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  • Darlene Rose DeMaria

Performance Based vs. Whole Child Learning



Performance-based education imposes a rote memorization, achievement-focused model in place of a creative, interactive, self-nurturing explorative process. This formula ultimately robs society of deep self-thinking compassionate citizens, who’ve been given challenging opportunities to build salient problem solving skills. Opportunities to balance wins with challenges fortifies children to build character. It provides opportunities to know ‘self’ both strengths and weaknesses, which can build compassionate self-acceptance. Self-knowledge also nurtures voice and a confident strong foundation to be able to set fulfilling achievable personal goals that are values driven, not simply decided by monetary gain or family favor.


In our current economic climate we seem to be on a treadmill driven by over-loaded performance, fueled by test score based cramming while placing the true assimilation of knowledge and self-fulfillment in the back seat. We are wired to frequently compare and compromise our self-values for the achievement of the highest scores, the highest grades and the highest paying jobs. This profile drives a tunneled vision robot, rather than an explorative individual with a global vision. One who is a self-nurtured, self-actualized human being, compassionately focused on the acquisition of meaningful knowledge, which benefits not only self but also others and possibly even the planet.


But how does this conscious self-awareness grow? As a Kindergarten teacher in a prestigious public school, I witnessed the importance of children not always winning, instead facing challenges and learning problem-solving skills. Intricate skills based on knowledge and acceptance of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. I remember I had a little boy who was struggling with small motor skills. He was unable to hold a scissor, cut shapes and figures, color, master pencil grip and write legibly. His interactive language tasks were also challenged. He was not a verbal child. He tended to watch more than participate. He was, however, a very accomplished reader and his parents insisted he spend a good portion of his half-day at school in the 3rd grade classroom reading materials three years above his level. This exposure provided him a great deal of satisfaction and posed very little challenge in his weaker areas.


As his teacher I viewed him in light of the whole child model. I wanted to encourage his challenged skills by fortifying the five elements of learning that create a more wholesome child. His memory was a strength allowing him to present as ‘frequently knowing the answer’ yet verbal and written responses were weak. He would rarely raise his hand to answer a question. When he was given a reading task his attention was unwavering mostly because the challenge level was not present, it was too easy for him. This was not true in other subject areas where he tended to distract himself, not others, when he was not interested or accomplished in the subject area.


The intervention of placing him in a higher-level reading program was implemented because his waning attention became a ‘wasting time’ issue. Even though he was a great reader his language skills were not that well developed. He did not participate in verbal social turn taking and tended to shy away from any social interactions. He definitely presented as a child with motor coordination weaknesses in the both areas of gross and small motor. These weaknesses impacted his written output as well as being chosen for games in the classroom and on the playground. He had difficulty developing friendships. Social and educational opportunities where presented to work on executive function skills and frequently he was unable to use a strategy and decide if it worked and if not how to pivot into a more effective or simpler strategy.


So in consideration of these five elements of learning, this student was strongly performance based in the area of reading, which came easily for him. Even though his parents were made aware of his challenged flat profile, they were not concerned because they were more focused on his accelerated reading skills. They viewed the whole child perspective as something he would eventually develop in his own time. This example is presented to shine light on how easy it is to be diluted by an accomplished win and thus forfeit the timely development of other formidable skills. I never forgot this child and often wonder if he is a lone star somewhere, possibly successful in his chosen field, yet not wholesomely well rounded. He may be lacking self-acceptance and still shying away from basic skills, never given a chance to kindly grow in Kindergarten.

© Darlene Rose DeMaria, M.A. BCET




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