WATERVILLE — Shelly Moody’s white classroom walls were nearly bare the first day of classes at Williams Elementary School in Oakland.

Moody said she spent hours in the summer in prior years hanging posters that were meaningful to her.

But this fall, Maine’s 2011 Teacher of the Year wanted a clean slate on which her fourth-grade students could take part in creating a shared vision for the academic year.

Moody read Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” to the class on the first day of school and said the youth decided they wanted to “SOAR.”

Moody said SOAR stands for being safe, open, honest and kind; always treating others the way you want to be treated; and remembering to keep your nose to the grindstone.

To represent its lofty goals, the class decorated a classroom wall with a drawing of a hot air balloon.

At Tuesday night’s “Personalizing the Classroom in an Era of Standardization” presentation at Colby College, Moody shared how her fourth-graders have “voice and choice” and individualized learning plans.

“It’s important to customize your classroom environment and instruction to meet student needs,” Moody told a group of Colby students, educators and community members.

She referenced Howard Gardner, who said, “The biggest mistake of past centuries in teaching has been to treat all children as if they were variants of the same individual and thus to feel justified in teaching them all the same subjects in the same way.”

Moody said educational environments could learn a thing or two from iTunes, amazon.com and Subway.

“Thank goodness Subway customizes sandwiches because I don’t eat vegetables,” she joked.

Moody, who graduated in 1994 from Waterville Senior High School and magna cum laude in 1998 from the University of Maine at Farmington, said she’s been impressed with results produced by personalized instruction.

She said all children come to school wanting to learn and desiring to be happy and successful. Moody said they’re motivated when they understand their specific, transparent academic expectations, when they can go at their own pace and when have a choice as to how they’re going to meet them.

“If we show kids ‘this is where you can go,’ they will go there,” Moody said.

In a unit on weather, for instance, Moody said students can demonstrate they are proficient in the topic by drawing a comic strip, writing a poem, giving a PowerPoint presentation or creating a poster.

“The engagement is high because they want to be proficient and meet the expectation,” Moody said. “They want to stretch themselves.”

Moody ended her presentation with a quote from John Dewey. “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]

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