Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Unexpected Revelation of Philosophy

Since I am not prone to introspection, whenever philosophical ideas or revelations come to me, they are always somewhat of a surprise.  Ideas tend to sneak up on me before they beat me over the head with whatever should have been plainly obvious.  I have the mental revelation equivalency of, "Duh!"  Then I feel like Homer Simpson, "D'OH!"

I had one of those "D'OH" revelations during Easter Brunch with the extended family this weekend.  Not when one would normally expect to learn anything new about their personal philosophy... However, when you tend to avoid soul-searching like the plague, what choice is left to fate but to surprise you?

So, while I was sitting around chatting with my nieces about Spring Break, the subject of returning to school naturally arose.  Were they dreading it?  Were they excited?  My sister-in-law mentioned that there would be only six weeks of school left, so the girls were ready to persevere since THE END was in sight. Her next comment was that there were really only three weeks of "real school" left, because then they would have "testing."  (The fact that there was no need to mention that no real schooling/learning occurs after testing is a sad topic for another blog.)

This was when my daughter chimed in, "So when are we done with school?" My spontaneous answer was, "Never!"  I said it without thought and meant it to be humorous. 

Or did I?

Freud could have fun with this... There are no accidents...  Here comes the "D'OH."

I have no intention of stopping.  We don't just "do school" for a grade level until we get to the end of 180 days (the legally required number of days of homeschooling in Georgia), do we?  How many times in school did I, or my children, for that matter ever reach the end of a textbook?  Think about it... How often did you ever complete every chapter in a history or math textbook? So should second grade officially "end" when we reach the end of the math textbook?

What about all the curricula I just bought for "next year" at the homeschool convention?  When do I start using it?  I am already in trouble if I was supposed to wait until August.  I have already implemented a number of new things that I bought.  If it is appropriate for my children and it would be useful to them, then why in the world would I wait to start it?

Man-oh-man were we meant for homeschooling!  When my daughter completed the full year of math for her grade level in February, I didn't say, "Oh good, we're done with math for the year.  Great job.  We'll start up math again in the fall."  That would have been nuts!  I noticed that she was flying through math and bought another "semester" before she needed it.  She is two units (not chapters, UNITS) into the third "semester" of math for the year.  She will likely complete this third "semester" before the month of May is out.

(Please note that I am not saying that my child is a math savant.  It just comes easily to her and for the first time, she does not have to wait for the rest of the class before she moves on to the next chapter.  She typically studies a lesson one day and then takes the test the next day.  The unit tests are cumulative so we can verify that she is retaining the math concepts.  This is one of the main reasons we thought she would thrive by leaving a traditional school. And thus far, we were right.)

Just yesterday, her little brother completed his second grade math curriculum.  I thought he would finish it this week, but he went even faster than I imagined.  He completed two chapters on Monday and took two chapter tests on Tuesday.  He wanted to do this.  He said it was easy.  Why would I hold him back?

So are we supposed to practice math facts from now on until 3rd grade starts in the fall?  Obviously not!  My response to my son was, "Yeah!  Great job! Now we can start the new books."  He was excited about starting the new books too.

(You have got to love that learning is fun.  It is not a "geek" thing anymore.  There is no peer pressure to be like everyone else when you are homeschooling.  There is no worry that it isn't cool to be smart.  You learn because you learn "New Stuff" and learning new stuff is fun. Granted, I wouldn't lump grammar or spelling into the "fun category" necessarily. But math, reading, writing, science and history are fun!)

Now I see why kids who have been homeschooled for several years look at you strangely when you ask, "What grade are you in?" If you go at your own pace, sometimes you will be way ahead "for your grade,"  right on "grade level" or even behind.  I get it now.  The homeschool answer of, "What grade am I in??? Which subject are you asking about?" makes a lot more sense.  In just a few short months, the importance of a "grade" is already blurring for us.

I know that we will keep "schooling" during the summer to some extent. I want the kids to have a "summer," but at the same time we will not stop learning.  Right now the plan (which is still in flux) is to "do school" two days a week and the rest are free "summer" days to play with friends and have sleepovers.  We will keep charging ahead in math and do fun things like history and science. Grammar can wait!

