At the end of the school year I’m always filled with mixed emotions. I’m so very proud of my little group of readers. This has been one of the best reading groups I’ve ever had and I hate to say it, but I think most of the reason for their success is because they are girls. I have eleven girls and three boys. The girls are interested in reading; the boys not so much. The girls cooperate in learning; the boys would rather scuffle. The girls want to read more; the boys want to see if they can make a tower with their books. Last year, and the year before that, I had twice as many boys as girls- and only two boys who were interested in going against the team effort in order to become great readers. So…yesterday, as my little group read this, without my help, and wrote it down for the first grade teachers, I was very proud and happy:
I am a smart child.
I can read and write.
This is my best handwriting.
I am ready for first grade!
They also drew a self-portrait to go with their letter to first grade and some of the drawings were just precious!
Of course I also have a student who will stay with us next year, and at least three who will need to exert a little extra effort to stay up with their peers in first grade, and two others who would benefit from about three more months of kindergarten. When you stop and think about it, the school year and standard grade levels are arbitrary measurements created by adults. In the past, children have gone to school for more hours in a day, with many grades in the same room, and for longer periods of time- often eleven months. In some countries children still attend school more days than ours do. I’m not necessarily advocating for more school time, but I often wonder if children really fail to learn or just fail to learn at the pace and within the parameters of time that adults have set for them.
I also think that grade levels are detrimental to the learning experience of many, many children. I’ve always believed that we should NOT have yearly grade levels until a child is ten. There should be some creative way that we can have more fluid groups of children learning at their own pace and with a variety of teachers until they reach what we currently recognize as the third grade level, which in our state is the “testing level” when the state wants to know how they are progressing. The idea that student A and student B are relatively the same and will learn at a similar pace because they are the same age has always seemed odd to me, I suppose because I was so far ahead of my own peers in language and science, yet practically needed a tutor for math. I have had children who could easily go on to first grade work in January of their kindergarten year and others who aren’t ready for first grade until January of their first grade year!
Yes, we embrace the concept of “differentiated instruction” and “individual pacing” and blah, blah, blah…I can tell you that I honestly don’t have the time to do that justice. I need an assistant to work with the slower students while I work with the advanced ones, or vice versa, and we simply don’t have the funds. No Child Left Behind is filled with wonderful goals and expectations and very little money to support them, or us. So I do the best I can to be all things to all students and the end of the year finds me feeling like a hero and a failure at the same time.
Pass or fail?
Some years I don’t feel like I have done either one.