I thought I would share a little bit about what we do at the end of every quarter, and how we handle the halfway point in our schooling year. I should preface this by identifying that each of my kids, ages 8 and up, is responsible to record everything they do in every subject every day in their planners. They also are to record their math grade every day in the corresponding section of their planner. (The Homeschool Student Planners work well for this.) 😉
At the end of each quarter, they average their daily grades and present me with their number grade. They had set a goal at the beginning of the quarter (a quarter = 9 weeks), and they tell me their original goal, and what their actual number turned out to be for the quarter. There is generally great rejoicing, and they receive a whole lot of praise for meeting and in most cases exceeding their goals.
I only take grades in math.
Now that I have raised the ire of half of the readers of the column, I will just explain that math is measurable and straight forward. I don’t give a letter grade for individual subjects in elementary and middle school grades. The children are expected to be mastering the material each and every day. I check in on them regularly, look over their work, and I quiz them on what they have been studying.
It is extremely difficult to fool me. I know when they are working and when they are not. Yes, I have caught one or two on occasion fudging on their assignments. When that happens, the individual is punished, and a chance to redo the work is given. We walk on, and in every case, the child who has been slacking picks up the slack and walks a very straight line from that point onward.
There is distinct accountability built into our self-teaching framework. “With freedom comes responsibility,” is my mantra. If the children want the freedom to work on their own, (and they truly do), then they must be responsible to be doing the work. I know if the work is being done to a mastery level, and so do the students. It is imperative that parents of self-learning students observe their work from time to time. The frequency is up to you, but I have found that I do not need to do weekly inspections. I use the element of surprise to keep them on their toes.
Now early elementary students, grades one and two, are hands-on for me. I do work with my 1st grader every day, listening to her read, reading to her, doing math together, doing handwriting and phonics together, as well as science and history, although the latter are items we do from time to time. (One can read through an elementary science or history book in a matter of weeks. It would be mind-numbing for the child to spend a whole year on am 80-page science book.)
On the other hand, I often will let Lilie check her planner to see what she is to do in handwriting or math (or whatever) that day and let her get started on it by herself. She really likes to work independently, and I allow her to do so when the material she will be covering is not something new or something that needs an introduction. I spend literally minutes at the beginning of the week writing down the pages we will be covering in her books that week. That’s it. No lesson plans. No prep time on my part. Piece of cake. It is all about Lilie learning and enjoying time with mom.
High school kids are graded simply — was time spent every day on the assignments? Can they demonstrate to me that they know what they have studied either orally or by looking in their course notebooks? I can look in their planners at any time and see what is being done in any given subject. If all of the work is being done with excellence, they receive an A from me at the end of the semester.
Okay, moving on. Tomorrow we will finish up our first half of out year. At that point I will have the kids average their math grades, and I will look over their planner/portfolio with them to make sure all is in order. I will look with them at the goals they set at the beginning of the quarter and see how far they got in actuality. We will most likely have some sort of something special, like a special dessert, or perhaps I will buy them all a cool new notebook or special pens/pencils for next quarter, or both. I like to celebrate our progress at this point. It is important to notate and celebrate progress!
Then the 8 and older crew will set a goal in each subject for the next 9 weeks. (Again, the planners have a special page for recording this info easily and sweetly.) They will look ahead, see where they are going, and decide how much they think they can accomplish in the next 9 weeks. They set their own expectations, which means that I am not the one cracking a whip over them — they are doing the cracking themselves. This is what motivates them and inspires them to work hard: they are working out of their own sense of accomplishment.
They almost always exceed their own goals. This is the natural result of self-learning, and it is a joy to observe!
I will glance at their goals, just to make sure they are not set too high or too low. They will set a target grade for math as well. Incidentally, I ask for math grades at some point each and every day, usually at supper time. There is a little element of peer pressure here which is not a bad thing.
Normally, we take a two-week break between quarters, and we take a week off after finishing the 5th out of the 9 weeks within the quarter. However, I made a deal with the kids over the holidays that we would take more time off then if they wanted, but we would not take a break after we finished the next quarter. They liked that idea, so that is what we decided to do. I love the flexibility of homeschooling. I would so hate to be told when we could have vacation by a school district. Ugh! How do people do that?
So that is an intimate glimpse into the workings of our self-learning homeschool process. It is both simple and easy; expectations are extremely clear for the students, and that is extremely important. There needs to be expectations as well as an understanding of what will happen if the students do not do their work properly. I very, very rarely have to deal with poor attitudes anymore as I have set expectations for cheerfulness and instant obedience. I have found that expectations are key to a smoothly running homeschool.
As we prepare to wrap up an entire half a year (oxymoron), I look back and am amazed at far we have come in such a short period of time. I continue to love homeschooling even after 14 years of hands-on practice, and it is such a blessing to have children who tackle their chores and their school work without complaining or whining.
Of course we have our down days, but down days now are not nearly as bad as they used to be when I did lesson plans for everyone in every subject, I had to check everybody’s work, and I had to motivate kids to do things that they so easily could do on their own without me hollering for them that it was “math time” or “science time” or “reading time.” There is a much better way!
Truly this is homeschooling freedom!