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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Thinking Inside the Box

homeschooling in a box

Thinking Inside The Box

A friend of mine recently posted this picture of her son, clearly engaged in his homeschooling homework while sitting in a box– thinking inside the box, if you will.

Homeschooling Gets a Second Life

Homeschooling is on the rise. Its focus on individualized attention, teaching to your child’s strengths, going at your own pace, and making learning come to life is getting a second wind. In fact, I can think of at least five friends and family members who have chosen to homeschool their children.

Whether it’s a response to the public school class size (up to 40!) or pricey private school alternatives, homeschooling provides a chance to dig into the subject matters that interest your kids the most while allowing your child to explore and think creatively without the confines of a classroom.

There is no one-size-fits-all education. There never was. Traditional, Public, Developmental, Progressive, Therapeutic and the Unschooling Movements

Traditional schools teach to the middle while developmental, progressive, therapeutic and especially the unschooling or non-schooling movement embraces the idea that teaching to the individual is the preferred route to take. Where homeschooling is not an option, I’ve guided many parents towards these alternative school choices. 

Let’s walk through these various school movements using Sara, a slow reader, as an example.

  • Public Schools set the traditional model standard. They focus on standardizing objective criteria, pulling from data to ensure that all students are learning within the normal range. So for someone like Sara, who is a slower reader and would likely fall outside of that standard deviation bell curve, her reading scores would put resource teachers on notice that Sara may need extra interventions. An SST (Student Success Team) Meeting as well a potential IEP (Individualized Education Program) may be the next steps to seek.
  • Developmental Schools focus on allowing the child to learn according to their own development. For example, just because Sara is a slower reader than Grayson is not cause for alarm (at least not yet). The developmental movement allows time for each child to learn at their own pace.
  • The Progressive School is the antithesis of the traditional public school. It agrees that Sara is a slow reader but instead of seeking remediation it will focus on Sara’s strengths, let’s say in her case — math. By playing up Sara’s awesome math skills, she will gain more overall confidence and learn to naturally compensate for her slower reading levels. Individual study and strength-based education are two hallmarks of the progressive movement.
  • Therapeutic Schools are great for kids who have learning differences, behavior challenges, and social skills needs. These schools cater to students that need extra attention outside of their studies. They usually have well-rounded academics coupled with a focus on Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). So if Sara’s slow reading turns out to be dyslexia or a processing disorder coupled with ADHD this school would be able to address all of those concerns.
  • And finally, the Un-Schooling or Non-Schooling Movement. This is a controversial form of education, whereby a child completely chooses his or her educational programming. In fact, the choice not to choose is also a choice recognized by this movement. For self-directed learners or gifted kids who are not being challenged in the classroom, this may be a good option. For Sara who struggles with reading, she would likely just choose not to engage in any reading. The outcome could go one of two ways: (a) Either Sara chooses to forgo any reading and instead focuses on her love of math and art, or (b) Sara learns to independently compensate for her low reading skills by using visuals, project-based learning, and books-on-tape.

What’s Most Important for Your Child’s Education?

The thing that gets me about traditional schools in this day in age is not the rigorous academics (I think that’s a good thing) but the superfluous stuff, like busy work, learning to line up, walking down a hallway in a quiet manner, and asking to the go to the bathroom before being able to leave your desk. There’s only so much modeling you need to understand social conventions.

Traditional school formats were once a preparation tool for learning to be a productive member of the industrialization era. But today, technology and the internet has opened up so many more entrepreneurial doors. Instead, our focus should be a strength-based, confidence-building, creative environment where each child can learn to love learning independently but can come together naturally to share their ideas and learn from one another.

Maybe it’s not a matter of thinking inside or outside of the box. Perhaps, we just need to change the box all together.

Take a listen on NPR: Parents On The Pros and Cons of Homeschooling and check out Terry Tutors: Our School Placement Consulting Services

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