With few exceptions, most teachers feel they could be doing a better job of differentiating instruction. It’s not that teachers don’t want to do it—they know students learn at different rates, that some need more help, and others could be moving much more quickly. The problem for many is figuring out how to manage it. How do you run a classroom where each student is working on a different thing at a different speed?
For the Wasatch Academy Math Department, this riddle has been solved by allowing students to move at a pace appropriate for them. This approach to learning differs from the traditional teacher-led, whole-class lesson in that it allows students to use materials and resources to customize the way they learn in class. Although there is a minimum pace that must be maintained to finish the course by the end of the school year, allowing students to move at an appropriate pace provides them the opportunity to design their own learning experience, not only at their own pace but according to their own interests and learning styles. The role of the instructor is to provide guidance, feedback on proficiency, and tailor the learning environment to students based on their needs.
Co-Chair of the Math Department Emma Chiappetta states, “Students are generally nervous at first. They are used to being taught in a lecture format so they might be resistant to watching videos or looking things up themselves. However, once they see that an individualized classroom allows them to spend more time on the topics that are challenging to them and breeze through topics that they already know, they embrace the different environment.”
This new approach to learning has already seen great success. Students that would generally be slowly moving through an Algebra 1 class throughout an entire academic year are now able to complete and show proficiency in a particular math field and move into the next course such as Geometry. Further, should students find themselves struggling with specific math concepts, they are allowed to spend additional time to fully understand those concepts. “Students feel empowered when they can control the pace of their own learning. I have been able to push students further than they would have expected for themselves and I have also been able to individualize my attention with students that are struggling,” Chiappetta adds.
“I have really found my strengths in math since doing this program,” said junior Grace Nied. “I no longer worry about being lost or feeling like I can’t get help. It has made me much more confident in my studies.”