A TALE OF TWO LEARNERS
Alyssa was our first born. And as every first born she was amazing, challenging, and nerve-racking. My husband and I had no idea what we were doing. I kept feeling like I was in a bad babysitting situation and the parents were never coming home. She was a colicky baby and an intense toddler. She was crawling at 5 months and walking by 7 months. She didn’t talk until after her first birthday. I remember it well. We were at our community pool. I told Alyssa not to touch the metal handrail because it was hot. She was a very defiant little kid. She looked right at me and touched the handrail. She said her first word, “HOT!” Then came the Helen Keller moment when every word she’d ever heard made sense to her. Within a few weeks, she was talking in complete sentences.
Twelve years later, Jack was born. Jack was an easy going baby. Like Alyssa, he was quickly mobile. Talking came at a normal pace. His first word was bus; pronounced “buh.” Buh was the word he used to describe all large public vehicles. His next word was da. Da was a multipurpose word. Jack used a variety of motions to indicate the meaning of the word. Da with a chest pound meant Jack. Da with clenched fists meant dog. Da with a nod meant yes. And the enthusiastic da was for Dad. Jack was creative from the start.
Alyssa loved school! And missing a day of school made her miserable! When she was in kindergarten I announced, “Your aunt has invited us to an all expenses paid trip to Disney World.” She replied, “Mom, I can’t miss school. We’re going to learn about Obstinate O this week.” (She was able to read chapter books, but didn’t want to miss a lesson about the short o sound. Her teacher was awesome, but the Magic Kingdom VS short o?)
Jack hated school! (He loved preschool, but when it came to kindergarten, he was not a fan.) Like Alyssa, he started kindergarten knowing how to read, but he didn’t take to reading like she had. It was hard for him. I knew his eyes were inverting and flipping letters and numbers. (That happened to me when I was little.) He struggled in school. He had trouble copying words from the whiteboard. He had trouble counting sets of objects. The only things he liked about school were riding the bus and recess.
Alyssa never lost her love of school. Learning came easy to her. She had an inner competitiveness and wanted to be the best. Alyssa graduated at the top of her class in high school, aced the SATs, and won the National Merit Scholarship. She went on to college and succeeded there, too.
Jack is now in high school. He has to work hard to get passing grades in math and science and it is very stressful. He does fine in his other classes. He still likes riding the bus and P.E. He’s a smart and creative kid, and he’ll do great in life, but our public institution of learning has not been an ego boost for his future.
Our schools are filled with a rainbow of different learners. In the past 15 years, public school has taken a turn toward elevating academic levels to appease the Alyssas while ignoring the needs of the Jacks. The Department of Education must have thought that raising the bar would make all students work harder to achieve. They didn’t consider that students like Jack aren’t motivated by test scores and grades. They are motivated by great lessons. Unfortunately, teachers are now buried in paperwork and test planning which leaves little time to prepare great lessons.
There may never be a one-size-fits-all solution to learning, but a great presentation, with a hands-on element, and some room for creativity – that worked for both of my children. We all know teachers who make the lessons fun and interesting – the great teachers who reach the majority of their students and leave a lasting impression of knowledge. The ones who make “Obstinate O” as appealing as Disney World. I don’t know where they find the time in this school system, but getting rid of tests and excess paperwork would give teachers more time to prepare great lessons. Great lessons make great teachers. Great teachers inspire great learning!
Click here to get the template for the RAINBOW RULER craftivity. It has a set of rules for creating the basic rainbow. Once the rainbow is on the paper, your child gets to choose how to complete the project.