Many of you may be familiar with the powerful image featured below or one of its countless variations.
Originally created by Craig Froehle, a business professor from Ohio back in 2012, the image has seen many, many iterations over the past five years. To read more about this graphic’s journey check out The Evolution of an Accidental Meme: How one little graphic became shared and adapted by millions.
I am a person who often thinks “in metaphors”. After I came across the original image years ago, it stayed with me. When I was planning for my grade 5-8 ELA students or co-planning with teachers in my role as an inquiry support teacher the image often came back to me….What were the “crates” or scaffolds I would need to put in place for each of my students to ensure they each had equitable access to the learning we were doing? How could I differentiate the learning for my students to ensure everyone would find success?
These supports took many different forms over the years including; reading materials at a variety of levels, assistive technologies such as voice to text programs, alternate assignments, student choice and much, much more. These supports looked like building trust, building on a students’ strengths, building connections and building relationships. These supports were always about discovering each individual learners’ needs and then discovering the best fit, adjustment or adaptation necessary to make each student most successful.
In my current position, my role has shifted over the last number of years to work more closely with adult learners and the thinking and importance of finding the scaffolds necessary to meet the individual needs of learners to ensure equitable access to learning and success still rings true.
Image from (State Dept./Doug Thompson)
When I recently came across this variation of the first image pictured above it struck a chord with me. The powerful notion of equity coupled with the beautiful image of growth and facing the sun seemed a perfect fit. Isn’t that what learning is? Continued growth? And isn’t that what we want for our students? To thrive and feel the warmth of the sun?
In today’s context we know our contemporary learners are vastly different than previous generations. Our students are far more diverse, as are their needs. It is becoming more and more evident that as educators, we must change our focus and our approach in order to meet our students’ changing needs and the demands of our society. Merely differentiating programming to meet the needs of students is no longer enough and maintains a teacher-centric approach. In order to ensure equity and success for ALL students, we must also find space for a more learner-centric, personalized learning model in our classrooms and in our schools. (You can further explore this topic in a previous blog post entitled Paradigm Shift to Personalized Learning. ) Yet, as the role of teacher shifts and changes in many places from one of the owner of the knowledge to one of facilitator or coach, our learners have never needed us more.
Our students need us to help them develop the skills, competencies and building blocks necessary to take responsibility for driving their own learning and thinking for themselves. They need us to offer opportunities to connect their individual interests, talents, passions, and aspirations to the learning they are doing in their classrooms. And they need us to guide them as they become active participants in moving their learning forward through questioning, deep thinking, reflection, and goal setting.
Once again the amount of guidance students will need will vary from individual to individual. Some of our more independent self-starters may need less support. While others may need our help in modeling learning behaviours, asking the right questions, accessing the right resources, documenting their learning and planning for next steps. As with anything, personalized learning opportunities will vary from class to class, school to school and district to district. Finding the right balance between teacher directed instruction and student-driven learning will also vary depending on individual contexts external pressures and other variables. However, finding a place for students to direct their own learning in some fashion must become a priority in order to develop the problem solving, capable thinkers and autonomous learners today’s world requires.
As the role of schools shifts and curricular reform spreads the pinnacle role of teacher remains the same; ensuring equitable opportunity for ALL students to learn, grow and find success, ultimately preparing them for the future. In doing so we can support all learners in finding their place in the sun.