Wednesday, January 30, 2013

To Grade or Not to Grade....

To grade or not to grade, that is the question. (Apologies to Shakespeare!)

Maybe that's not the only question, but it is one that I needed to address recently. A new homeschooling friend asked me, "How do you grade?"

So, here goes nothing! Some of you might be shocked; some may be relieved. Some might even agree! But let me add my disclaimer: My own way of homeschooling is not the only right way. Other people find different styles that work well for them. What I describe here is what has worked well for us.

So, to answer my friend's question about grading - I really don't do any. I don't keep a grade book. I don't grade their daily work. I don't grade tests. (In fact, I don't even give tests. But that's a post for another day, I think.) 

Once upon a time, I thought I would keep grades. But, the futility and purposelessness of it nagged at me when my children were in elementary school. So I told myself, "Well, I will keep grades for middle school." However, middle school came and went, high school began, and suddenly my oldest is a senior. He will graduate in 4 months and we still don't keep grades, at least not in the way most schools do.

For math, we use Teaching Textbooks, a computer-based program that automatically grades the work. If they get less than 80% correct, I require them to do the entire lesson over. If they get between 80-100%, I consider that lesson complete and the student moves on. At the end of a year, I don't give them a letter grade in math. In fact, their math books don't usually begin or end according to the parameters of a school year. In addition, my senior is doing Pre-Calculus, which doesn't come with the automatic grading feature. So, my senior grades his own math. Believe it or not, he has the answer book and uses it appropriately.

Other than math, I don't give many letter grades at all, not even for the writing classes that I teach. Why not?

One question I asked myself is why would I model my own teaching methods on those used by traditional schools when I've chosen to keep my children out of school? Grades are a fairly recent invention in the history of humankind, though learning has been going on for all those centuries. Do you think Jane Austen got a daily penmanship grade? Do you think Thomas Jefferson got a reading quiz score every day? Do you think Socrates was graded on his debate skills? 

Additionally, I see very little value in grades the way that they are commonly used. The reason teachers keep grades is so they know how a student is doing in a subject. If a teacher has 25 children to keep track of, is she going to remember that Mabel needs to work on capitalization and Jared should practice the comma rules? Will she recall which students need extra math practice after the chapter test? No. She needs some way to keep track. Thus, record-keeping was introduced. 

However, I *do* know that one of my kids needs to work on differentiating the words that begin with "th" and that another kid will tend not to complete the day's work unless reminded, and which of my children needs to practice math facts. I don't need the numbers in the little squares to remind me. The numbers (or letters) are just symbols of the things that are mastered or still need to be mastered. 

Grades are a time-waster for the homeschool mom. I was a teacher in a school way back when. My duties included an inordinate amount of attention to my grade book and hours and hours filling in those pesky little squares and adding up numbers to complete report cards - wish I could get those hours back! Now I certainly don't have time in my busy schedule to count up picky little points and average them all out, even now that computer grade books do it for you. (Yeah, back in the early 90's, I did that with a calculator. LOL)

One more thing to consider is that every teacher grades differently. I could write quite a bit on how subjective grading really is - in public schools, in private schools, and in home schools, but I'll let that alone for now.  

Most of all, I just don't think grades are an accurate picture of my children's academic work. My senior is more than an A in Pre-Calculus and a C in Spanish 1. 
So, what do I do instead?

Usually if a page is done well, I will simply say, "Good job! You're all set!" He or she may ask for a star or an "A" written on the page which I gladly give. At any rate, I think comments, both spoken and written, are so much more meaningful than a percent score. Maybe you remember getting a paper back with an unexpected poor grade and wondering why. But if no comments were given, you had no way to know. Or perhaps, you worked especially hard on an assignment and the letter grade gave no indication of whether the teacher noticed your hard work. 

In the writing classes I teach, I write a lot of comments on my students' papers. I want them to read them, learn from them, and use them, rather than just look at the large red "C" scribbled at the top of their carefully-written essay and wonder why it's not an "A" as they toss the paper in the wastepaper bin.

So, for all these reasons, I don't make letter grades or percentages a focus in our education.

Do we assess learning? Yes.
Do I know what they need to work on? Yes.
Do the kids have to re-do poorly done work? Yes.
Do I give feedback? Yes.
Do they know when they have success? Yes.

And that's what it's about, here at Cornerstone Home Learning.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lisa's Logbook - January 20

In our home education last week... My oldest has decided to go to a local comic con coming up in May and is making a Master Chief (Halo) suit out of foam and hot glue and paint. I'll put up some more pictures later but here is one. My younger son (age 13) also decided to make a costume, inspired by his brother, yet a bit daunted by the difference in their abilities. This is the 13yo's first project like this and the 18yo has made several things of this nature before. NOTE: This was not part of their "curriculum" per se; they both had all their regular lessons to do.

What's working for us: having my 3 older kids enroll  in the writing classes I am teaching. During the fall semester, they did not join in the classes. But this time I wanted my 13yo and 15yo to practice their basic essay writing skills and I definitely wanted my 18yo to take my Advanced Essay Writing Techniques workshop since he will be off to college in the fall. You can read more about my writing classes by clicking the links in the sidebar.

One place we visited: I took my younger two children (ages 10 and 13) to the circus on Friday morning. We also took along one of my daughter's friends as a birthday gift for her friend. Fun!

