When told by Xaviar’s second grade teacher in a public school that he should be tested for ADHD I knew in my gut something was off. I started reading lots of books related to boys and learning. Two that I stumbled upon were: The Way They Learn by Cynthia Tobias and Character Matters by Thomas Lickona. What really stuck while me was learning styles truly play a role in a child’s education. In my experience, educators mostly turn a blind eye to a learning styles’ role in the traditional classroom. To their credit, I am sure there are many reasons however, proving to be a disservice to the student mostly. When I say traditional, I mean a classroom setting where a teacher teaches and children sit and listen for the most part. One way to see the traditional approach to learning growing more and more ineffective is to look at the attrition rate of high-schoolers. In particular, those from a public school setting where a standardized test determines whether they move on to the next grade. Yet so many come to college ill-equipped. I see this everyday in my advising role at the local community college. As of 2010, less than half the states require students be “college ready.” In other words, a large percentage of students end up spending at least one semester taking developmental courses…in college…I thought we sent them to high school to be ready for college! Lets face it, the affects the traditional teaching approach has on the student’s success is not the only variable to blame. Xaviar wasn’t the easiest student to educate…I can say that, I am his mother! We must consider the students motivation, attitude, and intelligence to name a few. In The Way They Learn, Mrs. Tobias explains in her book how each child is intelligent as it relates to the way a child learns. Clearly, teachers don’t have the resources, support or maybe even desire to discover every child’s learning style. But to add to this schools aren’t doing so well with boys. Remember the post about boys and the Boy Code. Dr. Pollack, in his chapter entitled: Schools: The Blackboard Jumble, asks these questions of our schools: Does my son’s school have a sufficient understanding of the emotional challenges boys face in becoming confident, successful men? Do the school’s teachers and administrators know about the Boy Code? Do they understand the mask? Are they sympathetic to boys? Does the school teach subject matters and use classroom materials that interest my boy? Does it use approaches to teaching that will stimulate him and make him to eager to learn? Lastly, is the school a place where my son feels safe, happy and engaged, a place where he’d like to be? He states that all to often the answer to these questions is “no”! I answer with a resounding NO! Each year that I home schooled Xaviar, I struggled with how to school him. And as he approached the pre-teen years other variables became factors in learning. Then the teen years…thankfully we had the opportunity for him to attend a private, Christian high school, otherwise I may not be here today to write this post! (All the parents out there with teens may know what I am talking about.) Academics First, I eventually discovered that he needed reinforcement learning, I will call it. In other words, he is the kind of student that picks up content quickly and easily, overall, especially in Science and Math. He naturally just “got” Math. Saxon scaffolds the learning and reinforces through repeating concepts as you work through each lesson. In the beginning of each lesson they review old concepts and those relevant to the current lesson. Comprehension and retaining was a struggle at times. Although, I do remember that when he was reading something he enjoyed, he could narrate the whole story to me, details and all. I find this to be true in adult life so why do we make children read about something that doesn’t interest them for the sake of learning to read. Lastly, I found that if I read the story with him, I was a better audience. I could verify the construction and sequence of his ideas. More on this topic can be found here, a very theoretical article that touches on the tool of narration for evaluation. For Science we used Considering Gods Creation. I really enjoyed the simplicity of this curriculum. Science taught from the perspective of creation, not too busy and hands on. It appears the same even after 10 years. Although I don’t remember having a CD. There are several reviews out there that say this text is comprehensive, reasonably priced, accurate and adaptable! For Spelling/Grammar/Writing, I went with it. I might use the game of Scrabble for a spelling test. For Grammar, I used various approaches: traditional in nature like Daily Grammar worksheets or a more thematic approach by writing a narrative about a person. The thematic approach is like a buy one get one free deal and sometimes two free. (Another website that gives a good foundation and ideas for thematic learning is here.) If we wrote about Eratosthenes of Cyrene we would cover Science, Math, and Grammar. In summary, Xaviar made it to college. Currently, he is approaching his sophomore year at the local community college and plans to transfer to a university upon completion of his Associate of Arts degree. In bringing this up, may I suggest this route especially for your teen who isn’t sure “what they want to be when they grow up.” There are other reasons I would recommend this but won’t indulge in this post. I leave you with a golden nugget a wise, godly, elderly woman told me during this time of my life: be firmly flexible!
Thanks to the idea of a faithful friend, I decided to take a break from My Story and share some insights gained from our schooling experiences. Aspects of this topic can be controversial without even trying to be. Despite that, I would not discourage anyone from sharing their views. I believe every child is different. Consequently, each child may need a different approach of schooling. Each year my husband and I pray, discuss and decide how to school each child – home school, private, fundamental, magnet, traditional public, and last is the virtual, public school. My intent is to explain in greater detail what I liked and disliked about each approach including what I learned about the curriculum. I do not claim to be an expert in anyway. I also hope others will share their experiences. This post is an overview of each experience, further explanation will come in separate posts. To add to my experience; I wrote my thesis on parental involvement in a child’s education in comparison to home schooling. I will share parts of that research throughout as well. My first experience was with my eldest son in 4th grade. I had just removed him from public school after it was recommended that he be tested for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). That was in the early part of this decade when medicine was becoming a quick solution to “problems” in the classroom. My interpretation of his “problems” was more related to what I saw as the whole child and how he learned. Xaviar was and still is gregarious, charismatic, outgoing, articulate, curious and just a little strong willed…So we started with the “Unschooling” method, where I let him learn from his surroundings. For Math and Phonics I used Saxon along with a few others. The second experience included our eldest son dual enrolled – home schooled and at his zoned public, middle school. For our 5 year old, we hit the “lottery” and were offered a seat in a public fundamental school. While the two youngest children remained home with me. During her first school experience we saw the beginning signs of struggles with comprehension that would eventually be uncovered as years went on. Overall the experience was acceptable and yet somehow I knew, like with my eldest, the way they would handle her “behavior” would present challenges and conflict. Our third experience was with Classical Conversations for our eldest daughter who we removed from the fundamental school. Her birthday is in August and as a result started kindergarten very early. It was recommended that we have her do another year of “kindergarten” to which we agreed knowing that we were home schooling her. Meanwhile, our youngest was a toddler at home and our son was in Pre-K part-time at a private school. Classical Conversations approach to education is classical. They use memorization of Math and Science concepts, Grammar, Latin, Geography and History through song. Then, we had the opportunity to put all the children in school. By this time, Xaviar was in 10th grade at a Christian, private school. The youngest was in Kindergarten and ready and willing to go to school. Our son was in 1st grade and our eldest daughter was in 2nd grade. Our evenings doing homework were busy and exciting to say the least. For our eldest, he spent his last two years of high school as a dual enrolled student – home schooled and at the local community college taking courses that satisfy both high school and college credit. For the three stooges, our most recent experience was in the public, virtual school. My husband and I shared the load – he taught Math and Science while I handled Language Arts and Social Studies. The remaining subjects included in the curriculum were Art, Physical Education and Florida History for higher elementary grades. The curriculum was advanced and well designed. However, they require attendance and the same standardized testing the public schools require. In effort to adjust to recent changes in our home life we made the decision to remove them from the virtual setting. We felt there was too much time taken from family, most of which is what is known as “busy work.” We took a more traditional approach with the basics with a twist of Un-schooling as I enjoy seeing the children learn through their environment.