Testing the Journey – The Benefits of Regular Review
Regular review and goal-setting can be a very useful activity promoting calmness and motivation for the whole family. I have nine (almost 10) children, the oldest being 15 years old. Six of the children have exemptions, two younger children are doing Correspondence Preschool and I have an almost two year old and a baby due in a few weeks. Over the years I have had to change from a spontaneous make-it-up-as-you-go-along kind of person to a let’s have structure in place so that everyone can use their time wisely. The way we accomplish this is by goal-setting and six-monthly reviews.
Firstly, each child has a meeting with me to which they bring all their school stuff. As we ponder each learning activity I ask them questions.
How do you think this is going?
What do you like about it?
Do you think you are making new and important discoveries?
What do you find annoying or a waste of time?
There are extra questions I ask my teenagers who do mostly independent work using various curriculum.
How long are you spending on a subject each day?
How do you mark your work? What do you do if you get things wrong?
What do you do when you don’t understand something?
What help or encouragement do you need?
How do you review what you have learned?
Is the topic interesting to you? Does it inspire you to ask more questions and seek answers to those?
How do you organise your day?
How do you know if you’ve done everything?
When will I need to buy you the next course in the series?
As we talk I write everything down in an exercise book.
Secondly, I have a meeting with myself. I ask questions again.
Which learning activities are working well?
Which are bearing good fruit?
Which activities suit the child’s learning style?
What is annoying me?
What is missing that I wish we were doing?
If we are using a prepared curriculum, how are we using it?
Is the chosen work the best use of time? Does it help fulfill our family vision?
What other curriculums are available? What can we learn about teaching strategies from these?
The third part of our review is my meeting with my husband. I talk through the whole situation for each child. We don’t discuss all the children in one sitting. Often more struggles come to light – or the opposite, and I realize how well things may be going. We can decide together to change strategies or simply encourage each other to continue in the way chosen.
The fourth step is to go back to each child and encourage them in all they have achieved. This is especially good coming from Dad. We also problem-solve to find solutions to difficult areas. Recently we asked a teenage son to time how long he was spending on each subject. As a result we realized he was skimping on a few things. We made minimum times for each activity. After a week of increased work time he actually felt better about his efforts.
The background for answering some of our questions is based on our long term goals and vision. When we wrote our first application for exemption from a registered school we did a lot of thinking about education. I read through the New Zealand School Curriculum of the time, read lots of books on Home-education and was privileged to read the exemption applications of some older, seasoned mums. Lennie Harrison’s Home-Education course was also very helpful. Our latest curriculum vision can be found at https://katrinasampson.wordpress.com/home-schooling/ (Click on Curriculum Vision then on Susanna’s exemption link) for anyone wanting to read part of someone else’s exemption application. The Bluedorn’s book ‘Teaching the Trivium’ has a great list of “Things to do each day for under 10 year olds” then 11-13, etc. I have based our learning activities on this list for many years. The Maxwell’s book ‘Managers of Their Schools’ has heaps of ideas for reviewing and organising subjects. I was greatly encouraged by it.
There are three options that I see for when things aren’t going too well in a subject or learning activity:
1. Try a different curriculum or learning method
A new curriculum can give a totally new perspective to a subject, akin to a breath of fresh air in a boy’s smelly bedroom. I felt this going from Saxon Maths to Math-U-See. Saxon had served us well for many years and I learned a lot about teaching maths, especially for the 1-3 grade levels. My third child is a very auditory learner who found reading his lesson from Saxon Maths 5/4 highly frustrating and he hated to wait in the queue for me to read it to him. The videos from Math-U-See were a wonderful answer to this problem. Now the five older children are all enjoying Math-U-See.
Changing curriculum costs money which I used to find hard. A seasoned homeschooler once said, “Expect to waste money on curriculum.” I found that reassuring. I really do like trying out new curriculum now as I find all sorts of new ideas on how to teach and facilitate learning environments.
2. Use the Curriculum you have in a different way
Often we use a particular book as a base for a subject and add our own activities to spice it up. This is the case for our “history time” for the 3 older primary aged children. I am reading aloud ‘The Story of the World’ books. We tried using the activity books that go alongside these books but the activities were often more than I had energy to organise. Now when we find a topic of interest we read aloud a “living book” biography or find pictures on the Internet. Someone might remember another resource or book we have on the subject and run and get that to share. We also read aloud the ABeka History Student Readers for a while alongside The Story of the World book. This gave a slightly different perspective on the same events, plus some geography lessons on the areas described.
For younger children using Rod and Staff Readers and Workbooks we pick and choose which parts of the workbook to do. (Some activities in these books are not appreciated by seven year olds!)
Homemade games can be used to reinforce concepts. Lennie Harrison has great ideas and a seminar about this.
3. Reduce the amount of “subjects” done
I have a child for whom this has been a life-saver. He has few subjects required from him each day but is expected to make a thorough job of them. Consequently, he is much happier which makes a peaceful household!
Strategies to help teenagers who are managing their own work
1. Time your work
2. Have minimum work times for each subject
3. Make achievable goals for each subject
4. Make a timetable and put it by your work space
5. Review chapters with a parent
One of my sons does his Apologia Science Study Guide at the end of each chapter orally with me.
6. Talk with Dad about why a subject is important or how to be better organized
7. Make a checklist for a weeks worth of work and tick off each part when completed
My children make charts like this on the computer.
Once goal-setting and review are completed for another 6 months, I feel calm and motivated to keep on. It is a wonderful relief to let go of old, tired ways, yet keep the well used paths that are still relevant to the journey. It opens doors of opportunity for something new. Most importantly it builds family relationships. Review facilitates understanding between my children and me, and gifts my husband a way of being involved in planning for and encouraging our children. I look forward to the day when I watch my children take on for themselves their own vision, planning and review.