Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Academics and Developmental Delays

I am still learning to trust development in terms of what we think of as "school" and "education". I still resist the strong urge to feed facts to my homeschooler, who happens to be a child on the autism spectrum with a number of developmental delays.

I sometimes wonder, "How will she catch up to her same-age peers?" I have a clear window into same-age peers and what they're learning because she's a twin. Her twin, and her older sibling, have studied so much more, memorized and been tested on so much more, from an academic standpoint. Will she ever catch up?

Lately, my thoughts have changed from "Will she catch up to her peers?" to "Why did I think that catching up, academically, even matters?"

Allow me to give you just one example that is reshaping my view.

All of my children are brilliant. ;) Eldest has always loved learning (well, except for one grade in elementary school when the teacher was a problem and I saw my child's love for learning in question), she's always gotten good grades, she's always done more than expected, academically, and she has really high state test scores.

In 5th grade, her class had a unit on weather. When she was in the study, I remembered learning about weather, too. She learned an incredible amount of information about clouds, and she often told us what kind of cloud was in the sky and what that cloud meant. She could tell us how that type of cloud indicated this or that. When I was doing a unit on weather, I could do that, too, as a child. (I see a lot of me in my daughter.)

I wondered how long that information would stick with her. I'm not sure how long it stuck with me - probably months, that's all. My daughter surprised me - she retained the information for well over a year.

Now, 2½ years have passed. We were in the car the other day and the sky was an incredible shade of blue, the clouds were spectacular; I commented on them. I figured she might give us some cloud facts. She did, but not as thorough as she would have two years ago, and she even said aloud that she'd forgotten a lot of what she'd learned. Eldest can remember bits and pieces from her weather unit, some facts about clouds, but she's forgotten chunks of information.

The information in the weather unit was interesting to her, interesting enough that she retained it long after the A+ on the test. But she didn't use that information daily, and she lost it.

That's typical.

I attended curriculum night at the middle school this week. Geometry, science, social studies - all familiar topics to me from my school days, all mostly forgotten. The 8th graders are revisiting information from elementary school in some situations, with a more in-depth look this time around. A student who came from another district with no background from elementary school will still be able to study and participate without the background. An a-ha moment: My homeschooler doesn't need to match her same-age peers lesson for lesson right now. Keeping learning developmenally appropriate is important right now.

More thoughts about curriculum night: I don't need to have all the facts about the periodic chart in my head all the time, every day. I used to know a lot about the periodic chart; the bulk of that info is long gone. Today, I know enough about the chart, about chemistry, to give me some understanding in presentations at biomedical conferences on treating autism (although, I have to admit, I wish I remembered more about the Kreb Cycle). During the entire night of going to each of my eldest's classrooms and listening to each teacher, I realized, even more than ever, that being able to interact and communicate is what is most important, and, interaction and communication is emphasized in every class. More than I ever have, I realized that the academics are a background piece to practicing teamwork, interaction, communication, critical thinking.

As I watch her and her younger brother study for tests, I think back to my junior high school days. I learned all that stuff, too. And so SO much of it is forgotten. They'll forget it, too.

In junior high, the kids begin taking different paths with electives. In high school, they'll have more opportunities to differentiate, based on electives. They won't all take the same math classes to meet the math requirement. What they know when they graduate will vary widely from student to student. This is true for every student, even NT school-building-schoolers.

There is no need to memorize reams of material and thousands of facts in order to retain it forever. My children and I both know how to find information, where to look, if we need it.

Academics? Yes, definitely. But not the priority that I once thought.

Interaction. Communication. Critical thinking. Developmentally appropriate. Those are priorities, even for typically developing school-building schoolers. No need to fret about academic delays.

Trust development.
(easier said than done)


PaintCrazy said...

Well said. Trust development and then remember that development and education doesn't have to end when one has finished 12 years of school. Graduating after 12 grade or at at 18 is something the government decided with the advent of public school. If your child isn't developmentally ready to go out in to the world at 18, why on earth would we do that? Why graduate them if they aren't ready?

walking said...

Chew on this:

The schools are structured in such a way that what is memorized for tests quickly forgotten.

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