One challenge I experienced with curriculum was that the activities and workbook pages were too difficult for the students in my class, even though it was designed specifically for the age group of my students. As we began the activities in the workbook, it quickly became apparent that it was too difficult.
In this primary-age class (Grades 1-3), the students were asked to write a sentence telling how they could worship God. However, my students were mostly first graders who were just learning the alphabet, and how to combine the letters to make words. They could barely recognize and write each letter, and most of the students didn’t even know what a sentence is. How can they write a sentence, if they’ve never learned what a sentence is? Obviously, the activity was too advanced so I decided to move on to the next part of the lesson.
In a different lesson, the same students were asked to decode a message. The message was written with a code made up of combinations of small dashes and dots which represented the letters of the alphabet. For whatever reason, the children had great difficulty distinguishing between the various combinations of dashes and dots, and could not figure out the message. Once again the activity was too difficult.
Another message-decoding lesson, which was a great success, used small pictures of food items to represent the letters of the alphabet. For example, a hamburger might represent the letter “H” and an “I” might be represented by ice cream. Delighted by the small pictures of food, the children figured out how to decode the message quickly. The little pictures of food seemed to be easier for the students to figure out, and they enjoyed doing this activity. Toward the end of class they were even beginning to complain about being hungry. Is this the power of suggestion at work?
These lesson activities taught me several lessons. First I learned that using simple pictures of objects instead of geometric shapes can make lessons easier and more exciting. Complex pictures of shapes can make lessons more difficult for younger children. Pictures that the children can recognize from daily life make it more exciting than using complex pictures that the children may or may not understand. This showed me how important clarity and simplicity of expression can be when putting together and/or presenting lessons in class.
Secondly, these experiences taught me that lessons need to be designed to meet the students’ abilities. Though you may have a few slow learners in class, the bulk of the lesson must be created at a level of medium level of understanding for that age group. If you have students that excel and finish ahead of time, they can assist the slow learners.
I realize that it’s difficult to know exactly how a lesson will work with a specific grade level. Perhaps, if a curriculum designer questions the appropriateness of a lesson for a specific age group, he or she could try putting it before a sampling of students in the desired age group. If the material is too difficult, it would not take long to figure it out.