Wednesday, April 23, 2008

goals and objectives, part two

I gotta say something.

I didn't mean to imply (and I hope I didn't) that it is only because my kids are somewhere on the gifted spectrum that I can be relaxed about milestones and ages and keeping pace with externally prescribed academic goals. I really believe this is something that can be applied to all children. It's just that I don't have to think too hard about it, because I know that my kids would be more or less "caught up" if they were to suddenly enroll in a public school.

In fact, what I really think is that it is all the more important for children who somehow defy the expected learning trajectory to be allowed to develop at their own pace. This goes for both ends of the bell curve.

I had a student, years ago, who was not reading. She was too old to be not reading, and I had been working with her for over a year in a very concerted effort to get her the tools she needed to begin reading. Her parents were freaked, and I was concerned, too. Not because she wasn't reading, but because I could tell that she didn't know a lot of stuff she needed to start to put it together and begin reading. I started working even more with her, after school. I met with her parents, and we talked about ways they could support her at home with the skills she needed for reading.

And then, slowly, haltingly, she began to read. She was mostly reading from texts she'd memorized, but sometimes she was able to bring it all together and decode an unfamiliar word. I was so, so pleased, and I knew that we could build on this success, and with practice and discipline, she would eventually be able to read along with her peers.

Her parents were not pleased, not in the least.

Guess why. Go ahead, guess.

Because she wasn't reading on grade level. Here was a child whose entire approach to the reading enterprise had been, shall we say, circuitous and unconventional. Reading was not her thing. She would rather have been constructing fabulous things out of blocks and what not. She read as little as possible, and only to satisfy me, her teacher, and her parents. There was just nothing, absolutely nothing, in her history to suggest she should be reading on grade level, and everything to suggest she was going to do it her own way, in her own time.

If they were going to compare (and what parent doesn't) I wanted them to compare her work to where she'd been last year, not to the other kids her age. Because she wasn't like other kids her age.

And really? Neither was anybody else. Every kid I ever taught had his or her own set of gifts and deficits. Some of the most intelligent, insightful kids I taught had some of the most challenging difficulties. We called it uneven development, but I'm beginning to suspect that "uneven" is more normative than anything else. Every kid has some gifts, and some gaps.

Just like people. Imagine that.


Anonymous said...

I didn't perceive that implication in what you wrote about your kids.

I feel like I'm always talking about Waldorf here, but it's something I find intriguing and I do know something about it. One of the things I love about it is that every child is considered to have the ability to learn anything. All the children learn to sing (solo and in parts), play musical instruments and read music, do all the assorted visual arts, knit and crochet and sew...and read and write and compute. Some children might eventually excel over their peers in one thing or another, but the assumption is that they will all get to basic competencies.

There's always that concern out there that Waldorf kids don't learn to read as soon as they would in public schools. But evidently they always catch up and often exceed their public school peers after a few years. I think that is in large part because the curriculum allows for a more relaxed pace, a later start to the intellectual learning, and the use of a variety of multisensory experiences (which theoretically could help those who would not successfully learn to read if given a bunch of flash cards or Phonics).

It seems to me that holding up an
"even" development in specifically structured stages as the norm is trying to fit everyone into a little box instead of looking at each person as an individual human being. (And certainly there is that to a different degree or in a different shape in Waldorf education as well -- I'm not letting them off the hook!)

shaun said...

I think you got your thought across successfully -- my kids are proceeding at such different paces with different things that I can't even think about where they are *supposed* to be.

As homeschoolers, the "profoundly gifted" term has been most useful for us in the social/emotional realm. Everything else, we just go where she's at, no big deal. It's dealing with feeling different in just the way you *are* that she needs help with, and that we need help to help her with.

Anyway, that's all to say I was tracking with you!

I'm inspired by you to think this through again -- I think it's great to do it a few times a year, as we get deeper into homeschooling

JenH said...

I've thought about the idea of 'grade level' often, recently. My kids haven't been to school, and are 7 and 4. I'm happy with where they both are in their learning, but I've always got that nagging bit in my head telling me I need to check, check, check. Are they advanced in everything? Can the 7 year old pass the 3rd grade reading test? Can the 4 year old do everything in the 'What your Kindergartener Needs To Know' book?

It's nonsense, and I send them out to play when I get this way as often as I can. I try to remind myself that my job is the basics, and after that they will follow their own path. I believe that is what will happen. I will give them a foundation, and they will go.

They'll read when they need it. She'll learn music because she sings all day and needs to write it down. He'll learn to divide because he needs to know how many Pokemon cards he can buy, and how much gas money we need to get to Nanna's house. I learned to crochet because I wanted baby blankets I liked. They'll do the same. But with everything. Because I'm teaching them to want everything--life, love, happiness, lemonade stands, ponies, and italian ices for all!