How to allow all students to move on when they’re ready?

Although this post is most definitely related to many on my blog (about mastery learning, etc.), it comes from a more personal interest.

I taught HS for 10 years, but I’m also a parent.

My son is in 2nd grade and his last assessment tests showed his math ability about two years ahead of where he’s expected to be at his age.

He’s still young…his motivation to do work that is below his ability level is still the excitement of being in school, wanting to please a teacher, etc.

But soon he’ll start the path to becoming a little more jaded at the school experience that virtually all kids go through as they become teenagers (goodness knows, it’s one thing to teach them everyday like I have but the thought of being a parent of one is a whole other issue!)

Keeping unchallenged students motivated
What will keep him motivated to do the work then?  If he’s capable of work 2 grade levels above where he is, certainly not the challenge of the work itself.

I wrote a blog post on motivating students to use their creativity and abilities for classroom like they do for their outside interests.

Challenging work does provide intrinsic interest…people like to work autonomously on work that is interesting and challenging (not to the point of impossible or frustrating, but challenging IS interesting).

Eventually my son will stop being interested in his work because it will be too easy and he won’t care so much about the “fun” of school.  I know…my brother did it for years, barely graduated from high school and dropped out of college courses at least 3 times despite his genius-level IQ and obvious ability and creativity.

“More work” or “Different curriculum” not the answer
What can I do to help my 2nd grade son be more challenged?

And I don’t just want more work of the same level to fill his time in the classroom (he definitely finishes early every time).  The point is not to give him more to do of the same…the point is to let him advance as he’s ready.

And to not require him to repeat content as review from previous years (which I understand is necessary for many students) if HE doesn’t need it.

But it’s not the curriculum that’s the problem, necessarily.  I look at what he brings home and the curriculum and methods themselves seem sound and fine.  So it’s not that they need to adopt new curriculum…they need to let a student progress through it at their own speed.

Barriers to allowing students to progress at different rates
The district isn’t set up to allow him to advance.  They aren’t set up to allow progression in single subjects at different rates (only allowing students to skip entire grades which I don’t want for a variety of reasons)

One of the problems is: if he works ahead this year, then what will he do next year?  People are afraid of letting students work ahead because the next teacher, class, year, level will then have to push them even farther or make them repeat what they’ve already done.

People are afraid of letting kids work at difference paces because then they’ll have to keep track of, assess, plan for and implement many different levels of lessons at a single time instead of one single classroom lesson.

But all this fear is leading to students being unchallenged, held back and eventually turned off to learning in a formal setting.

The need/application of technology
There are many discussions online and among educators about the use of technology in the classroom…THIS is an excellent place for technology – providing flexible, dynamic math instruction that progresses with the student and backs up or gives more support if they start missing questions but allows them to pass through if they’re solving problems correctly.

Technology is out there – adaptive assessment gives a student a more challenging question if they’re getting questions right and then easier questions if they’re getting them wrong.  It’s a much more accurate way to assess where a students’ skills are at that point.

We just need to apply this technology in a way that allows students to learn content rather than just assess where they are.

We can follow the model for reading that’s already in place
They are doing this with reading – students are put into reading groups with work appropriate to their level.  The reading groups are flexible and are frequently changed and shifted as students grow at different rates.

Why can’t they do this with all subjects?

I taught high school chemistry class this way for my last two years in the classroom…it was harder work for me but student-centered and completely worth it!  If I can do it with high school students in a course like chemistry, why are we not doing it with elementary school math?

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