This post is an edited, enhanced, and otherwise reworked version of an internal class blog post from a class called Motivating 21st Century Learners at Syracuse University. I am posting a series of these because the topics are close to my heart, they illustrate part of my library school journey, and I believe will get you thinking as they did me. If you are a fellow lover of information, community, and life-long learning–or if you are just wondering what we do in library school–welcome!

Knowing your audience and differentiating instruction is a big deal, whether you are in a traditional classroom or facilitating knowledge creation in a library environment. The following experience from my time teaching three- and four-year-olds at the Black River Cooperative Preschool illustrates the importance of leaving your assumptions behind as you approach instructional planning.

When Universal Pre-K programs became available in Northern New York, our one-room cooperative preschool struggled to open our usually full Monday-Friday afternoon four-year-old class. Many families could not pass up the tuition-free opportunity Universal Pre-K offered to bus children to a five-day preschool program that took place in the very building they would attend elementary school. We did have a core group of parents that were not yet willing to give up the experiences, field trips, and involvement that the coop made possible, but they were interested in a three-day-a-week morning program. We found that we had a waiting list of families with three-year-olds looking for a program that introduced their children to the preschool environment. We had so many interested families, the board decided to offer a second two-day-a-week class for three-year-old students. The catch was it would be in the afternoon so that it did not conflict with our still-popular Monday/Wednesday/Friday four-year-old morning class. As the teacher, I was willing to try it, and the parents were invested in implementing and supporting the program, so we went for it.

I performed some analysis of the students, as usual, by talking to the parents and having them fill out questionnaires prior to and during our open house while the children played. During our first week of school, I incorporated time for the students to learn “school behavior” expectations, as well as individual time to start to get to know each student. I had already adjusted activities in the schedule knowing that afternoons with this age group could be challenging. I realized quickly, that planning under the assumption that this class would be much like my morning three-year-old class was a mistake. Simply shifting activities was not enough—I had considered each child as unique, but had not thoughtfully considered my audience as unique.

I adjusted to provide more meaningful classroom experiences by starting from scratch and creating lessons better suited to each class based on our school curriculum. I found that it was critical to provide activities that were engaging in different ways, and that required an energy level that correlated to the personality of each class as well as the time and space in which we were meeting. I also relied on collaboration with parents, all of whom served regularly as classroom helpers, to gain a better understanding of what motivated their children to ask questions and pursue topics further outside of class. I was able to create lessons that connected with each class by getting over my assumption that because my classes looked statistically similar, they would respond to instruction similarly.

The photo used in this post was taken on a rainy fall day during a multi-class trip to the Burrville Cider Mill, where we learned about many different kinds of apples, walked through the cider-making process, and experienced fresh cider with freshly-made doughnuts! (That’s me with the circle-patterned raincoat and the very wet head.)Original Post: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 2:07:18 PM EST