Keeping Records Through Middle School, by Angela Berkeley

 

Homeschooling elementary students is a somewhat daunting yet very exciting process.  Having selected a classical education philosophy, you assemble your teaching aids, materials, and curricula. You feel like you’re all ready to start. But then you realize that you also face a somewhat crumpling question: How will you know whether you’re teaching successfully? How will you evaluate your child? How much is ‘enough’? How will you know?

The responsibility is yours. You can’t fall back on anyone else. You’re the teacher. You’re the evaluator. You’re the assessor of whether reasonable progress is being made. And frankly, after the hard work of figuring out your teaching philosophy, studying up on curricula or other materials, finding out how to register with the state properly, it almost seems like too much. It’s a bit daunting. It almost makes you want to fall back on ‘school in a box’—a program that has textbooks for all subjects needed for one entire grade. Then you will know that there are no gaps, right? Then you will know that your child is on grade level.

But wait.

Classical education is different. Our standards for assessing grade level are to be age appropriate and focused on each child’s individual capabilities. Marching your child through standard classroom material in the 180 days of a standard school year schedule really gives up a great deal of the available benefits of homeschooling. Being inflexible does nothing to customize your child’s learning to her unique abilities. It does not permit letting her spring ahead in composition compared with spelling, for instance. It does not allow the significant advantage of being able to take family vacations and field trips away from the school crowds during the school year. It doesn’t let you catch up or leap ahead in math over the summer or enjoy full days out in wild parks during the week or take three weeks off at Christmas time and thoroughly enjoy the holidays. It leaves no room for a four-week focus on writing a novel, complete with character development, dialogue, and imaginative development; or to coordinate your science studies with your Lego robotics projects. In short, it gives up too much for too little—for that bit of security based on norming your child to be like every other child of the same age.

By nature, classical homeschooling takes a far different approach to learning than typical public school curricula. It focuses on learning about the whole world, from the very start. It teaches reading, writing, and other language arts from a very different perspective than public schools—emphasizing massive amounts of personal and read-aloud literature, history, and science. It avoids busy work so completely that it empowers children to recognize and resist it forever. It uses copywork and grammar as well as composition to teach writing skills. Science is taught in depth; experiments and field trips are more important than book work at the early stages. Summarization, outlining, conversation, and thesis formation are taught gradually across all subject areas and lead naturally to being able to formulate and convey effective argumentation. (This is a mixed blessing in the high school years, but I digress…)

Naturally this means that children being taught in a classical manner are not necessarily going to be learning the same strategies and ways of organizing information that public school children do. Or they will learn strategies at different ages than public schoolers, due to a combination of the different sequencing of learning in a classical education and the opportunities for customized progress that homeschooling offers.

Really, though, there is no need for concern about these issues when you’re first getting started, if you take a few basic steps to eliminate these questions. First, make a commitment to homeschool long enough for your child’s learning to converge with public school learning. Generally by around 3rd or 4th grade, the various approaches result in consistently similar results from a testing standpoint. Of course, in addition to the typically tested skills, the classically-homeschooled child has had considerably more experience in science experimentation, more exposure to world history, and a lot more opportunities to investigate a broad range of their own interests.

Secondly, commit to teaching to the point of mastery, and don’t worry about assigning letter or numerical grades through at least 6th grade. Grades are used to assess progress and compare children with each other, by teachers who are teaching an entire classroom full of children. You don’t need to compare your child with others, and you know whether she is learning the material or not, so assigning grades is largely a useless exercise unless and until you need them for an application to a brick and mortar school. If your child is going to homeschool through high school, start assigning grades in 8th grade. If she is going to homeschool through middle school only and needs a transcript to apply for a private high school, find the high school application materials (usually available on their websites) and start assigning grades in the first year that is required on the applications. Many homeschoolers who place their children into public high schools find that they simply need to discuss math and/or honors placement with the high school counseling staff and don’t need to assign middle school grades at all.

Thirdly, establish a routine, and establish minimum weekly progress as an ongoing benchmark. While some use a minute by minute schedule, a routine is effective (and less onerous) for many. What kind of routine? I suggest distinguishing skills from content, and teaching skills every morning and content in the afternoons as much as possible. Skills are things like reading, writing, grammar, and arithmetic. Content areas include history and science. Our ‘typical day’ included a religion lesson first thing, followed by either a lesson in reading skills acquisition or arithmetic, whichever was currently more difficult, followed by the other, and then followed by other aspects of language arts—copywork, editing practice, reading aloud, discussing, and summarizing reading, spelling, etc. Science, history, literature, art, music, foreign language, etc. were taught in the afternoons, and not all of them were taught every day. A reasonable schedule for a week might include 5 math lessons, 4 grammar lessons, 4 copywork episodes, 4 literature lessons, 3 spelling episodes, a foreign language lesson and 2 practices, 2 history lessons, a music lesson, and 2 science lessons. So you would call a week ‘done’ when those were finished, and exceed those quantities most weeks, but also have the flexibility to settle for that amount and know that good progress is being made. Field trips counted into the mix—a day-long trip to a science museum might be the equivalent of 4-5 science lessons. Watching and discussing a play would be perhaps 3-4 literature lessons.

