All the Rest
The remaining goals, Learning to Learn, Learning to Mastery, Making Learning fun and Avoiding Test Anxiety all pretty much got lumped together. This also encompasses the second part of College Preparation; that being College Survival Skills. The driving force for this is Learning to Mastery. In simple terms, this means not progressing until you are ready, i.e. you don’t leave the current chapter until you’ve actually learned it. From a day-to-day perspective, this means if you don’t get an “A” on the test, you go back, study some more and take it again. Yes, I realize getting an “A” does not actually mean you have mastered a subject. But I think we can all agree NOT getting an “A” does in fact mean you have NOT mastered the skill. So it is a weak indicator, but, at least in some cases, the only.
In a true homeschooling sense, this is not a problem. Just send your child back to read and try it again. In public schools of course, this just simply isn’t allowed. In some cases, students can in fact ask to retake a test, but nothing about the class flow or schedule changes to accommodate that. The student just takes the test again while the class continues on. Interestingly, the Florida Virtual Schools do NOT follow the policy of their brick and mortar cousins. Each section allows up to three submissions for its quizzes and assignments. Depending on the class and teacher, the chapter exams may or may not allow retries. Additionally, they do not force a strict adherence to a schedule. Students are expected to make “some progress” weekly, but within certain constraints, the start and end dates are flexible. So while not perfect, it offers just enough flexibility to be usable.
Gamification is a concept making the rounds in Education, Corporate Training and even social research programs. The concept is as simple as it sounds. Everyone loves games, so make lessons into games to motivate learners. In theory, a game is more fun and adds a competitive component to further motivate students. It’s not even a new concept. Games like Chess are believed to have been used to teach nobility war strategy. Special skills training such as Corporate Leadership Training and the like have used games as a way to create situations stimulating the same decision processes as those required for common work scenarios. In it’s simplest form, it can be nothing more than a points system where various actions either add to or subtract from a student’s points where the end goal is to meet some specific value, usually for some tangible reward.
As it turns out, there are many, many options for this. Duolingo is a language learning site where members gain points for learning lessons. Groups can even create private leader boards to compare results on a continuous basis. Moodle, an Educational Content Management System has many plugins for turning lessons into games. While Moodle is still a possibility, our primary game learning platform is ClassCraft. This is a paid service that allows you to create “quests” for your students. By turning in assignments, students progress through the quest, earning points and gold. Our hope is to turn their ClassCraft gold into actual cash as a reward/allowance system.
Anxiety is another concern. Its not that we want to shield our children from all adversity. However, we see very little value in intentionally creating artificial deadlines or disproportionate consequences. The sentence needs to match the crime, so to speak. The reasoning for this should be fairly obvious. If you frame the goal in the form of a disassociated reward (a grade, a scholarship, video game time) and try to teach your child to make “responsible decisions” they may just opt to take the “C” and let the future be damned. Then your only recourse is to say “I dislike your choice, and since I’m the parent, I’m going to overrule your decision.” So, rather than saying on Friday you’re taking a test and your MIT scholarship is on the line, we simply say the only way to complete the chapter is to learn the material. If you fail to learn it, we do it again. Now the effort and consequence match the goal. By learning the material and getting an “A”, we finish the chapter and move on. If we fail to get the “A”, we do it again. And again. And again. The ability to complete the required work and move on to something more fun, is now entirely in the hands of the student and the cause and effect are directly related.
Learning to Learn is the final piece of this puzzle and something else that has just gone by the wayside. No teacher teaches this anymore. Now, one might argue this is not the teacher’s responsibility but the parents’ and there is a good chance you would convince me of this. HOWEVER, when the teacher refuses to communicate with the parent about expectations, lesson plans, etc. and instead filters every communication through an eleven year old, there is no reason anyone should expect anything other than accidental success at best. In the public school system, this would require a true partnership between the parent and teacher but teachers (or their administration) have instead drawn a line in the sand where we send them our kids and they send back end of cycle reports and that is it. If you decide to blacklist your child by declaring a special need for them, then you negotiate a contract (IEP) for your child but you still get no ongoing, interaction or oversight. You’ve just created a more complex way to be ignored. In our new homeschool, we have started to take the time, even stalling our instruction to review note taking and record keeping. This late in the game, it is quite painful, but we are hoping it pays off in the long run (and hopefully in the near term as well, once we get past the whining complaining…)
In short, we are looking to do all the things our schools have promised to do but have continually failed to accomplish. By homeschooling, we have the unique scenario of complete agreement between Teacher, Administrator and Parent and we get direct and immediate feedback from our students as to our program’s effectiveness.