~ Upping Scores ~

May 25, 2009

I’ve been doing some thinking, and that thinking was prompted by one of my sons not scoring as well as he would have liked to on the SAT this spring. He wants to up his score by about 100 points come September. How can I help him achieve that goal?

The answer to this question will be unique to each student and family, but there are some good across-the-board guidelines that we can follow to achieve more on the side of academics while boosting a sense of family.

The first change we will make for everyone in the house is to unplug the TV.  We’ll put away Game Cube. I forget just how much these often mindless activities steal our children’s attention AND desire to engage in creative and more worthy pursuits. For some reason, I seriously dislike Wii and Game Cube and the like although we do allow them from time to time. Until I get totally fed up with them.

broken TV

So screen time is the first thing to go. That means no movie watching either, although I can not rule out trips to the drive-in or to the theater. These make movie-watching a treat or a family activity.

I know from experience that we will live in a much more harmonious environment, and the kids will be outside playing more, reading more, and they will get to bed earlier.  I will be outside playing more, reading more, and will get to bed earlier.

Factor in doing more things as a family, and it is a win-win situation.

I believe there is a season to everything which is why we allow the screen time in the first place. There is a season to put it away as well. I know from experience that removing distractions will be a blessing to us right now.

The next thing we are going to change is the library that we use. We live in a small town, and our library has very limited options. There is the whole “they’ve gotten rid of all the good books” argument, and that is pretty much true.


So we will travel to the big city and use their library this summer where the likelihood of finding good books will hopefully go up. The travel time and gas usage will be a sacrifice that pays dividends though. I look forward to some new books as well. If I had unlimited funds, I would have an excellent home library. But I don’t, so we outsource the library.

If we want to encourage our children to read, the best thing we can do is read to them and let them see us reading.

I think that the combination of putting away the idleness-inducing appliances and giving access to a whole new world of books will yield good fruit this summer and long after. We have already been without screens for two whole days, and we have had nice family times in the evenings. We usually do, but then we would put on a movie and everyone would be up too late watching it, which would be painful in the mornings.

One other thing I highly recommend with the SAT before I forget. I recommend that you order the complete test and answer packet for your student. (I forget what it is called ~ sorry!) I think the price is like $18 for this service, but it is well worth the funds spent.

Your student will receive the test, the answers, and the answers that he gave for each question so you can analyze what was missed and hopefully see a pattern. My son will study his materials when they arrive and knowing him, he will work up a strategy to fill in his weaker areas on his own. I will look over his materials as well just for my own information. Actually, he will give me a synopsis, but if your student does not do this on his own, be sure to take the time to analyze his results so that you can learn as much as possible from mistakes.

I will support my son by taking away the temptation to fritter away his time on pointless silly games and TV shows. Am I behind the times? I see this as a self-control issue for both me and my family. I am not secretly watching TV on the side while I expect them to do without. Rather, we are taking time that would evaporate otherwise and investing in activities of consequence.

If that is behind the times, so be it.

Good byTV timee this.

Hello this.family walking

I’ll let you know how effective these changes turn out to be after my son’s next SAT this fall.  I know that we have never regretted putting the screens away. I just wonder why we don’t do this more often if we know the benefits. Perhaps it has something to do with my own level of self-control? Sadly, I think that is most likely it.


~ Measuring Progress ~

May 11, 2009

laptop and ruler

The Year in Review: Measuring Progress

It’s that magical time of year when many of us are reaching the end of our proverbial year of schooling.

I  can hear the collective sighs of relief! As we get ready to pack it in for a break, now is a great time to do a simple assessment of the year in order to benefit from the experiences of the last several months.

How do we analyze a whole year of homeschooling? Is the best way to look at the goals we may have set before the year began? I adjust the goals as we go throughout the year, so what I thought would happen at the beginning of the year may not have happened at all because the goals changed, or maybe we accomplished more than I thought we might. Either way is absolutely fine. Homeschooling needs to be fluid and flexible as the day’s challenges and opportunities dictate. Goals are great to have and reaching them is wonderful, but they are not the only standard by which we should assess.

