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How Can I Adapt My Lessons to Student Needs?

Assessment

moffit1aTwo students work together to build a
mini fort with many types of materials.
Students come with their own set of responses and lenses.  They may be fluidly capable of adapting those lenses depending on the demands of the lesson, and from that perspective, most lessons will suit these types of students.  However, a lot of students haven’t built these skills yet which means that they will have to stretch their understanding to make sense of a lesson that uses a different way of learning than one of several they have become accustomed to. 

As a teacher I choose to respond to those students to best deliver instruction.  This might mean targeting certain lessons’ formats so that they either suit or stretch students’ understanding.  To implement best-practices I need to be consciously and continuously adaptable to student needs. 

What are these lenses?

Lenses are perspectives that can apply to any implicit or conscious understanding that has previously been formatted by students to guide their thinking.  I like to think of lenses as being sorted based on principles of neurolinguistic programming (NLP), a really big word for a really interesting way of understanding the way that people’s brains process and store information.  One aspect of NLP called ‘meta-programs’ sorts people into dichotomous categories including introvert/extrovert, global/detailed thinkers, feeling/thinking, and self/others to name a few.   People who are more rigid thinkers have trouble processing any ideas that are presented in the format of the opposite side of their word-pair.  For example, a global thinker with a fixed mindset has a very hard time understanding a detail-oriented argument.  However, with a fluid, or growth-oriented mindset, learners can appreciate the ideas presented by the opposite side even if it’s not their primary meta-program. Evaluate students by having them build mini-forts on the first day and see which things they prioritize and how close together they build their forts.  Do they help each other during ‘natural disasters’?  Do they share materials? Do they prioritize procedures over choices? Do they respond to a deadline?

What does this mean in application?

moffit2aOne student watches as her partner builds a fort with sticks.When I am adaptable to students’ perspectives, I am practicing student-directed learning.  A lot of the skill of understanding perspectives comes from planning my first day of the four-day-long Student Overnight Program as a giant formative assessment.  I keep a theme in mind, but try lots of activities to see which meta-programs students have been trained to use or are naturally inclined to use. I get a gestalt for the group, and also for outliers, individual students who don’t mix for some reason, say a ‘feeling’ student in a team of thinkers.

From there I direct my instruction- usually in terms of type and intensity of team building.  The socially constructive element of teaching can vary from week to week, and can be directly added in to science- and arts-heavy content.  Depending on how I roll out my activities, students have different levels of responsibility in deciding what roles members of the group will fulfill.  In a detail oriented group, I might plan the details for them but direct the summative questions to big-picture, real-world applications of student ideas.  If I have a lot of feeling students, but only a few thinkers, I might ask students to look at how their roles changed in a challenge course activity when people used different language, or were told to incorporate additional planning sessions.

Depending on how divisive the thinking is, I may scaffold social community building with unusually easy team building such as raising the hula hoop off of the ground with everyone touching it.  Some groups work well together already and can do multi-faceted planning. It is easy to get caught up in meta-analytically working your group, so it is important to pick one or two of the biggest opposite-pairs and focus on them.  Step back frequently and check on your goal.  The purpose of this exercise is to respond best to your students.  Are you?

moffit1aTwo students work together to build a
mini fort with many types of materials.
Students come with their own set of responses and lenses.  They may be fluidly capable of adapting those lenses depending on the demands of the lesson, and from that perspective, most lessons will suit these types of students.  However, a lot of students haven’t built these skills yet which means that they will have to stretch their understanding to make sense of a lesson that uses a different way of learning than one of several they have become accustomed to. 

As a teacher I choose to respond to those students to best deliver instruction.  This might mean targeting certain lessons’ formats so that they either suit or stretch students’ understanding.  To implement best-practices I need to be consciously and continuously adaptable to student needs. 

What are these lenses?

Lenses are perspectives that can apply to any implicit or conscious understanding that has previously been formatted by students to guide their thinking.  I like to think of lenses as being sorted based on principles of neurolinguistic programming (NLP), a really big word for a really interesting way of understanding the way that people’s brains process and store information.  One aspect of NLP called ‘meta-programs’ sorts people into dichotomous categories including introvert/extrovert, global/detailed thinkers, feeling/thinking, and self/others to name a few.   People who are more rigid thinkers have trouble processing any ideas that are presented in the format of the opposite side of their word-pair.  For example, a global thinker with a fixed mindset has a very hard time understanding a detail-oriented argument.  However, with a fluid, or growth-oriented mindset, learners can appreciate the ideas presented by the opposite side even if it’s not their primary meta-program. Evaluate students by having them build mini-forts on the first day and see which things they prioritize and how close together they build their forts.  Do they help each other during ‘natural disasters’?  Do they share materials? Do they prioritize procedures over choices? Do they respond to a deadline?

What does this mean in application?

moffit2aOne student watches as her partner builds a fort with sticks.When I am adaptable to students’ perspectives, I am practicing student-directed learning.  A lot of the skill of understanding perspectives comes from planning my first day of the four-day-long Student Overnight Program as a giant formative assessment.  I keep a theme in mind, but try lots of activities to see which meta-programs students have been trained to use or are naturally inclined to use. I get a gestalt for the group, and also for outliers, individual students who don’t mix for some reason, say a ‘feeling’ student in a team of thinkers.

From there I direct my instruction- usually in terms of type and intensity of team building.  The socially constructive element of teaching can vary from week to week, and can be directly added in to science- and arts-heavy content.  Depending on how I roll out my activities, students have different levels of responsibility in deciding what roles members of the group will fulfill.  In a detail oriented group, I might plan the details for them but direct the summative questions to big-picture, real-world applications of student ideas.  If I have a lot of feeling students, but only a few thinkers, I might ask students to look at how their roles changed in a challenge course activity when people used different language, or were told to incorporate additional planning sessions.

Depending on how divisive the thinking is, I may scaffold social community building with unusually easy team building such as raising the hula hoop off of the ground with everyone touching it.  Some groups work well together already and can do multi-faceted planning. It is easy to get caught up in meta-analytically working your group, so it is important to pick one or two of the biggest opposite-pairs and focus on them.  Step back frequently and check on your goal.  The purpose of this exercise is to respond best to your students.  Are you?

About the Author
Sarah Moffitt

Sarah can be found hiking, backpacking, teaching, or working near the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains between Southern Canada and King's Canyon, California. Her interests span ecological education practices, conservation and restoration biology, psychology, and philosophy especially as they apply to the informal experiential learning process. Sarah's goals for the future are to continue exploring and to foster a sense of wonder and stewardship for the natural world in any and all that she chances to meet along the way.