Category Archives: differentiation

Who is responsible for making sure students learn?

Over the next few days, I am going to try to respond to some of the questions I posed in yesterday’s post about assessment. You can read that post here. I don’t pretend to have all the answers to these questions but ruminating about them allows me to consider some possible solutions or points of view. I invite readers of this blog to engage in this conversation with me. 

I also want to acknowledge my PLN – #sblchat – for bold discussions on standards based grading and learning that are enriching my thinking about assessment.

Whose responsibility is it to make sure students learn? 
Is it the responsibility of parents? 
Teachers?
Students?
Or, perhaps a combination of two or more of the above?


The short answer to this question is: everyone who touches the life of a child is responsible for his or her learning. This includes the child, of course. However, when it comes to learning in schools there is no doubt in my mind that the primary person responsible for a child’s learning is the teacher herself. 

As the more expert learner in the room, it is the teacher’s responsibility to do everything she can to make sure that students learn. 

It means puzzling over a child who isn’t learning according to expectations, however this is defined. 

It means trying out many different ways to reach a child who poses a challenge to the teacher either through resistance or something else.
It means dispensing with blame and looking for solutions. 

It means seeking the help of colleagues, if necessary.

It means not giving up on a child.

It means withholding judgements about aptitude, family life, etc.

It means recognizing what a child brings into the classroom and capitalizing on that in order to be a better teacher to that child.

It means that if a child “fails” then the teacher has failed also. And, the teacher needs to determine what went wrong in order to improve her teaching.

Teaching is an intriguing profession. There’s no teacher’s guide that can address the many needs and peculiarities of a classroom full of individual students. A teacher who abides by a one-size-fits-all mentality cannot meet the needs of her students. In fact, every teacher needs to be many different teachers depending on the child. 

I think this is what some people miss when talking about differentiation. It’s not only about adapting tasks to different levels of understanding or skills. It’s about knowing each student so well that the teacher is able to change her strategies according to the needs of her students.

Some teachers can’t do this; I’m beginning to think they should be coached out of teaching. 

Since schools are places of learning for adults and children alike, teachers cannot abdicate this responsibility. Students need teachers who are learners, first and foremost.   

As Carol Ann Tomlinson said in the foreword to Rick Wormeli’s book on differentiation: ‘look for the learners in your school and become their friends.’
(Please note that this is paraphrased since I don’t have a copy of the book with me at the moment.) 

Cross posted to March Slice of Life Challenge, Day #27.



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