September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Summer Reflections

Posted: Friday, June 29th, 2012

by Eric Lewis

In the past few weeks, I have led and attended a few workshops.  One thing that has been jumping out at me is our need to not only develop our content knowledge in science, but to also build upon our pedagogy so that we can really support ALL of our students to learn science.  I have had many, many conversations with teachers in my district (and beyond) over the past few years about the challenges of meeting the needs of the students in our classrooms.  That said, I’ve never been more convinced that the vast majority of my colleagues are really knowledgeable about their content.  Content knowledge, while extremely important, is NOT the real crux of what our experienced teachers need.  Sure, a few new labs and elegant experiments are great to add to your repertoire, but the professional development that we really need is in how to meet the needs of our students – especially when students may be arriving in our classes lacking the skills that we expected them to have.

In a leadership meeting that I recently attended at Stanford University, we repeatedly discussed how to improve the experience for students in our schools.  There was an acknowledgement that many issues are out of our control, but there was also a focus on identifying ways to meet the needs of our students.  Across our country, it seems that some teachers (and administrators and policy makers) have forgotten that teaching is an ART.  Teaching is perhaps the most difficult of professions – especially when done well.  Too often, however, we forget our charge of teaching “all” students.  I often hear things like, “Well, those students would be better served at that school,” or “Those students aren’t the type of students that do well here.”  Since when do teachers – at public schools yet – say which students belong at their school?  Why is it the student’s fault that he or she didn’t have the experiences in science, mathematics, and English that we would have wanted them to have before they showed up in our classroom?

The big issue I see is that we’ve really not been given the resources (think broadly here) to meet the needs of our students.  We’re told to differentiate for our students, but we really don’t have great examples of what this looks like day in and day out for a variety of different content areas.  And, our lack of experience and knowledge with differentiation is what often helps to promote many (not all) of our Honors tracks.  In too many cases Honors does not signify that students are getting increased rigor or challenge, it simply means that these students will get access to everything that the teacher had planned because there won’t be any behavior issues to distract from the work.  When I see this kind of tracking, it simply makes me sad.  As teachers, we should be better than that.  We should recognize that meeting the needs of a huge range of students is difficult and then we should do our best to prepare for this challenge.  We need to take this on directly and build our skills to provide a challenging and engaging curriculum for all students, not just our most “advanced” and “well-behaved” students that would – likely – be able to learn new materials even without an animated, engaged teacher in front of them.

We need to address the needs of all of our students.  Advanced students should be able to be challenged with deeper, more challenging readings, activities, and projects.  But, all students should have access to these things, too.  In my years of teaching, I have been surprised over and over again at seeing how students have risen to meet the challenges of difficult concepts and complicated problems.  We need to build upon our own resources as science teachers to craft lessons with multiple access points and with opportunities to reinforce learning in mathematics, English, art, and other disciplines.  We are so lucky that science lends itself to hands-on learning and to creative and critical thinking. The question now is how do we better prepare ourselves to bring these experiences to all our students, and not just the ones that came to us already prepared…

Well, first I recommend reviewing SDAIE strategies. These strategies are great for ALL of  our students, but will be especially beneficial for English Language Learners in class.  Next, talk to teachers in your special education department at your school.  These folks have been differentiating forever and we have a lot to learn from them.  In designing your schools, don’t be afraid to advocate for looping with students for more than one year and for providing robust advisories.  With both of these changes, more students will have deeper relationships with more teachers.  This is a good thing.  Finally, reflect on your practice.  Give yourself credit when you’ve done a great job and don’t be afraid to be critical of yourself if you see opportunities for growth.  We can all learn something new, can’t we?

Eris Lewis is high school area science support in the San Francisco Unified School District LEAD office and is CSTA region 2 director.

Written by Eric Lewis

Eric Lewis

Eris Lewis is high school area science support in the San Francisco Unified School District LEAD office.

2 Responses

  1. The resources available- especially your personal resources of time and energy – are finite and schools and districts are dealing with more and more budget issues which slowly wear down most programs. Meanwhile we live in a society which at a political and economic level only pays lip service to the value and needs of education. I don’t think hammering away with the phrase “We need to meet the needs of all of our students” is a useful one – its a powerful phrase and just like the phrase “No child left behind” its hard to argue with – it grabs the moral high ground – but its not useful to the classroom teacher. At the risk of being vilified by those who seek to grab the moral high ground I suggest a better working model would be that teachers commit to continuing to provide opportunities for growth for all students. I have been teaching 25 years and bottom line – you CANNOT meet the needs of all students – but you can always treat them with respect and if some kid who has been doing very little for months suddenly decides to try and turn it around – you can be there to encourage and support them in their efforts and tweak things a little so they can have some success.

  2. Thank you for the SDAIE strategies. I hope to make good use of them when I get a teaching job.

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