Ageless Grade Levels?

grade levels

This month’s post could easily have been titled “Education’s Long, Divisive Debate of Teaching to a Child’s Developmental Age versus Chronological Age” — but I thought that might be too long ūüôā

No matter what you title this debate the question remains the same: Why do we continue to divide up students by how old they are versus how many skills the know?

My Classroom this Year

In Special Education, we have a variation of the same problem. Many of our self-contained classes are mixed grade/age/ability/learning difference levels.¬† For example, I currently teach 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in our Autism-Core Class. I am teaching state required common core standards that must be scaffolded according to my students’ needs as well as integrating their IEP Goals as the overarching compass of our units. My students range from ages 10-14, with ELD (English Language Development) Levels of 1-5 and a few EO’s (English Only) learners sprinkled in. When assessed, my students are reading anywhere from a 3rd-7th¬†grade level. Math is a little higher, probably because it’s universal in any language and more concrete in content.

Now, some educators would balk at the learning makeup of my classroom and advocate for grade-level specific classes. But I say, this is how it should be.

We Started Off with 1 Teacher for All Grades

If you’re a “Heartie” or a fan of shows like “Little House on the Prairie”¬† or “Anne of Green Gables” (I love her!) or even just remember a little of your Frontier History, you’ll note that there was one teacher for all of the kids in the town. That teacher was responsible for instructing whole group lessons in all core content areas and differentiating was required across K-12 subject-matters.

Really it was an administrative decision based on funding and student enrollment. There was one teacher that needed to teach to everyone.

Age Division is Partly Based on Administrative Necessity

It’s just plain easier to put all of the 9 and 10 year-olds together and call it Fourth Grade. The reality is that when working to place so many students, particularly within the public school setting, it is more convenient to group by ages and then, if the school and district chooses, to branch out from there. Some schools have various differences within the age level programming, such as Gifted and Talented, but few public schools structure their groupings with a focus on mixed-age levels determined by skill mastery.

Yet there are more supporters of this type of class groupings within the last 10 years than was previously thought (a few snippets of the conversation below):

What’s really frustrating, though, is that it seems like everything from text-books to games to a student and parent’s mindset is categorized by ages and grade levels in place of skill mastery. Due to the limited to no-retention policies, a fifth student who has not yet mastered their multiplication tables will go on to sixth and seventh and eighth grade and possibly be more behind in that skill area as the years go by.

Here’s What I Want¬†

What I would like to see in the span of my teaching career is a move away from grouping students by chronological age and grouping students more by what they know. If a 3rd grader is ready to go on to 5th grade reading but needs more time in 2nd grade math, then let that be our guide in how to structure classes and provide the right support, intervention, instruction and content for that student.

With technology, our society is becoming more and more individualized. My hope is that education jumps on board and begins to guide a student throughout their academic career by what they know instead of how old they are.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

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If You’re Happy and You Know It…

Cinnamon Rolls.jpgFall makes me crave cinnamon — its comforting aroma wafting through my home gives me a sense that the holidays are near and Thanksgiving and Christmakkah memories are right around the corner.

A Happy Teacher is a Better Teacher

It may seem unrelated but I found myself happily unraveling a cinnamon roll while happily grading papers and planning lessons.

I wondered: Are my lessons better, filled with more fun and creativity, because I’m happier in this moment? Maybe. Just maybe.

How Can I Bottle this Feeling of Contentment?

Becoming a teacher makes me think about my teachers.

Being a person in a position of power and authority can shape a child’s memories of school and help them learn to love or loathe learning, depending on who is standing in front of them.

This is not to say that we all have an off-day or two (ummm, like last Tuesday) but I wonder if I seem more content, more self-assured standing in front of my middle-schoolers Monday-Friday from 8:00-3:08 because I am feeling more content.

Teachers: We Need to Take Better Care of Ourselves

Too often we look at educators, their arms loaded down with bags of books, papers and snacks for the staff meeting, and think of them as martyrs. I often hear, “I could never do what you do.” or “Teachers do not get paid enough, that’s for sure. I commend you.” or “I’d kill to have so much vacation. I mean you work for it, but that’s the life!”

The sentiment and encouragement are nice (and yes, the vacations are lovely), but what I really want is for teachers to take better care of themselves. We can’t pour from an empty vessel.

As summer turns into fall, projects and papers and tests (oh, my!) are coming to a head. It is the season of 12-15 hour work days, day-light savings time, IEP Meetings, and no vacation until November 11th.

It’s a time of burnout.

Instead of just trudging through, I’m going to make a promise to myself — to go to that yoga class, to watch my favorite tv show, to try to go to bed before the clock strikes midnight.

Why? Because a teacher who values self-care is a happier teacher. And learning is just more fun when the person teaching you is happier to be there.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

 

 

Life is like a Box of…

Pralinen

Tests.

Thought I was gonna say ‘chocolate’, huh? Well, that too. But in the world of academia, life is very much dependent on testing.

We Make Our Students Take a lot of Tests

On average, US students take 113 tests from PreK-12th Grade. Add¬†undergrad, grad school,¬†and professional development¬†to that number and I¬†can’t even begin to tell you what it would be. Maybe 312? 559?

All I know, as a person who struggles with testing, is that whatever the number might calculate out to be, is one too many for me.

Test Anxiety & The Fear of the ‘What If’

Sometimes, I’m plagued with moments of self-doubt as little naysayer voices whisper in my student loan debit-ridden ear, “How did you get this far with your anxiety over tests?” In fact, that little voice reared its ugly head again just this past week, as took my final test for my credentialing.

Ahhhh, will the anxiousness ever just go away?!

What to Do about It

When my students face the same fear, I ask them to talk about it, make a contingency plan, define what they know, set realistic study goals, and change their mindset from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I will’:

1. Talk About the Fear & The Reality of the Fear : I ask my students to tell me¬†about the ‘what if’ scenarios: What if I get an F on this test? What if I have to retake the class? What if I fail 4th grade? We then go through each thought and discuss the reality of that possibility.

2. Make a Contingency Plan: The likelihood¬†of the fear coming true is usually slim but just in case, we¬†make a contingency plan:¬†If I fail this test, I will have¬†ask for a retake. If I fail this class, I will have to¬†take a course in the summer.¬†¬†Okay. So we can see that if the fear comes true, although it will delay¬†our timeline,¬†it’s not the end of world. There is another path.

3. Define What You Know: After there’s less emotion attached to¬†each¬†fear and a¬†realistic contingency plan in place,¬†I ask my students to tell me what they know about the test. See, often our fears stem from the unknown. If I can get my students (and myself!) to articulate the known factors about the test, then that gives us a clear starting point to begin working on confidence and trust in their own abilities.

4. Set Realistic Study Goals: Studying for 12 hours a day/7 days a week is not realistic. I’ve come to realize, through my own experience, that it’s really not about studying more that gets the passing score. Your brain is a muscle and it gets tired and needs to rest too. So, let’s help the muscle by giving ourselves timely brain breaks. This means mapping out a realistic time management study schedule that allows the student to do fun things, family things, and friend things¬†as well as study.

5. Change Your Mindset:¬†This is too hard! I can’t do this! I’ll never get it!¬†I try to help¬†my students realize that every time we feed these negative messages to ourselves, we are training our brain to believe it. That’s something I recently learned when I had my very first hypnotherapy session for my own test anxiety. The more we¬†tell ourselves we’re not good enough, the more we begin to believe that it’s true. So if we continue to tell ourselves ‘we’ll never pass this test’, then we may experience a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When we change the message, we can change our mindset. You are already good enough. Period.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com