TEACHING TO INDIVIDUAL NEEDS
It’s challenging enough to manage a well-ordered household when that household includes two or more children with different personalities and interests. When you’re teaching twenty or more children with different personalities, interests, learning styles, backgrounds, and personal struggles—well, “challenge” is an understatement. How can you keep the class functioning smoothly as a unit, while also making sure no individual child feels sidelined or left behind?
First, don’t give up before you start. The task may seem impossible when viewed as one big goal, but your own students experience similar trepidations when reading a whole term’s syllabus on the first day of class. Like them, you succeed by doing what needs doing, one day at a time.
Observe Student Behavior and Class Interactions
Whether you’re teaching in a classroom or on a Zoom app, make a habit of periodically surveying all faces. Who seems bewildered or interested at what times? Who wants to speak but can’t quite work up the nerve? Who shows empathy, impatience, or disdain when someone is struggling? Who has obvious connections (positive or negative) with whom?
Take private note of who seems to need help, and offer that help in appropriate ways: gently encourage participation, offer to explain something one-on-one, invite someone to assist someone else, form work groups with an emphasis on combining talents for maximum effectiveness.
Beware Any Form of Favoritism
None of us—with our highly individual tastes, personalities, and past experiences positive or negative—can completely avoid attraction-or-repulsion responses toward certain other individuals. Don’t consider yourself above such feelings: those who do are always the ones unintentionally making others the most miserable.
Few teachers are so callous as to openly put any student down or to demand, “Why can’t you study like Classmate So-And-So?”—but there are subtler ways of favoring certain students over others:
- Always calling on the same people (even if no one else seems to be volunteering)
- Responding to certain students (or certain types of class contributions) with “Great idea!” while acknowledging others only in passing
- Being overly congratulatory when someone knows an answer someone else has just missed
- Using the identical teaching approach and emphases week in and week out, without considering whether it ignores anyone’s natural learning style or interests
- Feeling overly sorry for the student with special struggles, and excusing him for bullying or other unacceptable behavior
If any of those sound like habits of yours, it’s time to make a conscious decision to behave differently.
Learn About Learning Styles
If you don’t already have ongoing familiarity with different natural means of learning (visual, auditory, kinetic) and with “atypical” neurological styles such as autism, start keeping up with the latest research today. Take regular continuing-education classes (your school system or a nonprofit specializing in learning difficulties can help you find options). Help your classes run smoother by knowing how to recognize and teach to different styles.
And show students how to recognize, respond to, and empathize with peers who grasp new knowledge in different ways. Help everyone grow up appreciating the existence of—and need for—all types of people in a world!