by Zach Grubb, Carousel Day School
No matter the outward appearance, a classroom is a complex place, something Carousel Day School well understands. Their focus, since 1956, has been on each child’s unique character and experience.
Which is why they reached out to us to sponsor a post about that idea: ways to offer students individual attention in a busy classroom.
There is significant research that supports the impact of individual attention on both academic performance and the child’s natural curiosity and comfort level in the classroom. John Hattie’s review of 50,000 individual studies and subsequently ranks 136 strategies in their order of effectiveness.
3 of the top 5 (feedback, instructional quality, and direct instruction) all depend in large part on the ability of a teacher to individually acknowledge, address, and otherwise honor individual students.
And while the data he collected doesn’t fully endorse all of the benefits of individual attention you might think it would (class size is way, way down on the list), the takeaway for teachers is clear: Even in a research-support and data-driven purely academic environment, individual attention plays a significant role in the learning of a child.
With this in mind, below are 10 ways to provide individual attention in a busy classroom, brought to you by Carousel Day School.
10 Ways To Give Students Individual Attention In A Busy Classroom
1. Publish Work
The number one way to honor an individual student is to authentically recognize the work that they do in the classroom every day. And there are few better ways of doing this than publishing work.
This can mean “publishing” it in the classroom by simply hanging it on the walls (which is better than nothing), publishing it elsewhere in the school (also decent), or publishing it out in the community (a bit more complicated, but the best of the three options).
2. Stay Moving
This one is kind of obvious, but it’s also easy to forget: to offer individual attention to students in a class of 18 or 28, you’re going to need to stay moving. No matter how tempted you are to work with a single student until the metaphorical knot is completely untied, you are always going to be neglecting something or somebody at any given moment.
3. Strategic Seating
While seating arrangements are often designed to promote desired behaviors or promote collaboration, it can also be used to streamline access to individual students. After a few weeks in a classroom, you’ll begin to understand which students need what from you: organization, encouragement, clarity, focus, or any other number of teacher tasks. By strategically placing these students in the room, you can improve the efficiency of your movement throughout the room.
4. Effective Grouping
Effective grouping is a staple of any experienced teacher. Whether you’re grouping by ability, interest, readiness, student-choice, or some other parameter, grouping can also improve the quality of individual attention a student receives. You’re not the only person capable of offering attention (more on that in a moment). By offering the right partners at the right time, students can have access to a variety of resources—both you and their peers–to help fill their constantly changing needs.
5. Peer Recognition
As mentioned above, for many students, their own peers can have every bit the credibility that a teacher does. Perhaps not in the same way (content knowledge or authority), but certainly in ways and currencies that matter to that student. By leveraging the power of peers (something Carousel Day School prides itself on) through grouping, publishing, and even team-building games—more students are more consistently likely to feel not only acknowledged, but received and understood.
6. Use Technology
Among the many gifts of technology in the classroom is the ability to honor students, their needs, their progress, and their individual personalities.
While publishing their work is an easy one, peers can also connect with one another through social media platforms like twitter, Vine, or through blogging. And one of the most powerful features of this approach is the potential to bring in both families and local community organizations into the planning, publishing, and celebration of individual students and their achievement as well.
7. Avoid Norm-Referencing
Norm-referencing—analyzing student achievement by comparing students to one another—is one of the quickest ways to make students feel both insignificant and “behind.”
And for many children, feeling “behind” isn’t the powerful motivator we’d hope it might be.
Criterion-Based Assessments using specific but flexible rubrics are often better ways to honor student individuality while still striving for the academic performance you’re interested in as a teacher.
8. Use Project-Based Learning
Project-Based Learning is a flexible tool for framing given academic standards into curriculum. And it is that flexibility that makes it useful for honoring individual students.
By moving away from one-size-fits-all instruction, project-based learning forces teachers—and students—to find their own way through academic content. This not only makes students more individually accountable, but also more visible for the authentic products project-based learning is known to produce.
9. Model Specificity
Vague assessments like “great job,” or “needs more work” are the opposite of the kind of resolute specificity that leads to a personalized learning experience.
The more specificity is modeled by you, as a teacher, the more authentic learning feedback can feel, and the more personalized the revision of planned instruction can be.
10. Value Creativity
Open-ended assignments that include individual student voice and choice—as well as unique learning pathways—are great ways to honor students as individuals. Even better is supporting creativity and innovation in every assignment by providing especially creative examples and models, pointing out the nuance in the design of exemplar work, and even including it as a matter of grading in rubrics.
Honoring every single student every single day in every single important way exactly when they need it is impossible, even in smaller class sizes.
But by changing your own perspective—including recognizing the different ways teachers can honor individual students, including their time, learning feedback, relationship and team-building, and peer support—you can be far more efficient—and human—in the way you interact with every student in your classroom this year.
Carousel Day School is a school in New York chartered by the New York State Department of Education in 1956 built around the benefits of individual attention for students; image attribution flickr user usaghumphreys