I’ve been thinking about this for years. I was a sixth grade student, a long time ago, like back when it was cool to play Oregon Trail on an AppleIIe and you’re biggest problem was dying of dysentery. I can remember that year. I can remember the one day a week I spent in a gifted pull out program. I recall building bridges, tinkering with the computers, designing a home, and trying to solve a problem by building a space colony. I recall the special art class we had where we got to paint and my mom still has one of my paintings hanging on her bedroom wall. I remember that so clearly. My regular classroom? I don’t remember anything I learned. My teachers were all wonderful, caring people. But this is where “traditional education” met hands-on inquiry and project based learning. This was my sixth grade year. This is what drives me as a teacher. Creativity matters. Design matters. Thinking matters. Collaboration matters. Because it all mattered to me as a kid.
Fast forward a whole bunch of years and now kids can zoom in on the Oregon Trail via Google earth, research and compare the effects of dysentery, and get the Oregon Trail app for their pocket in about 2.2 seconds. So much has changed, but so much hasn’t. The gifted pull out program is still the typical model. Kids spend one day a week, or a few hours, getting what they need. Teachers struggle to meet their needs the ‘rest of the week’ because it’s hard to differentiate traditional learning. People say pull-out programs are unfair because only some kids get to go. People argue over things like IQ points, classrooms, and fairness. The pull-out program meets kids needs a little bit. But it’s more like putting a band-aid on something that needs major surgery. Nothing changes. People aren’t having the conversations, or taking the actions, we need to have.
Nobody notices that with inquiry and project based learning, differentiation is natural. Kids are more engaged. All kids grow. The gifted kids dig deeper. The struggling learner gets support. Everyone learns. Because it’s right for them. I’ve seen inquiry work for ALL kids. I’ve seen it allow kids the freedom to think, explore, and grow.
Maybe if we made the regular classroom a little more un-traditional, things could change. Every kid, all day, would be getting what they need. And learning.