26 mars 2012

"At their own pace" (Critical Guide, E. D. Hirsch Jr)

  A phrase implying that children should develop naturally rather than being forced to learn too rapidly; also called "self-paced learning." The idea is a logical consequence of the individualistic approach taken by Romantic developmentalism. 

  Going at one's own pace would seem to be more natural than going at someone else's, but there is no reliable evidence to support the idea of self-pacing. On the contrary, the data show that the imposition of externally set timelines, goals, and rewards greatly enhances achievement. 

   It is true that different children learn at different rates because of variations in their abilities, energy levels, and motivations. Some able students are lazy, and some less able ones diligent; some pick up subjects rapidly, others with painful slowness. 

   Although teachers are indeed able to judge whether a child's slowness is owing to a lack of preparation in the subject, not even trained psychologists can say with authority how far nature or nurture has predominated in determining the pace of slow children. 

   If an inherently able child is slow because of academic and social disadvantages, is it reasonable to say that his or her "natural" pace is slow? Should schools allow such children to fall further behind, or should compensatory efforts be exerted to being them up to grade level? 
   By the same token, should fast learners be left to their own devices, or should they be challenged with tasks that take them beyond their "natural" level? 

  A good example of the grave problems raised by "natural" pacing is found in teaching the skill of reading. Some children never learn to decode naturally; others gradually work up the skill of reading on their own, simply after being read to. Yet reading specialists have concluded that nearly all children can be brought to grade level in reading, though greater effort must be put forth for children who are slower. Should this greater effort be denied them on the naturalistic principle? 

  The doctrine of "natural" pace has achieved its most alarming expression in the practice of multi-aged grouping, an experimental practice for which there is little empirical support, and much evidence for its unfairness. 

   In the early grades, when no one is in a position to pronounce definitively on a child's "natural" pace, the most effective educational systems in the world try to bring all children up to grade level without holding back the fastest students. On the whole, they succeed.

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This was an excerpt from Hirsch's great book on education :
The Schools We Need 
 and Why We Don't Have Them.
Recension by Richard Askey :  

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