Did all the books get finished that were started? If not, know that this isn’t unusual, as we don’t need to measure out education in terms of time. High schoolers face more pressure in this area, as the System tells us that this and that must be accomplished within a 180-day time frame. Real life often doesn’t work that way, however, so if your students did not finish every textbook by the time the clock ran out, just start up where they left off when you begin anew.

High school students can work on a particular subject during your break if there is a need to press on within a time frame. I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall ever finishing a book during my school days, not one! The difference is that as homeschoolers, we do have the luxury of finishing our materials because we can start up wherever we left off. There is no such thing as being “behind” in home school.

I would like to repeat that statement for emphasis: there is no such thing as a child being behind in their work.

He is where he is. We as moms tend to think that our homeschools must mimic the very system from which we have removed our children. Textbooks are designed to fit the traditional school setting, and classroom teachers feel a lot of pressure to get through as much material as possible with the large number of children in their classes.

I know that when I was a classroom teacher, my goal was never to make sure that my students all mastered the material before we moved on. There just wasn’t time! Some fell between the cracks. Fortunately, the reverse is true in homeschooling! We can take the time our students need to digest and truly learn their lessons before moving on, or the students can progress more rapidly if they are able.

Sometimes we fall behind schedule. Recently, I listened as a four-star mom lamented that her child is behind where he should be in two subjects. The mom is now feeling guilty and losing hope that she can ever teach her children well at home. She would undoubtedly feel a load lifted off her shoulders if she could see that her child is right where he should be.

Plan BSometimes things happen in our lives that sideline schooling for a day, a few days, or even a few months. Nothing has been lost except that our plans may have been thwarted, but that is when you just jump back in without guilt and keep right on going. It is so important to not have the “behind” mentality as that reeks of failure. You have not failed in any way by adjusting your homeschooling to meet the real-life needs of your family. Wherever you are, this is where you should be. If adjustments need to be made, make them without guilt.

Life happens, and we certainly are not perfect. Don’t expect yourself to be.

Now, there is such a thing as a student (or, in some cases, even a mom) simply not applying themselves diligently to the task at hand, and thus not being where they otherwise could have been. In that case, the heart attitudes need to be dealt with by the parent. However, that’s not primarily what I’m talking about here. I’m simply talking about the different rates at which students learn material and the various life circumstances that can impact our homeschooling.

We don’t need to feel guilty when our student honestly has a hard time grasping a certain topic or when an illness or family emergency puts our studies on hold for a while. These things don’t make us “behind;” they simply require adjustments to our plans and expectations. We need to make those adjustments and then walk on without guilt and without looking back, always pressing on.

A grade on test paper

One of the most common ways of assessing the school year is to look at the grades that children have achieved. Is this a good yardstick to use? I would say that absolutely, grades are an important factor as they show demonstrated competency. However, I do not grade every little thing my children do. Let me stress that I am looking at work and mentally grading all the time. Mastery of the material is of the utmost importance, and I know whether a child has mastered the concepts or not simply by looking at his daily work.

With the mastery method of learning, the student does not move on to the next activity unless he completely understands what has been presented today. If he did not do well on today’s work, this indicates a problem that needs to be addressed. That problem could be a readiness issue; the child is not developmentally ready for the task. This happens much less frequently than the other causes of problems, which include laziness, lack of concentration, or the child simply requiring more information or more practice to get it. The necessary time needs to be taken to attain mastery, but more importantly, parents need to expect mastery and not settle for anything less.

Children will rise to meet our expectations, and we need to expect them to learn their daily material diligently. With this said, it would follow that children who have the benefit of mastery learning will achieve high grades in every area that is measured simply because they do not move on until the comprehension is demonstrated.

We need to be careful not to train our children to work for a grade like a puppy obeys to receive a treat. A mature student works in order to learn, and yes, in some cases, works to just get through the work and come out the other side. A student is exposed to so much in twelve years that it would be silly to expect him to love learning everything he is handed. It just won’t happen. The goal is for the student to learn and to be self-disciplined enough to learn despite the fact that the material may not consume his interest. It still must be done and be done well.


It matters less how much time it takes to reach mastery level than that it is, in fact, achieved. Lessons will sometimes need to be redone, or we may need to re-teach something in another way in order for the student to “get it.” If work is not A-level, then the parent needs to assess the reason for this and correct it. Do not settle for less than A-level work. A major secret to feeling underwhelmed is training your children to work to the best of their ability every day.

