Labels

I love when I can reuse things. My wife says I am cheap. I like to think of myself as a cross between resourceful, environmentally friendly, and yes, cheap. I just read a GREAT piece in The Atlantic about the Perils of Giving Kids IQ Tests and wanted to share this post I wrote back in August of 2010. While labels do serve a purpose and can be helpful, the perils are articulated brilliantly by Jessica Lahey in this article about Scott Barry Kaufman. I also love the Carol Dweck research in it. It could be the best read of the summer. Enjoy the article and read the blog post (again).

Warning Track Powers Blog Post from August, 2010 (as relevant today)
Labels are great when it comes to food. In fact, they are very helpful and informative. I look at them all the time now to see what I am eating. Most days I try and balance out what I eat. They are everywhere there is food. Chipotle (my favorite restaurant) just told me that my burrito bowl has 830 calories. Good thing I had a light lunch. And at the grocery store, I am always checking the labels to look for the best options. I am not always perfect on this as pop tarts occasionally find their way into the cart. All things in moderation. Right?

I got thinking about labels today on my drive home from school. Not the labels that come on our food packages. Those are constant and don’t really change much. I was thinking about labels as they relate to our kids and students. We are getting ready to launch another school year and the students are about to come back to the building. It is an exciting time for everyone (especially parents). Who will come through the door that first day? How much will they have grown physically? Will they have matured? These are all legitimate questions we will ask. It’s only natural. We will even discuss students as part of our meetings so that we can be best prepared to support them academically, emotionally and socially.

Being prepared for our students is important. However, the difference between a student label and a food label is that the student label is forever changing, maturing and sliding along the growth spectrum. This is something we cannot forget. Yes, we may have some “athletes”, “class clowns” and “really smart kids” among our population, but typecasting is a dangerous game. If we place a label on a child it is hard for us to see them as something different and equally as difficult for them to change. Even if Adam Sandler wanted to be cast as Albus Dumbledore, the respected and calm Headmaster of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, would we ever find him believable in that role? No, because we only see him as a guy who can be funny.

So, here is to a label free year. A year where the only thing we “stick” on our students is promise, potential and an opportunity to grow. I can get my label “fix’ at the grocery store.

Spaghetti Sauce and Differentiated Instruction

Titles are supposed to grab the readers attention. This one is more like, huh? Bear with me for a minute.

The credit for spaghetti sauce part of this title goes to Malcolm Gladwell, one of my favorite authors. Once you get over the fascination with his hair, and listen to what he says, how can you not be mesmerized by his ideas and theories?

The second part of the title is an instructional strategy used by teachers from coast to coast to work with  diverse groups of “learners” in the classroom. While doing some research on differentiated instruction resources for our teachers I came across Gladwell’s talk on spaghetti sauce on TED’s website (video here- it is 17 minutes but fascinating). Thanks to Bill Ferris and his Instructify blog  post for pointing me in this direction.

While he does not mention differentiated instruction once during his talk, Gladwell points to the brilliance of how the food industry developed different types of pickles, mustard, spaghetti sauce, coffee, etc., as a means to meet the needs and wants of the consumer.One size does not fit all. I know what I like (dill pickles, Grey Poupon, Rao’s marinara sauce, and Starbuck’s french roast) and when given the choice I will always pick out my favorites. Just ask my wife why I enjoy doing grocery shopping. What are your favorites? I bet they are different from mine. (Note- if I am invited over to your house for dinner I will eat whatever you serve.)

Ok, so to my question, how do we adopt a diversified approach to teaching our students? That is not easy and I surely don’t have any really good answers myself. What if one student learns best by standing at her desk in class while another has to manipulate it with his hands to learn?

Differentiated Instruction, the layering of lessons or assignments for different types of learners, is one tested and strategic approach that can make a difference. It contends, like Gladwell, one size does not in fact fit all. However, putting it into practice is easier said than done.  For starters, maybe we should take our students to the grocery store every year and see which spaghetti sauce they pick out? It might just help us figure out who is who in our classroom. Then we can plan the best way to reach them. It also might help me decide who I will “mooch” from at the lunch table- just kidding.