21 March 2009

Educate for a Change?

No matter who is compiling your statistics, or which particular study you want to run with, far too many children are disconnected from their schoolwork and/or discouraged in their academic studies.

"Students don't just suddenly fail; they don't just suddenly drop out," opines the Educate for a Change website. "Their cumulative records show patterns of failure and under-achievement through years of enrollment.The last three decades have been filled with innovative interventions for low achieving students, but ultimately, only two options have persisted through years of debate: Retention & Social Promotion."

The website promotes the idea that instead of throwing more money at the problem of poor student performance, teachers continue to teach material to their students until an A is achieved before moving to the next thing. The example given was a shop class in which students had to perfect a drafting project and learn the shop rules before touching the tools. Admirable, as I sure wouldn't want someone with an "F" in "how to run the powertools" touching all the equipment.

The students are promoted when and if they're ready for the next step. This ensures that the next step is much more likely to be mastered with confidence than it would be had there been significant knowledge "gaps" in the preceding material. Great!

Um, until you start to think about what that would "look like" for those students who truly will struggle and really will be five or six years behind their peers during the teen years. Shunt those kids off into "special schools," where they learn that they're so "special" no one wants to be around them because they're "retarded?" (Yes, children *do* tease each other with these words still. Sorry.) The saying "riding the short bus" isn't one that lends dignity to the kids to whom it applies.

But I know that realistically, nonverbal children like Woodjie just aren't going to fit into the mainstream classroom. They just aren't. You could sit around forever waiting for that kiddo to make an A in reading, but doggone it if you can't understand speech, it's kinda hard for the teacher to show you how to read, isn't it?

I know that at least in our district's preschool, there are many children of very different abilities all grouped in together. That changes pretty quickly in kindergarten. Kindergarten!

Yep, you get the kids who are behind in reading (!??) and the "gifted" kids start to get sorted out right about then. Your kid's five years old and already knows whether he's "stupid" or "smart."

That would never go away under any system, but in retrospect I can't tell you how glad I am for Emperor that he was born ten days after the Missouri school attendance cutoffs. He would be in first grade now if he were in public schools. I was disappointed that he would not be able to attend kindergarten when he turned five. Another year of "special needs preschool" for him.

Then we brought him home after his first week of kindergarten. *Suddenly,* he is able to read. He is able to write. He is now doing the same math the public school's fourth-graders are doing. But he was a special-ed kid in preschool. You know, one of the slow kids? You never know.

I take that encouragement with Woodjie. Maybe he'll never really talk. Maybe he will. You never know. You give the children the best you can, when you can, and see what happens.

Generally speaking, though, I like that idea of having all the students learn at their own individual pace. I'm not sure how that would work with children in mathematics. Educators in our area get around this by using a "spiral" curriculum. But I'm not sure what to make of the Educate for a Change website. It points out the "weakness" of homeschooling as not allowing for proper socialization... and in another article, it decries the rampant bullying in public schools.

Sigh...

5 comments:

  1. They are starting to extend testing into high school now & I'm so not interested because we don't move forward until the previous material is mastered ~ especially in math, which means realistically Ditz is several grades behind in math so realistically they can't test her. Duh! She is ahead in English so gets bored with the testing & does aggravating things to amuse herself.

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  2. About math, I know math has changed a lot since the founding of our country, but it is amazing how many biographies I have read from that era in which said person only had schooling off and on, was not good at ciphering, but suddenly in their teens, applied themselves and mastered all math in two years. My typical son is not very good at math. We got through sixth grade math when he finished eighth grade. I shot him right into Algebra I and did mini-reviews as needed for stuff from pre-Algebra. Now that his abstract thinking skills are alive, he is doing well in math. I think part of the problem is how we structure math and introduce abstract thinking earlier than children are developmentally ready . . . Oh, and I am a mathematician (master's degree in statistics).

