George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Teaching in the Key of Jocelyn: Challenging One-Size-Fits-All Education

April 10, 2008

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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  • Professional Learning
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • K-2 Primary

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