When I see the school buses pass by my house at 6:30 every morning, I no longer feel the sense of excitement I felt when I was a kid. Nope. Teaching under the “No Child Left Behind” act left a bitter taste in my mouth.
It’s obvious from the amount of media coverage and conversations with parents and teachers it’s time we undertake a new strategy to improve our schools.
I’m not naive or idealistic. I know this is going to take too much time and effort to benefit my children. Because I wanted them to experience a positive outcome to their days, engaging conversations with their peers, and plenty of opportunities to express and cultivate their creativity, I began reimagining school and to implement it into our lives.
The strategy is an easy one to figure out: Personalized Education.
My kids aren’t worn out, irritable, or disheartened at the end of the day. They aren’t falling asleep at the dinner table or crying at the drop of a hat. That’s because our way of schooling is not traditional. Content standards are replaced by competencies.
When using competencies (the capability to apply knowledge and demonstrate mastery of skills and functions) instead of content standards “time is the variable and learning is the constant”.* Mastery must be demonstrated before moving on to more challenging competencies. Some of my students will achieve mastery faster than others. And that’s ok. It’s irrelevant when students master skills. The only thing that matters is that they do.
Since time is the variable, it doesn’t make sense to have age-level grades and inflexible schedules. Instead, we focus more of our time on fostering the love of learning and creating a positive learning environment. We have hands-on lessons with a great deal of engaging discussion.
It doesn’t matter if we get to all the planned lessons before it’s time to go outside. Unstructured outside time is part of our lessons. It’s not rocket science to know kids learn through play. They take what we’ve discussed during our lessons and apply it to their unstructured playtime. This is how they make learning meaningful. School becomes part of their life. It’s not an institution with rigid standards, expectations, and schedules.
Learning is now assessed through teacher-made tests, presentations, and performances which the students create. Most of the time I can tell they’ve mastered a concept just by watching them play. Standardized testing isn’t an appropriate or effective way to assess children at the elementary level.
Instead of a teacher dominated classroom, students make learning their own. For example: after a whole group lesson, students work together to practice the skill. If third graders are working on vocabulary they could be given the words and then asked to find ways to help them remember the meaning of the words. They then present their self-designed lessons to the class. First graders often get together to make up games with their sight words or math facts to practice working together. The focus of education during these years is on HOW to learn instead of WHAT to learn.
When students are taught HOW to learn learning begins to happen anytime, anyplace, anywhere. They take more ownership of their education and feel more in control of their lives. They are able to make well thought out decisions which in turn will make them happy, successful adults. Shouldn’t this be the goal of the school system?
Because I want my children at third grade to still be singing, dancing, exploring, creating, observing, imagining, questioning, wondering, playing, discussing, thinking, and connecting throughout the day I’ve reimagined school.