The Goldilocks Effect

Struggling learners often become frustrated with one or more subject areas. That frustration becomes a part of the parent-child relationship, leading to high emotion, intense battles, or avoidance. When I begin to work with kids and their families, the first step is to figure out where kids are performing, and then to “lay a path” to the next step in learning. In other words: I figure out where kids are stuck and work to help them become unstuck. This requires a bit of finesse, and is not a one-size-fits-all mission. It also requires time.

Struggling learners exist in all types of schools and in all types of families. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and if our weaknesses impact attention, working memory, speaking, listening, reading, writing, problem solving, or math skills, school becomes a source of pain.

I have the advantage of seeing what traditional school offers my clients. There are some great ideas I have borrowed for my own family and students. I also have the advantage of seeing what my private school clients are learning, as well. Now I have the advantage of seeing what Homeschool learning co-ops are teaching. It is like living a school version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Depending on the child, the school type and the subject matter, the curriculum can be either Too Much or Too Little, but sometimes  (if we’re lucky) it can be Just Right.

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Here is my sense: Too Much often results in Too Little real learning. No matter the type of school, we can all benefit from finding that Just Right level of engagement.

While I support lots of reading and writing, there can be Too Much editing and Too Much grading. Peter Elbow calls graded writing “High Stakes” and ungraded/unedited writing “Low Stakes.” He advises more “Low Stakes” and less “High Stakes” for Just Right writing. That is why I am drawn to Brave Writer.

Likewise, reading can include Too Much high level text, and Too Little moderate level text. My kids had a mix throughout the year: some reading that was a challenge, some that was moderate, and some that was just fun. But kids who only read heavy classical literature tell me, “I don’t like reading anymore.” Even with reading and writing, finding the Just Right balance is critical.

In my own homeschool, I would get a sense of Too Much or Too Little as the year progressed. I found it easy to balance history because I believe so strongly in going a mile deep and an inch wide. Going deep was fun and interesting, so my kids were engaged. It always felt Just Right.

Likewise, once we did one writing project a month that was fully edited, with a lot of minor editing and freewriting during the week, I felt we hit a Just Right level in Language Arts. Brave Writer Copywork, which I turned into my own version of Intentional Copywork, made Phonics, Spelling, Vocabulary, and Grammar Just Right, too.

But I think I rarely hit a Just Right for science, and I definitely had Too Little for Geography! I tried to recruit co-op classes and camps to supplement, but these subjects haunted me. I would always try to go “gung-ho” to make up for a bad semester, but my efforts would soon fizzle out again. Of course I feel some regret over opportunities missed. My kids don’t think this way, however. Even when they say, “I wish I had learned…” they don’t assign blame.

But here is the thing: this Goldilocks Effect is the reality of all types of school. No matter the source of education, it is impossible to make all areas Just Right.  And as mentioned, individual learning challenges complicate any school learning, no matter the type. For all kids, there will be areas of learning that are just Too Much, some areas that are just Too Little, and a few things that turn out Just Right for that child. My continuous dynamic goal, in working with students individually, is to find and work within that Just Right zone. My goal, in our monthly coaching class, Roots Entwined, is to help parents find that Just Right level throughout their school year.

In other words, with the right kind of support, all students can learn “happily ever after!”

~Rita