Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Steps to Self Learning

Students that have developed a foundation of good character (no, not perfect children, but those that have a conscience about doing the right thing) and have gained personal responsibility for their education, with an eye set on the future, are prime candidates for self learning.

The first step to moving toward self learning is to carefully select curricula that is well suited for self education. This means that the course can be used by the student alone, once they have grasped how it should be done. You see, after your child has learned to read (a teacher is often needed full time for this accomplishment) they are ready to read to learn. Adept readers are ready to begin the process of learning on their own: reading the text, the instructions and doing the work on their own. This process happens gradually as you begin to hand over the reigns of the course work to your child. Of course, your child must understand the importance of self education and that self education is a skill that will enable them to succeed at whatever they endeavor in the future.

Some curricula are dependent on a Teacher's Manual. Generally, those courses were not designed by or for homeschoolers or those who understand how homeschooling works. Homeschool curricula that is specifically designed for homeschoolers will teach to the student with the assumption that the student can read the entire thing on their own to learn the material. However, an older student can incorporate the teacher's manual into the course if it's not too interwoven into the days lesson. When my son completes a math lesson, he shows me the work. I give it a once over to make sure he's on track and then tell him to go check his answers in the TM. That's very easy. Yet,, some courses require the TM to present new material and perform little scenarios and teaching sessions.These are not suited for self education and are difficult for a student to incorporate into the course.

When I am at the homeschool conventions, I look carefully at the curricula to make sure it can be done by the child on their own. Even if I intend to read it to them or do it with them, it is best if the child can still take the reigns during those periods when life gets hairy (I'm sure you know what I mean.) After all, just because Mom gets too busy to focus on science, history or math does not mean the child needs to be. In essence, the curriculum should be easy to use, easy to implement and it should be fairly painless to complete a lesson and move on to the next. Don't you just hate it when you can't finish a lesson because you still have to do something that is too hard for a busy mom to do before you have learned all that needs to be learned in the lesson? Ugh. If it's a project or experiment, that's easy to skip and keep going with the lesson, but if you have to present a little ditty that will be used in the next lesson.... that's tough on a homeschool mom.

When you are first starting the process of self learning, you will gradually ease your children into the material. With my elementary kids, I begin their courses each year fairly involved (I'm so excited about school starting that I have the energy to be fully involved). We discuss how they would transition without me on each lesson. We discuss how the lessons are organized, how the material should be handled and what is expected of them. Then, as the days and weeks progress, I slowly begin to allow more autonomy. I'm still around, checking their progress most of the time, but they begin to do it on their own.

Much is accomplished by reading. I use narration to ensure their retention of the material they have read. If they complain that they don't know what to do or don't understand, I ask for a narration of the text they read. If they don't know...they were not reading attentively and I have them reread it. Usually, this fixes the problem. Sometimes, a lay person's explanation is in order. If I have to re-explain the text too often, it's time to shelf it and find something that works for self learning.

For other work, I check daily until I feel they are ready for less intensive oversight. Within a month, the older elementary students (3rd or 4th grade and up depending on the kid) are almost completely on their own for most of their work.

There are some subjects that need more oversight than others during different phases of a child's academic development. When you are working on a new algorithm, like long division, you may have to sit next to the child every day until the procedure is mastered. When you are teaching new skills and new concepts, you want to oversee the process and make sure there is a level of mastery before you leave the child on their own. Leaving a child on their own too early will result in frustration for the child and a lack of progress, as well overseeing subjects that don't need a lot of oversight.

Further, there are some courses that mom simply delights to do with her children, like history and science. This is understandable as we are usually learning as much as they are (if not more). That's great. What I normally do for history is assign separate reading books (historical fiction or read alouds) that correspond with the time period. They will read these as outside reading and narrate to me each time they have read. For science, have the oldest child take charge of and do the experiment with the other children.

There are a few courses out there, like Shurley English, which have a great deal of value for a student. Frustratingly, they were designed to be extremely teacher dependent. It just so happens that this is the way Shurley English wrote the program for homeschoolers. They obviously didn't know how homeschooling worked or they would have written it to the student, not to a teacher. Nevertheless, there is curricula like this that we may want to use. So, if you choose to do something that is teacher intensive, think of a way that it can be maximized. For example, I waited an extra year to do Shurley so that I could do two kids at once. I'm teaching to the older student, but the younger is keeping up.Also, I do it later and only once in the elementary years.

Other ways to maximize teacher intensive curricula is to combine lessons for the lecture portion, and allow the course work to be completed over a few days. Also, you can get a class or co-op together and get the added benefit of social time and sharing of the teaching role. There are many ways to make it work with less stress.

There are three exceptions to this progression from learning to read to reading to learn. First, some students are simply not ready for this level of responsibility even after they have learned to read. Some personalities are slower at maturing to the a steady self learner. This student is often extremely bright and inquisitive. They don't trust the normal flow and structure until they are personally convinced of its merits. They tend to need more guidance, direction and oversight because their personality is not as easily molded into the diligent student mode. They tend to question decisions and the benefits of uninteresting academic pursuits. They also have the ability to focus for long periods of time on that which is extremely interesting to them. They may frustrate easily. Further, their mind can wander quite rapidly. This child is the sanctifying child that will grow your patience and character. I know because I have one. This child will be trusted with independence quite a bit later than typical kids. Most of these unique kids are ready to be independent by sixth grade if you don't neglect devotions and training them to be led by the Spirit and not the flesh and you help them understand that their future is dependent upon today.

The second exception to an easy transition into self learning is the learning disabled student. Be assured that students with learning disabilities will become independent learners. They need more time for everything. Focus on the basics, read aloud, get educational videos for them to watch, get a subscription to learningstreams, allow him/her to explore the world and learn outside of the box. Don't force academics before they are ready.

Some students are not LD, but are simply late bloomers. Just because your child is a late bloomer, doesn't mean they are learning disabled, or that you are a bad teacher or they are hard kids to teach. Just wait a year or two or three; they'll catch up. No sense in making them think they are dumb by continuing to introduce information and concepts that their little mind is not ready to digest. Rest assured that they will eventually catch up with their peers. In high school, no one will know who learned to read at four and who learned to read at eleven. Doing algebra in high school, it won't matter that they didn't grasp subtraction until fourth grade. It just won't be important.

I'll post more on scheduling next blog. I hope this was helpful!