Sammy and I grade and discuss his Language test. His planning notebook is in front of me.
I shared in an earlier post that my primary motivation for teaching my children how to teach was to equip them to pass their faith, values, knowledge, and skills successfully on to the next generation. I do not know my grandchildren yet - but I know that I will love them and want them to honor God and be excellent in all things. I have another motivation as well. I desire for you to do the same so that we may build and strengthen the Kingdom of God through healthy, intelligent, and faithful family relationships and instruction as disciples of our shared Heavenly Father.
I have learned so much over the last twenty-three years as both a public school teacher and as a homeschooling mother and I know full well the pitfalls that can so easily undermine us as we educate our children.
I have already addressed the first two pitfalls in earlier posts: a failure to establish a secure, stable, and consistent learning environment because of a distracted and absent teacher (mother); and a failure to spend time in prayer and in the Word to be refreshed and instructed by our Master Teacher. I know these pitfalls only because I have experienced them personally. I can better equip my children and you to avoid them if I reveal them beforehand. Learning from our mistakes is the point of my next topic: Assessment.
Assessment is a fancy way of referring to "grading" your child's work. This important component of instruction has been abused, misused or neglected both in the public and private school systems as well as in the homeschooling community. Assessment informs both the student and the teacher whether or not the information taught has been learned. Our children need to not only experience assessment as a student, but learn to utilize it as a teacher. Individuals like to be successful and "get things right", but the purpose of learning is to acquire something new. It is humbling the first time a new concept or skill is attempted because there is always the risk of failure. This process is difficult for the student because he is wrapped up in proud flesh and doesn't want to get things wrong; and it is difficult for the instructor because he is wrapped up in impatient flesh that really doesn't want to sit there and work through another problem.
In a public or private school classroom, it is more challenging to meet the individual learning needs of each student. Since these are institutional environments with up to hundreds of students and tens of teachers, it is not unusual for a learner to go year after year with a gap in fully understanding a specific concept. This can occur because of a failure to recognize the problem or because of the lack of a willingness to sit down one-on-one and work the child through the material. There are remedial classes for those who are seriously behind, but this is usually not the case for the average student who simply "missed something" somewhere. This is not always the teacher's fault. In an institution, there is a genuine lack of time, parental support and involvement, and consistent communication between multiple teachers over several years.
It is also very likely that a parent may not even be aware that a learning gap has occurred. Although standardized testing may reveal some gaps, most parents don't understand how to translate test scores and address a weakness. The information is available to next year's teacher; but with a large class of students with a variety of needs and a plan for the year that must be fulfilled, who has time to go back to previous elementary concepts?
The homeschooling parent, however, does have that luxury and should take full advantage of it! Assessment is incomplete, however, if reteaching does not occur when a student does not master a concept. Simply marking an answer wrong is not enough. The student must have his faulty thinking corrected or a gap will occur.
Most of the time, the purpose of a test is to identify whether or not a learner has information or a skill memorized when the period of instruction is completed. If the test is truly a final assessment, then a child's failure also means that the teacher may have failed to recognize that her student needed more instruction or practice and was not ready for such an assessment. "Whoa!", you say. You mean it is my fault if my kid fails a test? What if my student is lazy and unmotivated? Is that my failure? Not necessarily, but be aware that a teacher who gives a test knowing full well about her student's attitude problem has a different purpose for the test in mind. The purpose of a test given under those circumstances was not to assess but to punish - and that is a form of instruction - not an assessment. I am not stating that administering tests as a wake up call is wrong - but what I am saying is that you need to call it what it is.
Our Lord tests people who frequently fail. We know the Lord is the perfect Teacher, so a failure can't always be the fault of the instructor. Sometimes a test is given to humble the student because he believed he was an expert when he was truly only a novice. An assessment can be just as revealing to the student as it is to the teacher. In the case of the Lord, He knows the results before the test is given, but we do not! As for we human teachers, we also know that there should be consequences for lazy behavior; but students fail tests everyday in the public and private settings because the material simply was never mastered as a result of poor monitoring. For a student who sincerely wishes to learn, that is a failure of the instructor or an unavoidable failure of the institutional method simply because of time constraints. Sometimes an assessment method or its timing is just inappropriate and that is another reason for failure. That again, is not the student's fault. Don't be guilty of poor monitoring of your child's progress! Model to your child how monitoring works.
Emily grades her English page. If she gets an answer incorrect and does not understand why, she gets me and we go over it together. I reteach the concept if necessary. Like Harrison, she also keeps records of her assignments. Emily also writes a specific daily assignment sheet with all of her subjects for the day to keep her focused until her work is done. Some of my kids need that and some do not. I use the daily sheets for my two younger boys because I need them! I also maintain the planning notebooks for my two younger boys because they are not ready for that responsibility yet.
Not all assessments are tests. Not all assessments are written. Each time my child demonstrates a skill and it is measured against a standard of some sort, my child as well as I are informed of his progress. I can assess whether or not my child can jump rope simply by watching him. If he or she is getting the answers wrong, or demonstrating a skill incorrectly, then we must discover the source of the problem and fix it. THAT is where the real learning occurs! Each time my child gets an answer right, that means he or she already knew the material. Learning occurs when my child's level of knowledge increases or improves and that is what I'm after! Where there is no challenge, there is simply practice. And that has value too. Mothers, PLEASE sit with your child and go over his work carefully - especially before a test!
Self-assessment is when a learner grades his/her own work. There are times when that is perfectly appropriate - even more appropriate. Two of my children are learning Algebra I and II through a video series. The only work I grade is their tests. It is more helpful and productive for them to use the solutions manual and check each step by themselves than for me to look at the final answer. Self-assessing detailed, complicated work where the process is multi-stepped helps the learner catch exactly where he/she made a mistake. Self-assessment is also important in self-teaching.
In Galatians 5:22, the fruit of the Spirit is listed. There you find the word "longsuffering" or as we call it today: patience. As a homeschooling mother, my Lord teaches me patience and assesses my patience in this role. It is not always easy to sit still and sound out words with a second grader, rework equations, or edit a paper again and again. As my family and I work together, we are all under the tutelage of Christ, learning and practicing His ways in a great exercise of patience!
Hayden is teaching herself how to play the violin with the help of Youtube.
Harrison watches an algebra video before completing his assignment.