When I was Headmaster at Atlanta International School (AIS), the only school accredited by the international agency The Council for International Schools (as AISB) in town, we had tough competition from legions of private, established, heavily endowed schools. But as the only educational institution that offered the full IB program, we were considered by many to be educationally uncompetitive compared to those schools that offered a full Advance Placement (AP) preparatory program. However, as the IB became more established in the US and the IB itself became better at promoting the value of its curriculum, the stature and reputation of our school grew. Many of our peers in Atlanta began to realize that the majority of Tier 1 Colleges were accepting IB students over their AP ones. Indeed, I used to routinely promote the fact, to all who would listen, that in the top 200 colleges in the US, the percentage acceptance rates for IB students always exceeded that of AP students. This statement was never challenged; the facts spoke for themselves. Around the world the fastest growth market for the IB is in fact in North America as schools recognize the value of an IB education. When I gave my final address to the AIS Board, I was asked, ‘what do you perceive to be the greatest risk to the school over the coming years?’ The answer was simple, if our competitor schools realize the significant student success that can be achieved through an IB program, we would have a real competitor! One year later I heard that our main rival contacted the new Head to seek his advice on this matter!
As I said on many occasions, we are making many changes to our educational program at AISB, but the IB is here to stay; our delivery of its core standards will be improved, but its fundamental philosophy that drives students to real understanding and educational success is deeply embedded. I have heard many parental concerns about the removal of the GATE (Gifted and Talented) program next year, and I would be concerned too if I did not know that it was not going to be replaced with something better – it will be!
An article from Educational Week is pertinent in this regard when it mentions that, ‘…instead of being innate and immutable, giftedness can be nurtured and even taught—and if ignored, it can also be lost.’ (http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/10/15/08gifted_ep.h28.html) Our mantra is simple and widely accepted, and something in which I profoundly believe: all students deserve the opportunity to reach their potential, not a selected few, and that a child’s talents can change over time and develop. Differentiated instruction is a teacher’s response to a learner’s needs, it is more sophisticated and therefore needs careful and professional guidance for our teachers, because everyone is responsible for ensuring that student success is maximized. To quote from the teacher committee, led by Doreen Garrigan, that has been working on developing structures that will replace the GATE program next year, it is more than a set of strategies; it is a process, an approach to teaching and learning for students of differing abilities in the same class (Hall, 2002). When teachers differentiate their instruction, they make curricular decisions around teaching practices to match the needs of the students, whether those students need additional support, keeping pace with the curriculum, or are ready to extend their learning with more rigorous material. Teachers differentiate content, process, product, and the learning environment; they employ continuous formative assessment and incorporate flexible grouping when needed.
When implemented successfully, and, naturally, that is the key, differentiated instruction has proven to be extremely effective in supporting all students to grow, learn and succeed. The richness and rigor of the International Baccalaureate programs here at AISB are perfect for the implementation of differentiation practices. These will be embedded in every section of the school, from the youngest to the eldest. Its success will be monitored closely; it will no longer be the responsibility of a selected group of teachers to extend a group of children; it will be every teacher’s responsibility to challenge and motivate all of our students.
Because we all – parents, staff, faculty and students – have the responsibility to promote that same sense of wonder, curiosity, and enthusiasm for exploration that we all had, in those early years of our life. That wonder of the small child, their innate inquisitiveness, is what we hope to nurture. So if each child maintains that sense of wonder, curiosity and love of life, then we will indeed have been successful.