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RIDE supports several blogs throughout our website where Rhode Islanders and RIDE staff share their thoughts.

On this page, we have collected all of the blogs on our site - many of which share posts from Rhode Island educators other than RIDE staff. Blogs are listed in alphabetical order:

  • Commissioner's Corner: Blog posts and messages from the Commissioner to the Rhode Island community.
  • District Teacher of the Year (DTOY): Posts from the Rhode Island District Teachers of the Year, past and present, who share about instructional successes and challenges they encounter in Rhode Island classrooms.
  • Equitable Access to Excellent Educators: Rhode Island educators and RIDE staff explore factors and perspectives on the importance of ensuring that all students are taught by high quality educators.
  • Leadership: Reflections and insights from RIDE’s Leadership Fellow and other district and school leaders on the challenges and opportunities of being a school leader.
  • Rhode Island Poet Laureate: Reflections and poetry focused on teaching, learning, and the experience of education from Tina Cane, Rhode Island Poet Laureate.
  • Rhode Island Science Education (R.I.S.E.): A communication blog to update stakeholders in education and in the community on important developments, events and accomplishments in science education in Rhode Island.
  • Student Voice: Because student voice is an essential component of our discussion on education, RIDE will post essays written by students from around Rhode Island.

Click on a category below to filter by a particular blog:

Balancing Rigor and Attainment: Taking the “CAN’T” Out of Our Educational Lexicon

Posted by: Meg Geoghegan on 12/23/2019

Oneika Castro

2019 District Teacher of the Year
English Language Arts Teacher / Humanities Department Head
Highlander Charter

“He can’t.” “She won’t.” “They don’t”

Many of us service students who come from backgrounds different from ours, which we might find “challenging” - whether it be financial, emotional, physical, familial, or academic - and far too often, teachers remark “they can’t” or “they won’t,” which is stifling to hear as a reflective practitioner. Because if you are already approaching a student with that mindset - that growth or attainment is not possible - then you’ve already lost that student - along with your purpose. We are not teachers to teach those who already know. The point of our ever-so lofty position is to educate for growth - of which ALL students are capable.

Students should not be left on their own accord, even those who demonstrate skills above grade level. As data indicates, they crash and burn without proper supports and scaffolding. There needs to be a balance - a balance of rigor and attainment - a sense of challenge, but also a sense of “I can do this.”

It is okay to do both - to be both rigorous and deliver content in an attainable way. Yes, you as the teacher should be accessible for feedback, support, and guidance. Teaching is not a one and done model - “I taught you;” “You should know it;” “Now go prove it.” I have heard this, and it doesn’t work for our student population that needs additional support.

Some students need this extra support, while others need to be pushed. I was the latter, but didn’t always have the trust and back up by my classroom teachers. Instead of being challenged, I was often selected to help my peers learn the content I had already mastered. In retrospect, I believe implicit bias was at play - the idea that we act and make decisions based on unconscious qualities we attribute to certain social groups. As a young student, I feel I could have grown so much more had my teachers believed I could.

All of this brings me back to my academic days where I encountered ZPD. While at the time, I thought it was more psycho babble to explain away education, I have since come to appreciate the theoretical concept, and fully adopt it - albeit subconsciously - in my classroom. Vygotsy’s Zone of Proximal Development is the sweet spot. The area where a student can achieve with just the right amount of guidance and support.

So how do you find that sweet spot? Know your students. Don’t just assume because they come from a different background that they are disadvantaged in some way. Every student in front of me on day one is the same. They are bright. Capable. Are they on grade level? Maybe, maybe not, but I plan on educating each and every one as though they are, and push those who prove to be beyond. It is up to us to find that sweet spot where they feel accomplished, yet challenged.

In my classroom, it comes in the form of modeling, scaffolding, and slow release.

This approach has served my current cohort very well. Recently, I was out for two days with my sick child. Colleagues scrambled to cover my unexpected and abrupt absence, and I received the most affirming feedback of my professional career. I left a reading assignment - something I was a little worried about doing, since we had been reading a lot together as a class. However, I had modeled reading strategies along the way, and felt confident in their comprehension. During my absence, students were “engaged the entire time.” My colleagues remarked “I didn’t have to redirect them once.” I was told that “after finishing the chapter, the students had recap discussions in their small groups where they pushed each other to elaborate on details and clarify when necessary.” In addition, “the volume of each student was low, conversations on-topic, support given to each other while they read, and a tremendous amount of respect for the learning environment.”

Never should I hear “they can’t” or “they won’t,” because as my students proved on a day I was out -

They did.

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