Sunday, September 13, 2009

Notes on First Week

I hope you don't mind me occasionally sharing schooly notes even though we're doing a planned curriculum rather than DIY this year.

Paddy got informally tested by the CAVA teacher last week. For this, he read lists of sight words up to about sixth grade where he started having lots of trouble, and then read aloud stories to the teacher and answered questions about the story. Based on that she thought he was at about a fourth grade reading level and we discussed whether to move him up a grade level or so in his language arts. I voted against it for a couple of reasons:

1, Paddy taught himself to read by the Scout Finch method. He watched me trace my finger over the text from about age three and memorized a whole bunch of words that way, so he knows all the common words and reads fluently at an easy level. But when he runs into a word like "exercise" that he doesn't know, he tries "excuse" or something that looks similar. Obviously this can boggle his comprehension. I want him to have a course of phonics and get in the habit of decoding rather than just guessing.

2, I want time to work our way into the program without the pressure of having to succeed at academics at his "challenge" level. He's only six and doesn't have the maturity level of an 8 year old. For instance, he can barely write. There is plenty of allowance for enrichment -- for instance, our read aloud time, and I'm going to start him reading silently on his own for a few minutes a day (he was doing this and then stopped for some reason, so probably I need to work on strewing a bit).

Oh, and one more.

3, They send you phonics manipulatives like word tiles. I wanted to see what those are like and work with Aidan a bit too using them. I am thinking of enrolling Aidan eventually but I knew it would be too hard for him and me right now. So this will be kind of like a preview. If Paddy went into second grade materials he and Aidan couldn't work together at all and I was hoping to do some work with both of them together this year.

It was similar for math, where Paddy tested informally at a mid-third-grade level. We agreed he could move faster through the material if it was too easy. You can skip lessons and just do the assessments if the child knows the material or just needs a quick review. So he could move up and apparently their system can handle that without a problem because of the customized nature of the curriculum.

I'll tell you one thing -- the work is not all that different from what we've done in our homemade curriculum, and even the flexibility options are similar to our home program. The program is based on Core Knowledge which I've always brought in off and on for unit ideas ever since I homeschooled my older kids. The method is somewhat similar to Well Trained Mind's. For instance, you make notebooks for most subjects and you do a lot of writing, drawing and narrating. The amount of pencil and crayon work will probably be the main challenge for us. We tend to do little of this in our default mode. But I'm afraid this is partly a weakness of mine, since I am impatient with childish efforts at composition and drawing (no, I don't ACT impatient, but I don't foster it the way I would if I loved it).

The kids have already shown a pattern in dealing with drawing and writing assignments. They resist a bit when I tell them to draw or write something (for instance, Kieron was supposed to draw a self-portrait). We get out the materials and I tell them "Just try" "Sure you can modify the assignment" "Do good work though" "Here, I'll show you what you could do" and ask them questions like "What are you planning?" Sometimes I start my own version. They start working more or less reluctantly. Then they get absorbed in the process and end up going way over the lesson time and being quite invested in the production.

The other challenge is that the program covers about as much in a day or two as we would normally do in a week. The pace seems a bit breathless compared to our slow way of doing things. The children aren't used to going through a LONG lesson in history, say, even if it is broken up into a variety of different types of activity.

For instance, the first history lesson for Paddy was about the globe. We went through a shortish computer presentation about the Earth. Then we looked at a globe and talked about land and water bodies. Then we talked about the seven continents. By the end of the lesson the child is supposed to know the definition of continent, the number of continents, the definition of ocean, the number of major oceans, and the names of a couple of them. He was supposed to draw a picture and narrate some of what he'd learned. I had to break this up into two sessions because his little brain wasn't used to being fed so much information at a time. He was getting wiggly and distracted.

Language Arts was similar. There was a poem to read and discuss, noting rhyme schemes and introducing the idea of "stanza". Then a folk tale to read (the Tongue Cut Sparrow). He was supposed to narrate a part of it and then draw a picture to illustrate it. None of this is contrary to our way of doing things but it's just that we don't naturally tend to do all that in one lesson meant for one day. That's about three different lessons for our way of doing things. I am getting into the habit of breaking most lessons into two -- one part for the morning and one for the afternoon -- so I don't feel like I'm pouring a huge volume into a narrow funnel. And sometimes I save one part of it to discuss informally while I'm making dinner or we have a quiet moment.

So those are some preliminary impressions.

My main challenge besides the diplomacy of introducing them to things beyond their comfort level will be keeping track of all the details of the lessons. More on that some other time, as this is too long already.

I'm sure I'll have more to write when we actually get the books and materials and can start properly. Right now we're just improvising with what's available online so I don't have a good handle on how long it will really take or how much I can get them to do independently (especially Kieron).


  1. I appreciate your comments even now when doing a "set" curriculum. Thank you for all the sharing you do.


  2. I think there's still a strong DIY quality to what you do. :-) I hope the charter school fulfills your needs and takes some of the burden off while continuing to live and learn with your little ones. I gave you an award --


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!