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Rick Wormeli: Differentiating Instruction - Mentor Teacher

By: LD OnLine Exclusive

"What we teach is irrelvant. It doesn't matter what we teach. What matters is what students take with them when they leave us at the end of the year; this is our greatest testimony as educators." - Rick Wormeli

Rick Wormeli

"I'm a practitioner on the front lines who uses the perspectives and strategic I promote. If we want to help students learn well, we must immerse them in rich, diverse and stimulating environments," says this month's mentor teacher Rick Wormeli. Rick is a Nationally Board Certified Middle School teacher from Herndon, Virginia who was a winner of the Disney's American Teacher Award in English in 1996. Rick is also a nationally known speaker on Middle School education. A husband and father, Rick also knows the impact young adolescents can have on the family and the difficulties parents can sometimes have when their expectations for a child's learning do not match the quality of instruction found anticipated.

While studying for a career in medicine at Virginia Tech, Rick switched to education. Twenty years later he still radiates a passion about teaching and about teaching students in the middle school. He is currently on leave from his teaching position at Rachel Carson Middle School in Herndon, Virginia. Rick is also a columnist for Middle Ground magazine. He has taught science, math, English, and history. He served as a consultant with the Smithsonian Institution's Natural Partners program, involving his classroom and community in Dr. Clyde Roper's expedition to find sixty-foot giant squid off the coast of New Zealand.

Rick is the author of many articles on middle school teaching. His books include Meet Me in the Middle: Innovative and Accomplished Practice in the Middle School (2001), and Day One and Beyond (2003), a book that gives advice to Middle School teachers how to meet the educational needs of young adolescents.

Questions & Answers

Why do you teach at the middle school level? Many teachers say this is a very difficult age to teach.

The middle level years are an extraordinary period of our human development. The only other time we grow as much physically, emotionally, and intellectually is form ages zero to two. But early adolescence is much more than just tripping over large feet and calling friends on the phone to discuss who likes whom. The ways we deal with conflict, relationships, and personal development as adults have direct connections to specific experiences we had between the ages of ten and fourteen. We can create a very positive future then, when we provide careful and compassionate experiences for today's young adolescents.

Parents of young adolescents who write us at Ask LDOnLine often ask what do I need to do to motivate my child/adolescent? Nothing seems to work. What do young adolescents need from parents in your opinion?

You adolescents undergo rapid physical, intellectual, and moral growth. They move from concrete to abstract thinking and from absurdity and rationality, and back again. They deal with tremendous pressures from peers, parents, and society all the while searching for identity, purpose, security, and acceptance. Young adolescents crave:

  • positive social interaction with adults and peers
  • structure and clear limits
  • physical activity
  • creative expression
  • competence and achievement
  • meaningful participation in families, school and communities, and
  • opportunities for self-definition.

If we don't provide these needs at home and at school, young adolescents will become alienated, lack self-esteem and a sense of belonging.

Can you explain more about how to work with middle schools students? What is differentiated instruction?

The article listed below is an article that I just wrote for a conference presentation that explains the concepts.

LD OnLine Exclusive (2003)