Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mastery or Mediocrity?

Adorable pictures of Brenna that have absolutely nothing to do with this post.

 I have always home schooled our children. My stepdaughters had a few years of public school and several years at a small private school. Due to many, many factors that I'm not willing or able to go into on the blog, I didn't have a lot to do with their schooling. So, home schooling is all I've really dealt with as far as the kids go. I've mentioned before that my own public school experiences weren't exactly satisfactory. I have not modeled our home school after the traditional public school guidelines fro that very reason. With Devon taking classes at the Technical College we are entering a new frontier that in many ways looks a lot like the old frontier I've tried so hard NOT to emulate.

  One of the things I have a problem with when it comes to "traditional schooling" is grade level. I don't believe in putting all kids in a grade and then moving them up another grade each year all based on the age they were when they started the whole process. Pretty much all of the school materials available are geared toward the grade level method of schooling (even ones directed at homeschoolers). When you go to buy a math book, your choices are 1st grade, 2nd grade, etc. sometimes you can find "supplemental" materials geared toward multiple grades like 1st-3rd, but they're still grade based. The assumption is that a 6 year old will be doing 1st grade books and a 10 year old will be doing 5th grade books. The problem is that all 6 year olds and all 10 year olds are not at the same learning level at the same time.

 We have chosen to focus on mastery learning rather than grade levels. My children generally start with a first grade book (Sometimes I get them kindergarten books, but only if they really want one. Most of the items designed for kindergarten are either duplicated in first grade or are things the child learns naturally on their own). When they complete a book, then we go on to the next book that teaches new concepts. This is not necessarily the next book in the series. My kids always get A's. If they don't they re-do the work until they do. I don't believe in moving a child up because it's September and they've put something (however asinine) on each page of the previous book. My kids aren't doing the work to progress a grade level, they are doing the work to master a concept. When a child has true mastery of a particular concept, they don't need the constant review built into typical grade level books. If a child really isn't learning with a certain book, we switch books until we find a match for their particular personality/learning style. We don't pay a lot of attention to the calendar when working through our books. A child might start a 1st grade book in September of 2013 and not finish that book until June of 2015. They don't get "behind" because we simply reject the concept of "behind". They also usually skip several books as we progress through the series. Often we do 1st grade, 3rd grade, 6th grade, and then pre-algebra. this works really well for us and our children always seem to have the skills they need when they need them. Devon starting college level classes made me a little nervous though. Our method seems to be working, but how would it transfer over to traditional schooling? I was very thankful when she placed easily into Math 100 on the college placement tests. She was actually only a couple of points away from placing into Math 101.

 Now that Devon is actually taking her classes, however, we have had to adjust to a whole new (for us) process. And yes, I do mean we. I'm having just as much of an adjustment to make as Devon is. Devon is taking Math, Communications, and Computer Basics. She almost scored into the next highest math class, which means that most of the class is actually review for her. There are only a few topics she hasn't already attained mastery in. Devon has had to adjust to the fact that she gets points for being in class as well as doing all of her assignments. This means that she has to sit through lectures demonstrating how to do things she already knows how to do. This is completely new. My kids have never had to do this before! If they can demonstrate to me that they already know a concept, we skip that section. I'm not saying that this is a bad thing , it's just new for us. I sort of like the fact that she has the chance to get used to turning assignments in on time and doing things according to the teacher's schedule while the work is all review. The few things she's had questions on she's been able to learn from the computer program the class uses. The teacher was surprised that she hasn't had any questions in class. Devon just said that she's always been taught to learn. Then she explained to me that most of her classmates don't know how to find out the information themselves. My children have always been taught how to find out the information they need and to use me as a last resort.
 Devon's communications teacher had the students fill out their own "Learning Contract". They get to decide when their major projects are due, which is nice. They can arrange to not have major projects due at the same time as their other classes. The confusing part is that they also have to decide which grade they are going to try to achieve. That's right, Devon has to decide in the first week of class if she is going to try for an A, B, or C grade. The teacher told them not to stress themselves too much and if they only feel a C is achievable to only try for a C. I'm still wrapping my head around the idea of not trying for an A, but if Devon tries for an A and doesn't make it she could fail the class, not just earn the B or C. There is a chance to revise the initial plan so we're not sure if she should fill out the contract for a lower grade and try to do the work for a higher grade and do a revision if she thinks she'll make it or what. I just can't quite understand what the teacher is trying to do. I mean shouldn't everyone be TRYING for an A, maybe it's not possible for everyone to achieve it. Wouldn't you want them all to try without potentially being marked down more for not achieving their goals than for just not having those goals in the first place. I just can't wrap my head around this.
 Computer Basics is basically the same as math for Devon. There are 3 parts to the class. Devon already has all the skills for the first two parts of the class, but needs to take the third part. It's all or nothing though. She either had to pass the test to skip all three portions or she has to take the full class. She didn't have the option of skipping the first two parts and taking the third section in class, so she has to attend the whole class even though she only needs a third of it. At least this class is fun, so it's not too much hardship to take.

 Like I said, it's just a big adjustment getting used to all the rules and bureaucracy. We've had the freedom in our homeschool to gear all of our learning to each child's specific needs. They've never (or at least rarely) had to do work that wasn't directly helping them achieve their goals. We've always expected that they would gain full mastery of the basics (not be satisfied with learning 70 %). Devon seems to be taking it all in stride since she knows that this is required to get the certification she needs. it's just a little frustrating after having such personalized learning for so long. For me it brings up all the reasons I chose to homeschool in the first place. Sometimes I wonder if I'm not doing my children a disservice by making sure they haven't had to deal with all these frustrating aspects of traditional schooling, but it seems to working all right and Devon is glad that she's had the background we've given her. I never took any college classes because I was so frustrated with school by the time I got to college age, that I simply couldn't bring myself to pay for even more of it. Devon has never had to deal with this type of stuff before so even though it's a little frustrating, she's taking it in strde and willing to get through it in order to achieve her goals.

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