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What Matters Most?

In an attempt to illustrate absurdity by being absurd... Here's an idea: Let's place children into learning environments based on an arbitrary factor that has nothing to do with what the children are actually ready and able to learn.

Let's measure all children and place them into learning groups based on how tall they are. Those 4'7" to 4'9" will learn together. Those 4'10" to 5'0" will learn together. Those 5'1" to 5'3" will learn together.

But that's crazy, you say? What does how tall a child is have to do with what that child is ready and able to learn? Uh, not much...

Okay. Let's place children into learning groups based on shoe size. Size 3, you're in Mrs. Diego's class. Size 4, you're in Mr. O'Hallohan's class. Size 5, you get the new teacher.

But that's crazy, you say? What does shoe size have to do with what a child is ready and able to learn? Very little.

Okay. Let's get our stopwatches out and determine learning groups based on how fast the little kiddos can run. A mile in 8:00 to 10:00? You get to learn together. A mile in 10:01 to 12:00? You get to learn together.

But that's crazy, you say? What does running speed have to do with what a child is ready and able to learn? Nothing, it's just a skill we tend to get faster at as we get older. (And then, at some point... slower ;o)

Okay. How about head circumference? That changes as we grow up.

But yes - crazy to use as a learning determinant.

Ear length? (Our ears never stop growing...)

But that doesn't have anything to do with what a student is ready and able to learn.

Date of first lost tooth? Arm length? Age at which the child began walking? All absurd factors with which to determine what learning material to present to the child.

The above factors are all growth milestones that have essentially nothing to do with learning readiness.

I know... Let's place children into learning environments based on approximate date of conception. Now THAT makes sense.

It doesn't?

Then why does it make sense to place children into learning groups based on the date they exited the womb?

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Please Note:

I am not advocating that we never place children into learning communities where various abilities are present. There is certainly value in our world to knowing how to understand, get along with, and work with others of various abilities and talents.

I am not advocating a "Bluebirds and Buzzards" system. I'm simply trying to advocate that we give each learner what he or she needs. If school is supposed to be about learning, and if a portion of our students are entering classrooms where they have already mastered (i.e. learned) 50% of what is going to be taught, then are we really being effective at our essential mission?

Doing a better job of reaching children where they're at requires improved (or even novel new) assessment systems that are better at telling us what all learners need. Reaching each learner in his or her zone of proximal development requires that we give higher importance to learning and academic growth than a social egalitarian ideal of everyone reaching the same finish line.

As a society, we really need to be asking ourselves if we should be teaching children based on when they were born... or based on what they're ready and able to learn...

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