Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Making the Grade

This is the second part in a series based on this cost/benefit analysis.  Here you can find Part 1: Scoping out the Sequence.  Next I want to talk about this "plus" for us in letting go of our math textbooks:

  • I can school without the restraints of grade level and (related) comparing my children to other children around the same age.

As I mentioned here, I was stopped dead in my tracks by this quote from Andrew Kern of the CiRCE Institute:

 To what level has my child mastered this skill?  And what is next?  Nothing else matters.

We are only a couple of weeks into this experiment, but already I am thankful for the release of focus on grade level and what each child "should" be doing or "should" have covered at this point.  In some cases, I have been astonished to realize that younger children were perfectly capable of grappling with concepts I intended only for older siblings.

Other times I realized that, though a child had successfully completed problems on a given topic many times, she didn't really understand the concept and I was thankful to have another pass at it as we learned as a family.  In one case, I decided to simply make a note of a concept that I felt she wasn't ready for (though she had completed many such problems in her current and previous math book) and come back to it later.

If we discuss a concept as a group and someone is not developmentally ready to comprehend it, then there isn't really anything that can be done at that point to force them to "get" it.  In fact, (as I have witnessed before) "forcing" the issue is what leads to my strong math thinkers "hating math".  Sure, if you work within the outlines of a grade level, you can control at what age you present the material to a child.  But you still can't control the age at which they master it.  

I can't quite predict how this will play out long-term.  To what extent - especially within the context of our culture - is it realistic to push aside concepts of "grade level" and move forward based on my children's developmental preparedness only?  If one of our students doesn't make it through calculus by age 18 does that mean this approach is flawed ... or that that child wasn't developmentally ready for the material and wouldn't have been ready under any system of instruction?

Perhaps my comfort and confidence with this approach will have a lot to do with whether I perceive my children to be getting "ahead" or "behind".  If this method primarily enables the younger ones to explore and master concepts they normally wouldn't have encountered so "early", then perhaps I will feel confident in our choice ... and less so if it leads to mastering concepts "later".  Hmmm ... that would be ironic, wouldn't it?

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