Better to not teach?

I teach a class that is predominantly online and entirely self-paced. Students progress through a series of 50 or so lessons (developed by me) over the course of the year. I walk into class on a daily basis to find some students who are progressing at twice the rate of the students sitting right next to them. So, what do I teach when I get up in front of the room if my students are in such different places?”

The answer, simply, is that I don’t. In fact, I couldn’t. After all, what would I teach? Anything I’d try to teach would be over the head of one student and a waste of time for another. So I don’t even try. Class begins and I don’t teach. Instead, students learn. If and when they need help, they know where to find me.

My class is atypical in structure but the principle is not unique. The gap — even in a class of just 15 or 20 students — between the top of the class and the bottom of the class can be mind-boggling. A single 3rd grade class could have one student reading on a Kindergarten level and another student reading on a middle school level. For every class for which I’ve seen data there is a multi-year gap between the top and the bottom of the class.

Let’s keep it simple and stick to skills-based classes (we’ll deal with content-based classes another time). That teacher — the one who gets up in front of the entire 3rd grade class to teach a reading skill tomorrow — what exactly is she teaching? Would it maybe make more sense to not “teach” it?

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