Christian family life, homeschooling, humor, and articles for your encouragement and edification

Christian family life, homeschooling, humor, and articles for your encouragement and edification

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Teaching Our Children to Teach Series Part III: The Virtue of Patience Practiced Though Assessment

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.

Harrison and I rework a geometry problem.  I also have Harrison's "Planning book" in front of me.  It is a simple, humble notebook with 180 dated and numbered boxes he drew with a ruler for each subject. He writes his assignments in the boxes himself and then highlights them with a blue highlighter when he is finished.  I initial each box as we go over an assignment.  They don't "count" unless they have been initialed by me. This keeps us both accountable.  He is not allowed to take a test until all boxes are initialed for that unit. When all 180 of his numbered boxes are signed off, he is finished with that subject for the year!

     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.  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Teaching Our Children How To Teach Series Part II : Learning From the Master

Teach:  To cause to know something
Presume:  To expect or assume with confidence
Merriam Webster

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.  
James 3:1

....Just as he (Jacob) crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.
Genesis 32: 31

So, I had just finished my previous article about teaching our children to teach and how we must prepare our children to impart knowledge to others, when the Lord brought James 3:1 (above) to my mind.


This happens to me.  A lot.  No, it is not necessarily a rebuke - although sometimes it is - when my Teacher does this with me.  It is a challenge. Something to think about - something on which to dig deeper.

     I have prayed about these articles.  In fact, I felt led to write this series, which, as a busy, homeschooling mother is not an easy thing to do.  I asked the Lord to lead me to the topics of His choice, and just as I was prepared to write about curriculum - He gave me the verse.  Yes, I have been learning from the Master, and today I want to talk to you about encouraging and leading your children to do the same - especially when it comes to teaching.

     I am a master too.  A master of presumption, that is.   My father was an elementary school principal and during the summers, "his" school was my playground.  When I finally entered elementary school at another location, I boldly entered the teachers' lounge on the first day to get myself a soda from the soda machine.  How dare those teachers chase me out of there!  Didn't they realize who I was?  Couldn't they tell I was one of them?  Two days after entering kindergarten, I announced to my mother that I wanted to quit because, "I already knew everything".  I had decided at the age of five that I wanted to be a school teacher and from that age onward I sat in class after class convinced that I could do it better than the one standing in front of me.
     In my twenties and thirties, I was a cute little thing dressed in a sharp suit, manicured nails, and a mic on my lapel; sharing my insights and strategies to others in my profession. Then, since that wasn't a large enough audience, I wrote articles on the subject as well.  I was also an avid distance runner who sought the runner's high and a perfect body.  I was the iconic American career woman applauded by her worldly peers.
      At the age of thirty, I was training with the Leukemia Society for a marathon.  During a sixteen mile training run, I fell to the ground with a pulled hamstring.  This came on the heels of just recently abandoning my teaching career (after the birth of my second child).  Now I had to pull out of a marathon.  I was also still recovering from the divorce of my parents after over thirty years of marriage.  I had lost my identity and my world of perfection was falling apart. I needed a Savior - badly.
     Immediately after my salvation, I became consumed in a busy church.  The leaders knew I was an experienced, certified teacher, so I was given the assignment of Sunday school teacher.  True, I hadn't read the Bible yet - but I was just so dynamic and well, confident - surely the Lord must have wanted me to lead His little ones.... and then the women.....  and then, yes, even the men.  I led ministries and workshops during that first year all under the presumption that that was what the Lord wanted me to do because I was just so good at it. :) In fact, many of the "ministries" that so desperately needed workers were themselves birthed from presumptions that they were actually necessary and part of the Lord's plan.  It seems to be human nature to identify a need and then feel "led" to design a program around it. I've learned over the years that when the Lord reveals the need(s) of another person or even several persons, He isn't calling me to pioneer a program, He is usually just encouraging me to be a friend.  Sometimes He is also revealing a trend of the enemy against the church that needs a season of proactive prayer.
    Isn't it funny (and yet so tragic) how we will do anything to avoid serious prayer time or an intimate friendship?  The truth is that a lot of folks who are in need of special friends are in messy situations that we prefer to handle from the safe distance of a "program".  We'd rather call some embarrassing individuals a "ministry" rather than claim them as our friends!  That is not the Lord's way!  He calls us His friends and we are surely needy and messy in His sight. Although, in hindsight, I now realize the error of my ways (and of the church's leadership for that matter), there was an assignment during that time I am convinced was truly from the Lord.  The church was in need of a cleaning lady and I was in need of some cash.  I scrubbed the church's toilets.

     In addition to learning that the "best" man (or woman) for the job from our perspective isn't always God's choice, I obviously had to learn first and foremost that a teacher must be humble.  If I had presumed I had been qualified before, I was even more presumptuous after reading the Bible a few times and completing numerous discipleship courses.  My faithful Teacher pressed on, however, instructing me and humbling me until I was afraid to teach anyone. Then, and only then, He decided, was I finally trustworthy to do some teaching (like, uh, homeschooling my own children and writing some articles every few months on a couple of blogs - with few followers!) Someday, I am hoping I can also be trusted with that athletic body again too, but I digress............

    In the Book of Genesis, Jacob had an encounter with the Lord and he was never the same.  His name was changed and his walk was changed.  The Lord has a way of doing that with His learners.  He transforms that strut into a limp.  The limp slows you down, makes you tremble, and makes you think.  You stop blurting and become more thoughtful.  My limp?  It started literally on the day of that training run and continues to this day.  The Lord blessed me with five, beautiful, dynamic children with the same sinful nature that I have to show me how annoying I can be  - and yet, still lovable.
   In addition to the new lifestyle and attitude, I lost that focus on myself. Perfect body? Hahahahahahahahaha!  The body went when the knees did. A fall and a twisted ankle last year gave me another literal and occasional limp. Manicured nails?  I'm lucky I get a bath and my clothes on right-side out! Nope, people don't admire me because I'm cute and dynamic anymore. My students don't adore me quite like the former ones did. No one wants to talk to me and pat me on the back after a lesson.  My glory has faded so Another's may come forth.  If it hadn't been for the Lord and aging, I would have stayed on that fast track, and I would have been a doomed and dangerous woman - and on the wrong team to boot.

Ah, the tongue.  That was what James was referring to when he wrote that verse above.  We are so full of advice and so quick to give it, but beware! The Lord is The Shepherd and He jealously guards His flock.  Be careful before you give that counsel and that instruction.  Is it Scriptural?  Is it from the Lord, or are you shooting from the hip, just citing your personal experience and trying to lead without even being asked?

And yet.

Don't bury that talent or you'll be thrown into outer darkness.
Don't hide that light under a bushel.

What is one to do?

Yes, keep your feet at home, my dear sister, but you must also consistently sit at the feet of the Master so He can teach you how and when to share the treasures He shows you with others.

If you begin to lose that limp and stop trembling, pray until you get it back. Teach your children the fear of the Lord and that teaching is serious business. Whether the teaching is academic or spiritual - you are leading His little flock. Remember, if He hands you a staff and calls you to teach His children or women, you'd better make sure you show up for His teacher's meetings!

Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:19