacher Collaborative
TUHSD has implemented a two-year professional development program for experienced teachers to provide training and time to collaborate in order to create project-based instruction in alignment with the new Common Core standards as well as the district mission. Teachers work together to create experiences where students will use skills and information to solve real world problems. 34 teachers are participating in this program during the 13-14 school year and 38 more will begin the program this summer. Participating teachersreceive a classroom set ofiPads after about six months of training. In fact, over the past two weeks, 1080 iPads have been delivered to participating teachers who are now ready to begin to use them to support their instruction. This professional development program demonstrates our commitment to train teachers prior to distribution of technology.
As I visit our classrooms and watch our teachers and students engage thoughtfully with technology, my nostalgia for the simple days of the movie projector wane and I imagine the possibilities that technology will provide for our students of the future. Whatever the future holds and no matter the latest technology trend, it’s great to live and work in a district where the first priority is learning and where students have access to a variety of technology to enhance their experience.
Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services has recently affirmed its ‘AAA’ rating for Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD). The District’s rating was originally upgraded from ‘AA+’ to ‘AAA’ in 2010. According to the summary report from Standard & Poor’s, the financial performance of the District has been consistently positive and rating reflects a stable and strong property tax base, significant supplemental revenue from parcel taxes and good financial policies and practices. The report also commends the District for a “shift in its strategic attention to the costs associated with its projection of a multiyear enrollment increase trend”. TUHSD is one of only 17 districts in California and 71 districts in the nation to currently have a ‘AAA’ rating.
This rating was sought by the District in preparation for the refunding of its 2006 series of General Obligation bonds, which were approved by a 2/3 vote of the community in order to modernize and upgrade all five high schools. Refunding of bonds is similar to the process of refinancing a mortgage and the District anticipates a present value savings to taxpayers of approximately nine million dollars.
Tamalpais Union High School District has a long tradition of conservative financial practices intended to maximize revenue on behalf of the students and community. The Board of Trustees exercise oversight of all financial policies, practices and approves annual budgets and audits.