Is there such a thing as an average student? When we get a new class at the beginning of the year, we begin to test them and work out where we set our teaching for the year. Although we strive to make sure that each individual is taught to their individual needs, we still target the middle. Some of this has to do with the size of our classrooms. But is this an effective way of educating when research is showing that there is no average brain?
Michael Miller, a neuroscientist from UC Santa Barbara conducted a study of verbal memory. While subjects participated in this activity, Miller scanned their brain with a FMRI brain scanner. Miller took the image of what was supposed to be the average brain before comparing them to the brains he had scanned. What he found is that nobody matched to so called "average" brain.
Picture from: https://publicism.info/business/average/2.html
So, how does that help us in creating a programme in our classrooms? What it shows is that averaging out our classrooms does not work, grouping students by age does not work, creating expectations around age does not work, assessing students to these averages does not work and we can't really rely on averages.
What can we do to make our education system suit?
Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D. August 18, 2018blog article 'Why do we group students by manufacture date?', suggests we should be grouping by interests rather than age.
"I find this to be more natural and mimics real world learning as individuals often seek out others in their out-of-school lives who have similar interests. Interest-driven learning is much more motivating and engaging. Community develops naturally due to shared interests. "
I know what you're thinking, this would cause so many issues like…
How do we take the students on camp?
Would we still teach students to at to their level?
Would students still make friends with others their age?
How can I cover all the different levels of the curriculum?
Looking at the list of benefits, definitely outweigh some of the small negatives. In my job as a PLD facilitator, I work with people of all ages, sex, ability and personality. The age groups range from 5 year olds to 60 year olds with all sorts of capabilities, yet students and teachers are still learning.
Some of the great benefits include…
Better sense of community
Increased student agency as students have to work more for themselves
Variety of perspectives
Older students looking after the younger students
Decrease in behaviour problems
Increase in students being able to learn through their own interests
I really see this when I walk into a rural school, where a sense of community is far more apparent with older helping younger and students having to work for themselves as the teacher has many age groups to work with.
This would obviously take some massive change in thinking, however parts of this could definitely be entwined into how we teach or how a school operates. Even start by finding more opportunities to cross ages, such as…
Plan with another teacher from a different age. The class could design a game using scratch with the younger class, working together for the younger age group. The older student creates the game by following instructions from codeclubprojects.com, with the younger being the adviser. Also, the younger students gets the opportunity to learn how to code a game in scratch. The game could help support the younger child with their addition facts in maths for example.
No longer will the classroom be average!
"If I'm spending time on something, I may as well do good as opposed to average." Fred DeLuca.
"Why do we group students by manufacture date? | User Generated ...." 18 Aug. 2018, https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2018/08/18/why-do-we-group-students-by-manufacturer-date/. Accessed 14 Jan. 2019.
"Fred DeLuca Quotes - BrainyQuote." 14 Sep. 2015, https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/fred_deluca. Accessed 14 Jan. 2019.