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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teaching in the Key of Jocelyn: Challenging One-Size-Fits-All Education

Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman

Like many of you, I grew up with a one-size-fits-all approach to school. I remember clearly the few teachers that allowed me to explore things on my own terms -- and, interestingly enough, these were the school experiences that had the greatest impact on me.

Our arts@newman initiative is an attempt to bring that sense of exploration into students' experience of school. Even though we have embarked on something rather creative here, there is still a great deal of room for thinking about our practice in terms of our ability to connect with students.

I had an "A-ha!" moment this month as we were putting finishing touches on a musical production. I had one more solo to assign, and the usual suspects were eager to volunteer. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that Jocelyn had put her hand up to indicate her willingness to take on the song. Jocelyn was one of those dedicated choir members that, despite her diligence, didn't display the confidence or the vocal range to take on a solo role. At least, that was my initial impression.

Jocelyn didn't want to audition for the piece in front of the others, so I asked her to come back during the afternoon recess break to try the song on for size. The problem was that no matter how hard I tried, I could not get her to reach the opening note. She knew the song but consistently started about four or five notes lower than expected. I didn't know how to tell her that we would need to wait for a song that was a better match for her vocal range.

Then it hit me: Why not transpose the piece so that it matched her range? It took only a moment or two to make the musical adjustment, and we were off and running. Suddenly this young lady was singing in perfect tune. As we rehearsed over the next week, she developed both confidence and style.

The night of the performance marked the first time she had ever sung solo in public, and it was a special evening for Jocelyn and her family. For me, it was one of those moments in which a new insight was revealed about this place we call school: The challenge of differentiated instruction is all about learning to teach in a number of different keys. It's not always about some students being able to meet the expectations, while others fall short. Instead, it's about really believing that all students can succeed, given the right context and environment.

What's your story? Do you have "A-ha!" moments that have caused you to think about your practice in a different way? Do you remember a teacher who "changed the key" so that you could experience success?

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Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman
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DVP Rao's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

So true... ".... remember clearly the few teachers that allowed me to explore things on my own terms and, interestingly enough, these were the experiences of school that had the greatest impact on me...."

So true at least from my personal perspeectiuve.

I have had the previlege of a whole bunch of teachers but the only ones I remember vividly to this day are the ones who managed to treat me with kindness and allowed me to " go wild " a bit from the regualr curriculum. And truely encouraged me.

I am not sure if the "Teachers" realize how important and significant little gesture(s) of approval and encouragement they bestow upon thier pupils on one-on-one basis go in fostering participation and general well being of these young ones....

I have seen it happening to atleast one young person that I know of in recent times.

Teachers do make difference and Great Teachers make Grerat difference.

DVP Rao

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think it is very important as you have pointed out to not think that all students think the same way. As a college student I feel that I am often taught it that way. Being in education classes that teach me to strive to find new ways to teach makes me think: Why don't they try it?

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