QOTW 'age thinking'

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Registered: 02-14-2009
QOTW 'age thinking'
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Fri, 02-18-2011 - 6:58am

This week I saw a very inspiring talk of Sir Ken Robinson on TED online, about creativity and motivating talented children in education. He said something that made me just about applaud to my computer screen:

Why is there this assumption that the most important things kids have in common is how old they are? It's like the most important thing about them is the date of manufacture! (as opposed to interests, skills, attitudes...)

Raising gifted children has made me conclude quite a few years ago that the structural 'age thinking' in our educational system is not doing these children a big favor. That the classification of developmental stages by age groups is often too narrowly defined... I realize my kids may well be 'extreme exceptions', and there are other kids that are exceptions on the other end of the spectrum, otherwise 'the average' wouldn't be where it was. But even when we discuss acceleration here on the board, we are influenced by this age thinking... Sir Ken Robinson just pointed out so eloquently to me how arbitrary categorization by age actually is...

What are your thoughts on this? Do you believe 12 yr olds should remain with 12 yr olds as much as possible because that's the best match there is, if not academically than at least socially? Or do you think a 10 yr old could have much more in common with a 13 yr old and it's only society/school that keeps their worlds so unnaturally seperated?

Suzanne

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Registered: 05-13-1998
Sat, 02-19-2011 - 11:29am
I don't think we are disagreeing. Yes, same age peers will bully eachother. What I'm saying is that multi-aged environments work when they are TREATED as multi-aged environments. Older kids in a mono-aged environment can absolutely turn into bullies where the article seems to be suggesting it's just the average age engaged in such behavior.
Avatar for turtletime
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Registered: 05-13-1998
Sat, 02-19-2011 - 11:32am
Miranda, I would love the one-room-schoolhouse to make a comeback.
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Registered: 07-23-2002
Sat, 02-19-2011 - 6:45pm
I certainly don't think I have all the answers. And I'm not a schoolteacher. But the small rural school that my eldest attends seems to find ways around many of the issues you raise. She takes courses primarily through the Facilitated Learning Centrre, which is in essence an independent study classroom. The high school part of the school has only 40 students, so traditional classes can only be offered in a handful of subjects. Five, I believe. Most of those are multi-level. For instance English for Grades 10 through 12 is combined in a single class. But for non-core subjects, students use the FLC. There are two teachers in there at a time, and students work through any of a huge range of courses at various levels. They work independently, with the course structure on the computer, and the content either in textbooks, on the computer, or project-based. Teachers help through supervising, guiding, tutoring, evaluating, putting together students who are working on similar projects. On-line discussion forums and moodles help students connect with students at other schools studying the same material. In any given hour the FLC might have in it a 7th grader working on 9th grade math, two 10th graders doing Physics 11, 12th graders working on drafting, art, music composition, calculus and Latin, 11th graders doing Math 10, Creative Writing and Candian history. Age range would run from 12 or 13 to 18. The elementary end of the school is more age-stratified. (there are three classes covering K through 7th.) I don't see any reason why a model like this couldn't work in a non-rural larger school.

You asked about my own kids' social affinities for each other. I'd say the two most common combinations are the 8yo and the 12yo, and the 8yo and the 17yo. My 14-year old has a real dislike of agemate situations. With kids exactly his age he feels keenly this expectation of "fitting in," whereas if he's the youngest or oldest, or in with a big range, he feels much more comfortable being different. My kids have been raised almost entirely out of age-leveled environments, though, so that probably changes things. And all of them have always felt more comfortable with people at least a couple of years older than them. But their closest friends are pretty much their siblings.

Miranda

Miranda
in rural BC, Canada
mom to three great kids and one great grown-up
unschooler, violist, runner, doc 

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Registered: 10-23-2000
Sat, 02-19-2011 - 11:09pm

I used to think it would be wonderful if schools were ungraded and my daughter could just learn at the level she was at.

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Registered: 04-16-2001
Mon, 02-21-2011 - 11:33am
With only 40 students, there is no real choice but to offer a mixed-grade classroom. For English, this seems fairly easy to pull off - reading levels in HS are not that different from10th through 12th. In our district, it is the type of material a student is learing that differs (British lit one year, American another). Is this also true for math and scient? Do the 10th graders learning algebra 2, the 11th learning preCalc and the 12th grade calculus students all learn in the same classroom? How about physics and chemistry in the same classroom?

How would you translate that to a high school with over 400 kids per grade? The staff and computer resources are just not available to allow that many kids to pursue independent study within schools that large. Our school does offer some indepdent study, but generally as an elective or for more advanced study, not as a substitute for a core class.

By the way, I read your blog and I am very impressed with how well your life works for your kids and family and at how flexible the school has been with your children. The FLC seems wonderful. I just can't imagine it working in a more "typical" community with a large high school (and less motivated students).
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Registered: 07-23-2002
Mon, 02-21-2011 - 12:44pm
I'm not really sure how a larger school would pull this off, but I'm pretty sure that with open-minded creativity it should be possible. We get the same per-capita funding that larger schools do (which is considerably less than the US average). And there's often an economy of scale. So I'm not an administrator or a number cruncher, but I'd think it would be possible.

There isn't one computer per student. The FLC has up to 18 students in it in any given time block, and there are four computers. (In fact, for much of the last month only two have been functioning.) The computers need very minimal capabilities: web browsers, plus the ability to run simple flash animations and view and print pdf files. So often they're donated or recycled. All courses are computer-structured, but often that just means logging in, printing out the reading assignments and project assignments for the next chapter and then setting to work with books and paper and pen. (My other post about Noah's dysgraphic problems relates to FLC courses he's doing at home ... he would love to be able to do the work on his PC, but unfortunately the work itself is all paper-based.)

