The middle school in my neighborhood has a sign board that has been displaying a powerful message:
Every Student, Every Day, Whatever it Takes.
I wish I could say that all teachers, or even all of the art teachers in my school division, believed in this philosophy — actions and words suggest otherwise — but this mindset is one that must be embraced by K-12 public school teachers. We certainly get all sorts of students, and it is our job to help each one of them succeed. All of them! EACH… ONE…
I want to share the story of an art teacher who found an unusual way to connect with one student through… education. But not “education” in the way you would assume. In this case, helping this one student find success in the art classroom was not about art knowledge and skills. Rather, it was through designing an art lesson of his own.
Ari is a 5th grade student. Since I was not witness to Ari’s behavior and performance in art before progress was made, let it suffice to say that things were not going well and the art teacher was struggling to find a way to connect with him. Through some stroke of inspiration, she found he was interested in creating an art lesson of his own. The teacher began working with him on developing and refining his ideas, meeting with him after school, and helping him put his plans into an “official” format that could be shared.
Ari is into dinosaurs. With the help of his art teacher, he has created a Prehistoric Landscape Mural lesson plan and presented it in a lesson plan format that some of our teachers use. This is a pretty solid lesson which includes concrete instructions, idea development and planning processes, collaboration, and a final critique. While some students may not come to the lesson as a dinosaur enthusiast, most will feel engaged as they go through a process to design their own dinosaur using the Prehistoric Landscape Planner and combine it with dinosaurs made by their classmates into a landscape mural. Ari even created a Prehistoric Landscape Slide Presentation to present the content and processes to the class.
I encourage you to check it out. Use it if you want! Ari is very excited by the idea that his lesson could be shared and used by other art teachers. His own art teacher even tested the lesson with a group of second grade students shown below with their completed mural on the wall behind them.
This teacher really went beyond the norm to reach this student and help him develop understanding in art. What we all need to understand, though, is that going “beyond the norm” is NOT the same as going “above and beyond the call of duty.” On the contrary, this is exactly the call. This is what each of us should be doing.
Thank goodness there are ways to reach the vast majority of our students through well designed instruction. For those few remaining, we must find a way, even if it means doing something different than you planned, or different from what you would expect. THAT is differentiation to meet the needs of ALL students!