Friday, November 20, 2015

Highlights from Year 2, Term 1 Exams

SA(7) just finished Term 1 of Ambleside Online's Year 2. Since we finished halfway through a week, I decided to try to do some exams this time.

This isn't the first time I've tried to do exams. The first time I tried was a huge failure. It was my own fault. We ended our term at the end of a week, and I tried to start exams at the beginning of the next week, after I had told him that our term was completed. I tried to sell them as a special event and a way to share with his Papa what he had learned. I even got out the video camera to record his answers. Bad, bad idea, at least with this child.

This time, I took the lessons I'd learned from that fiasco and made the exams as much like our regular school routine as I could. The only difference was that I wrote down his answers. It went much more smoothly.

I know some of you aren't familiar with Charlotte Mason or Ambleside Online, and are wondering why on earth I'd do exams with a homeschooled Grade 2 student. After all, I know what he knows, right? I've been right with him as he's been learning it. The answer is that these exams aren't really like any test you'd be familiar with from school. The best way I can think of to put it is to say I'm taking a snap-shot of where he is right now.

The value of exams for him:
-A sense of accomplishment as he himself realizes how much he knows.
-As we do them regularly, a realization that the things he learns today are not expected to be forgotten tomorrow.
-An exercise for his long-term memory.

The value of exams for me:
-A sense of peace that these methods are working and he is retaining what he has learned.
-An assessment of anything that needs to be adjusted in the future, particularly areas we neglected.
-A record of progress from term to term and year to year.

I'll be honest and say that the true reason I haven't done exams regularly until now is because deep down I had a fear that I would find he hadn't retained what he had learned. That fear was unfounded. True, there were some answers I was disappointed in, but overall I was encouraged.

We did lessons from both the Old and New Testaments this term, beginning Genesis and Matthew. This is his answer when I asked him to tell about the flood.
"God told Noah to build the ark and to bring seven pairs of the clean animals and one pair of the dirty animals. And it rained for forty days and forty nights. Then Noah sent out a raven. ("I don’t remember the name of the bird." “Dove,” I told him.). Then Noah sent out a dove, and it couldn’t find any land. Then he waited seven days and sent it out again and it came back with a leaf in her beak. And he knew there was dry land nearby. And the ark was resting on a rock. And then God told them to go out and to scatter and fill the land."
He did not do as well when I asked him what Matthew says about the birth and early life of Jesus.
"He was born in Bethlehem.Then God told them to go to different places.And then after a time they lost Jesus, and they searched for him and they were surprised to find him teaching."
(That last part is not even in the Matthew account.) I told him later I was surprised he didn't say anything about angels, or wise men. He said, "I do know that, I just couldn't find the words."

We've been reading Pilgrim's Progress after breakfast almost every day. We are almost finished with it (I think it was supposed to last us the whole year? Oh well.). Instead of our normal narration, I simply had the boys tell me what to draw after each episode. This meant that they highlighted the events more than the conversations in their narration. I think we will go through Pilgrim's Progress several times over the years, no doubt with different levels of understanding. They really enjoyed it. Here is what Seth said when I asked him how the pilgrims ended up in Doubting Castle.
"Hopeful said they should not go off the way. And Christian wanted to go off the way onto that path. They met another person, and he said it went to the Celestial City. And then he fell into a pit. And then they thought they should get out, but they almost got drowned. They slept beside the path, and then the Giant Despair saw them and took them and locked them in a dungeon. Then he said he would check for key-locks. (I don't think that's the right word.) And then they talked, and then Christian said, “I have a key that can open any lock!” And he tried it, and it fitted. And they opened the lock. But one lock, the gate, creaked so loud that it woke up the Giant Despair, but he couldn’t get out of bed and run after them. Then they went back into the way."
Another highlight this term has been Understood Betsy. I asked SA to tell me about little 'Lias, a character in the book.
"Betsy made some clothes for ‘Lias because he was all dirty and didn’t have any clothes. Then they went to the door and put the clothes on the doorstep, rang the doorbell, and ran. (Rustled in the grass, and lots of other things that make noise in the night.) A person came to the door and picked them up. They looked through the window. He looked like little Molly with no one to feed her. They hoped Mr. Pond would adopt him. The next day at school they saw that he was dirty and didn’t have any new clothes on. Disaster had happened. After little ‘Lias had said the story, Mr. Pond looked over their shoulders. And he said he will get some clothes for ‘Lias. They met him in the Hall in new store-bought clothes."
We have been studying British history, going steadily through Our Island Story and a few chapters of Hillyer's Child's History of the World. We learned about William the Conqueror in both books, so I was a little surprised at SA's response when I asked about him and the Battle of Hastings
"William the Conqueror or William the Red?" he asked. 
"William the Conqueror," I said. "William Rufus was his son."
"Harold waited for William the Conqueror.He sailed across the sea to Harold’s kingdom.They pretended they were going away, but then they ran up again and they killed him." 

