By Peggy Lobello, 4th Grade Teacher
Orrs Elementary, Griffin, GA

Students come to us in all shapes and sizes. They come in all abilities as well. It is an ongoing task charged to educators to find ways to challenge students at all levels of ability. Teachers at Orrs Elementary School work together to provide meaningful learning experiences at all level of mastery.

Lessons based on choice menus by interest or learning style is one way to challenge students. Another way to challenge students is to provide differentiated lessons to meet the needs of all learners. Teacher-led small groups in reading or math can provide challenging opportunities with teacher direction.

Character education focusing on self-discipline and self-motivation can lead to students working alone or collaboratively on ways in which to challenge themselves and thus taking ownership of their own learning.

Finding ways to challenge all students remains a top priority at Orrs Elementary. A series of character lessons have been applied this year across grade levels. Teachers collaborated on differentiated lessons with a character theme that includes skills across content areas.

Students have been empowered by choice during these lessons to incorporate expressions of understanding of both the content/skill base and the concepts of good character targeted by the lessons. Displays of student work emphasizing these positive character traits have lined the hall at Orrs throughout the school year.

Students are able to recognize many of the values learned in the work of their grade level peers and in students younger or older than they are. This series of lessons has given students a voice both individually and collaboratively about character issues.

High-stakes testing is a reality in schools these days. Testing success, however, is not the only goal at Orrs Elementary School. Teachers have consistently executed lessons that seek mastery over mere performance. Real world applications are stressed across grade levels.

Teachers work as teams to create lessons that will challenge students at all ages and levels and provide an understanding of the practical application of skills at the earliest age. Questions that are constantly asked of students include “how can I use this in real life?” And “what are the practical applications of this skill?”

Having such questions present at all phases of planning and implementation insures that students focus on the heart of the matter of education. For students and faculty at Orrs, that heart of the matter is the mastery of standards so that students are prepared for grades to come and eventually life.