We will attempt to keep feeding their (hopefully) insatiable thirst for knowledge.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Curriculum Review of Learning Language Arts Through Literature

Tis the season for buying new curricula, so I hope that this review of Learning Language Arts Through Literature by Debbie Strayer and Susan Simpson might prove helpful to some.  As new homeschoolers, our family was in uncharted water when we attempted to select curricula for the 2011/2012 school year.  I looked at Cathy Duffy's 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum (both the book and the website) and decided to give LLATL (the title of this program is way too long to keep typing) a try for both of my children.  So in particular, this review pertains to the use of the Red Book (2nd grade) and the Purple Book (5th grade).  Gotta say up front, we are not fans.

The program is designed to be an "integrated language approach" so that:

"By reading fine literature and working with good models of writing, children will receive a quality education in language arts.  If you desire to teach using this integrated approach to language, this curriculum is for you... The integrated language approach has the benefits of all teaching methods.  By working with pieces of literature, you focus on grammar, vocabulary, writing, reading , spelling, penmanship, and thinking skills.  Your student has the best advantage for learning skills in this effective and lasting manner."  Learning Language Arts Through Literature The Purple Book, p. iii.

The Table of Contents shows four book studies for the Purple Book:  Farmer Boy, Trumpet of the Swan, Meet Addy and Caddie Woodlawn.  It seemed great.  However, when we went to use LLATL, we found that appearances were deceiving.  The novels for the Book Studies were fine, it was just that they weren't really "studied."  I assumed (yes, I know what happens when you this case you get stuck with curricula that is not a good fit for your family) that the novels would form the basis of the "integrated language approach."  WRONG!  The use of the novels are not implemented to study the grammar, vocabulary,  writing, reading, spelling, penmanship and thinking skills as laid out in the introduction to the program.  The Book Studies are very brief asides separate from the meat of the curricula.  For example, there are five vocabulary words for Farmer Boy, two sequencing exercises (containing five sentences each) and eleven short answer questions for the book.  That is it.  That is LLATL's version of a complete "Book Study."

Uh, that is not quite what I hoped for... Literary analysis?  Not there either.

So how do the books provide the "integrated language approach" if it is not coming from the required novels for the Book Studies?  The book is a series of excerpts from songs, poems, novels etc. from which the language arts exercises are drawn.  Sure wasn't what I expected.  The real problem was that my 5th grade daughter hated the program.  She found the exercises to be completely unchallenging.  To quote her, "It was boring, busywork on stuff that I already knew.  It was a complete waste of my time."    We completed 23 of the 36 lessons by Christmas.  I exercised the freedom of homeschooling and quit the program after the holidays as it was just not working for us.

The pluses of the program are that the teacher's guide provides the answers to the exercises.  It requires very little parent preparation for daily lessons.  Parents need not read the novels of the Book Studies because there are basic answers provided to the short answer questions regarding the novels and the studies are not in-depth.  (I consider the lack of depth a negative, but if you didn't want to read the books, then you are all set.)  The sources for the language arts exercises changes often, so if you don't like one of the selections, you are not stuck with it for long.  The lessons are very quick.

LLATL The Red Book is a different story.  The readers (All Around the Farm, Forest Fables, In, Out and About Catfish Pond, Up, Down and Around the Rain Tree, Underwater Friends and Famous People) do actually serve as the basis for the language arts activities.  The are numerous activities which are removed from the student book, cut out and then sorted or arranged for the student's completion.  The student book does NOT have serrated pages, so removing these pages is a pain! My son especially liked these-- word lists, phonetic sound sorting, word wheels, alphabetizing etc.  He did not hate the program.  He liked it because it was easy and required very little work of him.  Problem-- it was too easy!  The readers were not challenging.  For us, the readers could only hope to enhance read-aloud fluency.  The vocabulary and writing style would not serve to increase reading level or comprehension.

Second graders do not know a lot of grammar, so the "easy" aspect of LLATL would be helpful.  However, we found that there were too few exercises (average about five) for each grammar or spelling concept or rule being taught.  The exposure was very brief (too brief) and then the topic would not be revisited or reviewed for several lessons.  Thus, the covered topics were not retained effectively.  If however, you have a child who is a naturally gifted speller, then the brevity and the lengthy time span until further review might be an asset.  The length of the required writing assignments was very brief.  It would be an easy matter for a parent to extend the writing assignments to challenge children who loved to write.  

Neither child will be continuing with LLATL.  Caveat emptor for all the Latin fans.  Know what you are getting if you purchase LLATL so that you will not be disappointed.  The program might be an excellent fit for many families, just not ours.