Monday, May 17, 2010

Nuts and Bolts

So, now that we have agreed as a family to try homeschooling for a year, I am ready to look at some nuts and bolts! How will homeschooling look for us next year?

There are many avenues to take for curriculum, but I have to say that the resources found at Ambleside Online sit the best with me right now. (I have a direct link to the website on my blog). Why? Here's their description from the website:

"Ambleside Online is a curriculum guide and booklist designed to follow Charlotte Mason's method of homeschooling. Each year/grade has a list of books to lay out what resources will need to be collected or purchased, and an optional weekly schedule based on a 36-week school year to break the resources into smaller increments to help with pacing the books throughout the year. There is no fee to use the curriculum or website. Parents may use as much or as little of the booklists and schedules as they like. Some families follow it exactly as laid out, most tweak it a little here and there to use books they already have, or because they prefer another resource over the one listed."

What I like about that is the guided flexibility. I can use their book list and materials, but remember, curriculum is only half the picture. I have to use my understanding of Charlotte Mason's philosophy for it to come to life in my family. Oh, and did you catch that it's FREE?!?

So what do I need to know about Charlotte Mason to understand how her curriculum works? Here's what they explain:

"Charlotte Mason lived in England in the 1800's. Orphaned at age 16 and never married, she devoted her life to children and their education. Her ideas were ahead of her time - while others thought that children were no more than empty slates to be filled with information, she believed that they were already real people capable of independent, intelligent thought and that they needed vital ideas, rather than dry facts, to feed their growing minds.

The students in the schools she founded read and discussed living books written by excellent authors on various subjects, took daily nature walks and recorded their observations in notebooks, enjoyed art and music, cultivated and maintained good personal habits such as attention to detail, focused attention and consideration to others, and learned foreign languages. And, by using short lessons, they accomplished all of this (and more) by lunchtime so that they had their afternoons free for their own individual worthy pursuits.

The Charlotte Mason method uses living books with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity, narration instead of comprehension exercises or composition, copywork for handwriting, spelling and grammar modeling, nature observation as the primary means of early science, and literature, poetry, art and music to give children's minds beautiful ideas to feed on."

I don't know about you, but when I read this, I want that for my kids. I want to feed their minds with wonderful literature and ideas, and I want them to see lots of connections amongst all the subjects. (By the way, "living" books are living in the sense that they are written by a single author who shares personally his favorite subject with us.)

According to Ambleside's webiste, this is how I can get started:

1. Choose a Year for your child to start in by looking at the booklists and assessing what seems appropriate for your child.

2. Look at the booklist, make a list and gather materials - buy, borrow or print out books, choose a math program, consider what you'll use for transcription/copywork (you can simply have your child transcribe appropriately sized passages from any of his school books).

3. Decide how you'll divide the workload over the term or year (use or adapt the 36-week schedule if it helps) and plan a schedule, remembering to schedule short lessons of 10-20 minutes for younger children, 25-30 minutes for older children. You don't need to do every subject every day. You can do math Mon/Wed/Fri, geography Tue/Thur, US history Mon/Tues/Wed and world history Thu/Fri. You can break up the week in any way that suits you. Some break up the traditional subjects over four days and reserve Fridays for art or music. There is no one right way. Be prepared to make changes as you see what works.

4. Plan to start slowly, beginning with history, geography, copywork, math, natural history/science, literature and poetry - you can add nature study, art, music and foreign language one step at a time as you feel ready.

5. On your first day, alternate the day between quiet subjects and hands-on subjects to keep your child's mind fresh. After your child reads from one of his schoolbooks, have him tell you what he read (this is narration). You may discuss it with him, if you wish. Most students do copywork every day. Ideally, your school day should be done by lunchtime, but plan for longer at first as you and your child adjust to this new endeavor.

6. After the first week or so, assess how your schedule is working and what you might change. Add nature study, art or music if you feel ready. Over the following weeks, slowly add one subject at a time as you feel you can handle it. Remember that any new venture can seem overwhelming and don't rush yourself to get it all in at first. Many who have been doing this for 2 or 3 years still have one or two things they have trouble fitting in.

7. Learn as much as you can before you start, and continue to learn as you go. The Charlotte Mason method is more than a booklist. It's a whole philosophical approach. The more you understand, the more effective your homeschool will be.

Wow. Are you overwhelmed? I am! Those are some big nuts and bolts! Homeschooling is a tall order, but I desire to do it and my kids are excited. I look forward to taking them out of the system for a year to develop in them a broader perspective of learning. I definitely have a lot to learn too, and this is just the beginning!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Confessions of a Former School Teacher

When I was a 7/8 English teacher, I was responsible for 108 students daily. Ideally, I would have preferred to sit down with each of them individually and have a conversation about the books we were studying to see if they really got the main ideas and understood the characters. But there's no way to do that with a class load that size. The best way to gauge learning in a classroom of over 20 students per hour is to use comprehension questions, Socratic class discussion, pop quizzes, multiple-choice questions, fill-in-the blanks, matching, essays, and the occasional group project. It's a necessity to use these methods (and they aren't necessarily bad); how else can you give a quantifiable measure of learning to the students and to the parents? (This does not fault the teacher at all; believe me, I know there is simply no other way to handle the amount of work we are required to do with the number of people in our care!)