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  3. [I think part of the problem is how we structure math and introduce abstract thinking earlier than children are developmentally ready]

    This is how I felt about the spiral math program. Some of the concepts were introduced so early that only 1 or 2 kids in the class were able to grasp the concept. The rest of the kids got back paper with their answers marked wrong. My child didn't have to get shuffled off into a special class to feel that she wasn't very smart.

    But, your post really speaks about more than that. How do we fully integrate in a meaningful way children who are developmentally at a different level than their peers? In our school district there was a special ed math. They were working on adding 1 and 2 digit numbers and then there was Algebra. (When I went to high school, there was an option to take general math. But, apparently our state has a goal of having 80% of graduating seniors prepared to enter college. General math didn't help them reach that goal.) Our district had ONE inclusion Algebra class that had typical student and all the students struggling in Algebra in a large classroom with 3 extra teachers to help students who needed extra help. The school was trying. But, no matter how many teachers there are, it is not helpful if you have sensory issues to be in a class with 42 kids. Pencils scratching on paper, erasers, paper shuffling, etc. is too much noise to create a good learning environment. Besides, who wants to be the student who always has the teacher at her desk "helping" her?

    So, would smaller classes where her individual needs are better addressed be better? Truthfully, I wasn't any happier about her special ed English class. There were only five students, while they did work on age appropriate spelling and grammar assignment. The bulk of the class was spent reading. Marissa checked out mostly Garfield comic books. Then two days a week they did non-verbal communication work. They looked at photographs of people and talked about mood based upon facial expression and body posture. Or, the played games. Marissa was learning NOTHING and falling behind her peers in her verbal skills, an area that she is relatively strong in.

    I could never articulate what a "perfect" environment would look like for my child. No matter what accommodation I thought might help there were drawbacks. Home schooling is no exception. -- there are pros and cons.

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  4. I am a huge fan of "keep going until you master it" approach. I would have been in a remedial reading program for years in school if I wasn't homeschooled. In other words, homeschooling saved my reading.

    Homeschooling allowed me to work at the pace I needed and find ways to cope with my struggles and succeed in life (audio books, anyone?).

    Here's to homeschooling offering us the opportunity to work at our own pace!

    ~Luke

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  5. Ganeida, I can just see the test graders' puzzled looks after receiving exams from your house. LOL I'm cringing for ya!

    Tammy, your comment gives me a bit of hope. I am *learning* the math with my children. I am *hoping* I don't do it wrong. That's why I buy the answer keys, but every now and then Emperor has to look at them and explain things to me. I'm thinking that will help him develop his skills, right???

    Julie, I can't tell you how NUTS it made me when we implemented the public school's spiral math program here at home. I felt I couldn't move on until the concepts are mastered. Later, I looked at the back of the teacher's manual... surprise! Just "introducing" the concept at this stage, is all they really want, and they're supposed to "master" it two years later. But the worksheets make it look like the student is supposed to do all this work alone. Yeah, right... how many second graders do you know who instinctively divide fractions without assistance? (That's what I thought.)

    Luke, you avoided being pulled out of class and shamed for BEING A BOY and not catching on to reading at the ripe old age of five. God bless your mom and dad. BTW, the reading "tests" on Sonlight website are a bit deceptive. No way my seven-year-old is reading at a sixth grade level... because I'm looking at some of the literature offerings and thinking the subject matter is a bit beyond him. :]

    THEN, I read on your "choosing Sonlight" forums that people re-do the Cores they did before. Except they "really do them this time" LOL! We should chat sometime about how much "challenge" a kid should have. Should you bump up a little because the kid can read and do arithmetic well, knowing he'll miss some of the discussion and concepts? OR, do you choose a lower core and some things are too easy?

    OK, well right now I'm doing Bob Jones, but sometimes I have to re-do a unit later because the kids don't "get" it the first time. Other times, with spelling and stuff... Emperor will just get 100 on the pretest, so what's the point of doing the unit? Write the word three times each... for what purpose?

    Anyway. Just thinking aloud.

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