We're reading:
Uncle Tom's Cabin - my high schoolers are reading for their American Lit class
A Wrinkle in Time - my 7th grader is reading this
Pilgrim's Progress, simplified - my 5th grader
Pride and Prejudice - a re-read for both me and Emily for book club
The Freedom Writer's Diary - reading with my sisters and mom to discuss at Sister Weekend
...then just stay fat by Shannon Sorrels - a Kindle freebie I am reading
Walking with Bilbo - a devotional I am reading

I'm grateful for:  Forgiveness. Yep. 

My favorite thing this week: getting together with my friends to watch a movie and chat. So relaxing! Oh wait, did you want to know about my favorite homeschooling stuff?

Favorite Resource this Week: The blue colored overlay you see Suzy using in the pic at right does help my 18yo read better. He has found some success using the blue overlay; he tried some other colors but they weren't as helpful. Suzy hasn't found them to be as useful as David does but we are still experimenting with colors. You can buy expensive colored overlays designed to treat scotopic sensitivity syndrome (aka Irlen syndrome), but I made do with colored transparencies from the office supply store (I think I bought some single sheets at a local store, but it's been so long that I cannot recall where now) or amazon - here's one choice

Helpful homeschooling advice to share… Insist they do things they don't want to do. They'll be stronger for it and may even thank you later. (Or at least admit that the experience was beneficial.)

Questions I have: How does one know if one has attained that ideal balance between laziness and industriousness? LOL

A photo to share… That's Monkey-Toed Suzy up there demonstrating one of her unorthodox reading poses. Hey, whatever gets her reading is fine with me. The pic was from October.

I am inspired by… my friend Jennifer who completed a half-marathon today - at Disneyland! You rock, Jen!

Coming up this week: Ice Skating at a local rink, Open gym at a local gymnastics studio, and a kids retreat for my youngest! Fun times!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Lisa's Logbook - January 11

In our home education this week, we started in on an ambitiously planned January schedule. 

What's working for us: Making the kids earn their screen time by doing physical activity.

Places we went and people we saw: DOCTORS - I visited the doctor's office three times this week. Once with my husband (check-up), once with 3 of my kids (well child and immunizations - yes, we do those), and once ALL BY MYSELF (the ever-so-enjoyable annual PAP smear and physical). Three different doctors, all in the same building, on three consecutive days. Bob also had a cardiologist appointment that he went to without me.

We're reading:
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin (my 12th and 10th graders, for their American Lit class)
  • Les Miserables (me and my 10th grader, for our book club)
  • My Side of the Mountain (my 7th grader)
  • Pilgrim's Progress, simplified (my 5th grader)
  • Walking with Bilbo devotional (me)
I'm grateful for: my 5th grader rising to the challenge of a difficult reading book. She is doing well! My hope was that she would find that she is more capable than she (or I) thought she was. And it's true!

My favorite thing this week: challenging my children to find opportunities to pray throughout each day using ideas like THESE from Barbara Bartocci.  Here's one that I hope we all learn: The count-to-60, stop-a-fight prayer. Ever burst out in anger and regretted your words later? Next time, count to 60 this way: one-for God, two-for-God…

Favorite Resource this Week: The Body Book: Easy-to-Make Hands-on Models That Teach 

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share: I am not sure how helpful this is and it is rather humbling to think along these lines, but when I was a brand new homeschool mom (and formerly employed teacher) with a kindergartener, a preschooler, and a baby, I knew more about "the right way" to homeschool than I know now as the mom of a senior, a sophomore, a seventh grader, and a fifth grader. Crazy, eh?

A link to share…  A sad cautionary tale on the Love, Light, Laughter & Chocolate blog. 

Coming up next week: A visit to the circus with my two youngest children; my oldest has an orthodontist visit

Saturday, January 5, 2013

January is a Fresh Start

January lesson sheets are freshly copied and collated, ready for bright-eyed children on Monday morning.

Well, maybe the children won't be bright-eyed, but at least the work is all planned out. Three weeks off refreshed all of us and gave us a much needed break, however, getting back on schedule is always a relief.

My goals are always high at the beginning of the month, and doubly so after a long break, so the fully planned month gives us a realistic goal, yet one that will push us to achieve more. Monthly lesson planning has worked well for us for years now.

What's in store? Here's a sampling:

Everyone will be doing a lot of writing, starting with some thank you notes. Three of the kids will be joining my weekly writing classes for the upcoming session, working on essay writing.

David and Emily will be reading Uncle Tom's Cabin for their American Literature class. James will finish My Side of the Mountain and read all of A Wrinkle in Time. All of this reading will be accompanied by book reviews. Suzy will be reading a children's version of Pilgrim's Progress. (This will be a huge challenge for her; pray for us!)

Teaching Textbooks math will continue. James should finish Math 7 by the end of the month, so it's time to bite the bullet and purchase Pre-Algebra for him. The others will keep plugging away!

Our geography focus will take us into Canada and Central America and we will also review the U.S. maps we've worked on.

In Anatomy, James and Suzy will be working on the functions of the eye, the ear, the tongue and the skin. They will build paper models of each organ and learn about how they work. Emily will be studying the Avian world in Biology.

David will continue working on mastering JavaScript (via and will continue his economics study (which he tells me is pretty interesting for the most part!)  in Whatever Happened to Penny Candy and the Bluestocking Guide.

That's not all, but that's enough to fill a blog post. Oh, one more thing - we will be taking our first karate tests as red belts sometime in February, so January will be a month of intense learning and practice for us!