By not settling for a B grade, you will be teaching your child that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. It takes patience and commitment on your part to do this at first as you will need to inspect his work if he is not used to keeping to a high standard on his own. Oversight is a day-to-day process, but as you expect good results, you will see your student start to blossom and begin to take responsibility for reaching this new standard on his own.

Will it be an easy process? That will totally depend on your child’s attitude. Discipline may be involved in some cases, and in others, the transition will be rather smooth. We do our children a disservice and burden ourselves needlessly when we do not set the bar high. Set the standard, give the child an adjustment period, and then expect to see results. Then you can relax and reap the fruit of your labor which is the knowledge that your child is learning to the best of his ability.

If you have been disappointed with your child’s performance in one or more subjects this year, I urge you not to move on and think that things will be better next year. Unless something changes, the results will most likely be the same. I also urge you not to feel guilty, but rather, look at the situation objectively.

I firmly believe that grades are a reflection of a child’s attitude about learning and are often a reflection of the heart as well.

I hesitate to make such a sweeping generality, but I have seen time and time again where a stubborn or strong-willed child who does not want to work will not do the work completely, will not do it properly, or will not care how he does it at all. This is not a reflection of ability; rather, it is a reflection of a heart problem that needs to be addressed by the parents. If poor grades are an issue in the homeschool, and there is no physical problem causing them, there is most likely a lack of peace in the house as well because the child has behavior issues that are not being addressed.

girl doing homeworkSometimes students do not do well because they do not believe that they can do well, or the parents doubt their student’s ability to do A-level work. If a parent is making sure that mastery learning is taking place day by day, then poor grades will not be the result. Remember, if readiness is the issue, then the material can be set aside for a time and the student moves onto something else until he has matured to the point of being able to comprehend what he was formerly struggling with. Once the student sees that he can master the work a little bit every day, confidence will naturally build, and scores will dramatically improve. The key is to expect A-level work.

If we assess our school year according to actual grades and look at how well children have learned the material we presented to them, we will have a more accurate picture of achievement than if we concentrate solely on how much material was covered. It is the old quality over quantity thing. While poor grades almost always go hand in hand with a poor attitude, does it follow then that good grades indicate that children possess a good attitude? Not always, but it is likely.

In my estimation, grades are not the ultimate assessment tool for a school year. True education has as its centerpiece the goal of a changed heart.

Our children, like us, are in need of a Savior. Children have the same nature as their parents—a sinful one. The most important part of home education is heart training, and our responsibility as parents hinges entirely on this very thought. If I raise a child who scores perfectly on College Board exams and wins scholarships to prestigious schools, what will I have attained if that child does not have a heart that has been redeemed and then has been trained to seek hard after the Lord? I will have missed the boat entirely. We do not want to raise children who are “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim 3:7)

I would conclude that the true measure of homeschool success is found in the very hearts of our children. Has there been growth in my children’s spiritual lives this year? Academic growth is important, but it is secondary to the training of our children in the wisdom that can only come from the Word of God.

As we spend time nurturing our own relationship with Jesus, we will be provided with the wisdom we need to train our children in godliness. This task would seem overwhelming except for the fact that the Lord does not expect us to do it on our own or in our own strength. (I have tried that, and it doesn’t work.)

Abiding in Jesus is the key to this life, and many of us do not learn this until we are adults. We become overwhelmed when we think that it all depends on us. Jesus has promised to give us everything necessary for life and godliness. What a gift we can give to our children by teaching them how to trust in, lean on, and rely on the Lord at a very young age. We teach this by example more than any other way.

While looking back at the past year is helpful in order to see how far we have come, it is also a time to make any necessary course corrections. We can see by our children’s grades how they are doing academically; it is by examining their attitudes and actions that we are able to measure how they are developing spiritually.

heart-shaped leaf

Each day is a new day with new opportunities for true education: molding the heart of the child. This type of teaching goes on every day, whether it is a “school day” or not, and it is a day by day process that flows from the Living Water within you. While the high school diploma is the goal of academic instruction, it certainly pales in comparison to our ultimate objective which is to one day hear our children’s names read from the Lamb’s Book of Life.

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