This took all of fifteen minutes to get out of him. On the positive side, it did include elements from both books. Our Island Story mentioned how long Harold waited for William to come and attack him, and Child's History of the World told about how William and his forces pretended to flee during the Battle of Hastings, then turned and defeated Harold.

I also asked him about another story from Our Island Story, the White Ship. At first it seemed as though I would not get anything. Finally I decided to prompt him. "King Henry was in Normandy, and when he was going home, someone wanted him to sail on his ship, but he couldn't go." That opened the floodgates.
"King Henry said, “The prince may go on.”And they were sailing and they laughed. And the boat suddenly stopped and the laughing stopped. And they cried for help.King Henry heard it and he said, “I hear people far away,” and they said it was a little bird.But he spoke so sternly that they went back. And many people crowded onto the small boat. As the boat overturned, two people were left clinging to the mast. And they cried for help. And one said, “Goodbye, God be with you,” and he slipped into the sea and drowned. And his clothes were made out of satin. The other person who was left wore sheepskin clothes. Just about when the sun was going to go up. And he clung to the mast until some fishermen came, and they saw the person clinging to the mast. And they brought him home. And then he said that Henry’s son died. And they said, “What terrible news to bring to England!” And nobody told the king for three days, and then they pushed a boy in the king’s room and he mumbled out the story. And the king fell down on his face, and they laid him down on a bench. When he opened his eyes again he didn’t have a happy look. Nobody ever saw him smile again."

(If that doesn't make sense to you, there is a gap in his was the prince, in a little life-boat, who spoke sternly and told them to go back for his sister.) I was struck by the details that had captured his imagination: the way the laughter stopped, the clothes that enabled one man to survive, and "Nobody ever saw him smile again."

This was a fail for me. I didn't cover the concepts I was supposed to because I assumed SA already knew them. At the same time, this showed me the value of exams... now I know I still need to go back and do it with him! I asked him, "Do you know what a compass is? Describe a compass and tell me what it does."
"A thing that tells you which way you’re going. Its little arrow turns to different directions as you turn. It is round, with an E for East, N for North, W for West, and S for South. It tells you which way we’re going."
He didn't know about the magnetic needle and how it always points north. Oh well, now he does. :)

Nature Study
We had a spider project this term, and I asked SA to tell me about it.
"We caught spiders with our spider net. And also we found them on webs and caught them with a cup and we wiggled the cup to keep them from running out. We put them in poison or freezed them. We gave them to the spider lady.And we could catch them in a spider trap uncovered or covered with a piece of cardboard. And we could check it the next day from making the spider trap and putting it in the dirt. My favourite spiders were the argiopes." (We found two types.)
SA also read and narrated from the Burgess Animal Book. This was the first book he started reading on his own for narration, and he always narrated very well. I kept the lessons very short this term (ten minutes per day, four days a week), and as a result we only got through half of the assigned readings. We will pick up speed over time, I know. I asked him to tell me about a squirrel.
"The flying squirrel. He goes about and he flies in the night. And he goes up a tree to the top of a tree, and then he jumps and flies off. His tail helps him keep his balance. And he can steer so he won’t bump into things until he lands on the tree he’s going for. And then he goes up the tree to do it all over again."
Technically, this is not correct (flying squirrels don't fly, they glide). I know he knows this. I assume the name tripped him up...

I chose a few questions from his Singapore Primary Math 2B workbook, including simple multiplication and division, geometry, diagrams, and word problems with money and subtraction. He answered them easily.

