Monday, December 22, 2008
Here's a trick question for you. How many different levels are there in a classroom with twenty third graders? Three? Four? In contrast, how many levels do you think there are at our school, which has only twelve students per class but they are in third, fourth and fifth grade? The answer is actually quite simple: the number of levels in any given classroom is the number of kids in the room. While teachers often put children in reading groups, and there are IEP's for some kids and the AIG program for others, the reality is that every child is on his own level. Dr. Mel Levine, author of "A Mind at a Time" divides educators into two categories- lumpers and splitters. Lumpers like to lump kids together in groups ("They all have ADHD, they are in the gifted program...") whereas splitters see each child as an individual. We are definitely splitters. It is the recognition of the fact that each child is on her own level that drives our individualized education. In our 3rd-5th grade class we have children who are reading "The Call of the Wild" and children who struggle with the Magic Tree House Series. We have children who are adding and subtracting and children who have mastered long division and have moved on to fractions. We have children who can barely write a sentence and children who can pen coherent paragraphs and yes, you guessed it, some of the advanced readers are in third grade and some of the struggling math students are in the fifth. So where does that leave educators? If the only change that a school made was to give each child a SHORT math and reading assessment at school entry and to then tailor their reading and math instruction to those needs, we would see huge gains. One year a girl came to us in the fourth grade and she literally couldn't add two plus two. Because our program is individualized we were able to take her back to that level and she was able, for the first time in her life, to make slow but steady progress in math. When she finished her first math book her classmates clapped for her, and the self-confidence she gained was infinitely more valuable than the math skills she learned. I remember this when I walk through our classes, and I am so happy to see each individual child getting exactly what they need.