Saturday, November 22, 2008

Why 1st through 4th?

At Zera Hall I teach a small combined classroom of 1st through 4th graders. People interested in what I'm doing often ask why I chose those grades instead of a full elementary span of K-6th. With Zera Hall, I'm attempting to be thoughtful about each thing we do and the direction I take with our class, and so this grade range, like everything else, has been chosen for specific reasons.

I start with 1st graders because in my experience it simply doesn't take a full school year to get through kindergarten material in a home-school-like setting. I can see needing a full year for a kindergarten class if you have a classroom of 20 or 30 5-year-olds whom you need to teach to stand in a line, work as a class body and follow class rules. However, if you are working with 4 to 5 students individually, each working at their own speed and ability level with materials specifically chosen to suit their own particular strengths and weaknesses, there's no reason most 4 or 5 year olds can't accomplish both kindergarten and 1st grade material in one year. I've made a kindergarten introductory packet for prospective parents that gives suggestions on what they can do with their daughter to get her ready for school. In my view, if a child is showing she's ready for formal learning, she'll do fine starting from the beginning and going through both kindergarten and 1st grade material in her first year at Zera Hall. So, instead of teaching Kindergarten, I make Kindergarten a part of the 1st grade class.

My end point of 4th grade was chosen because I want to be able to focus on a particular educational developmental stage in my classroom. First through 4th graders are in a similar place in their level of comprehension and stage of learning. Once a child reaches 5th and 6th grades, she is using many different skills than previously and is doing a higher level of classwork. Many things come into play that a 1st to 4th grader isn't working with yet. A 4th grader is of course different and more developed than a 1st grader, but they are still doing similar kinds of classes and processing information in similar ways. If you are familiar with the classical trivium way of thinking about education, 1st through 4th graders are all still in the "grammar" stage, whereas a 5th and 6th grader is moving more into logic stage of thinking. I wouldn't feel I was able to give the level of attention and focus to each student that I desire if I attempted a less focused grade range which covered both the beginning learner and the advancing student.

In the 5 years I've been teaching students other than my own children and in the 3 years those students have been just 1st to 4th graders, I've been blessed to see how well these grades work together and how much we accomplish in our 4-hour school day. Children of these ages seem to work well together helping one another be challenged and having fun. There are different things to enjoy teaching and to like about the upper grades, and I enjoyed the students I took all the way through middle and high school. However, I am certainly finding it a joy and challenge to focus on these little ones everyday!

No comments: