When you purchase a language arts program, whether you realize it or not, you have a choice to make. Do you place your child according to grade level, or do you place your child according to ability?
Your decision will play a significant role in whether your child experiences success or frustration and failure.
As you ponder the purchase of reading or spelling curriculum for your child, consider the differences between grade-level-based programs and mastery-based programs.
First, let’s take a quick look at the grade-level choice.
Let me explain it this way.
My dog Bea is three years old. She has participated in agility classes, and she loves running through the tunnels and weaving through the bars.
My friend’s dog is also three years old. Buffy has taken basic obedience classes, but she has never seen a tunnel or weaving bars before.
Would you put both dogs in the same agility class?
Of course not. Bea—with her natural aptitude and previous experience—is ready for the more advanced Level 2 class, but Buffy belongs in the Level 1 beginner’s class.
What would happen if you put both dogs in a Level 2 class? Buffy would likely fail because she would never be able to perform at the same level as dogs who have already mastered the Level 1 course.
So what does all that have to do with kids and curriculum? Let’s connect the dots.
Some people might say, “My ten-year-old is in third grade, so I need the third grade spelling book for him.” But we would never say, “Bea and Buffy are both three years old; they should be in the same agility class.” So here’s a question for you: If you wouldn’t expect a dog to skip the Level 1 course and go straight to the Level 2 course, why would you expect a child to?
Maybe it’s time to rethink how we place our children in reading and spelling programs.
After all …
The story of Bea and Buffy illustrates that age and grade aren’t reliable indicators of which level you should place a dog (or a child) in. Common sense tells us that since not all ten-year-olds have the same educational background, they probably don’t have the same reading or spelling ability either.
For example, some ten-year-olds can easily spell words like pigeon and partridge, while others may still be trying to grasp the idea that the letter G can make different sounds in different situations. Some ten-year-olds can spell circles around most adults, while others have their parents shaking their heads in dismay at their spelling struggles.
It really doesn’t matter whether the differences are the result of natural ability or previous teaching. The fact is, your child is very likely functioning at a different reading and spelling level than her friends. And it would be unfair to force your child and her friends all into the same level just because they are the same age.
Age is never the best indicator of academic ability, so let’s consider these five compelling reasons to opt for a mastery-based program instead.
Mastery-based curriculum makes learning easier by placing high priority on five important elements. Let’s take a closer look at these five elements and how we apply them in our curriculum.
As we illustrated earlier, a mastery-based program lets you focus on your child’s ability instead of on her age or grade level. That’s why we have your child take a placement test before beginning All About Reading or All About Spelling. This sets your child up for success by allowing instruction to meet her right where she is.
A mastery-based program teaches at your child’s pace instead of at a rigid pace set by a curriculum. All About Reading and All About Spelling help you pace your lessons so the material is efficiently learned and effectively retained, setting the stage for long-term learning. This gradual, incremental approach respects your child’s developmental level and allows her to slow down or speed up as needed. Anna Gillingham, one of the founders of the Orton-Gillingham approach, put it this way: “Go as fast as you can, but as slow as you must.”
The goal of mastery-based lessons is to make sure that learning “sticks”—that the brain is able to permanently store, manage, and retrieve information for later use. It’s the “sticking” part that matters. Concepts that are forgotten are not mastered. Simply put, long-term learning should be the main goal of your teaching. In All About Reading and All About Spelling, we help you accomplish that goal by building daily practice and cumulative review into every single lesson. That way, you never have to worry about whether you’re doing enough.
Nothing brings long-term learning to a screeching halt like encountering missing bits of knowledge. It’s essential in mastery-based learning that no knowledge gaps exist. Then as you teach new skills and provide practice and review, you also monitor your child’s progress so you know he’s really learning. This continual process of teaching, monitoring, and offering feedback is necessary to ensure that no gaps surface down the road.
This is an area where mastery-based programs really differ from grade-level programs.
Completing a grade is not the same thing as mastering a level. In a grade-level program, when your child completes Grade 6, he moves on to Grade 7 regardless of whether he has mastered the content in Grade 6. Just imagine the miserable cycle of defeat and frustration that this can create for you and your child. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a mastery-based program, your child moves on to the next level only after he has mastered the content in the previous level.
The video below summarizes the differences between the two approaches.
The concept of a mastery-based program may be new to you and to those around you. After all, it is so “normal” to place your child according to age or grade. But there are so many factors other than age—including experience, innate ability, and opportunity—that contribute to where a child is academically. Just as we wouldn’t expect a ten-year-old to perform at the same music or athletic level as every other ten-year old, we shouldn’t use age as a way to determine placement in a spelling program.
When you teach a child at her instructional level, she can blossom! And you can relish the fact that you are providing long-term learning.
Every child is more than just her “grade” or numerical age. A child’s unique experiences and aptitude play an important role in where she should be placed in terms of ability.
That’s why All About Reading and All About Spelling are mastery-based programs that:
If you’re ready to buck the system and experience the amazing progress your child can make when she’s working at the right ability level, be sure to check out our curriculum! And if you ever need a helping hand, we’re here for you.
What has been your experience with mastery-based lessons versus grade-level lessons? Do you have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!