Lower School Reflections: From the Desk of Dr. Gosnell

Published On: February 1st, 2023 | Categories: Food for Thought |


February 2023

Our return to school since winter break has been a busy one, filled with excitement of whole school events, such as Chapel Talks, the start of Winter Tuesdays, our fourth grade play, and our upcoming visiting author. Recently, we hosted our first of two assessment days for prospective pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, and we had the opportunity to speak to their families about our program.

What I am most proud of about our instructional program is the people, including students, and the love of teaching and learning that is palpable when you visit our school. Our teachers have the opportunity to be creative, to go off script, and to lean into teachable moments. They are able to do so in a way that harnesses what they know about their students as people coupled with their expert knowledge of content and pedagogy.

Our training in Responsive Classroom offered one of many reflective exercises for teachers. They were encouraged to list their students and next to their students’ names to write down something they know about each individual’s interests and then check off whether they think that student is aware that the teacher knows that about them. In other words, do I know my students and, more importantly, do they feel known?

Isn’t that what we all want, to feel seen and understood? In education, differentiation is a buzzword that is used frequently and for good reason. Differentiation is all about knowing our students and ensuring that they feel known in the learning plans we create. Differentiation is not about individualized instruction, it is about considering the individual as leaner in how we plan for their success in reaching learning targets. When we differentiate we consider an individual’s interests, readiness, and learning profile, in the context of the larger group. We change up the environment, the content itself, our instructional plan (process), and how we assess student understanding (product) based on our knowledge of individual factors.

Just as parents are able to more fully connect with their children when they see them for who they are, not as who they think they are or who they should be, teachers are able to best support student learning when they do the same. Taking the time to build relationships, to facilitate morning meetings, to engage in continuous assessment in order to challenge what we think we know about a child, affords us the opportunity to plan from a more informed place. The ability to be creative in our instructional planning, in the resources we use, and in how we facilitate learning, is part of what sets our school apart and helps us to continue to value the whole child.

For more information on differentiation in the upper school, check out my colleague’s posts linked below.
Upper School Notes from Evan Robb ’80 – Differentiate: Meeting All Students’ Needs
Upper School Notes from Evan Robb ’80 – Differentiating Learning at Powhatan (Part II)