I have been spending more time in the classroom lately, and am constantly reminded of the range of developmental stages. As a mother of an infant, I know that teething can start anywhere between 4 and 12 months, that it is okay that the other 10 month old at daycare can walk and my daughter is still working on pulling herself up to stand, and that I might have to wait a few more months before I am graced with “Mama”. But we easily lose sight of this wide range as children get older. In the US, many people feel that students should be reading in Kindergarten, or that because a child is 10, he should be in 5th grade. The developmental ranges do narrow as children get older, but it is still a continuum, not a point.
Take reading, for example. In most Scandinavian countries, formal teaching of reading is taught at age 7, and their literacy rates are some of the highest in the world. In the progressive school I worked at in New York, students were allowed to come to reading as they were ready – encouraged, of course, and surrounded by print, but not pushed. By 4th grade, it was nearly impossible to tell who had been a “late” reader vs an “early” reader. Or even just looking at INTL*, we have students who are “old” for their grades and “young” for their grades, but doing very well right where they are. I received a note from a parent the other day who felt without a doubt that she had made the right decision in having her daughter repeat 1st grade a number of years ago, and on the same day I was greatly impressed by the writing ability of a student who by age should have been a year below.
To best help our students be the best they can be, we need to think of ranges or continua, not fixed points, and to give them the scaffolding they need to succeed. We need to challenge them, but in ways that they can meet goals, see their accomplishments, and enjoy the process of learning. So often we just need to take a step back, look at the big picture, and remember that everyone is an individual.
*In 2020, the International School of the Peninsula (ISTP) formally changed its name to Silicon Valley International School (INTL) to better reflect its bilingual programs, location, and international values.