Thoughts on Approximation.
Reflecting on the first few weeks of the school year, I find myself grappling with the work that constitutes our Curriculum Framework which is summoned by PA Core. In appreciation of the depth and rigor that the PA Core standards bring to our teaching and learning environments; artfully designing engaging, thought provoking, spiraling, and rigorous lessons that are all-encompassing when it comes to teaching reading and writing across the content, has me advocating for differentiation in a new light: approximation.
This week, we start KidWriting with our Kindergartners, who for those of you in the upper elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms may not remember…these are 5 year olds-writing. 5 year olds who often come to school not knowing how to properly button their pants after pottying, tie their shoes, open their milk cartons at lunch, or successfully be away from their loved ones for an extended period of time without having a mini-meltdown of tears. These mini-meltdowns often require a follow up trip to the guidance counselor, a conference or pep talk from the teacher, a drink from the water fountain and a cool, damp paper towel to freshen their face, or a motivational high-five or handshake from the principal to get them through the day. With all of this being said, these are also the same children who will begin to write…yes write, in their very own writing journals this week.
To put this into even better perspective for you, most of these students are just learning how to master an ergonomic pencil grip that will last them a lifetime, identify all upper and lowercase letters (in and out of order, and on paper, not just in the song they know by heart), mimic the formation of letters when printing, and utilize all the concepts of print including: left-to-write progression, good spacing between words, beginning each sentence with a capital letter, using punctuation of any kind to end a sentence, and most importantly…stretching words to hear the varied sounds that each unique word possesses, otherwise known as phonological awareness. Having these 5 year olds begin to write and write well across all three modes of writing at this young age is a phenomenon that cannot quite be put into any other words than: it’s remarkable…they are remarkable.
Now we all long for things that do not yet exist, or at least that is the case for me. I bring these Kindergarteners to you in this context as a prime example of something that does not yet exist for them, but they are immersed in immediately as they begin their career as a student: Writers Workshop. However, the potential, the dream, and most importantly the ability to approximate on both the students’ and teachers’ part is there. The youngest of writers can actually out-write themselves as readers for a very long time mainly because they know so many words orally that they don’t yet recognize on paper. By fostering approximations of spellings for these words, 5 year old Kindergarten students can write much richer texts than they are able to read independently.
So as we work to interpret and design lessons that will afford our students the opportunities to meet the rigorous standards set forth by PA Core, let us remember to support approximations of our students’ work as they progress to meet the standards. In other words, resist the urge to give students at any grade less well-written texts simply because they are easier for them to read independently. By exposing our readers and writers to rich, well-written, complex mentor texts, in a supportive environment where Close Reading is unfolded in a dialogic community of learners, we are promoting student growth as readers…as writers. These texts are critical to their reading and writing development. Continuing to teeter between the notion of “these standards are too hard for my students,” and “my students are just not there yet…,” will only result in falling short of what they can really accomplish through a supportive approach and a whole-hearted philosophy to promote, nurture, and celebrate approximations.
So go for it! Give them the rich diet of texts that they long for and reap what you sow in terms of the writing that they will produce and the vision that will carry them through any immersive unit of study.
Approximation: the most authentic way to practice differentiation while affording all students the rigor they deserve.
How have you designed instruction that promotes differentiated approximations of learning targets and standards students engage in each day?