This quarter our school established three cohorts in the 7th grade and three in the eighth that are based (primarily) upon academics. We also split our math blocks in half with one half dedicated to our grade level curricula and the other half dedicated to remediation of core number sense skills. The core skill blocks are further homogenized such that there are six distinct groupings that are independent of grade level. If you are in the seventh or eighth grade you are in one of three groups attending normal curricula for your grade and in one of six groups attending remediation, independent of your grade. These splits are the best we could do based upon scheduling, teacher, and room considerations. Our goal was to create the most homogeneous groupings possible.
After about five weeks with this schedule I've come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of learning disabilities. There are those that are inherent to the child and there are those that we have created. Each of my grade 7 cohorts are about a third of the class, with the highest being no more than one year below grade level, the middle group being 2 or 3 years below grade level, and the lowest group being more than 3 years below grade level. The really interesting feature of this schedule is that I see most of my kids in two entirely different academic settings.
One setting, the grade level curriculum, is fairly conceptual so you get to see kids working with new concepts and from that you can assess their prowess with connecting the dots in their zone. The other setting, core skills, is not big concepts or word problems. It is simply raw calculation of rational numbers in all their various forms. This skills component lets you see more of what they bring to the table from lower grades.
Here's the nut… My highest group is making progress in both grade level curriculum and their core skills training. My middle group is making progress in their grade level curriculum (subject to the limitations inherent with their lack of core skills) and little to no progress in the core skills block. My lowest group isn't making progress in either curriculum or core skills.
My observational shock is not so much with the lowest group as they have clearly identified, documented learning disabilities. The highest group is making progress across the board so they're not a big concern either. The real conundrum is the middle group. In their grade level curriculum they appear to have no problem attacking new material (as long as the computation is simple) but their core skills are every bit as resistant to improvement as those in the lowest group. For these kids in the middle, it's like they have two personalities, one of which has a learning disability.
One more relevant point of reference is that this middle group has a normal amount of enthusiasm and energy level in the grade level work but in the core work they have all the inherent joy of a glazed doughnut. They sit in the core class with obvious boredom and do not apply themselves at all. In this class you could easily mistake them for the kids in the lowest cohort.
I would argue (perhaps foolishly) that this middle group is capable, based on my assessment of their grade level work, but disabled when it comes to computation. I would further submit that this seeming disability is induced by their prior failure, i.e. we created it. Could it be that after enough exposure to 'failure' in a particular domain, kids simply give up on it, concluding that it is a skill that is beyond them? Remember that this skills stuff is what they've been getting for the six preceding years.
My anecdotal evidence is telling me that these kids have an externally induced learning disability. It's induced by too much early indulgence towards their early lack of mastery and the school's failure to address it before it has damaged them. As a result they level out at a place that is far below their full potential. Is it possible that at some point, the failure to master becomes a built in disability that impedes further progress? Is there a threshold, beyond which a lack of progress becomes viral, thereby blocking future attempts to improve?
Has anyone experienced this?
Am I drinking too much coffee?