Friday, April 27, 2007

What Children Know Already

Melissa at The Lilting House wrote a post continuing the dialogue about What Makes a Good Learning Day? One of the things she said was:

Charlotte Mason talked about narration as a technique for discovering what a student actually knows about a subject, as opposed to various testing strategies that in effect show what the student doesn't know. She wasn't writing from a self-esteem-boosting, "focus on the positive" standpoint; she talks about the subject in a very pragmatic manner, suggesting that the positive information (what the student knows) is far more useful for both student and teacher than a paper full of wrong answers, because in looking at what the student remembers about a subject well enough to narrate it, we see how the student connects with the knowledge, forms a relationship with it.
This puts into words something I was pondering in the back of my mind yesterday when I was writing about Aidan's IEP on my learning notes blog. I wrote:

IEPs serve a useful purpose in that they let you see progress and get some ideas for things to work on. I know this is not the experience for every parent of an SN child but I think they work for us because we aren’t really expecting much out of the school system and they don’t think they have ownership over him. So it’s usually just a conversation about progress and future direction.

And that makes it something I look forward to and find to be an important part of my homeschool plans for Aidan. An important part of my homeschooling life is noticing what my children DO know. Unschooling, Montessori, and Charlotte Mason all make generous provisions for this. Unschooling requires observing and living alongside the child attentively. Montessori requires attentiveness too. Charlotte Mason makes use of narration and other methods that bring out and expand on what the student already knows and gives him room to freely expand his knowledge through exposure to the "best things". To an extent, though the emphasis is different, the methods overlap.

IEPs are a schooly sort of way to do this. When Aidan first came home from the hospital with an assortment of medical and therapeutic needs, and I had my first highschooler at the same time, I bought a book called Evaluating for Excellence. The book is full of helpful checklists. If you have a teacher background or the kind of temperament that likes checklists and a way to organize flexible homeschool learning, it is well worth looking at. (there are some nice checklists at Highland Heritage, too, for organization and evaluation) I don't have that kind of temperament, but I did benefit from some of the principles. Among the ideas was that informal, homeschool IEPs can be useful too. In simple terms, it pays off to spend some time at the beginning and end of the year observing your children, seeing what they can do and then drafting out a few goals for their coming year. I've made a habit of doing this informally two or three times a year. It's usually a good thing to do when we're just coming away from a vacation. Rather than start right in "full steam", we start with a few basics and I observe, and think, and plan.

Another aspect of taking time to look at progress is the chance to celebrate. When Aidan did his IEP it was encouraging to realize that some of the issues that had concerned me at the beginning of the year were now non-issues or not nearly so formidable. Some of his goals weren't fully met and were "carried over". But many others were exceeded.

I think perhaps Charlotte Mason intended the end of term "exams" to be somewhat the same type of thing without the artificial element of formal IEPs. The children and teachers got a chance to see what had come out of their year of learning. This also has the benefit of giving a sort of closure to one learning period and reinforcing what was learned.

When I am streamlining my curriculum for spring, for example, part of this is so that I can spend more time informally hanging out with my children and planning for next year, and noticing where we have come from last year. I also seem to spend a lot more time blogging during these days, and I think that's because it helps me revisit my homeschool vision and ponder course corrections!


Anonymous said...

I'm liking this discussion so much that I followed your link over to Lissa's post and then followed the link to Karen's collection that you posted in Lissa's comments. I started to comment on all of that but it was getting long so I did my own post.

Amy said...

You always have so many great insights, Willa!

I'm not great at being goal oriented or checklisty (made me a bad speech language pathologist, LOL!!) but it IS nice to look back if you have made goals, and see just how much your children have accomplished, I agree!

I've found what CM says is true in my own family - I have one dd who freezes when she is getting too much "wrong" - but narration allows us to just discuss and for her to show me the positive side, what she DOES know. Maybe I'll figure out a way to use this idea in math, lol. :)