Everyone Gets What They Need: Reaching Your Writers

Nov 19 Reaching Young Writers

Fair doesn’t mean giving every child the same thing, it means giving every child what they need.—Rick Lavoie

Madeleine and I gathered our class for a meeting at the rug. Holding our classroom baby dolls, Madeleine said:

“Beech Class, something happened at recess yesterday with the babies.”

The class leaned in with anticipation. Storytelling is one of our favorite rituals.

“The babies were playing. Frog Baby fell and got a skinned knee. Frog Baby’s knee started to bleed, so I gave Frog Baby a bandage.”

Madeleine placed a bandage on Frog Baby’s knee.

“The other babies said, ‘That’s not fair! We want bandages too!’ So I thought to myself, Is that true? Beech Class, do I have to give bandages to all the babies?”

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Many kindergartners signed “no” in American Sign Language. Other kindergartners placed thumbs on their hearts, a signal that they wanted to share with the class. 

“Only Frog baby should get a bandage. Frog baby needs one,” Casper said.

“If everyone got bandages all the time, there wouldn’t be enough for people who need them,” Sora added.

The conversation continued with similar ideas.

Madeleine explained, 

“I hear you saying that only the baby that needs a bandage should get one. The others babies might want a bandage, but they don’t need one. Just like the babies and bandages, we do not always get what we want in this classroom, but we do get what we need. So you might notice, some of us will have a special type of seat or a special tool to write with…that’s because everyone gets what they…”

“…need!” kindergartners chimed in unison.

This line has become a refrain not only in the Beech Class, but across classrooms, in staff meetings, and in communications with families at Compass Charter School. According to Brooke Peters, co-leader at Compass:

“One of our original intentions in founding Compass was to build a school for a diverse group of students with a variety of needs. Some people told us we wouldn’t be able to meet the needs of all of our students, yet when we approach learning with ‘everyone gets what they need’ at the heart of all we do, we find that we are able to support children as individuals within our school community.”

Everyone Gets What They Need

The bandage story helps children and families differentiate between equity and equality, two terms that can be misunderstood in the context of education (and beyond). 

In previous years of teaching, when one student, who was diagnosed with ADHD, needed a wiggly seat, I thought, everyone would like to move and learn! and raised money for a class set. When one student, who needed OT services, needed a pencil grip, I thought, Everyone would be more comfortable writing with this! and I covered all of the pencils with them.

Though I wasn’t wrong, the class did enjoy having wiggly chairs and pencil grips, the resources spent on those materials, and my thinking that, it’s not fair if only one child gets this special tool, illustrated the misconception.

In “What is Equity,” the National Association for Multicultural Education, or NAME, defined the differences:

copy of fair doesnt mean giving every child the same thing it means giving every child what they need.rick lavoie

Everyone Gets What They Need During Writing Workshop

During writing workshop, everyone needs to access new learning, meet the physical demands of independent writing, follow routines, generate and organize ideas, and be seen and heard in the community. For many students, the predictable structure of writing workshop (with differentiated support in small groups and conferences) will allow for those needs to be met, while some students will need additional support, or accommodations.

One-size fits all curriculum perpetuates normative ideologies and othering that marginalizes particular students and groups. Ideal rights are routinely violated for students and groups who do not fit into White middl

Collaborating with experts in the building, such as service providers and special education teachers, can help with determining which accommodations best fit the needs of individual students. It’s critical, especially here, that we address any implicit biases that may be impacting our perception or decisions made about students of color.

Maroon Creating Shirts Infographic

Approaching Equity With Inquiry

It’s important to note that this work is not immediate nor is it easy. This post reflects my
learning from monthly, peer-led professional development sessions at my school with The National SEED ProjectSM  , founded by Dr. Peggy McIntosh. It’s also worth noting that I position myself as new in this learning and acknowledge that I identify as a white female teacher. As I learn, I continue to recognize my privilege, become aware of my implicit biases, and understand how unjust systems benefit my daily life.

In our SEED sessions, we have been unpacking “Everyone gets what they need” in the context of equity. We’ve pondered:

  • Who decides what kids need?
  • How do we determine if needs are being met?
  • How are we holding ourselves accountable?

In asking and answering these questions, we consider the systems of oppression in place and how they may be leading to inequitable practices in our classrooms.

While we don’t yet have all the answers, we will continue in our journey, with an expanded refrain:

Fair doesn’t mean giving every child the same thing, it means giving every child what they need.—Rick Lavoie-2

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Every Child Can Write by Melanie Meehan. Thanks to Corwin Publishers for donating a copy of each of these books — one book for a primary educator and one book for a secondary educator. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a print copy of this book.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of  Every Child Can Write, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, November 17th at 6:00 p.m. EST. Betsy Hubbard will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. Their name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, November 20th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Betsy can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, our contact at Stenhouse will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, Betsy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – EVERY CHILD CAN WRITE  within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.