Challenging All Students

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Mar
  • 28
  • 2007

We’re reading Macbeth. We’ve watched movie clips, acted a few short segments, dissected very few quotations, summarized scenes, started a class blog, drawn 8-panel comics, and written briefly about theme. We have not had many class conversations, nor done any writing of significant length, nor connected the play to current events, nor related the decisions to choices we make. A set of quotations as a basis for class discussion of these things is my project for the weekend and should be the content of the class next week.

This is my first time with Macbeth and this has not been a good year for firsts. My experience with One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was equally dissatisfying. Our trip through Macbeth has not challenged the advanced kids at all. I feel like the lower and middle kids are doing a good job with the play, but my upper students are bored stiff.

I thought that adding a blog assignment I created would help (there are five different response styles and groups are responsible for one response style and one act of the play). Negative comments are about all I’ve overheard from the upper kids. There’s a video project I’ve put out there, but that’s all outside of class. I have a hard time assigning one thing to the rest of my class and another thing to the advanced kids, but I also want to push everyone, top and bottom alike.

Most kids are currently seeing this play as black and white. There are no shades of gray in determining fault or motivation or personality. I need to find a way to introduce those shades of gray. I suspect that’s what will keep the advanced students interested.

Right now, I’m thinking of a debate. Here are possible resolves:

  1. Macbeth is a tragedy.
  2. Macbeth is worth the audience’s sympathy.
  3. Lady Macbeth is the most influential character of the play.
  4. The events in the play are solely Macbeth’s fault.

But how else could I engage my higher-level students while not losing my middle- and lower-level students? How does a lower student earn an A based on one set of projects and a higher student earn a B based on a completely different set of projects? How can I have one set of expectations for one kid and a completely different set for another? Grades for a class need to be grades based on all of the same work, right? Can each student in a class have a different individualized education plan, yet still earn credit for the same course?


1. Ms. Q says:

[4/18/2007 - 7:36 pm]

“How can I have one set of expectations for one kid and a completely different set for another?”
Short Answer-Yes.
Long Answer-you need to challenge the kids at just above their ability level. Otherwise, the work is too easy and no real learning will take place.

“Grades for a class need to be grades based on all of the same work, right?”
Short Answer-No.
Long Answer-grades should be based on course objectives or standards of learning. Are the students meeting the objectives or standards. And-if you have different ability level students, you will have different ability level standards/objectives.

“Can each student in a class have a different individualized education plan, yet still earn credit for the same course?”
Short Answer-Yes
Long Answer-We, in education, need to get rid of the idea of all kids must learn the same thing at the same time. We just don’t learn this way. Brain research tells us this much. It is not so much the course, as the standards being addressed in the course.

I assume you teach literature/language arts. So your lower and middle kids seem to be doing well with Macbeth–great. Keep them at it. But, if your higher level kids aren’t getting anywhere, where’s the harm in having them analyze a different play. You could have them do a different Shakespeare play OR a play that is similiar in theme to Macbeth. The kids need to buy into it, of course. You can’t make it seem like they are being punished with more work, because they are above their peers. The other kids may also look unkindly on the difference in coursework. You overcome this by having a frank discussion about different learning styles and abilities. It’s not about easier/harder or smarter/dumber. It’s about can I do it alone (too easy) versus can I do it with a bit of guidance. Hope this helps!

2. Todd says:

[4/18/2007 - 11:38 pm]

Good thoughts, Ms. Q. I’m afraid that your answers are idealistic. I’m literally afraid that’s the case because your thinking is solid. But teachers are human. The bulk of my class reading one play and a small group reading another, I can’t do that. I can’t run two totally different units in my class at the same time.

Further, having 30 different IEPs per period, 120 each day (I have a release period for something else), is also something I just can’t do. I know that not all kids learn at the same pace (which is why I allow for second semester performance to improve first semester grades of those who failed), but I also know that I can’t teach 30 different things at once or manage 30 different projects at the same time. It’s a nice idea for all students to have an IEP, but it’s just not terribly practical.

What you describe might be possible with 20 students in a class at a time. Maybe. With 30+ students in each class? I’m not so sure.