Effective teachers design curriculum and learning activities with individual student needs in mind. This lesson details how students’ needs, backgrounds, perspectives, and interests can be reflected in a learning program.
Designing Learning Programs
Educators know that all students in their classrooms are unique. Each brings experiences to the learning environment that impact who they are as learners. This means teachers need a wide range of methods to reach all students. They need to plan, monitor, and respond to each student in order to promote academic growth.
In other words, when designing learning programs, or lessons and activities in the classroom, they need to make sure they consider several aspects about students, including:
- Student needs
- Student backgrounds
- Student perspectives
- Student interests
Educators need to develop a wide variety of strategies to respond to student needs – both socially and culturally. They need to consider the lives students lead outside of school and learn their unique perspectives. Finally, they need to get to know students and consider their interests. By providing a range of approaches to educate students, they create confident learners. How can they do this? Let’s take a peek.
Creating Learning for All
Sue is a teacher committed to making sure she considers all aspects of her students. Over the years, she’s learned that it takes more than asking her students questions about their personal lives at the beginning of the year and throwing parties to reinforce learning. In fact, Sue knows that in order to create an environment that supports learning for all of her students, she needs to pay special attention to three important points:
- First, curriculum and instruction is determined in response to students’ needs and perspectives
- Second, instruction is based on student learner profiles
- Finally, lessons are designed to build on background knowledge
By designing curriculum and instruction based on students’ needs – not on what worked in previous years – she allows for individual growth. Sue also designs learning based on student profiles and builds experiences using background knowledge. How does this look in a classroom?
Responding to Student Needs and Perspectives
In Sue’s classroom, she makes sure she prepares lessons and learning activities, events students participate in that support learning, considering her students’ unique needs and perspectives. How does she do this? As we discussed, students come to school with diverse academic and personal dispositions.
For example, her students last year were a mature group; she was able to differentiate her lessons, or change up content, the process of teaching, and how material was assessed, to challenge them. This year, students are a bit more emotionally needy and require more support with things like classwork and homework.When Sue sits down to plan lessons, she looks at the learning objectives, topics her students are expected to master, and considers how she can help her students meet these goals. She adds elements to bring in valuable personal feedback and perspectives students can offer. For example, when teaching about the Revolutionary War, she initiates a conversation asking students their personal opinions about freedom, and asks them to consider what it would be like for them to experience life during that time frame.
Using Learner Profiles
Students’ cultures, genders, learning styles, and other aspects all go into making them who they are and contribute to what is called a learner profile. Sue considers this when planning lessons and learning activities.
Recognizing that each student has a unique approach to learning and different strengths and struggles, means Sue needs to differentiate to make sure all students can succeed. Sue accomplishes this in several ways:
- She can differentiate teaching methods so different styles of learning, such as tactile and auditory, are incorporated.
- She teaches in whole and small group situations and reinforces learning in one-on-one learning sessions.
- Finally, Sue allows students varying methods of showing their understanding of content, such as presentations and tests.
Take Sue’s reading instruction, for example. Let’s say she teaches a mini-lesson to the whole group on creating mental images, a comprehension strategy. She then allows students opportunities to practice learning either in group settings, like centers, or individually. She pulls smaller groups of students to work with them on specific skills based on their individual needs – some students may need reinforcement with mental images, but some may be ready for more challenging skills. Her reading time is structured to make sure each student learns in their own way.
Building on Background Knowledge
Because Sue gets to know her students, she is able to form instruction that builds on their background knowledge, or what they already know, and their prior experiences.
Imagine Sue needed to teach a math unit on fractions. She could jump right in and define ‘numerator’ and ‘denominator,’ then show students how to write fractions and explain what they are used for. Most students should be able to follow along with this new information and keep up with learning.She could also build on what students already know, linking new learning to existing schema, or thoughts that students already have about a topic. She may ask students to brainstorm everything they know about fractions, then go over this information. She may bring in pizza and initiate a conversation about how it is divided, using terms like ‘part’ and ‘whole’. She may even bridge prior knowledge to a topic students show a strong interest in, like sports, explaining how the goal keeper on a soccer team is one part of a whole group, or a fraction of the team.
Using prior knowledge helps students make important connections to content and improves the chances of them remembering it later.
When designing learning programs, or lessons and activities in the classroom, teachers need to make sure they consider several aspects about students, including student needs, their backgrounds, perspectives, and interests. To meet the needs of all students in her classroom, she should create learning experiences for each student.
She does this by making sure curriculum and instruction are determined in response to students’ needs and perspectives, designing instruction is based on student learner profiles, and designing lessons that build on background knowledge. By doing this, she ensures all students have an equal chance to learn.