What if schools organized themselves to deliver to each child what she or he most needs? We could imagine practically everything about the educational program would change. There would need to be an understanding of what each child most needs, and teachers would need to be capable of responding to those needs. The schedule would need to accommodate a wide variety of offerings every period of every day. Textbooks couldn’t contain everything that each child might possibly need, of course, so other learning tools would need to be incorporated. Measurement of student progress would be based on more than a single annual assessment.
It’s a radical departure from schools’ business-as-usual. As a result, schools do not generally pretend to deliver what each child most needs, asserting that it isn’t practical. Instead, American education has settled on prescribing a curriculum at each grade level that children are expected to master. In the United States today we call this the Common Core. In other words, the prescribed curriculum supersedes meeting the needs of each child.
Carroll, on the other hand, has dedicated itself for nearly 50 years to understanding what each child most needs and setting about delivering it. It’s complicated, cumbersome, exhausting, and consumes resources, but it’s remarkably effective. Over the past decade, we have become more capable of addressing each child’s needs than ever before. We now have a profound ability to monitor student progress as assessment tools become easier to administer frequently. As neuroscience and cognitive science teach us more about the human brain, we realize that the job of a teacher is to build better learning brains in their students.
At Carroll, we have created a mythological educator named Gec Washman. The name is a loose acronym for “Give Each Child What She or He Most Needs.” “Gec” has become shorthand for describing our need to look closely at a student’s profile and deliver targeted education. As one of our educational leaders commented recently, “We are doing a lot of Geccing here! Her [a new student] somewhat amazing progress is directly related to the fact that teachers identified the problem early and pushed to find some outside-the-box solutions that would work for her.”
Some examples of how Carroll is meeting the needs of specific children include:
- In the Lower School, we have further customized our core Orton-Gillingham tutorial according to a child’s cognitive profile. Nearly every student receives an Orton-Gillingham tutorial, but the focus of each is matched to a child’s greatest needs in more dynamic ways: some combine cognitive development into the tutorial, others emphasize written expression, and some even incorporate math.
- In the Middle School, analysis of “Track My Progress” assessment results revealed that for a significant number of students who made dramatic progress in reading, math now appeared to be the area of greatest academic weakness. As a result of a more flexible academic schedule, we now provide twice as much math class time for about 20 percent of Middle School students.
- In the C8/9 program, a new student arrived as a virtual nonreader. At the outset, we offered this student what we provide for all students: a solid Orton-Gillingham based tutorial. Quickly, we realized that this wasn’t going to meet her needs completely. So we adjusted, giving her OG and a second tutorial that coordinates with the OG tutorial and brings in cognitive as well. We are modifying our assignments; our cognitive team is coordinating with her outside neurologist; we are using a different, more readable font (which we are now doing with all 8th grade classes); we are experimenting with voice notes and speech to text; and we are looking at ways to modify her Chromebook keyboard in order to make her able to type more regularly because she’ll be able to see the keys better.
As you can see, Gec Washman is hard at work at Carroll as we organize our entire program around children’s needs rather than a prescribed curriculum.
- Give Each Child