Wince Worthy Words

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There are a few educational buzzwords you’ll see me react to with a tiny subconscious wince. Rigor is one. Differentiation is two. And individualized instruction is three. It’s not that I don’t embrace what these words mean; it’s just that I feel they are tossed around all too often yet remain undefined.

Every now and then, I’ll go to the gym for a rigorous workout, a really sweaty workout. So, does a rigorous education mean a difficult one? Differentiation is not a word used in real-life so there’s no context other than the word different. And individualized? I’m an individual, and as an individual, an individualized approach to my learning has to be a good thing, right?

The truth is I am often the person who uses these wince worthy words. When you come for a private tour of Grace School, keep a count of how often I say rigorous, differentiated, and individualized. I bet it’s high.

At Grace, the terms rigor, differentiation and individualization aren’t jargon; they are concepts put into practice that provide the fundamental foundation for how we approach learning.

Students are given multiple opportunities to publish their writing. Writing is showcased in the hallways of Grace School, in a poetry anthology published by Rice University, or in a hardbound book. The writing process becomes rigorous because there is an internal sense of push that comes when a student knows their writing will be published. There is also an internal sense of accomplishment that comes when the hard work is complete and is ready to be seen and evaluated by others.

Not every child will learn a concept to mastery on the same day, at the same time. Let’s say your child has mastered two digit multiplication and is ready to move on to more complex problems. Your child won’t have to keep learning two digit multiplication day after day, but rather, will move on to solving more complex problems. That’s differentiation. Students are working at different levels. This way, the focus shifts from standardized achievement to that of personal growth.

Teachers meet one-on-one with each student in the areas of reading and writing to assess growth and individual needs. Using observations and data collected from assessments, the teacher, alongside teammates and administrators, creates a “game plan” – an intentional strategy to grow your child in targeted areas. During reading and writing conferences, your child will receive an individualized conversation based on his/her need. Every conversation sounds different because the teacher is adjusting to how your child responds and teaching to the skill identified as a growth point for your child.

These three words hold value at Grace School because these concepts really do align with our practices. Wince no more.