May 15, 2024

Keep Calm and Master the Basics

Part One

As a parent and long-time teacher, I’ve observed hundreds of students progress from elementary school through college. Some students arrive prepared at their first academic experience outside of the home (at whatever age) and some do not. Patterns emerge, and the main one is this: the students who succeed have acquired a basic knowledge and skill set at each level of their education.

What does that knowledge and skill set look like?

What is the bare bones scope and sequence of a K-12 education? I want to share these observations with parents who are beginning their educational journey, parents who are anxious that they are doing too little, parents who are anxious that they are doing too much, and parents who are just plain anxious.

The premise:

At each level of education there is a basic set of skills and content that students need to have mastered before continuing to the next level. I like the term “sequential mastery” for this idea. Shortcutting sequential mastery creates obstacles to success in your student’s academic journey.

We all know this. We all know that students are supposed to learn multiplication in elementary school (usually third grade). We know, if we stop to think about it, that a student who hasn’t memorized multiplication tables in third grade is going to struggle with fractions in fourth grade and be unsuccessful in algebra in ninth grade.

The problem:

Our anxiety kicks in when we listen to the many voices telling us what ELSE we should or should not do at each level. These voices might include family members, friends, educators, curriculum vendors, un-schooling proponents, classical education proponents, Charlotte Mason proponents, or families who choose homeschooling so that their students can devote large amounts of time to a non-academic pursuit. All of these communities have much to offer, but with so many competing voices, it becomes essential for us to identify the minimum components of sequential mastery at each level of education.

 A thesis:

In order to remain academically successful, elementary and early middle school students should focus on study and work habits, language, and math. Late middle and high school students should focus on logical thinking, critical reading, academic writing, and spiritual formation.

A proposal:

  • Do the basics.
  • Do them well.
  • Do them together.
  • Do them for real and not for show.
  • Do more of basics than anything else.
  • Do them in order.
  • Do them with unhurried time.
  • Do them (for the most part) at the appropriate age.

The good news:

Sequential mastery, while not glamorous, is not a daunting task. You can accomplish this by following the mantra:

  •  Consistency, Completion, Focus.

Next time:

  • Two ways we fail at sequential mastery.
  • Three ways we succeed at sequential mastery.

--Patricia Samuelsen