Friday, March 26, 2010

Why doesn't everyone...

I had an interesting visit with a home educating mom last week. Her son attended school until part way through grade 5, when she brought him home and started him on a very structured DVD based program plan. He’s had a great year this year, starting in September on grade 6 curriculum after spending all summer catching up on grade 5. He will finish early and with good grades. He has learned so much this year, and beyond that, he has learned how to learn.

His mom had tears in her eyes as she described the change in his attitude about himself. He now knows he is smart. He can tell when he’s losing focus. He has learned how to read for meaning and how to tell what the main idea is. His penmanship has even improved!

Then his mom asked me the question I often hear when parents have seen remarkable success from a particular program: “Why doesn’t everyone use this?” It’s a reasonable question. Answering it made me think about the ways we structure learning and how different thought patterns almost demand different programs.

Her child is not an organized thinker. His main problem in the classroom was his distractability. He doesn’t see the connections between things unless they are pointed out. Once he has the framework for his learning, whether that would be an outline or a set of questions to answer or a series of visual cues in his text like bolded vocabulary words or names, then he can use that to learn and remember the information presented.

Other children find that structure limiting and confining. They are good at making their own connections. The connections they find on their own resonate with them and do far more to help them remember the facts than any text or teacher supplied ones could. Maybe it’s a fascination with maps that leads to a real sense of history, or a knowledge of scientific discoveries that links into history study, but because these children have their own network of connected knowledge the tightly structured course frustrates and limits their learning.

I think it’s the difference between packing ideas into boxes (metaphorically speaking) and tying them to a web. One child goes to an encyclopedia and looks up the fact that he was sent for. Another flips through the rest of the book (once upon a time encyclopedias were books) and learns twelve other things while he’s at it. One learns the lesson of the curriculum and may learn it very, very well. The other is learning to group and relate ideas outside the context provided. He may never learn the capitals of all the provinces, but he may learn which provinces have bears. Which is better? That depends on your child, your goals. Neither is bad, and neither works for everyone.

1 comment:

  1. We are all novel readers in this house, and I have used historical fiction as an attention grabber for certain things that were in the curriculum, especially those The Boy thought were 'boring' or 'useless' (i.e. most of history). I have chosen to expose my kid (especially as he's in jr high now) to some 'questionable subject matter' - because I know exactly what he'll be reading, and we can talk about it: so, I let him listen to the Da Vinci Code audiobook (clearly not history, but it got him looking up all sorts of Renaissance art images as the tale unfolded and sparked interesting discussions about the history of Christianity, one of my favourite subjects). I gave him a book set in Heian Japan when that's what he was studying - even if the details aren't all quite right, it is neat to have characters and other ideas to hang your learning onto.