Syncing the Out-of-Sync

Teaching isn’t simple. You can walk, for example, into a classroom and find that students range from grade three to grade ten in reading ability. How to challenge all without frustrating some—this is the daily dilemma.

But what also complicates teaching is described by a daunting phrase—asynchronous development. Understanding this concept has helped me understand students. And it’s helped students understand themselves.

Take the word apart, I tell students. Chronos means time. It’s the Greek root for chronology. Syn means same, like in synonym. And the prefix a means not.

So if you put it together, asynchronous development means that not all the parts of you develop at the same rate.

Annie, a student in the gifted program, is an example of asynchronous development. One morning when she was in second grade, she showed up for class, her face wan and strained. Her eyes pooled when I pulled my stool next to her.

“I didn’t sleep all night,” she whispered.

And her mom confirmed this when we talked. Annie had watched the news, understanding far more about the recent terrorist attack than most second graders would, more than she could handle.

Annie’s intellectual development and her emotional development were out of sync. And this required greater vigilance by her adults.

Tom, a seventh grade student of mine, showed a different profile, running the household, as he did, for his emotionally and intellectually challenged mother. Tom read below grade level, but he managed his younger siblings with skill, keeping them in clean shirts, helping them with homework, and even showing up at their parent-teacher conferences to help his mother understand. Tom’s emotional maturity far surpassed his intellectual powers. Tom learned best when I acknowledged his asynchronous development, when I matched my tones to his level of responsibility.

Teachers, then, manage not only differing levels among students. They also watch for varying levels within students. Teachers face the daily dilemma of bringing into some kind of synchrony all that is out of sync.


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