~ Counting Hours vs Mastery Learning ~

October 30, 2008

I will post this with my apologies to my SelfLearning4Life Yahoo group, as it is sort of a repeat for them. I am passionate about mastery learning, and the question arose about how to homeschool in states that require X number of hours of study in order for a student to earn course credit.  I thought it may be of interest to you as well.

The short answer is keep track of hours….or not.

Counting Hours. Just a warning: this is a topic that raises my ire more than just about anything aside from not requiring mastery in the school systems. Since the question was raised, here are my thoughts
and musings.

There are many states, mine included, where high schoolers are supposed to count hours spent on a subject. I have NEVER required the counting of hours and this is why: If you have a bright student who learns quickly the first time through the material, they are not going to require 120 hours on a subject in order to learn it.

If you have a student who takes his time in learning and is careful to master each section before moving on and achieves A-level work, what does it matter how long it took to do the work, or how long it didn’t take to do the work? Time is irrelevant except on the SAT and ACT. Of course speed in doing one’s work is a goal which can always be improved upon if necessary.

If you have a student who works sloppily, does the reading but does not fully comprehend what is read which is reflected on the exams (Bs or Cs and not As), but hours are filled up just to say that the
requirement was met, then what has been truly accomplished?

The state’s requiring hours and not mastery learning is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in the realm of education, and I have been in the system long enough before homeschooling to have seen
an awful lot of stupid stuff. I think this is what lies at the very foundation of a school system gone awry.

I require my students to re-do and/or do supplemental work if they have not mastered their material. Some may need to go back over sections and re-learn, and THAT IS FINE! I never have a problem with not mastering something the first time through.

However, if we gloss over a paper where 20% of the items were missed and say, “Oh, Johnny! You got a B! That’s great!” then somewhere down the road that 20% of unlearned material is going to come back to haunt
the student, especially in math and language skills.

We are cheating our students if we do not require material mastery. Now if a student scores a 90% on a math lesson one day, it may have been an off day. Regardless, the student needs to go back and fix what
was wrong as well as make sure they understand why they missed what they missed.

How do we know if they understand the material? We may not know ourselves, but THEY will know deep down if they get it or not. They need to see that it may be painful for the moment, but making sure
they understand what has been presented is the heart of the matter and is worth the effort. They are helping themselves by asking for help if needed or just taking the time to go back and re-learn. This is a learned response and comes with maturity.

We are cheating our students if we do not REQUIRE mastery learning. Requiring hours of study is absolutely ridiculous. Requiring mastery learning is true accountability, and it yields the fruit of understanding.

If our public schools required mastery learning and allowed students to go at their own speeds in the classroom, I truly believe that we would see a revolution in education.

I firmly believe that a student’s attitude would change towards schooling if he were held accountable for the material that is in front of him, if he were free to admit what he didn’t understand and seek help without condemnation.

Instead of a teacher passing off a student with a C on an exam, the teacher needs to say, “You can do better, and I will help you understand what you missed on this exam so that you truly learn and grow.” Oh, and “You are not getting out of this class until you master the material…until I know that you have digested the concepts that are so important to understand before leaving my class.”

The whole classroom concept brings shame to those who do not learn as quickly as others, and that is a major component to the demise of public education. Peers are merciless, aren’t they? Instead of saying,
“Hey, I am having trouble understanding this. Can you explain it again?” kids will, under pressure from peers, just go along and hope that they can sneak in under the radar.

Why is there an issue surrounding asking questions? I don’t know about you, but in math class, I prayed that someone else would ask the question that was on my mind because I was too timid to ask it.
Consequently, I never even built a strong foundation in math, and I had little to build upon as I got older. Shame and embarrassment can certainly keep kids silent in class. Certainly there has to be a better way.

Readiness in a classroom is also a major issue. I was not ready to learn “less than” and “greater than” when the concepts were presented in fourth or fifth grade. I had spatial issues,(Hey…I know what you are thinking…LOL) and I can see that now.

What I needed was a teacher who saw that I wasn’t getting it by observing how I only got Bs on my tests because I missed all of the < and > questions! Maybe I just wasn’t ready in my brain development to
grasp the spatial concepts. I know now that I wasn’t!

Why aren’t teachers trained to look for ways to intervene with each child in order to guarantee that mastery is attained? I do not consider missing 20% of the material as having mastered it. As I said earlier, everyone has off days. Look for repeated patterns of behavior though. I wish my math teachers had stopped me from going on and helped me to understand stuff before allowing me to move on.

If a student is free to say, “I don’t get it,” and then get the help they need in order to understand, they will grow in wisdom and CONFIDENCE. If they know they are not moving on until they do get it,
understanding the material becomes essential.

In schools today there is the lack of vital CARING about education. Kids just don’t care, and teachers aren’t trained to teach for mastery learning. But that is a topic for another day.

Summary: if you feel it is your duty to meet the hour requirements that your state has, by all means record the hours. However, don’t record hours instead of requiring mastery learning.

The goal is understanding what is learned, not seeing how many hours have been filled up as though that guarantees an iota of learning.

Next question? I know you all are afraid to ask *ANYTHING* now….! As my son Frank says, “Is it possible for you to give a short answer to anything, mom?” :0

Thanks for loving me despite my many faults, Y’all ~


~ Fall Break on Location ~

October 22, 2008

Hey, Folks! Has fall come to your town? I love, love, love fall and feel it is underrated. Fall break is almost as glorious as the season itself. We are into our second week of break. (Ummmm…..my kids talked me into a second week of break due to the fact that we all have been sick for about a month, and we are all finally healthy. I succumbed.)

Here are some pics from out recent trip to Old Stone Fort State Park in Manchester, TN. To me the pics are kind of sad because Nick and Lauren are away at school and are not in them, but we had an awfully fun time just hiking and trying not to lose anybody over the edges of the cliffs.

If you haven’t taken a break this fall, I highly suggest one. Or at least pack a picnic lunch and travel to a park somewhere for a day of schooling in God’s beautiful classroom. Taking a break from the routine is invigorating, isn’t it?

Here are some pics for you. Thank you for stopping by!

They aren’t kidding about the cliffs!

Back: Taylor, Frank, Tim

Front: Olivia, AD, Lydia

Very Front: Lilie

Ruins of the ol’ grist mill


Taylor and Frank stand ready to rescue me

Even a treehugger couldn’t hug this ‘un

Don’t look down!

Olivia watched Lilie like a mama hawk

Falls in fall

~ Take a listen to my 12-year-old’s recording ~

October 16, 2008

Here is a link to a quickie recording my daughter, Olivia, did last night. The song is called, “She’s Somebody’s Hero,” and it is dedicated to you if you are a mom.

You are somebody’s HERO!

Make sure your speakers are on when you click this link because it opens a window immediately where you can listen.

We are on a mini-vacation, but I will be back to post again soon!

I hope your day is wonder-filled.



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