The One-Room Schoolhouse
It's been a while since the last post. Our family moved the day before and it's been a whirlwind couple weeks as the students have adjusted to a new norm. One of the most common questions that I'm asked is, "How can you teach different ages and grades?"
The answer is, "We figure out what works." It starts with a belief that educating a mixed age and ability group is possible. Historically, students attended a one-room schoolhouse (find reference for history). In the present day, public school teacher are often teaching to a range of 1-3 grade levels in one classroom. Many classrooms are inclusive, and while peers may be approximately the same age, there are often mixed ability levels. As a former public school educator and tutor, I know firsthand that students are often working on many different levels. Homeschooling co-ops, homeschooling families, charter schools, and other alternative education programs have all demonstrated success in teaching multi-age groups.
There are always some road bumps as students get acclimated to a new environment. So far, what is really working well for us at the Academy is:
1) Consistent routine - We have a monthly theme, a weekly theme, and a daily curriculum integration. We do 3 activities per block and we use music to transition. This accomplishes a few things. The kids know what to expect and so they feel safe. They are familiar with the songs and some of the materials. This allows them to easily participate. It also gives us a common language to describe our day. Soon, the students will have visual schedules to refer to.
2) Simple, enforceable rules - Child development experts across the board recommend using about 3-5 rules to maintain order and structure. A rule that cannot be enforced, is no rule at all. The majority of our rules involve maintain personal space and safety. Things like, keep your hands to yourself and stay in your space in your area. We have flexible seating so there's a lot of movement leeway in one's personal space. For teaching, I ask that students have a listening face in a listening space. And I explain what that looks like.
3) Working in spurts - Our blocks are typically broken down into a 10-15 minute teacher led activity, a interactive group activity, and an independent activity. Using music and movement for transitions can help keep the students calm and focused.
As more students enroll, the dynamics will shift and we will find new things that work. As the students mature and regress, we will find new things that work. As I learn and grow, we will find new things that work.
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Change is Hard!
I meant to post yesterday but I was exhausted! Provision FES Academy opened July 5th, 2017 with 2 academy students. Having been out of the teaching game for, oh... 11 years, we had a slightly bumpy ride. Our first students have been homeschooled but have not been used to a daily structure. That's quite a transition for younger students. Especially a newly 5 year old.
It's also a transition for our family. One of my favorite things of being a relaxed homeschool family is rolling out of bed whenever we like. PFES Academy means we get up EARLY. It's totally worth it though. At the end of the day, both of our students said they had fun. And they learned a lot!
Day 1 Highlights
Mixed age is always a bit tricky. Teachers (Special Education, General Education, and Homeschool) have to get used to teaching to different abilities, especially at the elementary level. My method is to start with the basics and differentiate up.
I used a deck of Alphabet Cards and had my non-reader identify letters, and my reader tell me the word. I used this as an informal assessment. They got tired after a few letters but I got a lot of information. I used a 100 chart for math. I learned my
In the state of Virginia, I am licensed to teach students with emotional disturbances and learning disabilities. I have taught students who are diagnosed with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, gifted, ADHD, and what was formerly known as Asperger's. These are not all the diagnoses my students have received but a good sampling.
Currently, students who have some type of educational or emotional diagnosis are considered to have special needs. As an adult with special needs, something about this phrase bothers me. In my experience, everyone has special needs. I have never met anyone who was not different from the "norm" in some way.
I'm fairly certain normal is a mythical creature. I do not know any normal people. If you do, please introduce me. Despite the under-representation (non-existence?) of normality, many insist that there is a standard method of learning.
On this site, instead of saying special needs, disabilities, or disturbances, I will use the phrase learning differences. My goal as an educator is to understand and accommodate the unique ways that each student learns. Because we're all different. And that's okay.
I was at the the thrift store, treasure hunting. I was excited when I found this gem. This stuffed friend has a button, a zipper, and a tie up shoe. The kids can use this to practice their improve their fine motor skills.
The importance of motor skills is often overlooked as children reach elementary age. However, motor skills are directly correlated to academic achievement. Our physical movement builds neural pathways. Motor skills are also building blocks for writing and drawing, both of which are also great for improving cognitive function.