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Field Notes 7- 3/20/13. Prioritizing the needs of all learners- can it be done?

mschoyer's picture


Elementary School 1 

  • Today, to begin my 3rd through 5th grade class, I read a story to all the students
  • The students were each given a few cards that had words on them that were found in the story.
    • Most of these words were unfamiliar
    • The cards also included a corresponding picture
    • When the students heard one of their words, they held their card up and we talked about its meaning and also its meaning in relation to the story
    • We would also occasionally have the students translate the words on the cards into their native languages and share this word with the class.
      • I found that we mostly had the Chinese students translating the cards into their language. This was done to obviously benefit Joey, the newest student (a Chinese immigrant) with very low English proficiency.
      • At first the children were excited to use the cards and also hear about their peers’ native languages, but then the majority of the students seemed bored and/or confused with all the Chinese being spoken.
      • The card activity also seemed like a way to slow down the lesson to accommodate a student who is less advanced.
      • After reading the book, we began a writing activity
      • Typically when I go to my placement, I design and implement mini lessons/activities based on previous instruction from my mentor, and my mentor checks emails, gets work done, chimes in occasionally, etc. This also happened today.
      • Anna, a 4thgrader from Vietnam, had a few questions for me about the assignment and needed some help.
        • Anna is one of our strongest students and she typically does not need extra assistance.
        • I was in the midst of helping Anna, when my mentor teacher called Joey over to her desk to make sure he understood the assignment.
        • Once Mrs. Smith found out Joey did not understand, she cut into my conversation with Anna and asked if I would move on to help Joey.
          • This was strange and jarring for me. Mrs. Smith is a good teacher who truly cares for all students. She often goes above and beyond for them, especially those who need a lot of help. It was odd to see her interrupt me working with a student.
            • It wasn’t rude or unkind, but I think she truly thought that Joey really needed me, and perhaps, Anna would be fine waiting.
  • Although Anna arguably did not need as much help as Joey, Anna still needed help nonetheless.
  • I told Mrs. Smith that I was in the middle of helping Anna and would get to Joey afterwards. She apologized for interrupting and helped Joey herself until I could get to him.

This interaction stood out today. I have often heard about students who are neither high or low achieving, but rather somewhere in the middle, being the ones who get the least attention in the classroom. Sometimes, like today, the strongest students, like Anna, also receive less attention. I saw this first hand. I also saw how although a teacher probably does not intend to prioritize some students over others, it happens. Mrs. Smith probably should have either told Joey to wait if she was busy, or helped him without asking me to do so. I understand where she is coming from: she saw a new student (who is in a class that is far more advanced than he is) struggling. She also saw Anna, a student who typically does well, asking a question. Anna probably could have figured it out eventually. But should she have to? Are certain students more deserving of their teacher’s time?

In a class where students are all at the exact same academic level, this probably wouldn’t play out in the same way. Realistically, that will never be the case. Having students like Anna and Joey in the same class negatively affects both of them. Joey holds Anna back, while Anna’s presence can force a teacher to quicken their pace. When this happens, a teacher will always have to choose where to focus her attention. Should she/he try to catch students up to a classroom that is too hard for them, or should they find ways to challenge learners in a class that is below their academic level? Can a teacher ever appropriately assist and engage all students on different levels?


jamnt's picture

Let's look at the basics

Competition for limited resources is the likely result of a situation such as the one you described. This is just the natural consequence of anything requiring resources from a finite pool. May sound harsh but, I believe it goes back to survival of the fittest. Not everyone can be on an equal playing field - -just not possible nor healthy. Interference would only prove to be more disastrous over time.