Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Writing a Success Story: The evolution of genres in the classroom

vspaeth's picture

“Disability is a mode of human difference (Price, p.4).”  In the past decades there has been a growing emphasis on the differences among people within the school setting.  This emphasis on differences has led us to create more genres of students existing within the classroom.  Advances in psychology have increased awareness of various mental differences and how they affect the success in the school setting.  The expectations for success have now changed because with this new awareness every individual is provided with the opportunity to learn, leading to an increase in the categories society places students into.      

A change in politics led to a change in this increase with legislation such as No Child Left Behind.  The Act states that “The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments. In other words, this piece of legislation says that every child must be able to reach a certain state-chosen academic level to be considered successful in school.  Before this there was little incentive for teachers to really push struggling students in their academic careers.  The economy and society allowed for students to find work and success outside the field of academics, such as trade schools or the army.  With the passing of No Child Left Behind, students were expected to pass these state guidelines and other, less-academic, options were no longer emphasized.  Teachers were now forced to find ways to help these less academic students to succeed.

One way teachers accomplished this was by focusing on the learning styles of students.  Instead of assuming that students were all able to absorb information like sponges teachers began paying attention to the way individual students learned best.  With this change in focus, students were divided into different groups based on how they learned best; be it visually, audibly, or by doing.  Instead of solely lecturing, teachers had to begin introducing these various styles into their teaching.  Teaching also became more difficult, as one would have to try to balance these differences and others in a classroom of 20 or more students.  Even so, schools are expected, by law, to have every student reach a certain level so this balancing act became crucial.  Price takes this idea a step further when she quotes "neurodiversity acts as a positive force in human evolution, enabling alternative and creative ways of thinking, knowing, and apprehending the world" (Antonetta, qted. p. 16).”  The idea is that by having this natural diversity integrated into the classroom we are allowing for the evolution of thinking and learning.  As thinking and learning evolve so will these differences which in turn will once again allow for the evolution of thinking and learning.  In this way a positive cycle begins within the classroom allowing for a more distributed and deeper learning experience.  The flexibility of teaching style also expands past the boundaries of learning styles.

The integration of students with learning disabilities into the learning environment has been slow at best.  I know in my schooling there were only two years when I was in a classroom with students with noticeable learning disabilities.  The emergence of these genres, from Dyslexia to ADHD has greatly expanded as we gain more knowledge in the fields of psychology and education.  Students who before may have been classified as non-academic are now given specific categories based on their “symptoms.”  Although the certainties of these diagnoses are debated by parents in the news and psychologists in the field creating these genres have been beneficial.  Without someone realizing that Dyslexia was an actual difference in the way ones brain work, we would not have been able to develop various teaching methods that help these students learn.  Before these topics became highly researched these students would have had very little help in internalizing the material that was presented to them. 

However, we can witness the genres within a classroom changing before our very eyes.  For many people, the term “learning disabilities” is derogatory.  The phrase has a negative stigma attached to it.  In fact, there is a very strong stereotype that keeps students diagnosed with anything in this category ostracized from their fellow classmates.  These stigmas have led people to begin searching for other terms.  The one in class that I found most interesting was brain differences.  Just in the course of this one semester I have witnessed part of the evolution of the classroom, from referring to students as having “learning disabilities” to “brain differences.” 

I find the term “brain differences” so interesting because it is infinitely broader than “learning disabilities.”  It encompasses everything from conditions diagnosed by a psychologist, like ADHD, to the fact that I think slower than some people in the class.  It is like an umbrella term for the genres of students found in a classroom.  It introduces me to this idea of different levels of genres.  By referring to people as having “brain differences” we do not know if someone means what used to be referred to as a “learning disability” or a style of learning such as a “visual learner.”

Overall, the evolution of the classroom has moved in a very cyclical direction.  It began with basically a binary, of students who were academic to those who were not.  Then it began to divide by the learning styles of students; defining them.  “Learning disabilities” also began categorizing various students in the classroom as well.  Now we are swooping back to this idea of categorizing all students based on their “brain differences.”  It is a movement towards a type of universal individuality.  Students are students because they differ so vastly from one another.  Diversity will exist under the universal idea that all students think and process differently.  Price’s idea of disability as a mode of diversity implies these so called disabilities make us more diverse; and diversity breeds creativity.  This creativity will keep the genre of the classroom evolving towards an ideal where every student can learn equally no matter their “brain difference.”    


Works Cited

Disclaimer: As we all know, everything we write is a composite of everything we have ever read.  Many of the ideas in this paper have probably come from readings I’ve done in various education classes but I cannot pinpoint which ones.

Price, Margaret.  Mad At School.


Anne Dalke's picture

Complexifying the genre of the classroom

It wasn't until Margaret Price called our class a "genre" that I realized how much  the work I do in re-thinking educational structures is akin to all the work we've been doing to rethink  literary kinds. So I find myself quite interested in your exploration of this notion of the evolving classroom, and particularly in your sense that the term "brain differences," in being less derogatory than "learning disabilities," opens up possibilities for all "genres of students found" there. Once we re-conceptualize "disability as a mode of diversity," we open the possibility that "diversity breeds creativity."

I'd like to nudge you to continue to complexify your report that "creating genres" of diagnoses "has been beneficial." The day Margaret visited our class there was a strong difference of opinion between egrumer and leamirella about the usefulness of medicalized diagnoses. The very best essay I know on this topic--one any education student should know--is Ray McDermott and Hervé Varenne's Culture as Disability --as well as Varenne's interesting follow-up essay, on the inevitability of cultural disabilities.

There are several other steps along this path that I'd like to re-trace with you, too. I'm a little suspicious of the narrative you construct, in which the institution of No Child Left Behind led to the identification of--and teaching to--various learning styles. Is that the case? What year was NCLB passed? When did the language of learning styles enter into pedagogical discussions? You know, acknowledging the range of student learners didn't, in my experience (as you report it did, universally), make teaching "more difficult." Once I recognized that different students would be aiming for, and achieving, different goals, allowing for diversity of achievement actually made teaching easier. But how might your argument accommodate Ayla's claim that one system does not work for everyone? And how might it alter your very qualified sense, last month, of Tumblr's usefulness as a means of renovating academic work?