Monday, December 22, 2008

Twelve Levels

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. 


Skinnylegsmom said...

Hi Kelly - I am so thankful to have the opportunity to teach studeents at whatever level they are at. It warms my heart each day to know that every child at our school is cared for emotionally , physically, and acedemically. I am so blessed to teach here. Merry Christmas!


Denise said...

Hello Kelly,

Perhaps we should evaluate students according to their learning style before we begin to measure "what" they have learned. "How" a child perceives, absorbs and processes knowledge is a key factor in education. Unfortunately, schools and many teachers are targeting the model student. The students who don't fit the "ideal student" mold are often tagged with inappropriate labels.

As an example, my husband had a classmate at Georgia Tech who somehow made it into an engineering school with the writing ability of a 3rd grader. Notwithstanding this handicap, in exchange for help writing papers,"The Bubba" tutored my husband through advanced Calculus and Physics. "The Bubba" later went on to work for the National Science Foundation and is the owner of several dozen patents.

What would happen to my husband's friend today? Like Edison, Einstein and many others who fell outside the middle of the bell curve in some areas during their schooling, he wasn't a 'model' student. But in the ways that count, he is now a brilliant and highly productive adult.

Kelly Homolka said...

So true Denise! Thank you for your insightful comments. As part of our individualized program we offer students the opportunity to learn the material in whatever way works best for them, which is realtively easy in a class with only 12 students. I would like to research this more to see what simple assessments there may be for learning styles. As it is now it sometimes takes us many months to figure out how best to serve our students.