The Big Secret: Forget About Grade Levels

When you have a struggling learner, especially if there is no obvious underlying medical or genetic issue, there is a lot of pressure on you to help your child get “caught up” to his peers in school. This pressure may come for others or from yourself. You know that if you can just do X, Y, and Z, he will catch up. In some cases, that just ain’t so.

I don’t point that out to discourage you, my friend, but rather to encourage you. My previous post on approaching teaching as a science leads to that kind of thinking. There’s nothing wrong with that–unless it’s not working for your student. Pressuring a struggling learner and forging ahead before he’s ready can be very damaging. Why? Because in one sense, a struggling learner never really catches up. He simply develops on a different time line.

Think about it this way. Catching up implies that he is behind in a race and that by speeding up, he can get back in the game. That kind of thinking puts way too much pressure on the teacher and the student. Consider your child’s struggles. Is it realistic to think that you can somehow speed him up? Not likely.

What is more realistic is to consider taking a different path through the forest of education. The destination is the same for all students: graduation with a basic set of skills. But not everyone has to be on the same path. The paths may cross at times, or even join, but to expect that to happen by pressuring a struggling learner is to invite disaster.

The key is to forget about grade levels. There is no magic age at which a child should be able to read. There is a normal age, based on standardized testing norms, but not a precise age. As you work with your struggling learner, you will see that he can and does learn. How many movie characters can she name from her favorite movies? How many airplanes or automobiles can he recognize on sight? Learning is taking place, just not according to the norm.

I’ll write more on this in coming months as there is a whole world of things to discuss in this area. I invite comments on all my posts.

(c) 2010 Stephanie Buckwalter

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