Some in large groups and some in small

Last week's school-improvement suggestion called for placing primary pupils in "family" groups instead of in chronologically graded classrooms. This week's recommendation will explain what to do with the more mature youngsters after they have spent up to three years assigned to the same classroom and possibly to the same teacher.

It's no secret that home environment impacts directly on pupil behavior and learning ability.

If a pupil comes from a stable home environment with high school or college educated parents who love helping with homework and have the patience, interest, and ability to do so, this translates into sound academic achievements in as well as out of school.

On the other hand, if the home environment isn't stable; if the parents or guardians are not themselves skilled in the three R's; or if homework is not patiently and intelligently supervised, then it is the school which must carry the major burden for developing strong scholars out of infant learners.

Few schools now pay very much attention to this enormous gap between classes of learners, often giving identical homework assignments to all regardless of the home environment in which that "work" is to be done.

But seasoned educators know that the fourth year in school is the "make or break" for many children, and that without enormous intervention as well as compensation from the schools, thousands of youngsters start their slide then down the dropout trail.

The solution: Place the more able youngsters in large class groups with teachers who know how to stimulate and support self-directed learning. Provide these youngsters with ways to gallop through standard skill steps, teaching them to pause to study a few areas in more depth.

And place those who need more help in much smaller class groups -- never more than 15 per group -- with the most skillful teachers on the staff. With those teachers who know that there are at least a dozen ways to get a reading skill across to a troubled learner and who recognize that the challenge is theirs to reach each individual pupil.

Of course, it's important to keep mixing and remixing the youngsters together. Maybe some of those in a small class group could join others from one of the larger classes for singing, for athletics, for computer sessions, on field trips, for classes in arts and crafts.

But, as the youngsters come out of their three-year "family" groups, they should be placed in large or small classes and with specially suited teachers according to their particular needs.

Next Week: A longer scho ol day for some.

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