>On a recent Monday afternoon, I was looking over the list of spelling words that came home with Bubba. This wasn’t your typical first grade list, and I paused when I reached one of the words–I wasn’t sure what it meant.
My boy watched me intently as I consulted Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. The word commodious brought to mind a room full of gleaming white toilets, but I knew that couldn’t be right. He grinned as I paged through the reference book, searching for the word. Even adults don’t know everything, I imagined him thinking.
commodious: adj. 1. comfortably or conveniently spacious: roomy. “a commodious closet” 2. archaic: handy; serviceable.
Commodious is certainly not included in the general spelling curriculum at this level, but Bubba has been reading since before he went to preschool. He has a memory that as far as I can tell, is near-photographic. Once he’s read a word, he tends to be able to spell it correctly weeks, even months, later. For that reason, spelling lists that are of the four- to six-letter word variety are painfully easy for him.
His teacher recognized this pretty quickly. In fact, there was clear evidence that she had honed in on his advanced skills during the first week of school. Starting with the third week, he was bringing home spelling lists that were clearly different than those that Daisy brought home just two years before.
Each Monday I find the sheet in Bub’s folder–a hand-written list, with the heading, “Bubba’s Spelling Words”. Ms. Z pulls the words from the material that he is reading that week in the classroom. Commodious was an adjective used in a book he recently read about Johnny Appleseed.
What Bubba’s teacher is doing is known as differentiation. She’s modifying her base curriculum to suit the needs of the various skills, aptitudes and learning styles of her students. At least, I know she is for my boy, which leads me to assume that:
a) she’s doing it for other students, and
b) she’s done this before
Of course I believe that my kid is special, but I also know he’s not that special in the big scheme of things. It would be arrogant to think that she’s only making these kinds of accommodations for my son. And, since she has been doing this in various ways since the first week of school, she is clearly comfortable with making those modifications…hence my assumption that she’s experienced in differentiation.
She isn’t insisting that he do all the same work as his classmates, “rewarding” him with challenging work only upon completion of the task at hand, as was the case last year. She identifies his abilities and existing knowledge base, and works from there to be sure that Bub learns something new, every day.
It can’t be easy to teach a class of seventeen children who are six and seven years old. With so many different youngsters in one room, a teacher is bound to find a pretty wide range of skills and developmental achievements. There are individual variations, too: my boy may know simple square roots, but he can’t tie his shoes.
Which is why I’m repeatedly impressed with the way Ms. Z has seamlessly (at least to this parent), incorporated appropriately challenging work into my boy’s curriculum. She doesn’t have to do this. There is no IEP in place for him. In fact, there’s no mandate whatsoever that she provide Bub with an enriched curriculum. So long as he performs at the proficient level for the first grade math and reading tests, her job can effectively be done.
But Ms. Z doesn’t accept that. She’s one of the good guys, and even after decades as a teacher, she isn’t stuck in the same routine, year in and year out. Her curriculum offers enough flexibility to work with all of her students.
In fact, I’d even venture to say it’s downright commodious.