Speed Limits and Learning

Speed limits? Learning? What does this have to do with driver’s ed?

Nothing. This has nothing to do with driver’s ed. In fact, this doesn’t have much to do with speed limits in the literal sense, either. But let’s start with what a speed limit is. It’s the maximum speed everyone is allowed to travel to keep everyone on that particular road safe. It helps us travel uniformly (even if most of us are…creative…with those limits) so that everyone gets where they need to go in one piece. It’s a great idea, isn’t it? Certainly helps keep the roads slightly more civilized (although I was in a city bus about a month ago when a semi tried to take it on. That was pretty scary.)

The idea of a speed limit is great for the road, but it doesn’t have much application outside of travel; however, it feels like there’s a speed limit sign in schools. This is where that whole metaphor kicks in. It’s not a real speed limit sign. There’s no sign saying, “Walk no faster than this”, with a friendly school officer there to remind you to travel safely. The metaphorical speed limit sign is the curriculum scope for every class in a given school year.

Yeah, it’s a little crazy and hard to see, but think about it. Each school year, teachers have a set of skills and topics that their students are expected to master within the following nine months. The teachers then have to figure out how they’re going to cover that material to reach that goal, and woe be to the student who can’t keep up. They either get to give up their extracurricular activities for tutoring (or as punishment for not being able to learn at the rate the teacher needs them to in order to reach that class’s goals for the year), or they get to go to summer school, or (in rare cases) they get a stigma for needing to repeat that particular school year.

The problem is not entirely dissimilar from that environmental problem we discussed last week – not everyone learns material at the same rate. A learner might pick up one skill very quickly, and then need some extra time to master the next skill. It’s perfectly normal. It’s just how we are. There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to that varying learning rate at all, but we can’t seem to shake the competitive nature that fuels the cycle. Many teachers are aware of this and will bend over backwards to help a student who needs that extra boost to get them to mastery, but I’m sure there are many of them who wish there were an easier way to help students progress at a rate more comfortable to them.

One thing I like about multi-age classrooms (especially ones like Montessori rooms where students get to stay for a couple of years) is that they tend to respect the student’s own rate of learning. The student is more likely to see that there’s nothing wrong with how quickly or how slowly they’re picking up something because there’s nearly always someone else learning the same skill with them. What I like about the program I teach in is that because each student is working on their own prescribed curriculum, they can work at their own rate without having that fear of not being “good enough”.

Unfortunately, as long as we have these notions of what has to be accomplished at each age in school, I doubt there’s going to be much of a chance to address this fact that students really do learn different topics at different speeds.


2 thoughts on “Speed Limits and Learning

  1. Pingback: One Size Should Not Fit All | Genius in Transition

  2. Pingback: The Multi-Age Classroom | Genius in Transition

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