However, now that I'm on the other side of the classroom, as a parent of students, I see the strategies my girls use to deal with the necessary classroom forms of assessment. They often use the "hunt-and-peck" method; read the questions at the end of the assignment first, and then hunt for the answer through the reading. Do the assignment as quickly as possible to get it over with. Memorize the set of definitions or spelling words to get it right on the test, even if they don't make sense to you.

What concerns me is that my girls are not learning how to learn. They are learning how to cope with assignments. I remember doing that as a child too and even through high school. When my grade was slipping in Chemistry, I did extra credit assignments by cleaning out test tubes in order raise my grade. My grade went up, but did I understand the concept I was having trouble with? No.

What surprised me when I went to college was the method of assessment. In the math and science courses, there were still knowledge exams, but we mostly did lots of reading, lots of discussion, and lots of essay writing. You were judged based on how well you could apply your knowledge or explain the comparison between 2 topics. Learning wasn't about spoon-feeding and memorization anymore.

So why do we wait until college to begin assessing learning that way? Are my 7 and 9-year-old kids capable of analyzing topics and explaining connections? Is it realistic to ask them to use their whole brain to learn for mind memory of concepts, and not just rote word memory? Can I expect them to really invest in their learning because they are excited about the subject, not because they have to do it?

From what I'm reading in Charlotte Mason's Companion Guide, the answer is yes. The key to this kind of learning is self-education. "Self-education is achieved by a regular and steady diet of the best books combined with the use of narration to develop retention and understanding of what is read. This approach maintains students' interest and helps them develop the habit of attention, as well as a literary style, a readiness of speaking, a wide vocabulary, and a love of books. This is self-education (vs. traditional education,) because ultimately it is the child who is doing the work." (Andreola 45)

"Self-education is not dependent on a system of artificial rewards, prizes, and grade scores, because it is not bound to a system of education, but a method of learning. A system and a method are 2 different things. A system depends on a cycle of tedium: read the textbook chapter, find the facts and record them as answers to the chapter's list of questions, take the test, get the grade, get it over with. A system makes the process more important than either the information or the learner. On the other hand, a method emphasizes the process by which the goal is attained. If the goal is an educated child, a variety of means will best achieve it" (Andreola 44)

Right now I'm at a critical crossing point with my kids. They are just teetering on the edge of feeling burdened by school and keeping their enthusiasm to read and learn. I see that they do enjoy certain aspects of school, but I also see that they are employing strategies that are unhealthy for their future habits of study. What if we took a year to retrain them on what grades really mean? Right now Ellie worries that she got a 92 in Math as opposed to a 100 or that she got one question wrong on her homework. If we took a year to work on the method of becoming educated rather than working the system of homework, would they begin to see that the goal of every subject is full comprehension, not an "A"? Will they feel less defined by the almighty report card? I hope so. Charlotte Mason said, "The best work is not visible." Next year might be my "invisible" year, but it may also be the most important one!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

An Asian-American Perspective on the Goal of Education

I have heard that for anything in life to be accomplished, you need to begin with the end in mind. As I have been contemplating this decision of home schooling, I have also been thinking about the goals that my parents had for me in education. I might be wrong, but I think most Asian parents have the same goals for their kids: go to an Ivy League school, become a doctor or at least marry one, and be wealthy enough to buy your parents a house and a nice car as a token of your gratitude. That equals success to the Asian community; it's a final certificate of accomplishment that the journey to America was worth all the sacrifices along the way. So far, I have failed to deliver on all 3 of these: I went to Northwestern, married a white guy who at the time was a band director (gasp!), and we are still working on our Dave Ramsey plan for our finances.

If you are Asian-American, you totally track with what I'm saying. If not, I am letting you in on the secrets of the Asian community, not that any of this is really rocket science. Have you ever wondered why all Asians are such high achievers? It's because their parents are drilling a message into them every day: You are worth what you produce.

Don't get me wrong; I am very grateful for my parents and the discipline they instilled in me. Without it, I could not be the person I am today or the musician I am either. I do owe them a lot for their perseverance with me. There are some things I want to pass on to my kids from my Korean upbringing- being hospitable to others, respecting elders, and being disciplined, but I definitely don't want to pass on the notion that the end goal of education is to pay me back for all my sacrifices. Or that you study just to get all A's, or to obtain a perfect score on the SAT's, or to secure an admission to an Ivy League school. These are all great things, but if those are the goals, then hasn't learning been lost for the sake of education?

That's what I want to be careful of in this process. What's my end goal of education for my kids? I want them to be thoughtful, articulate, and godly women. I want them to be well-read, be able to make connections with past authors, current authors, the Bible, and current events. I want them to be able to think critically about topics and write about them with clarity. I want them to have hearts that are open to others and value love over any material possession or personal skill. I want them to be content with their lot in life, whether they become a waitress or secretary or doctor or penniless writer. I want them to see that their early years were spent in training: their character, their worldview, their understanding of God. I want them to know that they are worth so much in God's eyes, not because of what they do, but simply because of who they are. The goal of education in my view is to give them space to grow and learn to be the women God has called them to be. Whether I home school or send them to public school, I pray for the wisdom to be able to begin with that end in mind!