The staff in the FLC consists of a teacher and a Teacher's Assistant. The TA is always there, but the teacher floats in and out even though he's officially "in charge" of the FLC classroom. The FLC is open over lunch as well for students who don't need teacher help for whatever they're doing. So the staffing demands aren't that onerous. In addition, no prep time is required for teachers who are covering the FLC, since they aren't preparing lectures or course materials. And often the designated teacher in the FLC is actually someone on a prep-time block. (Do teachers in your school system have prep time? Here this is three hours a week when teachers are giving non-classroom time for marking and preparing for the classes they teach. So teachers come in an sit in the corner of the FLC and do their marking. And if a student needs help they can ask questions, but they don't need much most of the time.)

There are some other savings that are realized too, I think. Video projectors and SmartBoards aren't needed for in-class instruction. Many fewer copies of supplies like secondary textbooks, graphing calculators, light ray boxes, English novels and so on are needed, since students don't take the courses that require these in groups of 20 or 30, and don't move through material at exactly the same rate.

Advanced Science and Social Studies (which covers History, Geography and Political Science) are taught here in courses which are organized by topic. However, the topics are not necessarily sequential. So there's no reason why you need to take Canadian History (nominally a 10th grade course) before Modern European History (nominally a 12th grade course). Or why you need to take Physics 11 before Chemistry 12. A number of these courses are offered in traditional classroom format only once every four semesters (i.e. once every two years, in a 5-month block). So Chemistry 12 would always have a mix of 11th and 12th graders. Canadian History 10 would have 10th through 12th graders in it. If a student missed taking Chemistry 12 when it was offered in the classroom, that's when they would take it through the FLC.

Math is the only subject that's taught each year at each level in-class (except for 12th grade calculus, which is always done in the FLC). Canadian schools don't do topic-oriented math courses. It's just Math 9, Math 10, Math 11, with each course containing a combination of algebra, trigonometry, probability/statistics, geometry, etc. with each year's course building on the last. Since our math is very sequential, that's the one subject that's always offered in the classroom on a grade-by-grade basis - though it's also possible to do the courses in the FLC if a one-course-a-year pace isn't right for a particular student.

Twelve years ago the high school made a drastic change, moving to a 100% independent study model due to staff and funding cuts that meant in-class courses could no longer be offered as they had in the past. It was a radical move. Prior to that the FLC had been mostly for IEP kids doing modified programs, or for senior classmen taking 12th grade electives that weren't offered by the school district.

The new independent study high school was a disaster. The students had no ability to self-motivate and self-pace. It was a completely new scholastic model and they were unprepared for it. Left free to mold and pace their own education many of them did nothing, and crashed and burned. Four (of eleven) 12th grade students failed to graduate that year. We are a low-income rural community with mostly logging and service industry workers. Admittedly a fairly tolerant and interesting bunch, often into alternative ideas and lifestyle choices. But not exactly the socio-economic cream of the crop, and not the sort of high school students you'd expect to be highly motivated. The self-directed model seemed to have been a total blow-out.

So they went back to the older model, more or less. But gradually over the past decade they've moved towards more and more self-directed independent study coursework out of necessity, and it's working just fine. The key has been "gradually." The students are taught the necessary skills from early on. Self-paced project work begins in Grade 3. By Grade 7 they're doing a little bit of course work in a FLC-like format. By the Grade 9 level they're welcome to take one or more courses in the FLC. By the upper high school level most students seem very capable of self-directing and self-pacing the bulk of their learning, and don't flounder when they don't get daily classroom instruction or homework checking.

My gut feeling is that the independent study format is much better preparation for university too. Perhaps things are different at US colleges but in Canada no one checks attendance at lectures, no one assigns or looks to see if you're actually doing the practice exercises given at the end of the chapter. If you have no experience with self-motivating and self-pacing, the freedom can be pretty overwhelming and a lot of students don't handle it well. I have a feeling that generous experience with independent study serves these students well when they go off to higher education.

Miranda

Miranda
in rural BC, Canada
mom to three great kids and one great grown-up
unschooler, violist, runner, doc 

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Registered: 01-31-2011
Tue, 02-22-2011 - 11:04pm

Just weighing in on a few points.

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Registered: 07-23-2002
Sun, 03-13-2011 - 2:38pm

Just dredging this thread up to post a link to an article about the "School of One" pilot program being tried at the K-8 levels in NYC. Although this program isn't specifically designed to break down age-levelling, this type of individualized multi-modal approach to education could easily do so.

Miranda
in rural BC, Canada
mom to three great kids and one great grown-up
unschooler, violist, runner, doc 

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Registered: 05-02-2004
Sun, 03-13-2011 - 9:05pm

As a homeschooler...I think multiage classrooms makes sense.

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Registered: 12-06-2010
Thu, 03-17-2011 - 12:11am
I think the concept of multiaged classrooms is intriguing, but has disadvantages - especially at the primary school level. Young children learn in a different way from older children and have different needs, even if they are cognitively able to handle the older kids' curriculum. What works in a homeschooling environment wth a small group of chilren being schooled a few horsa day is more difficult to implement in a large classroom spending the entire day together. And it's not just cognitive and social issues that come into play here: I'm thinking in terms of putting the active seven-year-old who loves to sing in the same classroom with the twelve-year-old who is trying to work quietly on her book report, and I keep coming up with a host of practical issues involved in meeting both chilren's needs. I'm not saying it couldn't work, but it would need a great deal of thinking through. As a teacher, the methods I use in class vary much more widely in method than in content according the the age group I'm teaching. This means that although I may have children witi a five-year age gap learning the same content, the best teaching methods for the kids are very different and still correspond best to different age groups. I'm not certain how to get around that challenge, frankly.

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