Natalie Stapert, K-12 Master Reading Coordinator

Teach Children, Not Curriculum

A group of students gathered

For students with learning challenges, school can be a daunting place. Surrounded by teachers and classmates who judge them as deficient, different, or even disabled, and constantly pressured to perform in formats and media that work against their brain structure, it’s not surprising when students grow frustrated, anxious, and self-critical.

So what usually happens next? Most often, teachers keep doing what they’re doing, teaching the prescribed curriculum page after page, while the child languishes in the class. Or they hand the student off to a “specialist” who pulls the child from the classroom to provide a different curriculum that may or may not meet their learning needs.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking for an individual tutor, a program, a system, or a curriculum for a student who is struggling. And teachers who provide instruction in the skills and strategies neurodiverse students need for success, or incorporate them into the class, are few and far between. More often than not, it’s a one-size-fits all attempt.

There’s something truly special when a student is seen for who they are and teachers are able to step outside of prescribed and standardized curriculum. At its core, isn’t that what teaching and learning are supposed to be about? And isn’t it a shame that so many teachers are now using packaged curricula instead of building learning experiences tailored to meet the needs of the individuals in the classroom? At McLean School, I’ve found a like-minded community that believes in teaching the child–not the curriculum.

Our teachers know each student’s strengths and areas of challenge. They have mastered a wide variety of research-proven tools and strategies to ensure students’ academic success, and employ them strategically. Rather than assigning pages from a textbook or program, our teachers guide students through a learning cycle that begins with a clear presentation of grade-appropriate or advanced content in a format that supports and enhances the students’ strengths. Students demonstrate their learning through assignments and tasks, and teachers provide specific, supportive, corrective, and timely feedback ensuring that students master the content.

The cycle begins again with the presentation of new material to deepen and extend previous learning. This instructional cycle maximizes learning for both neurotypical and neurodiverse students. As a result of extensive professional development and years of experience, we anticipate where students will hit bumps in their learning journeys. We partner with the counselors, speech and language pathologists, learning services coordinators, and administrators to put routines, procedures, and tools in place within the classroom to address all kinds of challenges before they even arise.

And when the unexpected happens (as it often does in schools), our small class sizes and close personal relationships with students and families ensure that we respond efficiently and effectively–with care, kindness, and patience.

When we teach the talented, beautiful child in the classroom, and not the curriculum on the shelf . . . that’s when children blossom and transformation can truly happen.

-By Natalie Stapert, K-12 Master Reading Coordinator