The purpose of education is not to produce students who do well on standardized tests but to produce life-long learners who enjoy learning and are successful at it. In order to accomplish this goal, children not only need to be taught the tools for learning, they also need to be taught how to use these tools so that they continue to learn with or without the supervision of adults, in or out of school. As one kindergartner, put it, “I’ve learned how to read, now can I go home.” She probably never planned on opening a book again. She had been turned off by the whole process.
Children take different roads to learning. Some go quickly, some slowly, some are right-brained thinkers some are left. No one way is better than another. They are merely different. These differences need to be recognized and accepted. Children need not be separated from each other because of these differences. If we do that, we have what Bruno Bettelheim called, “Segregation, New Style”. Children need to learn how to appreciate and to negotiate all styles of learning. They need to be exposed to the experience of hearing a topic discussed and thinking. “How interesting. I never thought of it that way.” At the same time, different styles and rates of learning among children should not hinder their development or their potential for creativity. We need to develop workers for the whole spectrum of jobs in our country from creative leaders to creative craftsmen. How can we do this given our diverse population?
One way is to recognize that there are several types of teaching in elementary school. One type includes basic skills: reading, writing and math. Another involves the acquisition of concepts and the analysis and exchange of ideas as in the humanities, the natural and social sciences. Children can be divided into groups according to learning style and rate of learning when teaching a skill, then brought back together as a group when using the skill as a tool for learning. For example, it makes sense to break up the class into homogeneous groups according to skill level when teaching reading, but to have heterogeneous groups for cooperative learning lessons.
This philosophy holds true for gifted and talented programs. Children in the best of these programs, instead of being completely segregated, spend time with other children, however the distribution of their time can be different. Gifted children need less time acquiring skills and learning facts and more time exchanging and analyzing ideas. They can spend some time with all of the students learning how they think and arrive at conclusions and being contributing members of this group and some time with a small group of select students like themselves. It helps also to remove the top students from the group at times because it allows the next level of students a chance at the top.
Many children are spending most of their time at the knowledge level of learning. That is they are learning to label, repeat, reproduce, list and describe. Most students will forget this information quickly because it is not put to any practical use and is never applied or used as a tool. We want more for our students. We want them to be creative critical thinkers who use what they are learning to further their knowledge and to solve problems and answer their questions.
Clip art licensed from Clip Art Gallery at DiscoverySchool.com