Carol Ann Tomlinson spoke on Thursday, Feb. 9 in Kresge Recital Hall to an auditorium nearly full of teachers and aspiring teachers.
Described by junior Ron Schrag as “a big shot in the education community,” Tomlinson is a former public school teacher and currently William Clay Parrish Jr. Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership, Foundations and Policy at the University of Virginia. She has written multiple books on what she calls differentiated teaching.
Her lecture, which was entitled “Teaching Today’s Students,” centered on this idea. It is one of a series of special events in honor of the college’s 175th anniversary.
The first part of the lecture she spent defining this concept, the idea that students are different and learn in different ways and teachers must teach them in different ways.
She defined the goal of differentiated educations is to “create a community of learners in which we can all be ourselves.”
While this idea may seem like common sense, “We haven’t always been taught to do this,” she said. Most teachers were taught in classrooms that were not differentiated and thus that is the picture they have of a classroom.
Tomlinson then showed the audience how the demographics of the classroom are changing, with more English language learners, and a wider variety of skill levels and economic and cultural backgrounds.
By far the most memorable part of the lecture was the stories of students she gave to illustrate these demographics. Schrag, an education major, “really enjoyed her anecdotes.”
Tomlinson told the stories of six students representing different types of diversity. The first was that of Pam, an eighth grader who wrote a poem about how school had stifled her creativity. “But creativity, kept in silence, perishes,” Tomlinson read from Pam’s poem.
She also told the story of Repp, a student with a disability who was continually discouraged by spelling and vocabulary. His mother told the teacher she thought they were going to “lose him,” but the teacher was able to build his confidence by engaging him in things he was good at rather than forcing him to take spelling tests.
Her last story included Derek Green, who was homeless for most of his childhood and full of anger and resentment. Most teachers gave up on him, until one teacher worked with him where he was, starting with sitting still and working for four minutes. Green went to Duke University and is now a teacher and said he felt a “need to give back what was given to me.”
Tomlinson finished the lecture by framing teaching as an ethical profession.
“Teaching is predominantly an ethical profession because it is a human profession,” she said, explaining that teachers often teach kids according to their expectations of them.
“It serves us all well to teach kids like they’re all smart,” she said, “so they could learn how to aim high.”
Students enjoyed the lecture. Junior education major Sophie Townsend found the lecture “very inspirational,” as well as appropriate for the Knox Educational Studies Department.
The lecture displayed “a lot of what the ed department stands for,” she said. “Kids need to excel in their own way.”
Schrag has read her books in his education classes and “all of my experiences in the public school system have been guided by her theories.”
Even students who were not education majors benefited from the lecture.
“From this lecture I know how to treat my children in the future,” sophomore Tingting Huang said.