Tools for Meeting Your Child Where He’s At: Using Educational Continua in Homeschooling

Educational Continua for HomeschoolingMost everything in life is progressive. We move from one stage to the next taking newfound knowledge along with us. Each phase can be subdivided into smaller stages.

The continuum of life moves from conception to birth to childhood to adolescence to adulthood to old age, and, finally, to death. Childhood alone can be broken down into a progression of its own: infancy, toddlerhood, preschool age, school age, then, teenage.

If we want to get an even closer look, there are smaller stages between infancy and toddlerhood in terms of movement, feeding, fine and gross motor development, reflexes, speech/language, visual-motor development, and so on.

The developmental continuum for locomotion/movement for an infant looks like this: random movements, rolling over, sitting, crawling, standing and walking. Each phase builds upon the next. Each step is nurtured by parents in a way that is appropriate for the stage. For instance, babies who are just learning to sit up are often propped up with pillows. Parents use encouraging words and perhaps toys to keep babies engaged at that floor level.

We instinctively know what to do to reassure, strengthen and gently push our babies in the right direction to get them to the next phase – no matter which developmental progression we are working on. Yes, books might tell us what to do to make it more interesting, but mothers and fathers have known before the existence of literature how to foster their baby’s development.

developmental milestone samples

These motor development charts are continua that let you know what precedes a certain skill/ milestone and what follows it.

Phases.

Stages.

Steps.

Spectrums.

Continua.

Progressions.

No matter how you term it, these words represent the evolution, growth and development that human beings use to get from point A to point Z in any aspect of life.

Educational Progressions

Education works in the same way. There are continua and sub-continua and sub-sub-continua in each and every step in your child’s learning. There may be a general continuum for English Language Arts, then a sub-continuum for reading, and a sub-sub-continuum for phonemic awareness.

Children learn to write, read, speak, spell, count, compute from a starting point and progress from stage to stage at their own rate and in their own way.

This is our local Quebec continua that is provided by the Ministry of Education as a means to support the educational approaches of teachers. It shows all of the learning a student is to acquire from grade 1 to grade 6 for each subject . This one is the physical education continuum.  Note: "Levels" do not stand for grade levels, but levels of competency instead.  For example: The Phys. Ed continuum for "performing movement skills in different physical settings" has a total of 9 competency levels that a child much achieve by the time he completes elementary school.

This is our local Quebec continua that is provided by the Ministry of Education as a means to support the educational approaches of teachers. It shows all of the learning a student is to acquire from grade 1 to grade 6 for each subject . This one is the Physical Education continuum. Note: “Levels” do not stand for grade levels, but levels of competency instead. For example: The Phys. Ed continuum for “performing movement skills in different physical settings” has a total of 9 competency levels that a child must achieve by the time he completes elementary school.

What are you doing to nurture your child`s learning at each stage?

In the last post, I wrote about the importance of focusing on progress over performance. But, how do you do that?

The answer lies in understanding and respecting continua. In the same way that you encouraged your baby in early development, you need to encourage your child in education.

Keep in mind that although you’d like to push your child along to keep him at age or grade-level, it’s simply a misguided way to approach education.

Think about this: When your baby was first experimenting with random movements as a newborn, did you suddenly put up gates and move furniture out of the way in preparation for walking? Did you support him by holding him under his arms in standing position? I doubt you did any of that with your newborn. Chances are, you cuddled and swaddled him and kept him in a laying down position for much of that phase.

Even though you knew that he’d eventually begin to sit and stand or walk, you just couldn’t possibly expect your baby to do that as a newborn. You knew it would take time. And, if you had received a diagnosis at birth like we did, you knew it might take a long, long time before evidence of readiness for the stages of sitting and standing emerged.

Think of education in the same way. You will never second-guess yourself if you do.

Using Educational Continua in Homeschooling

Some of the best tools we have as educators are learning continua. As homeschooling parents of children with special needs, these documents help validate and support our teaching.

