Maximizing Every Student's Potential

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Everybody is different, especially when it comes to learning new information. If this is true, how do we reach all students in our classrooms? Read this lesson for information about maximizing every student's potential by meeting students where they are.

Can All Students Learn?

The simple answer--of course they can! Every student has the potential to learn, grow, and become a successful member of society. The real question then becomes, how do we get them there? Every student has a set of strengths and weaknesses that will affect his or her ability to learn and the level at which they learn. It becomes the teacher's job to find this potential and run with it.

Read this lesson to learn more about maximizing every student's potential in the classroom by meeting them where they are.

Meet Them Where They Are

We want all of our students to be able to succeed and function at the highest learning level possible, and expectations should undoubtedly be set for every student that enters our classroom. However, the reality of the expectations and outcomes will look different for every student.

Take Anthony, for example. Anthony has severe ADHD and struggles to remain seated during English class, but Anthony has a loving personality, cares for his classmates, and truly does try to complete his work. A class period for Anthony looks quite different compared to the other students. He needs multiple breaks, at least one bathroom break to take a walk, and he may only complete part of what is asked of him. But if Anthony completes that one part, especially after a lunch period or at the end of the day, that time spent on learning, while short, is an accomplishment.

Anthony struggles to complete work in class because of the distractions but succeeds after school with one-on-one help.
Image of boy completing homework

Not everyone is a math wiz and not everyone is skilled at high level literature analysis. Therefore, we need to meet our students where they are. What are each student's strengths and weaknesses, and how can we fill in the gaps of those weaknesses?

Anthony loves to discuss the characters in the books we are reading, and when he's in the right state of mind, he does an excellent job of writing open responses. Having Anthony stay after school to recopy notes, discuss key lecture points, and complete his open responses without the distraction of others all meet Anthony where he is at and uses his potential to help him succeed. He is still expected to complete the work, but the path to success looks different.

What Do They Know?

When discussing the topic of a student's potential and meeting students where they are, we have to think of what they bring to the table. Okay, Anthony hates reading because he struggles to focus, but he enjoys discussion. A graded discussion can help peak a student's interest and get them on board with the characters and the lessons. Maybe Anthony loves music, so instead of simply reading poetry, we connect with Anthony in regards to meter, rap, and song lyrics. It's all about personal connections and presentation.

There is always prior knowledge to be found, and there are always ways to use that prior knowledge in lessons. We simply have to find it and look for new and creative ways to use it within our classrooms. Pulling video clips, adding hands-on activities, and changing up the supplemental content are all ways to meet our students where they are and engage them in a way that connects to them personally.

What Do They Want to Know?

Most of the time, teachers find that students who are not doing well in class simply don't connect to the subject they are teaching and/or struggle to succeed in that subject. What motivates our students? Why don't they like the subject? And if it's a content or skill-based issue, how can we fill in those gaps as a the teacher? Again, we are focusing on the individual needs and strengths of each student, and getting a student to complete one assignment a week might be a huge feat for both the teacher and student.

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