Lessons from School 4 – Mastery and Mischief

I’m very aware that by writing about these things the majority of my friends (yes, there are a huge percentage of my friends who are teachers) are reading and saying ‘ya, what else is new’. But I’m going to keep writing…because you didn’t and it’s what I’m thinking about these days.

Over the last several months, while doing pleasantly mindless jobs in the classroom, I have been trying to revamp the whole school system. It’s an involuntary reflex. I can’t help it. Try as I might though, I have nothing profound to add. I keep trying to create some elabourate system.

We all know that children (people) learn and develop at different paces, what I didn’t realize is how terribly frustrating it is for the children on both ends of the spectrum. It effects their behaviour so immediately. Starting about 2 months ago the super bright kids started to act out. They could not sit still and listen. It’s as if their limbs had minds of their own and even if they wanted to behave (and I think most of them genuinely do) they could not. Their limbs disengaged from their brain and reached out and poked someone, or threw something or scribbled on a neighbour’s paper. Likewise at this point, those still struggling with things that others are mastering are getting noticeably left behind. In many cases (not all) their struggles lack the aggression of the bright ones. They’re deflated. Their aggression often turns inward and their views of themselves take a sad turn. I hate seeing this.

This is why my mind keeps trying to develop a different way. But of course there isn’t a way, at least not a way that can process classrooms full of children in bulk. Maybe it’s done somewhere. If it is I guarantee, it’s expensive (and if you’re going to argue homeschooling with me here…yes, I’m a fan, but no, it’s not cheap, especially if you add to the curriculum costs your chosen, but put aside, career and include the loss of that salary as an expense, which you’d pretty much have to do).

I have this vision of a fluid system, where kids can move up when their ready, so those mastering kindergarten in March can move on then and sink their teeth into something new and challenging. There would be kids moving in and out all the time so it wouldn’t be as obvious to the ones who don’t move on until November of the following year…if you follow my thoughts. I’m picturing something like the walkways in an airport that move everyone in the same direction but some step onto the fast track while others walk the normal pace and still others linger on at particular intervals until they can confidently move on.

Curriculum developers everywhere just spontaneously combusted. Or more likely said a collective “Pfft, ya right” and rolled their eyes. I know, I know. Just wishing out loud. My hat is off to teachers who know this dilemma well and who deal with it year after year. You are incredible to me. I have a new appreciation for the task at your hand.

Let me brag about our little dollies though, BOTH the quickly developing and the struggling.

I have reviewed the what-you-should-know-by-the-end-of-kindergarten material for Ontario and I think it’s pretty amazing that our group is keeping up, some of them mastering these skills and many more. Amazing to me because it is their second language. Not only second language, but keep in mind that their mother tongue is Arabic which is a different alphabet written from the right side of the page to the left. There are absolutely NO similarities between the two languages! To me, that makes even the most struggling students bright little stars. I wish there was some way of convincing them of that.

There are so many life lessons here don’t you think?

1) Respect those who struggle – in many ways they’re smarter than you are and know things that you’re just not grasping yet.

2) Be kind to yourself when you struggle – your comparisons likely aren’t fair or accurate.

3) If your behaviour is off track maybe you’re just bored – don’t push those around you and make life difficult for them, push yourself, give yourself a challenge, find new mountains to climb – preferably ones that are exhilarating to you!

4) Insert your thoughts in the comment section – what else can we learn from this?

With these skills being developed day after day and year after year, they’re all going to be masters of 2 languages and influenced by many more cultures as they benefit from being taught by teachers of many nationalities. What global citizens they’ll be!

Here are the little cherubs all dressed up and singing with such joy and enthusiasm at their year end concert. (Which is also a good 5th life lesson….when in doubt, when frustrated or bored, sing and dance).


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6 responses to “Lessons from School 4 – Mastery and Mischief

  1. I like your idea about the fluid class but then you lose the cohesiveness and tight knit community that develops in a class. My best elementary school memories are of the people I was with, and those bonds would be difficult with a constant change in the group.

    • Good point. I wonder if you would have felt the same way if you were one of the underdogs? Also, I suspect there would still be some continuity. At any rate, it’s likely an impractical idea, but my mind keeps working it anyhow. haha

  2. You are SO not alone in this pondering. As teachers we are trying to do custom work in a factory setting. It has always been a poor fit.

    But here’s the thing I have learned… Strong students & weak students alike have the same success rate in the larger world (I refuse to call it the “real” world). So, it begs the question. What are we really doing? The most important things we do in schools is not what is obvious and it is certainly not on anyone’s report card. The really important, truly lingering stuff is how schools bring together the community (children, parents & teachers), people who would normally never meet each other – even though they live on the same block! We learn an enormous amount from each other as we learn to co-exist in a classroom. We are exposed to different religious ideas, different values (cultural & personal), different types of clothing, different types of family structures, different food…etc.

    We are raising our children with a powerful awareness of community. Each child belongs in the community. Each child has several roles to play in the community. And each child is part of a larger global community. Our most important job as teachers, therefore, is to create a sense of possibility in each student. The curriculum is just the excuse we use to bring everyone together and we hope it doesn’t undo all the other really important things we have accomplished.

    Getting back to the curriculum, there are new things coming down the pipeline because of the information age that give me hope as a teacher. http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7401696n

  3. I think that there might be some way to do things in a modular fashion. For instance, instead of “grade 1 Math, grade 2 Math, etc.” and grades being established by age, you have Math module 1, module 2, module 3, etc. with placement being established by ability.

    Bright children can work ahead to move through the modules at their own pace, while slower children can get extra help. The children in a given “grade” might actually be working on completely different modules, but there would still be a baseline that children would be expected to keep up with. If children can handle working ahead of the lessons being taught, great! They can work ahead on their own. They become largely self-taught (something they probably crave anyway) while the teacher can focus on the others who need more attention.

    Graduation depends on the successful completion of all modules in the full range of subjects, at whatever age the students can get through them. Students then end up placed in classes based on ability for each subject, and not based on age. This would encourage peer-helping as well, since they are all at the same place.

    This is actually pretty much exactly what happens with adult language learning classes. People are placed based on a placement test of their abilities – age range has nothing to do with it.

  4. fibrefoxx

    did you receive my reply to this blog? wordpress always makes me change my password for some reason. Then I think my replies disappear =(

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