Where to begin:

The best place to begin is with your provincial/ state Ministry website. You are likely to find continua for learning that mesh with the curriculum requirements – for free.

Here are some links to get you started. I suggest you look through each of these links even if you aren’t from these countries/ provinces/ states. This way you can get an idea of what continua look like at different levels of education, as well as for different subjects in different countries. Because it would be impossible for me to include all of the global links, do a quick online search to locate your province/ state’s documents.

Canada

USA

International

What to look for:

For some practice in understanding the progressions, ask yourself:

  • What subject intrigues me right now? Math? English Language Arts? (search for that subject in your province/ state’s Ministry of Education search bar)
  • What grade level is my child closest to? (find the grade level in that subject)
  • Which concept can I focus in on? (computation in math, literacy in ELA?)

Take some time with the documents. They are a little overwhelming at first, but can be super helpful over time.

How to use learning continua for your child with special needs:

Continua are valuable tools if used as follows:

  • plot your child on a continuum to see where he’s at
  • plan your teaching using the chart as a guide
  • assess/ evaluate your child’s progress (like a rubric) by highlighting the goals reached
  • your child can asses/evaluate himself as an active participant in the planning/learning process
  • use the continua to speak with other professionals that work with your child (a PT might be interested in a gross motor continuum while an SLP would be interested in the ELA continua you’re using)
  • differentiate your teaching to the needs/ levels of each of your children (one continuum for each child – or one continuum highlighted in different colors representing each child)

Even if your child has learning difficulties or developmental delays, it is advised to plot him on a learning continuum. It gives you the visual representation of where he is at and as well as clear objectives to help guide him to the next phase.

ELA Progression of Learning

This is a page out of the Quebec Progression of Learning for English Language Arts – Conventions of Written and Media Language. The three cycles for elementary school are listed across (shaded in blue) and the criteria for learning are listed in the left-hand column. The first criteria is that the child learns to “write sentences in an order that supports a main idea or story”. You can see that this concept is taught with much teacher guidance in the first year of cycle 1 (grade 1) and the student is only expected to do it on his own by the end of cycle 1 (grade 2). The skill is then developed in all other cycles.

But the terminology is different from one continuum to another?

If you look at the links above, you’ll likely notice that each country/ province/ state has their own progression of learning and the terminology differs for each location. In fact, you’ll find that even independent publishers come up with their own wording. Some use the words “emerging” to mean “developing” and “beginning to”, and some use each of those within the same continuum so that one “emerges”, develops” and then “begins to…”

That’s perfectly ok.

In essence, they all aim to do the same thing.

If you choose a Ministry-created continuum to follow, you’ll likely be speaking the same language as other homeschoolers/ teachers in your area who are also using those. If you prefer Ministry-created continua, stick with those.

If you choose another resource (such as those in the suggestions below), stick with those for while. This ensures that you not only become proficient with the terminology, but you’ll be able to actually see the progress over time.

In other words, don’t continuum-hop. Stick with one publisher or one style so that you have continuity over the years.

Alternatives to Ministry Learning Progressions

Many publishers have created their own continua. You can find learning continua per subject, per level and per concept just as easily as you can find recipes on Pinterest.

Keep in mind that a good continuum doesn’t label the stages by age or grade level.

I did a quick search, and these are a couple of sites with free printable learning continua to get you started.

ELA

Mathematics

I’d love to know what questions/ hesitations you might have about using educational continua. Or, do you already use them and have a link to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Additional Resources:

First Steps Reading Developmental Continuum sample – This article talks about the First Steps tool that was developed in Australia, but is used in Canada and the USA as well.

Related articles on this blog:

Meeting Your Child Where He’s At: Progress vs Performance
Planning the Homeschool Year for Your Child with Special Needs – Part 10: Assessments and Evaluations (more links to continua and rubrics)

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