Rethinking the Middle: Teaching to Emilio

Emilio, Now a HS graduate

Emilio, Now a HS graduate

I just finished reading an amazing post by Cathy Yenca, @mathcathy (Follow HER), about the idea of average. Cathy began her post by talking about how she addresses the measures of central tendencies in her classroom, by having students determine which is best and justify. I loved doing that in my classroom as their reasonings were always interesting.

Of course, Cathy’s post quickly got into the idea of average and how we perceive it in education. She referenced a youtube video, a TEDx talk by Todd Rose, which is a must see…all 18 minutes of it.

I immediately thought of my Emilio, a former student from my HS classroom.

Emilio was not “average” by any means. He was gifted, yet just like the fighter pilots from Todd Rose’s story, (Go watch it), he lacked in multiple other areas. Todd Rose pointed out that current learning environments, which are designed to the middle, are doing it wrong. He suggested that we design learning edge to edge, which gives learners, ALL LEARNERS, an opportunity for success. It makes sense doesn’t it?

I’ve heard many adopt Ron Clark’s idea of teaching to the top kid and expecting the others to rise. That works in some environments when the system of learning is set so that student and parents are invested. What happens when that kid is not, when learning is not a focus and home situations do more to hinder than help? Designing to the “top only” does not work for students like Emilio. As gifted as he was, he would immediately shut down if he felt that the learning was out of reach…much like an overweight person would stand as opposed to trying to squeeze into tiny desk. Think about it!

This was our life when I taught Emilio. He was bright but would give up. He shut down and stopped caring. When I changed my approach, Emilio changed. I went to HIS needs then worked him back in. That was critical, I believe. The picture that you see on this blog is one of Emilio on a Saturday in a Math/Science group that I sponsored. Had I taught to the middle or even “top only”, this picture would NOT have happened. It was difficult but necessary.

Learning is messy. It most certainly isn’t one size fits all…nor is it one size fits most. When we design learning for one small portion, we are in essence saying that the rest either need to conform or move on. You don’t matter. Dear Emilio, YOU MATTER!

I am all for designing from edge to edge. We need to create an environment in which all students, no matter the level, cognitive ability or preference are catered to…their needs met.

How can we accomplish this? I would start with getting rid of the “desk in rows” mentality. KNOW your students and their needs. Maslow’s is your friend. Invite students to your lessons by offering alternatives. Blended learning is in! Students learn differently and technology enables us to rethink how we design for learning. What can you do to teach from edge to edge?

The bottom line is that we’ve got to think beyond the middle…beyond average. Every student deserves the right to be counted.

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