The only question that tripped him up for a second was "David has 8 quarters and 12 dimes. How much money does he have altogether?" He asked me how much a quarter and a dime were worth. I told him, and he had the answer immediately. $3.20. The three was written backwards, but he included the dollar sign and the decimal point.

It wasn't quite fair of me to include that question anyway, as we didn't do the money unit in the book yet (I plan to get some Canadian money for that and haven't gotten to it yet.).

I had SA copy a line from our Bible memory passage this term, Psalm 139. "Lead me in the way everlasting." While I normally set the timer for five  minutes and have him complete what he can in that time, I wanted him to complete the line for his exam. I put on the stop-watch so we could see how long it took him. Well. It took him 21 minutes. (I estimated that he is capable of doing it in seven.) At least it was neatly done. There is work to be done there, but then I already knew that...

Looking back over the term, there are a few other things I want to take note of:

Narration has progressed. At the beginning of the term, SA still needed to narrate after every paragraph. Now, I can read several paragraphs or even several pages in the easier books (like Understood Betsy) before stopping for narration.

The choice to slow down and work on our atmosphere and discipline at the beginning of Year 2 was a good one, but I could have picked up the pace a little as we went on and gained our balance. The first twelve weeks took us fifteen weeks including exams and one week off at the end of August. Daily, we did two readings with narration of fifteen minutes each, and one of ten minutes (that he read himself). I didn't include Bible and Pilgrim's Progress in that count, as we put those into Circle Time. I'd like to go a little more quickly as we head into winter. I'll start with the same pace in our second term, but increase the minutes per lesson to twenty over time (fifteen for the lesson he reads himself).

We skipped Parables of Nature this term. I felt I needed to cut something, and that is the book I never learned to love over the year we've already spent with it (So. Very. Wordy.). However, SA asked me about it yesterday, as he noticed it was never checked off on the schedule. He would like to read those stories, so I think we'll add it into Circle Time again once we're done with Pilgrim's Progress.

The boys need to do more chores. I haven't done a good job with that this term.

And now, it's time to take a week off! We're going to visit my mom and dad, yay!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Narration: Deceptively Simple, Extremely Powerful

There is nothing more simple than narration, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.

It is simple, because you read a book to your child, and then you expect him to tell it back to you. There is no textbook, there are no comprehension questions. There is no script.

And yet, narration is not easy. It may not be easy for the teacher. She has to let go of the curriculum and the scripts and trust that reading and narration will be enough. She has to choose well-written “living” books full of ideas, not just facts. She has to stand back and let the learning happen…let the mind of the child meet the mind of the author without mediation from her. Narration also means she requires work from the child, and sometimes there is resistance to that work. Steadfastness in forming habits of attention and self-discipline in your child is also not easy.

Narration is also not always easy for the child. It requires attention, and hard work. In some ways it is natural. Any time your child comes running to you full of enthusiasm to tell you all about something, he is narrating. But narration is also a discipline, and there will be days he will not feel like paying attention or doing the work.

A Meeting of Minds

When you read a living book to your child (or he reads it himself), it is as if your child meets and forms a relationship with its author. The author’s enthusiasm is catching. The way he describes things captures your child’s imagination, because it has captured the imagination of the author. It is a direct relationship between your child and the author. It is not mediated by you, the teacher. Actually, it is your job to facilitate this meeting, but then to get out of the way.

Getting out of the way does not come naturally to us as mothers. We hover. We wonder if our child caught this or understood that. We explain and explain. We add teaching tools and gimmicks to capture their interest.  The author can hardly get a word in edgewise, and we do not realize that our children would be captivated if they could just spend some one-on-one time with him.

So how do you facilitate a meeting of minds without getting in the way?

You get to know the author’s mind yourself by pre-reading. This is not so you can now mediate that knowledge to your child. Now you know the author’s intent, and you know your child, and you are ready to facilitate that meeting!

You prepare your child for the meeting. The author uses some language that your child doesn’t know. Your child may not be familiar with the time and place the author is going to tell him about, and maps and timelines may be brought out. Sometimes a picture or two may be necessary. We recently had to look up pictures of cathedrals, as SA(7) had never seen one. You may need to prompt him to remember what came before and the context of what will be read today. Preparing your child does not mean beginning to tell him what the author is going to teach him directly.

