When I first started teaching, we had a ‘handbook’ meeting during pre-planning every year.  We would go to the cafeteria, sit on very uncomfortable round discs, and literally go through the teacher handbook page by page.  It was often read to us.  For those of you who think this sounds a lot like torture, you are correct!  Once would have been enough for a lifetime, but we did this every year, even though there were no changes to the handbook.  I dreaded that meeting!  Imagine, however, if eight hours of your day, every day, felt like that meeting!  I realized that is what we do to students when we do not give them ‘respectful tasks’.  A respectful task is one that is challenging and worthy of students’ time.

It was my first time working a certain first grade class, and I introduced a problem solving task.  It was not an easy task!  It had extra information and required thinking skills.  One child, after a few minutes, found me with a group of students and said he had solved it!  His teacher was standing there, too.  The student, the teacher, and I stepped to the side to discuss it.  I thought later that they both probably expected me to be impressed, but after seeing it was correct, I simply said, “I am so sorry.”  They looked confused, so I explained, “I am so sorry to have given you a task that was not respectful of your time.  Obviously, this was not challenging enough for you.  We had not met before today, so I did not know this would not be challenging for you, but from this point forward, you will be learning every day.  I hope you will accept my apology.”

What is most important is the result of that conversation!  He said he did accept my apology, and he began working on a logic puzzle.  (When visiting rooms, I always take additional brainteasers, so I have them when needed.)  That student, even at the age of 6, was becoming a bit of a discipline problem, and he was not interested in doing work.  For the next few weeks, however, he was completely engaged in math!  He was excited about doing something challenging!   In middle school, one of my classes was a connections class.  I gave a ‘contract’ problem each week, and anyone who could easily solve it could complete logic puzzles instead of our work for that week.  Only one or two students were able to do that, but because they had the opportunity, they were all more engaged.  As I write this, I have so many faces come to mind of amazing children whose attitudes changed when given respectful tasks!  

We want students to be excited and engaged!  As teachers, however, we have a great challenge!  Where do we find these materials?  How can we possibly differentiate for so many students in our class?  In addition, right now, many are trying to do this in a digital platform!  I certainly do not have all the answers.  After many years of experience, however, I do have some suggestions!  I hope you will continue reading, and we will discuss ideas one at at time through future posts!

A few years ago, handbook meetings ended!  Our principal found a more creative way to make sure we had all read it.  We were all so appreciative!  Most teachers are willing to work, but we don’t want to waste precious time.  Students don’t like to waste time, either.

What are your thoughts and ideas?  How do you manage differentiation and respectful tasks?

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