In Education Week , the June 18, 2019 edition, here is an excerpt Douglas W. Green wrote titled Why Do We Design Failure in Our Schools?
If a student masters less than 65 percent of the required material, why can't we just say, "You haven't finished yet." The closer one is to this magic number, in theory, the less time it should take to finish the race. They may even continue upwards from just passing. This doesn't happen in most schools, and why is that? Certainly, the fact that it's easier to roll out one-size-fits-all instruction than an individualized version has something to do with it.
It is an excellent article with good discussions on why student's should not be held back and the positive aspects of a flexible system of instruction. But my focus today is on another point of his article, a form of individualized instruction. Here is what he wrote about an innovative school program.
In addition to the online versions, a typical in-school effort features 10 to 20 students in a room each working on their own material at their own pace with one teacher circulating to help. Students all have laptops and software to direct their learning. If more than one student is working on the same content, they can work in groups and even do projects. The teachers who take this on usually prefer it to the old stand and deliver routine from their previous years.
New Park Street Christian Academy is something like his innovative school model, but better. There is one teacher and there are up to 15 students. Students do work at their own pace separate from the other student expectations. And students do work in small groups for science projects. But the similarities end there.
At New Park Street Christian Academy, the teacher sets the instructional pace based on each student's previous accomplishments , not from a computer or software telling the student what to do next. This makes a major difference in the quality of a student's learning and in the skills progress a student makes.
A software program cannot tell from a student's posture and work habits that a lesson is too easy or too difficult. It can't see a student staring at a problem and differentiate a lack of understanding or laziness. The computer is unable to hear in the student's explanation of an important skill whether he has understanding or just reciting facts. A great or even a good teacher is able to discern all of the above within five seconds or less.
Why? Because a great teacher even a good one will know her students. Her instructional time in an individualized education environment like for instance, New Park Street Christian Academy, is spent every minute instructing, assessing, encouraging, holding accountable each and every student. And when she has a minute, she talks to students she has not seen recently. In this ultimate instructional environment for the teacher, you get to know your students really well.
My individualized approach is very successful. So why doesn't every one do something similar? It is as Dr. Green said, in one sense, it is easier to use a one-size-fits-all model. One size doesn't fit anyone. It is just that some students have the confidence to get by in most any model used, including the one-size-fits-all.
My individualized instructional model used at New Park Street Christian Academy allows myself and any future teachers to teach students who have been chronically behind. Ninety-five percent of the students who do not have a physical reason for being confident learners, should be confident learners. My model takes a student from what they do know and provides instruction forward from there.
This model allows so many students who are bored out of their gourds in the one size fits all model to succeed everyday at a pace set by me and not a pace set by the rest of the class or a teachers with a lack of instructional skills. I wish I could tell you about all of the eventually successful, brilliant students I have instructed over the years, who either were behavior problems at school or they just hated going to school because the stand and deliver, one size fits all model was so boring.
A note on labels. I don't label. We have no gifted and no special education. Gifted students should work hard and achieve more. And that is what they do at New Park Street Christian Academy.
Special education students, formerly, have to see they can learn first. Then when that happens, they also work harder to achieve more. I will be writing a blog soon on hard work and success soon.
All students at New Park Street Christian Academy have the opportunity to continue passed grade level expectations when the expectations are met. The sky has always been the limit at my schools. That is why I eventually will hire teachers smarter and more skilled than me in certain subjects.
Why an individualized education? It works. For over thirty years it has worked in allowing students to learn well beyond the expectations of a typical school.
I am Tim Ihms, the founder, head master, instructor, book keeper, and part time custodian at New Park Street Christian Academy. The blogs on this page are written for the parents of New Park Street students and for those who may be interested in sending their child to the school some day.