Now comes the meeting. You read to your child (or have him read). Because you have prepared him, his mind is not distracted with questions like, “What does that word mean?” You are not interrupting the meeting of minds with further explanations. (I have to admit that this is sometimes easier said than done, but it is what we aim for.)

Immediately after the reading, you require your child to tell you about it. This requirement is essential in your role as teacher, and it is yet fairly passive. You listen to what he learned from the author without distracting him with questions and comments. You know that if he can formulate his thoughts and tell what he knows, he really knows it.

Sometimes, if no narration is forthcoming, you can prompt. This is not easy to do well. Your goal is, after all, for him to collect his thoughts and know and tell what he knows. I prompt by reiterating in one sentence what came before today’s reading, and ask, “Then what happened?” Often this is enough to get him started. If still nothing is forthcoming, I will say, “I remember something about (character, or event)…” If after all that, there is still nothing, I say, “If there is nothing you remember, I’ll go on.” Often he will suddenly have something to tell me at that point. SA(7) often needs a little time to collect his thoughts before he narrates. I prompt when I see that his attention has drifted from collecting his thoughts to something else. It is really just a gentle reminder to get back to his work.

In reading and narration, most of the work of learning has taken place. Then, and only then, is the time for questions and conversation about what was read. If you feel there was a major point that was missed, you can draw it out then with a question or an observation. I have to be very careful not to overdo it on the teaching with my son. Too much explanation really turns him off. Usually I don’t have to catch myself, though, because he lets me know! J

Why narration, and not comprehension questions? As soon as you ask a question or make a comment, your child’s attention shifts from the knowledge he has gained directly from the author and shifts to you, the teacher. It adds an additional (and distracting) consideration in his narration. Instead of just asking himself “What did I learn?” he has to ask “What did mom expect me to learn?” as well. That second question is much harder to figure out than the first, and it can cause the narration process to shut down. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have expectations, just that your part was to choose the book and prepare him well so that he could do the work of learning. I’m also not saying you have to completely let go of what you expected him to learn, just that you have to wait until he tells you what he did learn so you don’t distract him.

Recently, I took a detour from narration in our Bible lessons, using another method to teach. Today, we went back to narration. As we went through the simple process of reading and narration, I felt content. I knew that my son had learned something, that his hunger for knowledge was being satisfied. Contentment, mind hunger satisfied regularly...these keep me going when narration is not easy. They keep me from looking with longing at all the creative and colourful curriculum there is out there. Reading living books and narration are enough for me and my family. They are more than just enough. They are powerful and effective.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review: Grapevine Studies (Bible Study Curriculum)

Bible study has always been done very simply in our homeschool. Immediately after breakfast, we read a passage of Scripture and I ask SA(7) to tell the story back to me. Then we may talk about it a little. We review our memory work, usually a passage with several verses such as a psalm. When I received Grapevine Studies to use and review, it was hard for me to take a break from our tried-and-true method of narration and try something new. However, it solved a problem that I've been having for a little while; keeping all of my children engaged in the Bible story at once, and I think I've learned some lessons from that!

We received Grapevine Studies Old Testament 1: Level 1 Creation to Jacob as PDF e-books of a teacher's manual and a traceable student workbook for ages three to five.

Grapevine Studies teaches a timeline first in its Old Testament Overview, and then the individual stories within the timeline. The timeline is then reviewed repeatedly between stories so that children begin to have a strong concept of the order of events throughout the Old Testament.

The Bible Stories themselves are taught using "stick figuring" --simple line drawings done by the teacher and copied by the students. In the traceable workbook, children trace the line drawings.

Lessons can be done once a week, or divided over four days. A typical lesson at this level has:
- A review of the timeline
- Eight short passages of Scripture to read and stick-figure (two per page on our traceable student worksheets)
- One or two very short memory verses to learn
- Seven or eight review questions

How We Used it

I used the traceable student worksheets for Old Testament 1: Level 1 Creation to Jacob with three of my boys. SA(7) is a bit behind in his pencil skills, so using the traceable worksheets was appropriate for him. JJ(5) probably could have copied my stick figures without tracing, but he enjoyed it anyway. I'm not sure MM(3) got too much out of the stories, but he did love participating and doing what his big brothers were doing.

