Yesterday, I began to teach my son how to tie a double Windsor knot. I say “began” because, as with many children who display special or alternate needs, learning even small tasks may occur only as the result of a step-by-step, lengthy process that extends over days, weeks or months.
As we tied one knot after another, I reflected on the many tasks that he is now able to accomplish at age 7.
At school, he requires support from an educational assistant, as he struggles with oral communication, language-related tasks and social activities. At home, he makes his bed, takes his shower, and brushes his teeth on his own. He can fly a radio-controlled helicopter and whiz through his favourite websites, home movies, and DVDs from his dad’s laptop computer. Although he appears not to be able to spell, he can type site names like “Sesame Street” and “Mightybeanz” into Google. He has memorized enough sight-words to read at approximately one grade below level. And, even when he only spoke a few words at age 4, he could point out the direction to Grandpa’s house, one street at a time.
As a school leader, special education resource teacher, and parent of a child with alternate strengths and needs, I must admit that the educational ‘buzz word’ that appeals most to me is “differentiation”. Not because differentiated instructional methods are supported through research, though they are. Not because differentiated instruction and assessment are mandated through Ministry of Education curriculum and policy documents, though they are. No, I am drawn to all things ‘differentiated’ because each day I see, hear and experience the many ways in which children (and most especially, my own) are smart in non-standard, out-of-the-ordinary, or not-yet-in-the-curriculum ways. As a conscientious educator, I accept that I need to do things differently to meet the diverse needs of unique individuals.
We teachers we have many resources available to us to assist with implementing differentiated methods. But based on my experiences, I know that their greatest assets are a keen eye and caring heart.
In a week or two, my son will be able to tie a double Windsor knot, and we’ll move on to shoelaces. Or perhaps, something else. But we will move on. A little further each day.
Thérèse McNamara is a school administrator, special education resource teacher and mother. In her 30+ years as an educator, she has worked as a classroom teacher, computer/curriculum consultant, and education officer. She holds a Masters of Education degree with a focus on Literacy and has taught additional qualification courses for 3 universities. She has reviewed and written a number of professional learning resources and supports the application of evidence-based, best practices to support all students.