While I am reconfiguring American education, I’d like to offer the following idea for consideration. Perhaps we should consider adapting or even getting rid of our chronologically-based school systems. Why does a six-year-old have to be in first grade? Why does a ten-year-old have to be in fifth grade? We base student placement on age. Is that our best choice? Is that our only choice?
In the past, age-based placement made sense. With all of our test scores on paper and many of those papers requiring months to receive after states had given their annual tests, placements based on academic mastery would have added a possibly insurmountable level of complexity to placements. But those placements can be simplified now.
Social factors cannot be trivialized in what I am suggesting. A student who is years older than the other kids in a classroom suffers self-esteem issues based on his or her age. Sometimes that kid can be a disruptive or corrupting influence. I have taught children who have been retained for multiple years in their pasts. We can’t just stick an older student in with a bunch of much younger students. But we can prepare individualized, computerized courses of independent study.
In one scenario, we might have our ten-year-old, fifth graders meet for morning classes together, go to gym, recess and lunch together, but then split off after lunch into cohorts based upon mastery of material. Many computerized courses of study have been created in the recent past. Currently, we tend to put entire classes on one program, looking for robust programs that offer multiple levels of difficulty. We might do better to look at past results and then choose or even create individualized programs that build off each student’s previous learning.
Last year, I received a program called LearnBopTM for my class. At first, the program’s instruction began at the fifth grade level. Later in the year, an update added fourth grade material. But I had many students who were testing at a third grade level or below. They could not use LearnBopTM independently. My strongest students were unquestionably benefitting from LearnBopTM, but other students were in over their heads, wasting that computerized learning opportunity.
Eduhonesty: Too often, we merely pay lip service to differentiation. We based materials and programs on student ages, rather than student abilities. We can do better. I particularly favor using computers to differentiate instruction because students who have fallen behind don’t stand out when they are sitting at a computer station. They end up competing with themselves, rather than other students. Our new technology can be used to create truly individualized instruction. Let’s go for it!