Thursday, February 12, 2015

Do Homeschoolers Need Letter Grades?

When my kids attended public school for a year, the concept of "grades" was new to them. They were only in third and fourth grades, but had never experienced the quarterly grades or "report cards" that public school families use to measure what has been learned.

Even as I type that, "what has been learned," I slightly cringe. It's assumed that if a student has straight A's that they have "learned" everything expected of him. But the truth is, all it means is that the student has simply completed everything expected of him, which has nothing to do with what he has actually learned.

If you look at grades, they are often weighted by participation, whether it is getting homework done, participating in a group project, or sometimes simply showing up. As a matter of fact, they are so subjective sometimes, they are not worth much to anyone. When I was a para for special education students, looking at report cards from one student to another told you nothing about what those students learned. One really smart kid could have a worse report card than another "low IQ" student who could barely read, simply because the requirements for each were different.

What is the point of grades? Well, really, isn't it to make the parents feel good? To let them know that their kid is doing what's expected of him? That's about it, really.

The question remains, do homeschoolers need letter grades? The true answer depends.

Most homeschoolers work on a subject until the information is learned. If a test is given, we know if the student learned anything, or how much he learned. If the test reveals "not much learned" then we can repeat what should have been learned and go about it a different way. We hardly ever test. As a matter of fact, science is the only subject we test, and not until 7th grade. Because we test in science, we "could" have a letter grade for the course. But as of right now, we aren't keeping up with it. For homeschoolers who don't "do tests" of course they aren't going to have letter grades, unless they want to throw up a subjective grade based on the kids' overall performance.

Letter grades are often given once a homeschooler reaches high school courses, so that a more "official" transcript can be kept. Also, this is a good transition to grades they will receive in college. There is nothing wrong with reminding kids how their work will be evaluated by college professors and making sure they know that every test they take will count toward one letter in the end. They need to know this. I've been saying it since about 7th grade.

Another reason to give letter grades is for children who are non-compliant. My children participate in many extra-curricular activities. If I feel they are not meeting standards, keeping grades is a good way to measure this, for both me and them. I haven't done it yet, but I have stated something similar to, "Right now you are doing C work, which is not good enough for you." But I haven't felt it necessary to REALLY keep track and hang that letter over their heads. Mostly this is because if they don't meet standards, we have ALLLLL summer to get work done ;)

The difference between home school and "other" school is this: At home, we can study something until it is learned. At school, we have a small window to learn something before the class has to move on, and hopefully we were "on" that day and didn't miss the opportunity. THIS is why homeschooled kids tend to be better educated at the end of 12 years of learning. However either is graded, the reality is that homeschoolers have the opportunity to take more time when necessary, and "other" schooled don't. Whether you throw a grade at their work or not, learning is happening.

No, we don't "need" letter grades. Sometimes there is a benefit, but most times there is not. The good thing is, we can make that decision for each child. One of the many benefits of homeschooling...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How to Teach Math

If I had to give this post a subtitle, it would be... "And Why the Schools Do It Wrong." It isn't because the teachers are bad (just as homeschooling parents aren't bad teachers), but it's the way things are done. The "system" doesn't work.

For example... Typically a kid learns a new concept in class, and is then sent home with practice problems to work. If he did every single problem wrong at home, he won't find out until the next day (if he's lucky), right before the teacher moves on to the next concept. This makes no sense.

The reason one on one education is superior to classroom teaching is because the teacher is available for immediate feedback. If a child doesn't do something correctly or misunderstands a concept, the teacher sees it, corrects it, and the child is back on the path. Well, usually...

Because a lot of parents use the same school system to teach their kids at home, their kids are not benefiting from the one one one instruction in the best way. If your child is doing 20 problems on his own and then you are grading it later, you have just wasted your child's time if he didn't work the problems correctly. And he has just re-enforced the incorrect method to solve the problems. I actually figured this out through working with my own kids. For one full year, I worked with both of my kids every day, with every problem. If they had 20 problems to work, we did them on the white board together. So if they got stumped, I was there to guide their thinking correctly. They were never able to "think wrong" and think they were right. I was able to stop and re-teach a concept if necessary, or explain it in a different way.

When my kids hit 6th and 7th grades, I decided to give Teaching Textbooks (TT) a try. I love teaching math, but it was getting overwhelming. The TT method works really well. They learn a concept, and then do some practice problems (as well as review problems). If they miss the practice problem, they know right away. Additionally, they can click a button to learn how to work a problem correctly. I love this.

If you use a different curriculum but have a lot of kids and not enough time, an alternative is to allow your kids to have the answers to their problems so they can self check as they go. You can't do this with younger kids, but you will know when your kid has reached the age where this will work.

The way to teach math is by providing immediate feedback, one problem at a time. Whether you do it, or the computer does it, or the answer sheet does it, a kid needs to know if he's on the right track WHILE he's on it. Following a system at home that doesn't work for the public schools is probably creating unnecessary frustration in your home.