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Blended Bites Blog

Beads and Needles, A Metaphor for Schools

Jessica Anderson

I've been working on a Christmas stocking for my three year old niece for the past three years. It's been a tedious task of sequining, beading, unknotting, and sewing every detail into place. Excitingly, this is the year I will put down my needle, thread, beads, and sequins. Come Christmas morning this labor of love will be in her hands to enjoy for all future Christmas's to come.

Last night as I was feverishly working on some of the final details, I found that my needle and beads were not working in harmony.  It wasn't every bead, but most beads that would get stuck on the head of my needle. Feeling a little frustrated, I first tried to push the bead over the needle head. Secondly, I tried to turn the bead thinking it might just be misshapen and need a little guidance to its final destination, a colorful sequin. When that trick only worked for a few beads, I had to resort to looking and testing several different needles. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find the perfect needle to fit each and every bead. "Drats", I thought to myself, "this is going to take forever."

While in the moment, an interesting thought emerged. Beads and needles are just like students and school.  The majority of education systems try to slide the same needle (curriculum, grade, measurement system, standardized test, etc...) through every bead (students). When that doesn't work, they try work-arounds, like alternative schools, online credit retrieval, special education referrals, meetings with parents, etc, etc, etc. But most strategies are about getting the student through a particular process, not about making the process work for the student.

What this thought really brought to light is the question of How can education be tailored so that every student, no matter the process, can achieve an educational dream? It's not a new question, nor has it not been asked before, but it seems to still be a universal concern.

Our students are a lot like beads, they all have their own personality, shape, and challenges. Every student, even those that you don't think really care about school at all, has a dream they want to achieve. For teachers this can sometimes be frustrating. Why won't that student just do the work? How am I going to motivate a student who isn't motivated? When is enough, enough?

The true challenge emerges when a teacher, like myself, decides that what is happening in the classroom is no longer working. It's often an uphill battle to make tiny shifts, like from changing your teaching from direct instruction, to inquiry, to full out self-paced, blended learning. It's a process that takes time, energy, and downright determination. But it's really those beginning steps of stepping out of your comfort zone to help students that you know have always and will always need your guidance to reach their educational dreams.

Am I saying that a blended classroom is the answer, no. What I'm saying is that opening your classroom up to being flexible for the learners within it is imperative. Whether that's adapting an assignment for a struggling student or allowing a student to choose how they'd like to be assessed, it's about giving students the opportunity to show that they aren't just another bead trying to navigate the same needle as everyone else.

So, the next time you assign students an activity, ask yourself this question Am I doing everything in my power to tailor education for every student so they can achieve their dreams? If the answer is no, maybe a little rethinking is in order to help students reach the limelight. There really is beauty in every bead no matter what needle it goes through to reach the sequin.