by Meredith Resnick, M.Ed & MA
I have always been skeptical of clothing items that say one-size-fits-all. And for good reason! Although those gloves with the ‘one size works for everyone’ tag may in fact fit my 4 year old daughter and also stretch to fit over my hand, no one could argue that they fit just the same for both of us. For her, the gloves work quite well and she’s warm and cozy. On the other hand, my hands are more exposed, the material stretched so thin that my hands are not too warm on a chilly day. So, while the gloves can fit us both, they are not equally effective for us both.
The same is true in the education of our children. There is not a true one-size-fits-all approach that will result in effectively educating all children… And most importantly, there never should be! What works for one, may not work for another. And why would we want it any other way?
So, just as I do not need to settle for those “good enough” gloves when I can purchase a pair that fit me better, our children need not settle for a “good enough” fit in their education when they deserve the “right” fit for them.
While one could argue it would be wonderful if we could provide educators and parents with a list of effective strategies that would work universally, with further thought one might also see how such a system would be terribly uninspiring. We need different strategies to meet all types of learners’ needs buts also to keep this world full of excited, passionate, joyful and varied learners and people. If we could all learn the same way, or even learn to learn in similar ways, respond similarly to the same instruction and think the same, the results would be mind-numbing.
Many people can accept the fact that a one-size-fits-all approach to education is flawed, but they still desire a convenient script of sorts; if a child acts in this way at home, behaves that way in school, then strategy A will work wonders, but if she acts that way at home and behaves this way in school, then strategy B will be consistently effective. However, these convenient maps do not truly exist because, in all cases, individual variation and needs must be taken into account. This is not to say that generalities do not exist and that we should reinvent the wheel constantly. But it is said to emphasize the need to understand learners as unique individuals and move away from the idea that we can ever really help children learn without helping them first discover how they learn.
I often witness children assigned homework that is assumed to be universally effective. For example, each student might be asked to make flashcards to help them learn the new vocabulary words for Friday’s quiz. But flashcards, while a wonderful tool for many, are not effective for all students. Why not help children discover how they learn their vocabulary words best? And then assign them this particular method?
Teach them how to discover their own strengths and weaknesses; recognize their natural strategies; scaffold weaknesses with strengths. What a wonderful way to not only help students become more effective learners, but also empower them in the classroom and in life.
There are many changes we can make as we acknowledge that the one-size-fits-all model is flawed… when it comes to both gloves and education!