This may be one of those blogs that I need to post both here, and on my kindergarten site.
Tonight I’m going to talk to my parents about their child’s progress in my class. Some are going to be very happy. Some are not.
I think much of the unhappiness is our own fault. I think the nature and structure of school is wrong and it’s time for some major changes.
It’s not the recalcitrant children who worry me. Sure, I’m going to talk to a few parents about how much better their child would perform in class if they just stopped talking and throwing crayons and breaking pencils and goofing off. But some of that is going to continue despite everything we adults do. It is the very nature of some children to rebel against sitting down and working.
It’s the ones who are obedient and hard-working and eager to learn, but just aren’t “getting it” who have my heart. I’ve talked and demonstrated and explained and motivated until I’m just out of creative ideas. They still don’t understand that letters make sounds and sounds make words and words tell us a story. Some aren’t ready to learn. Some have cognitive or processing problems that will have to be addressed at some time. Some are just slow. They just have their own pace and it isn’t based on nine week increments.
Think about that for a moment.
Our education system is a series of grades and grading periods that is deemed to be the best for the average student. Many of our children simply don’t fit that criterion. Whether they are challenged or gifted, they need something different.
I’ve often wished that at this point in the school year we could divide our classes into three groups: slow, average, and advanced, and create new classes. And don’t read too much into that term “slow”. It’s just a pace. Some of my students don’t even test well because their slow, Southern drawl limits their performance on timed tests. I’m not kidding!! So some of my slow children are very smart, just slower to make connections and understand concepts. They just need to spend more time with the basics. By keeping them together in a group we could spend more time on the things they need to review. The average group could continue on the standard curriculum, and the advanced group could move on to some first grade skills.
Ideally we do that in the classroom every day. Ideally. But let’s be honest. If you have twenty children, you are going to spend the majority of your time teaching to the middle. I do some tutoring with my slower children and give my advanced children more reading time. That’s reality.
I think we need to reexamine the concept of grades. Perhaps we don’t have to strictly adhere to grades for a few years. Perhaps we could let children move in and out of groups at their own pace until third grade. Maybe a child needs to be in a kindergarten language group and a first grade math group and a second grade art group. Maybe we need to stop thinking about what is easiest for us as adults to teach and manage, and give more thought to what actually works for children.
I know some schools have tried in the past to have “non-graded” campuses. Some current schools have non-traditional, mixed grade levels (K-1, 1-2). Some have team teaching. I think more of us need to get together and take a long look at what actually works and start making more changes across the country. If we really want to make “no child left behind” a reality, then we have to make school more “user-friendly” for children. I don’t have all the answers, but I certainly have some questions…