Lastly, track your progress loosely for your own benefit and to make sure that you are not letting anything fall through the cracks. I homeschooled my daughter through 8th grade and used two main tools to track her progress: a master calendar and a monthly template.

The master calendar can be kept in any standard software format. I used Lotus notes, but others such as Outlook would work just fine. The calendar is for exceptions and scheduled lessons outside of the home. Weekly choral and art lessons would go onto the calendar, because despite their being routine, everyone needed to be reminded of the times and dates for lessons that occurred outside of the house. More uncommon exceptions like field trips to the zoo, plays, science museum visits, and play dates were also documented. This meant these activities did not need to be remembered in advance and that later, when documentation was being made, it was easy to create a list of ‘special’ activities.

The monthly template is a Word document that has major subject areas as headings and is cut and pasted into a new Word document each month. Subject areas might be religion, science, math, social studies, writing, reading, other language arts, music, art, PE, and Misc. Each month I would look at a printout of the prior month’s report to remind myself of the status at the beginning of the month. For instance, in March we may have completed the grammar text through lesson 35 and continued through lesson 57 in April. So to write the April report, under ‘other language arts’ I would write, “Grammar lessons 36 through 57.” Hence a short but reasonably detailed overview of progress would easily be generated.

What is useful about this? For one thing, it enables the teaching parent to clearly see that progress is, in fact, being made—something that is easy to miss in the moment. It also gives her a chance to take stock and see whether progress is too skewed—too much writing at the cost of science, for instance, or vice versa. Is there something that should be emphasized more next month? Has progress been so great that it’s time to purchase the next materials? Is there something that could use a little more emphasis? This process also puts a summary of that month’s accomplishments right at the tip of her tongue, for interested relatives or others. And lastly, assembling all of the monthly reports for a year or two is a great starting point if you need to formulate a transcript or an overview of progress for applications to brick and mortar schools, or scholarships, or jobs.

In summary, the processes of homeschool scheduling and record keeping can be thorough, complete, and yet not particularly time consuming. It doesn’t have to be difficult to be effective.

Advertisements

Why Classical Education? Roots and Wings, by Angela Berkeley

 

Why Classical Homeschooling?    The answer is probably different for each family that chooses it.  Here is our story.

When I decided to homeschool, I had a wonderful library of homeschooling theory, practice, and curriculum books available to me, and I read voraciously about it. I was attracted to unschooling, particularly as it related to being a continuation of the way that very young children learn — led by their own curiosity, assisted by having parents, and others who are interesting in answering questions and delighting in learning new things themselves; and relying on self-motivation as the primary factor in educational direction. I thought that this sounded beautiful, and was confident that I could create an environment that would enrich this kind of approach. And I remembered how much I learned that way as a kid, reading on my own about varying subjects — ants, mountains, theology, chemistry, revolutionary war history, pioneer how-to skills, all kinds of things.

But what about skills? I was skeptical about whether a child would necessarily memorize the multiplication tables, or learn grammar, or learn essay forms of her own volition. How would a child even know that it is important to learn these things? Also, what about the developmental changes that made it easy for me to memorize things up to about the 5th grade, but more difficult after that? How would a child know what to memorize, and what would make sure that she did so during that key window? What about the known advantage in learning a foreign language as a child, crucial to developing a native accent? Why let those windows go by? And what would keep someone studying enough arithmetic (so boring) to prepare for learning actual mathematics? Could this method possibly end up giving children an excellent and well-rounded education? And was I willing to bet my daughter’s future on that assumption, even if, as some unschoolers I knew, she did not learn to read until she was 12? Sure, as an avid reader from childhood I could ensure that she would learn a ton of great things and enjoy fantastic conversations and stories and ideas and discoveries just by reading to her, but was that really going to end up enabling her to develop her own abilities? I love history, literature, and theology, and studied chemistry in college, so I had a well-rounded enough background to be able to create an enriched learning environment in our home, but I questioned whether facility in basic skills would ever result from that.

Then two pivotal factors arose. One was that I realized that my particular daughter needed to be taught to read, and sooner rather than later. She was hearing all her friends claim to be reading and starting to decide that she was just too dumb to read, because she would pick up a book and not be able to see what it said. Yet the informal work on reading that was supposed to lead to her ‘picking it up’ was not working — she had learned letter sounds, and I read to her for hours each day, but she was not connecting the words on the page with what she heard well enough to recognize them, nor was she sounding words out. We clearly needed a more structured approach, and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 EZ Lessons was the one we tried. This was not a response to her initiative, but it was a response to what she needed. And it was clear to me that arithmetic was going to need to be similarly structured. We weren’t going to be able to unschool after all.

The other factor was that I finally ran across The Well-Trained Mind.  And there it all was — a complete and thorough plan for a solid and appropriate education. This approach honored the developmental stages that children naturally grow through, starting with easy memorization and love of stories during the grammar stage, and progressing through increasingly more affinity toward logical patterns of knowledge during the logic stage, and then progressing further toward assimilating and critically considering new information in light of the broad body of knowledge that is already present during the rhetoric stage.

