In my last post, I wrote about how detrimental standardized curriculum is to a child’s developmental process, forcing them to grow in areas they may not be ready to grow. The dream of customized curriculum lends itself nicely to the dream of a school without grade levels.
I have seen an enormous population of students move from grade level to grade level because they are the right age to do so, and not because they have mastered the learning for the year. Kids get older each year, and each year they get moved to the next grade level, this is the way the current system works. We move students through school as if it were a factory. Except in very extreme cases, students get moved into the next grade level whether they are prepared for it or not. As a result, we have 5th graders who can’t read, write, or perform basic arithmetic. Why do we do this to students? It isn’t that the student is incapable of learning the material, I would argue that the majority of these students are very capable. They are capable enough to come up with coping mechanisms to get by until they day when they can make the choice to drop out of school. The real root of the problem, is that these students weren’t given the opportunity to grow and develop at their own speed. We forced them along until they no longer had anything solid to scaffold new learning upon. I wonder if we had given those kids the opportunity to be developmentally ready for the learning, if we would face the same problems?
I dream of a school environment where there are no grade levels. A school where students move on in their learning when they are developmentally ready and not just because they have reached a certain age. Children don’t lose their teeth or learn to walk at exactly the same time, why would we expect them to learn to read, write, or solve math problems at the same time? We need to transform this educational model into one without grade levels, one that moves students on to the next skill set only when they have mastered the previous skill set. Students are allowed to grow and learn at a pace that is natural for that unique individual. A school without grade levels would provide children with a more authentic real-world experience. When is the last time that you worked with people who were all exactly the same age as you are? In the workplace we rarely get to work with only our age group. Without grade levels, several ages may be working on the same skill set, learning how to work and collaborate with various age groups.
Multi-age grouping of students allows us to teach to the child rather than the grade. We are able to take into account the different rates that children develop academically, socially, and emotionally. We can customize our curriculum to fit the unique needs of our students. Our goal, then, is on the learning and not on moving students through a curriculum so that at the end of the book we can send them to the next grade level. Our students deserve to learn at their own pace and ability. Our students deserve an opportunity to succeed. Let’s rethink sending students on because they are the right age, and start sending them on because they are ready.