Every morning I printed off the worksheets for the day from the PDF student workbook and referred to the teacher's manual. After breakfast I read the suggested Scripture, drawing the stick figures on a blank piece of paper. (The manual recommends a dry-erase board and markers, but I made do with what I had, and that was fine.) The boys traced their stick figures on their worksheets as I read. Then we would review our Bible verse(s). On the last lesson day, I asked them the review questions.

What We Thought

As a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, I appreciate the directness and simplicity of Charlotte Mason's method for Bible lessons.
"Read aloud to the children a few verses covering if possible, an episode. Read reverently, carefully, and with just expression. Then require the children to narrate what they have listened to as nearly as possible in the words of the Bible. It is curious how readily they catch the rhythm of the majestic and simple Bible English. Then, talk the narrative over with them in the light of research and criticism. Let the teaching, moral and spiritual, reach them without much personal application." (Home Education, p. 251)
I have been following Charlotte Mason's method for a while now, and have been very pleased with how SA(7) has been retaining what he has learned, simply by narrating it. I felt that the Grapevine Studies' stick-figuring method was not as good as narration in getting him to pay attention and really know the Bible stories we studied. Of course, stick-figuring could be used as a form of narration for some children (have them tell back the story using stick figures). However, SA's skills would not be up to using any form of drawing as narration at this point.

However, I do have younger children who are not of an age to narrate yet. SA(5) and MM(3) often have a hard time sitting through SA's narration of the Bible story, and they tend to drift away from our Circle Time at that point. Using this curriculum ensured their enthusiastic participation throughout the Bible lesson. Unlike SA, both of them love drawing and colouring!

Yesterday, I noticed that JJ(5) is remembering things from weeks ago. He got out his notebook and pencil crayons and began drawing several of the days of creation from memory. He did not have them in quite the right order, but he did remember exactly how they were depicted in stick figures when we learned them.

The Bottom Line

Will we continue to use Grapevine Studies now that this review period is over?

Yes, for a while, and after a fashion. I am planning to go back to our old format of reading and oral narration for SA(7). While we are still in the "Creation to Jacob" time period, I will continue to print traceable worksheets for JJ(5) and MM(3) to work on while we read our Bible passage. I'm not sure what we'll do beyond that yet. I will not continue using it as written.

Stick figuring could not replace the power of narration for us, but it did have value in keeping my little people engaged in our Bible lesson.

For more reviews on Grapevine Studies' various subjects and levels, click on the link below:

Grapevine Studies Review

Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Independent Reading for Narration in Year 2

SA(7) is reading quite well now. Ambleside Online's booklist for year two is still mostly too advanced for him to read on his own, and I read most of them aloud to him. However, I have given him two books this term that he reads independently, and then comes and narrates to me. These two books are Holling C. Holling's Tree in the Trail and The Burgess Animal Book for Children. The language in these books (particularly Burgess) is relatively simple.

I am still keeping the lessons where he does this very short at ten minutes, but I am hoping to stretch them to fifteen or even twenty minutes by the end of the year. He is doing extremely well. He actually does a better job of narrating these books than the ones I read aloud to him. This may partly be because they are easier books, but I suspect it is also partly that his learning style is more visual than auditory. There is also a little bit of excitement in the fact that he feels like he is telling me something I might not know (since it's not something I just read aloud to him...).

I have also tried having him listen to Librivox and read along for some of his more difficult readings (The Little Duke). I am not particularly happy with that option, as I often feel like I could read it so much better to him myself, even with the French pronunciations. He likes the novelty of the audiobook experience, though, so we do it for variety sometimes.

Because of the very short lessons, we are "falling behind" on the Burgess Animal Book for Children...we are just not keeping up with the Ambleside Online schedule for it. However, he is enjoying it so much, owning it, really (this is his book to read and narrate from), that I'm not eager to jump in and help him move through it faster by reading some of it aloud. So we'll just continue at a comfortable pace. No doubt we'll speed up a little before the year is through.

Fellow CM homeschoolers, how do you transition from reading aloud to independent reading for narration? Is it a gradual process for you, or do you begin all at once at a certain point? I assume the time a child is ready varies widely from child to child. I'd love to hear your experience.