Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What Makes a Good Day of Learning?

Karen Edmisten was thinking about What Makes a Good Day of Learning? She was writing the post in response to Theresa's.

I liked what they both had to say because like me, they are eclectic types (Karen calls it "schizophrenic" : )) who adapt their homeschooling to their family situation, as I do. The original question was:

"How does one decide how much is “enough” without the aid of a professionally prepared lesson plan or step-by-step curriculum?"
I only wish I knew. To me it is a bit like asking: "How do you know you are doing "enough" in your spiritual journey?" If the answer is similar, it would be something like:

You ought to be doing more than the bare minimum but you should not be constantly stretched beyond your endurance; you should be regularly evaluating to see if a course change is required, and there ought to be an element of trust that new solutions will occur to you as they are needed. Keep your eyes open; be vigilant, but not anxious. (Helen has written about this evaluation and questioning process)

(I'm trying to avoid specifically talking about "grace" because I wanted to focus on what we ought to be doing ourselves).

I would also say, from my perspective of homeschooling for 14 years and graduating one student so far:

You want to look at the big picture. Not just one day or one week or one year. While an ongoing evaluation is useful, it shouldn't be big-picture panic or horror. I found that out the hard way in my first years. Whenever we had a bad day, I would rearrange my whole way of doing things. Wasn't helpful. Sort of like digging up the seeds every day to see if they were growing. Arnold Lobel has a very philosophical Frog and Toad story about Toad working 24 hours a day to give his seeds an optimum growing environment, completely exhausting himself in the process and not helping the seeds. You don't have to do that.

ANother question occurs to me, since I HAVE used professionally prepared curricula:

"How do you know you're doing enough WITH the aid of a curriculum?"

Honestly, the question remains the same. I've used lesson plans where my kids have skated through. Is it enough? I've used lesson plans where my kids and I struggled under a heavy burden and still couldn't "keep up." Is it too much? Lesson plans can help you in some circumstances, but they can't give you that guarantee that you are doing it "right." The best way to use lesson plans is to use them for what they are for: as aids. Not a guarantee. Not a rubber-stamp of approval from some outside "expert". Just an aid, if it helps.

Now: what makes a good day?
That is a slightly different question.

When I think about it, I know a good day when I see one, but I can't MAKE one happen. Flannery O'Connor said that the writer's part in writing is to sit down at that desk and be prepared, and make the moves of a writer. You aren't guaranteed to have a great writing day. You may struggle through thorns for 4 hours. But without that sitting down and preparation, it is almost guaranteed that you won't have a good day. You won't write at all.

I think homeschooling is a bit like that. You have to show up. I spend a lot of my homeschooling effort, I realize, setting things up so that a good day CAN happen. This is good. Most writers only write for a few hours a day, but they are writers full time -- preparing themselves, gathering thoughts, pondering, even when they are feeding their peacocks (as Flannery did in her spare time). I think it is similar with homeschooling. You may only officially teach for a few hours, perhaps much less -- or MORE, turning the picture the other way-- if you are an unschooler. But the crucial part of that preparation is simply showing up. There will be slow days, thorny days, miraculous days. But if you are there, they will be good days. They will balance themselves out in the long run. You will see what needs to be done, and do it.

Homeschooling is an art more than a science. Knowledge helps make the art better, but it is not the art itself. The art is in actually living like a homeschooler, in season and out, trying to do your best but keeping an openness to the not so good days. Learning from them but not letting them ruin what you ARE doing.

Just a few thoughts -- scattered as they are! Looking back over Karen's and Theresa's posts, I see we have said several of the same things in our different ways. If you write a post about this subject, will you put the link here or on Karen or Theresa's sites? I would love to hear what others think about this question.


Karen E. said...

Great post, Willa. I'd love to see a compilation of posts on this topic, too!

lapazfarm said...

Well put, Willa. I appreciate what you say about looking at the big picture. It is important to look at what makes a good day, but those days need to form a harmonoius whole or it isn't really an education, is it?

Anonymous said...

Another very thought provoking post. I will mull. But my initial response is to relate something a friend said about picky eaters. Her child was one and she worried about her getting a balanced diet. Her doctor told her to relax. Every meal does not need to be balanced. her diet over a week doesn't need to be balanced. As long as she eats enough variety over 6 months, it will be fine. 6 months. That astounded me.

But I think it is probably the same with education. Maybe one day or one week a child will be focused on one thing and not doing much (or any) of a bunch of things we think are important. But maybe next week or next month it will be one of those things they are focused on. As long as it balances over time, we are probably doing fine.

I particularly like your point about the importance of showing up.

Willa said...

I think the analogy to picky eating is good, JoVE. I think Melissa at Lilting House has described the way eclectic unschoolers set a sort of buffet of learning opportunities and let the child browse. We may set some guidelines, like family mealtimes and a positive attitude about food that's prepared, but we try not to forcefeed or make it into a power struggle.

Karen, I liked your second post about learning, too. Lots to think about. I wish I could figure out how to make Blogger pay attention to trackbacks! I never know when someone's written a post in reply to mine unless they tell me or I happen to find it when I'm catching up on blog reading.

Karen E. said...

Willa, I know what you mean about trackbacks ... I don't know how to find or follow those on Blogger either. But, I do use Site Meter for that -- if you see some repeats under the "referral" stats, you can sometimes find a reply to a post that way. Lissa chimed in today at The Lilting House:
and I especially liked her emphasis on narration and finding out what our children *do* know, and why that's more helpful than a test situation.