Growth… one of the processes of life.  I am especially aware of this process as I get preparations done for the start of our new school year.  I remember each student as he or she was at the end of last school year; and I am always amazed at the changes I see in each child upon the first day of school.  Not only have the children grown in stature, but they seem much more mature than last year. 

            We’ve been especially aware of the growth process at the school since we’ve had summer rains which caused a very rapid growth of grass and weeds.  No sooner has the five acres been cut than it’s time to start mowing again!  My poor son-in-law has had to work late into the night on many occasions just to stay ahead on keeping the grounds neat and trim.

            I do subscribe to Epstein’s theory of growth spurts.  I’ve seen this over the years in my students.  Basically, the theory is that the brain grows in spurts rather than continual constant growth.  In recent years, these growth spurts have been linked with four stages for child development such as Piaget’s theory. These stages are: 1): sensorimotor stage: birth – 2 years (children learn by experience through their senses); 2) preoperational stage: 2 through 7 years (develop memory and imagination and understand things symbolically, as well as past and future); 3) concrete operational stage: 7 through 11 years ( more aware of external events, feelings of others, less egocentric, an idea that not everyone shares their thoughts, beliefs, or feelings); 4) formal operational stage: 11 years and older (able to use logic and solve problems, view the world around them and plan for the future).

            In practical terms, I’ve witnessed academic growth that is in a spurt at first grade level.  The sky seems to be the limit for vertical learning.  Then, a time of reflecting, processing, and practicing seems to be horizontal with not much vertical achievement.   But then again in fourth grade, much vertical growth begins again.  The ages are not set in stone, but the process seems to be pretty reliable.

            What that has meant to me as a teacher is I must take advantage of vertical academic achievement in a time of brain growth spurt.  I then expound and enrich those learned skills during the period before the next growth spurt.  When the next growth spurt occurs, I again take the child as far as he/she can achieve.  It should be apparent to people reading this that school systems rely upon the practice of one year’s growth per year of school. Of course, that premise makes teaching all students in a classroom the same skills at the same time acceptable.  It is far harder to individualize learning to match growth spurts, but it is far more rewarding, and one of the reasons I use this method in my teaching. 

-          Kay