My love for and patience with each learner’s individuality began when I was 11 years old. During the summer months, I would go to work with my mom. She taught pre-kindergarten at a daycare and I would spend time in her 3-4 year old room and the 2 year old room. A few times during my visits a young boy with extreme learning differences and physical handicaps would come to the 2 year old room in the morning. He came with a physical therapist and I loved helping him and the other children interact appropriately. Since then I have taught at daycares, pre-kindergartens, and elementary schools. With every group of children, I love getting to know the children as individuals: what they need to learn, what makes them thrive, and what they have to share.
In the field of education, understanding and preparing for children’s individual needs is called differentiating. What I have studied about the Reggio Emilia Approach illustrates beautifully how organic differentiating can be. They have, what they call, a “Declaration of Intent” in regards to how they approach working with children with special rights.* It is an agreement in which “the teachers are expected to revise, reinterpret, and refine the child’s program continually” as they get to know the child (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 2012). While the children I work with do not have extreme disabilities, they all are individuals with the right to an education that supports their needs. As a teacher, I find myself revising, reinterpreting, and refining my work with children each moment.
For example: While sitting at a student desk, I was helping one child complete an early division workbook page. The child was having difficulty understanding where to write numbers in the problem and kept becoming distracted. After a few minutes of push and pull between us, I told the child to get a drink of water and meet me at a long countertop space in the classroom. I prepared the space with 4 small white boards in a row and wrote at the top of them “thousands,” “hundreds,” “tens,” and “ones.” This was the child’s interactive place-value mat. Using base-ten cubes I showed the child how to skip between each place when trading larger cubes for smaller ones. The physical movement of this experience was not my learning style, but it helped the child stay engaged. The more skipping the child did, the more the placement of numbers in the workbook seemed to make sense.
In this example, as I worked with and understood better the individual child, I was able to think creatively about ways to meet the learning need. Part of revising, reinterpreting, and refining my work as an educator includes being open-minded, flexible, and a good listener to the needs of every child.
*Rather than “special needs” or “special ed.”, Reggio educators refer to children with disabilities as those with “special rights.”
Soncini, I. (2012). The inclusive community. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini, & G. Forman (Eds.), The hundred languages of children: The reggio emilia experience in transformation (187-211). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.