Adapt Education to the Differences of the Individual Child
ADAPT EDUCATION TO
THE DIFFERENCES OF
THE INDIVIDUAL CHILD
For this, my third in a series of blogs related to the Six Founding Principles of St. George’s School of Montreal, I have chosen to reflect on the enhancement of a child-centred education by adapting the curriculum to the individual child. This concept has become the focus of much modern research related to best practices in education. In this regard, a variety of research-based approaches have been developed to support this core principle of human development and many schools have begun to apply aspects of this research with their own version of a child-centred approach.
AT ST. GEORGE’S SCHOOL
OF MONTREAL, BECAUSE
WE BELIEVE IN EACH CHILD’S
ABILITY TO GROW TO THEIR
DREAMS, WE DON’T TEACH TO
A GROUP. WE TEACH TO A
GROUP OF INDIVIDUALS.
AND COLLECTIVELY, WE LEARN.
NOT ALL APPROACHES ARE CREATED EQUAL
All of the above are solid and validated educational approaches and methods presently being explored by modern Canadian schools in an attempt to bring the human connection to the classroom. However, it must be said that although many schools say that they celebrate a child-centred approach, very few actually exemplify it; those that do attempt child-centred interventions tend to do so to respond to the needs of their most at-risk students.
A GROUP OF INDIVIDUALS
At St. George’s, we continue to be informed by the scientific underpinnings of these various models of human-centred instruction and we strengthen our practices with newly acquired knowledge to support and improve the instruction of all students. As we do so, we remain rooted in certain fundamental beliefs that have been woven into the fibre of our own practices since our humble beginnings some 90 years ago.
It all starts with the need to be sensitive and attuned to the unique differences and the potential of every individual.
LISTEN AND ENGAGE
At the core of this fundamental approach is the need to listen and engage in all circumstances: listen to what a child has to say (or doesn’t say) as they engage in new learning situations. This more authentic and empathetic relationship becomes the pillar supporting the development of each child’s core strengths as he or she gains the confidence necessary to take risks to do or say something outside of their comfort zone.
Sometimes this process involves encouraging the child to assume a stronger voice amongst the more dominant, or by providing “scaffolds” for them to more clearly express their ideas. Sometimes it involves exploring and assuming a new path or a new perspective as a child’s interactions guide the teacher through a different path of discovery, or as a proof of concept. In this respect, the child helps the educator appreciate how the differences as presented by each individual student contribute to a better global understanding of differentiated instruction.
At St. George’s, teaching and learning is a two-way street that provides structure to guide students and provoke original and creative thought. The child discovers new ways to think and problem-solve and the teacher listens, observes and also learns in the process.
VOICE AND CHOICE
We know that voice and choice promote students’ self-discovery—their sense of self, their passions, values, and hopefully their future mission in life. All humans (and the younger the better) are infinitely capable of measured cognitive challenges when supported and engaged through emotional connections and social validation. This is the art and the science of teaching.
We believe in the ability of children to grow to the size of their dreams. We listen deeply, and we advocate on behalf of talent, inspiration, and passion as children connect and engage in our thoughtfully crafted curriculum. At St. George’s, WE BELIEVE in kids.
COVID-19: AN OPPORTUNITY?
Now that we have been obliged to assume our current distance learning reality, many new challenges emerge. More specifically, how do we maintain proximity when all communication comes through remote and mediated connections?
Our response to this new challenge has been to dive deep into what we know best and invite our students to discover this new model of communication and connections. Coincidentally, we have also invited our parents to assume the role of observers and sometimes that of participants in our ever-evolving Distance Learning program, The BLVD. Stemming from our Founding Principle, “Adapt Education to the Differences of the Individual Child”, we are also asking parents for feedback as to what does and doesn’t engage their child, and how we can best maintain the essential rapport that enables teachers to remain well connected to each individual student.
MAINTAINING MOTIVATION AT A DISTANCE
The Grade 10 Canadian History course can be seen by many students as a demotivating experience at the best of times. It is a tightly prescribed curriculum that is first introduced in elementary school and subject to annual Ministry exams in grades 9 and 10. As such, a major motivation to do well is often simply to get a good grade, even if student interest in the subject might be lukewarm. This year, the situation is further complicated, given that there will be no compulsory Ministry exam in June.
Mary Opalinsky, St. George’s Department Head of Social Studies and Canadian History teacher, responds to potential student apathy by providing greater levels of challenge and intrigue as she invites her students to participate in the planning of the various units including the evaluation criteria. She offers her students the opportunity to connect the essential Ministry mandated curriculum with personally relevant and day-to-day issues that relate to the shared experience of the human condition.
MAKING IT PERSONAL
The goal established for Grade 10 Canadian History, as determined by the Ministry of Education, is to have students determine the path of inquiry under the guidance of their teacher. However, Ms. Opalinsky’s student-sensitive and co-generated curriculum goes much further and exemplifies the core components of a Parallel Curriculum, an approach that was first developed for gifted education by encouraging students to engage in any topic with personal connections, deep conceptual applications and empathy.
This approach encourages students to not only go beyond the level of facts and a basic skills acquisition but also encourages them to engage deeply into the core concepts of social evolution and political influences on societal development.
A PROMISE DELIVERED
Within the Montreal Independent School landscape, St. George’s is a vibrant community in which every child is known, respected, engaged, challenged and inspired to liberate and develop the confident, fascinating, multifaceted person within themselves.
This, after all, is the promise that we made to all of you when you joined our community. We continue our commitment to meet the needs of the individual child and our Distance Learning program continues to deliver on that promise.