So, next step up the educational ladder in my fabulous Ideal School System is Grammar School. (Again, suggestions for a more creative name are welcome.) And the most distinctive new thing here (which continues through the next two school levels also) is the use of what Big Picture Learning Schools call "The Advisory Group".
An advisory group consists of an advisor and 10-12 students. No, the advisor is not quite the same as a traditional classroom teacher, even though the advisor does teach. The advisor's primary role is to work with each student and his/her parents to set up an individual educational plan for that student. They consider skills, learning style, interests, and any other extraneous concerns and come up with a plan for where the student should head in a semester and how we're going to try to get them there.
Let's look at little miss Suzy, for example. Suzy's parents meet with her advisor, Mr. ("he has another name, too, but I just like Mr. and that's all." LOL! A bone there for fellow Junie B. fans). Here's one of the goals they set for Suzy: that by the end of the semester, little miss Suzy should have simple multiplication down pretty solid. Right now, she understands the concept of multiplication, kind of. But they want her to demonstrate that she knows how and when to use multiplication in real life. And they want her to have the multiplication table memorized.
So, here's the deal. Mr. may end up teaching Suzy this himself, alone or with some other advisory students needing the same instruction. Or he may find a computer program, if Suzy mainly needs a lot of drill and practice. Or workbooks, if Suzy's a left-brained workbook kind of gal. Or DVDs, if Suzy's a visual learner. Or perhaps a "workshop" class taught by another teacher in the school, if Suzy needs more extended direct instruction. Or maybe another student in the advisory group can solidify his own understanding of multiplication by teaching it to Suzy. In any case, Mr.'s job is to find the right means and environment for Suzy to learn the material, based on her individual learning style and needs.
This means, as you can imagine, that Mr. will be monitoring lots of different activities going on in his room at the same time. This may sound chaotic, but it is quite doable. Homeschool mamas do it all the time. As do many regular classroom teachers, for short periods in the day. If Mr. has done a good job of matching his students' learning styles to the instruction he chooses for them, they will be engaged and learning will happen.
Now, Mr.'s students won't all be "third-graders" -- they won't have a grade level, because grade levels are essentially meaningless. And they won't all be 8-year-olds -- whoever had the idea that kids need to spend the bulk of their days with kids all born within a year of their own birthdays? They don't need to be grouped by reading ability or anything, because they aren't learning skills as a group -- they're working individually, at their own pace. Mr. will have a nice, heterogenous group of kids of various ages and abilities, who get to know each other and cheer each other on in their learning, because they don't need to compete and compare themselves to each other, because there's no reason to believe anyone should be progressing lock-step with anyone else in there. They're all DIFFERENT, and they're all LEARNING; they're all exactly where they are supposed to be.
Of course, this doesn't mean no group interaction ever occurs. It does; it's just not the means for teaching skills. Remember when I said that skills and knowledge need to be dealt with differently? Here's where that comes in. Part of our "classroom" time in Grammar School is spent working individually on skills. The rest of it is spent in unit studies of knowledge areas -- done as a group.
And I'll talk about that in my next post.