Can you think of a time as a parent when you were caught off guard by the realization that your child had changed in some way? Maybe they were no longer interested in something that was a daily ritual, like seeing the cows on the way to school. Or, perhaps, you had to adjust to having less control over their universe as their worlds expanded beyond your household. It can be unsettling. As a parent, even when our children change in positive ways, change can be hard. It can be especially difficult to take in new information about our children when we hold tightly to a younger version of them. So, how do we protect against misconceptions that get in the way of what our children need now?
For parents and children, it can be challenging to take in new information if we hold too tightly to prior learning about a given concept. That is why one important aspect of teaching involves the use of pre-assessment. As teachers, when we pre-assess before the start of a unit or a lesson, we help to protect against assumptions about what we think students already know. We pre-assess using a variety of the methods, but our goal is the same: to learn more about what students already know (or think they know). It can also be helpful to collect information about how interested they are in a given topic, how it makes them feel, and what kind of opinions they have. We use our initial information gathering to help inform our approach to instruction.
By activating students’ prior knowledge, we are better able to facilitate deeper understanding and new learning through differentiated instruction. When we differentiate we use the information we have gathered and will continue to gather about individual students to shift the content, the learning plan, the environment, and/or how students demonstrate knowledge. We shift based on our students’ readiness, interests, and/or learning profiles. As teachers, we consider individual needs AND the individual in relation to the group of students we have in our classrooms.
The most generous gift we can give to individual students, to the classroom group as a whole, (and really one another) is the gift of curiosity. More broadly, when we are continually curious, even when we have known each other for quite some time, we allow others the space to grow and evolve. As parents, it can be tempting to want to hold onto our children as being one way in our minds. Sameness offers the illusion of certainty and it can feel like a warm safety blanket. The problem is that the same warm safety blanket that keeps our little ones warm and comforted when they are four, may not quite do the trick when they are eight or eighteen.
Our willingness to let go of misconceptions and take in new information, gives ourselves, our children, and others permission to grow and change, and is a recipe for promoting healthy, positive relationships. The history of prior learning and experiences is important, it helps us better understand varying perspectives and how individuals construct meaning. All the while, cultivating gratitude for different ages and developmental stages, affords our children the ability to feel supported in becoming the best version of themselves in the here and now.
Dr. Cait Gosnell
Lower School Director