A Development-First Approach to Learning

be-you-tifulAcceptance versus tolerance. What to change versus what to keep. How to improve without losing the core of what makes you, you? We pose these philosophical questions to ourselves and often think the answers will reveal themselves as time goes on and life continues. And as our confidence in our own abilities improves, so does our interpretation of ourselves.

The Current Problem: Teaching to the Middle

In education, we struggle with these thoughts as well. Standardization has proven incomplete to assess the whole child and although we’re trying (ie: Common Core) we haven’t been able to agree on a better path of testing.

The classroom is about averages. There is a standard-bell-curve approach to teaching. We know there will be some kids who dip below while others excel in that subject. Mostly, however, we teach to the middle.

But what if we could approach the classroom just like we approach our own self-development?

Currently, the system is set up so that once you turn five, you are automatically moved forward, up the educational escalator, until you’re 17/18. We agree that retention is not a viable option anymore due to its negative social implications, yet we also agree that not all students are ready to move on to the next grade even though they are the “right” age.

This herding issue creates major problems during formative years as well as after graduation. For example, a student may naturally struggle in peer-to-peer play but excel in reading or vice-versa. Yet we move that student to the next grade level, not because they are truly ready to transition but because we want them to be with their initial class. We are afraid they will be left behind. A spiraling-effect ensues, thus creating a student who struggles in multiple areas.

A Real Solution: Measuring According to Development instead of by Age

On the educational escalator, we fail to place emphasis on development and by doing so we fail to embrace a whole-child approach to teaching and learning. Teachers, parents, and other students have a profound effect on a child’s social-emotional development, which helps a child’s cognitive abilities. Transitioning when the child is ready developmentally versus transitioning when the child is a certain age makes more sense.

Turning six doesn’t automatically mean she’s mastered all areas of development and is ready to be successful in first grade. Heck, turning 36 doesn’t mean I’ve automatically mastered how you’re supposed to be in your 30’s (whatever that may look like).

The range of development, the spectrum of differences, is a concept we learn to accept when we have more life experience. When life has kicked us around a bit and we’ve had to learn the hard way.

Our educational system is a reflection of our culture. In our culture, we place so much emphasis on achievement by a certain age, when in reality we may hone those social-emotional-physical-cognitive pieces of development at different ages.

And that’s ok!

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic Support, Behavior Management, Special Education Advocacy and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

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Everyone is Special. There is No Normal and That’s a Good Thing

special40 years ago a public school’s Special Education program resembled more of institution than a classroom. Today, with the inclusion model in full force our Special Education programs seek to mainstream even the most severe children.

Extra Attention Paid to Special Students Takes Away from Rest of the Class?

Some educators and parents disagree with the inclusion methodology because there will inevitably be extra-needed attention paid to that one special student while the rest of the class waits for the teacher to get back to general lesson.

I understand their point. Inclusion looks good on paper but it doesn’t always work in practice. However, that argument is too linear for today’s classroom because the times really are a changin’.

There are More Special Ed Students in General Ed Classrooms Than Ever Before

The push and pull of the special education spectrum is ever-changing, and today’s classroom includes a greater number of Special Education students than ever before.

The National Education Association agrees:

Over the past 10 years, the number of U.S. students enrolled in special education programs has risen 30 percent. Three out of every four students with disabilities spend part or all of their school day in a general education classroom. In turn, nearly every general education classroom across the country includes students with disabilities. Each school and school district must determine the best way to conduct programs and figure out how to pay for them.

This trend isn’t ending anytime soon.

The fact of the matter is that with new diagnosis, new cognitive neuroscience research, new identified learning disabilities, and new psychological re-classifications (like the updated DSM-V, which does away with Asperger’s and instead diagnosis Autism with various severity levels) there will be more kids in the general education classroom receiving special education services.

This is not a bad thing because it means science, psychology, and education are beginning to merge, pinpointing how each individual learns best.

The More We Understand How Best Our Students Learn, The More We Realize There is No Normal

Was there ever really a “normal”, per se? Our education system seems to think so with its “normalized ranges” and standardized testing. The term normal has been replaced with the softer “grade level” and “developmental” verbiage. Although the nomenclature has changed, our generalized viewpoints have not. Our education system still believes there is a normal standard of achievement.

But normal is a variance. It is not concrete. It is not a one-size-fits-all ideal.

So the quicker we understand that each of the 32 kids in the class learns differently, the quicker we can get on with helping them identify and use the best tools and strategies to understand the lesson respectively.

Normal never was but different will always be. And that’s a good thing.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.