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Home Education Magazine

The Road Less Traveled - Linda Dobson

Big Brother Inspired Teacher Training

You've heard it, maybe more than once. If your little one cries and you pick her up, you're spoiling or coddling her. If you continue this behavior as she grows you're denying her the lessons of the world of hard knocks. Yet as a home educator, experience provides you with a different message. You've seen that when you reassure children with your presence and attention they appear to be less stressed than many of their peers. They venture into the greater world in trust from a foundation of security.

Harvard Medical School researchers back you up. Early separation, they say, "changes the nervous system so [children] are overly sensitive to future trauma." They go so far as to state, "We've stressed independence so much that it's having some very negative effects." Indeed, researcher Patrice M. Miller concludes, "I think there's a real resistance in this culture to caring for children, but punishment and abandonment have never been good ways to get warm, caring, independent people."

People who remember the age-segregated classrooms of their own schooling wonder how in the world you can possibly teach children of different ages (or grades) at the same time. Maybe they tell you all children in this situation are getting short-changed in the process. You, however, see that homeschooling grows ever easier with subsequent children because little ones seem to pick up knowledge by osmosis when older siblings are learning in their vicinity. You perceive that the family environment supports social and emotional development easily and naturally as younger children take clues about growing up from older siblings. You know interaction between children of mixed ages mirrors the real world, and children grow more inclined to accept and help each other.

Advocates of multi-age classrooms agree, and they even tout this approach as "feeling more like families." Schools that have tried it report that test scores go up, and research indicates that grouping reduces bullying, aggression, and discipline problems while increasing self-esteem, cooperation, and social skills.

Critics inform you there is one place to learn - the one-size-fits-all classroom. There's no way that you, a non-professional parent, can address all of your children's learning needs. You quickly realized, though, that one of your children "gets it" when she sees, while another assimilates information better when he hears.

Professor of Neuroanatomy Marian Diamonds knows you're right. "Students are not all at the same level of ability and they don't learn in the same way," she writes. "Not all students need to be doing the same thing at the same time."

Education writer Carol Ann Tomlinson takes it one more step. "Three principles from brain research: emotional safety, appropriate challenges, and self constructed meaning, suggest that a one-size-fits-all approach to classroom instruction teaching is ineffective for most students and harmful to some."

A well meaning friend or relative glances at his watch for the tenth time before informing you that your child has repeated the same activity for almost an hour now. Shouldn't you, like, maybe see that's abnormal and divert her attention to something else? "Gee," you think, "I know it's perseverance, and when given the time, naturally she gravitates toward practice. I wonder what my friend would say if I told him she just played with Legos non-stop for four days? This is diversion for her!"

Magnetic resonance imaging (commonly known as MRI) can now watch a brain at work, so to speak, and its abilities have done much to enhance research on learning. When humans first learn a motor movement, for example, playing the piano, a large portion of the brain's motor region is engaged. As we master the skill through experience, the brain uses smaller and smaller regions of the motor cortex because repetition (sometimes called practice) makes the required neural networks more efficient. Once this happens, larger portions of the cortex are available for other uses.

Given what research is showing us, I think teacher training could be quicker and cheaper if, instead of spending four years in college, we simply place aspiring teachers in a home with, oh, three or four little ones of various ages to live with them day and night. It could be set up like television's Big Brother house, with cameras peering down from all angles, so that the powers-that-be would know when the student teacher "gets it." This would then be graduation day, whenever it occurs. The teacher will have discovered about learning that which many homeschooling parents pick up in a far less than four year immersion period.

You know, we could bring this news to a lot more people's attention with a television reality show...Immersion Teacher Training. Anybody know an open-minded producer?

© 2005 Linda Dobson

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