There is an emphasis on teaching skills gradually and in an age-appropriate way, using copywork, memorization, read-aloud books, reading acquisition, and oral work at first, and then progressing to more and more written work, more advanced grammar, composition, literary writing, and arithmetic, and then moving into advanced writing, difficult literature, and mathematics rather than just arithmetic. In parallel, the approach to teaching content was also engaging and age-appropriate — early exposure to foreign language study, hands on and demonstrated science study that included the language and the logic of science, history taught first as engaging stories, and then later filling in dates and details with timeline work, and literature progressing from discussion to writing summaries, then to increasingly complex literary analysis, and then full-fledged thesis papers at the most mature stage.

This made beautiful sense, and it was exactly what our family needed to teach skills well, and also to enjoy the learning of content. Additionally, it gave me the opportunity to convey both roots and wings. Roots were provided abundantly in the study of history, great literature, the work of great thinkers in math and science, foreign language competence and its relationship to English, and theology. Wings were conveyed in developing skills and knowledge to the point of being able to assimilate new information critically, to be able to approach learning any brand new subject with a clear methodology (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) that leads to mastery, and a broad enough exposure to lay a foundation for studies of any chosen discipline at the college level down the road.

Angela angela_berkeleyBerkeley–Although Angela Berkeley wanted to homeschool her daughter, she was unable to find others to partner with in this endeavor and felt that it was unfair to homeschool an only child; so she enrolled her in kindergarten. However, because the family was facing a mid-semester cross-country move during their daughter’s first grade year, she pulled her out to homeschool until they settled into their new home. This went so well, and her daughter liked it so much, that they ended up homeschooling through 8th grade.  Using an eclectic classical style, this was an extremely successful process, producing a confident, personable, and academically well-prepared entrant into a local high school.

Homeschooling: Joyful Vocation, by Angela Berkeley

 

Being the mother of a baby, toddler, and preschooler was such a joy to me. I loved watching my daughter grow and figure things out and enjoy her life. I wanted to do a good job, and with no relatives with young children close by I looked for advice in books and magazines, and sought community with other local mothers. I leaned toward attachment parenting, a cozy approach that seemed natural to me–consistent with how we humans were created to be–community oriented, building up a secure base for exploration, sensitive to others’ feelings without being pushovers.

The Lutheran view of vocation was a significant influence on how I approached parenting.  Lutherans believe that God places us in various roles in life, and that each of these represents a vocation in which we should serve ‘as to the Lord.’ Vocations are not just paid employment, but encompass roles like parent, child, church member, employee, employer, sibling, spouse, citizen, etc. Holding the vocation of parent means, in part, being responsible, to the core, for our children’s education and upbringing. This meant that no matter where our daughter studied, I would be in charge and ultimately responsible for making sure that she received a good and appropriate education.

13449786095_204eb5aac3_b

By the time kindergarten age rolled around, I had read a great deal about various types of education, and had visited and toured several schools. I had benefited tremendously from my own education, learning my Lutheran faith as well as academics in excellent Lutheran dayschools that I attended through ninth grade, and then continuing to study in a very academic high school and a fantastic university.

As I looked at schools and read about different approaches to education, it became clear to me that the most natural extension of our already good life was to homeschool. Our daughter was introverted AND social, easily distracted and frazzled by noise, with an attention span that was longer than most, and verbal skills that were advanced. She loved to be read to, about almost anything, and to discuss things for a long time. The first time I took her to visit the tide pool touch ponds in a local natural history museum, she stayed for four hours in front of that little display, completely entranced.  She was just four years old.

As I learned more about homeschooling, there were so many things about it that seemed to fit just right. We could go on field trips and take our time, experiencing them thoroughly. There would be no time wasted standing in line. Playdates would replace 15 minute ‘recesses’, and would give opportunities for much longer, more imaginative games and deeper relationships than at school. Lessons would begin exactly at the student’s level, and be customized for her learning style, and taught in the quiet, cozy home learning environment that was already working so well. Project-based learning would be easy to work into the days and weeks, and religion would fit into every subject, naturally.

We took the plunge and started when she was in first grade, and never looked back. The style that worked in our household was loosely classical, with an eclectic flair, and we continued very successfully through thick and thin until the end of middle school. It has been a rich and joyful journey indeed!

Angangela_berkeleyela Berkeley–Although Angela Berkeley wanted to homeschool her daughter, she was unable to find others to partner with in this endeavor and felt that it was unfair to homeschool an only child; so she enrolled her in kindergarten. However, because the family was facing a mid-semester cross-country move during their daughter’s first grade year, she pulled her out to homeschool until they settled into their new home. This went so well, and her daughter liked it so much, that they ended up homeschooling through 8th grade.  Using an eclectic classical style, this was an extremely successful process, producing a confident, personable, and academically well-prepared entrant into a local high school.