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An Introduction to Enrichment and Supportive Classroom Strategies

An Introduction to Enrichment and Supportive Classroom Strategies

When a classroom teacher suggests that he or she will be providing ‘enrichment’ to students, it can often lead to confusion due to the various definitions of the term.

Most U.S. school systems adhere to a framework of standards (such as the Common Core) to decide what students will learn and when they should learn the objectives. Traditionally, the pattern of education is to teach a concept or skill and allow students to practice (and practice again) that same skill or concept until mastery is demonstrated. Enrichment is any activity that occurs beyond the standards framework.

For example, if I have a group of fourth grade students and my scope and sequence tells me that I am to teach division one week, it is highly likely that I will have students who have already mastered division, others who are ready to learn it, and a handful who do not yet have the foundational knowledge to approach this standard. If I create supplemental activities for each of these groups, that is considered enrichment. Students will be expanding their knowledge of division. For my high flyers, I might assign a project that involves utilizing multiple-digit division to solve word problems. For my students who are not quite at the “Aha!” moment of understanding, I would be wise to give them multiplication and division problems to solve (independently or in small groups), as we know that repetitive practice leads to understanding and retention. Finally, for those students who are not yet ready for division, I can have a small group that utilizes manipulatives to better understand factors, multiples, and the associative property. Each of these groups is experiencing enrichment that is appropriate to their needs as related to the standardized curriculum. Enrichment takes the curricular standards to the next level (or depth of knowledge).

But what about enrichment that occurs beyond standards and direct curricular resources? To achieve a culture of authentic individualized learning, teachers and administrators must think and plan beyond the baselines of standards. True engagement starts with natural curiosity and blooms when an environment of trust is cultivated. Think about that for a second—learning is risky. It involves an arrival at a moment of confusion and a willingness to push through it. I used to tell my students, “If you are not confused, you are not learning.” Most teachers (elementary and secondary) go to great lengths to create a classroom that supports this type of environment: respect, tolerance, grit, and patience. Enrichment happens when teachers push their students to take that natural curiosity to the next step independently.

Let’s go back to that example of a fourth grade class where I am teaching division. What if I had a student interested in quilts (a real-life example!). The student could develop a project involving designing a quilt pattern and estimating the amount of fabric needed—having to divide colors into sections and smaller pieces. Or, another student who is an avid collector of baseball cards wants to sell certain cards in his collection on eBay and needs to determine what costs he will incur and what his profit margin will be. Again, this is a terrific opportunity for an enrichment project.

Depending on the age and ability of the learner, teachers can assist with setting up a project. It is important to note, even for very young students, that true enrichment occurs when the child has majority ownership over the project. That can often mean that projects are abandoned or changed. Learning is not about completion—it’s about what we acquire on the journey. 

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