What does a coach do when half of her team is slam dunking and half is learning to dribble? What does a teacher do when one student understands a concept and another is still learning it? Anyone who has spent time teaching or coaching a group of learners will eventually confront this dilemma: How can we ensure that all students learn at high levels? Last week, the Alzar School teaching fellow class taught by Director of Studies, Laura Bechdel, sought to answer this perennial question.
In educational circles, adjusting instruction based on an individual’s needs is called differentiation. Laura sees differentiation as a natural response to wanting the best for each student: “We explore ideas of equity versus equality, and why doing what is 'equal' isn't necessarily fair.” In an effort to strive for equity, teachers might provide choices for assessments that allow students to express learning targets in a number of ways, or assign different angles of analysis according to a student’s interest. Laura noted that teachers at Alzar School often provide “personalized bookmarks to guide reflection in reading texts and guided notes to help some students access more difficult texts.” All in an effort to help each student access the class material.
The takeaway for teaching fellows? Spencer reflected, “Differentiation applies to all students, rather than just those at the very top or the very bottom of the class. Differentiation helps to motivate students by teaching them at their level and to their best ability rather than trying to get everyone to ‘make the same shoe fit.’”
‘Why Chile?’ we are often asked. The Alzar School returns to Chile each semester because it offers an amazing classroom for our students. Traveling to South America, students are met with a warm and welcoming culture that allows them to practice their Spanish speaking skills and make connections with locals. Beyond these wonderful people and cultures (stay tuned for a blog post about the Mapuche people,) Chile’s expansive geography and rich history provide endless lessons. Exploring Chilean Patagonia, in particular, gives our students a first-hand perspective on the contemporary and universal issue of land conservation. And this spring, Alzar School students are lucky to experience a historical moment for Chile and for the world.
On January 29, 2018, Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, President and CEO of Tompkins Conservation, came together to form five new national parks in Chile and expand three others. After decades of planning, restoration and negotiations (read more about the history of Patagonia Park,) the Chilean government and Tompkins Conservation have formalized the world's largest expansion of a national park system through the donation of private land!
The recent donation from Tompkins Foundation of over 1 million acres marks a momentous milestone for conservation and sets a president for private organizations. With this latest donation, Kristine, her late husband, Doug, and their foundation have helped to conserve more than 13 million acres of unique ecosystems in Argentina and Chile. In Chile alone, these newly formed parks will cover more than three times the area of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined, roughly the size of Switzerland.
In her recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Kristine explains the motivation behind their conservation efforts. “We believe that the transfer of private lands to the national park system is an act of democracy. A country’s natural masterpieces are best held and protected by the public for the common good. They should be available to all people to enjoy, to remember that they are part of something much larger than themselves. National parks, monuments and other public lands remind us that regardless of race, economic standing or citizenship, we all depend on a healthy planet for our survival.”
Alzar School students will continue to trek through the natural wonders of the new Patagonia National Park this week, taking in views of expansive valleys, glaciated mountains and, roaming wildlife. As they explore these far reaches of the world they will also gain a lesson in the value of natural environments and the roles in which governments, private foundations and they themselves can plan in preserving and maintaining wild spaces.