Monday, May 24, 2010

What does a teacher do during summer vacation?

Teachers take a much needed break. I am doing that. But I'm also doing something else that teachers do on their break. I'm doing a little professional development (so to speak) by checking out books on education from my local library and reading. The idea hit me as I was at the library with the kids. I was letting each of them check out two books, why couldn't I? There happened to be a shelf in the kids section dedicated to parents and educators, so I looked through it. I checked out a two inch thick tome titled, The Educated Child: A Parent's Guide from Preschool through Eighth Grade, by William J. Bennett, Chester E. Finn, Jr., and John T.E. Cribb, Jr. Despite the daunting size, it was actually an easy read and I finished it in just a few days. So here is my book report:

Their audience is intended to be very broad. Any parent of school age children or educators of children in any setting are encouraged to read it and use it as a resource as necessary. It tries to address what makes a good education for kids in those age levels. How to recognize the signs that your school choice is either achieving or not achieving this and what you can do to improve any problems found. It discusses what is an appropriate core curriculum for children in these age levels in the subjects of English, History and Geography, Art and Music, Mathematics, and Science. It discusses how parental involvement helps a child succeed in school and how specifically to do this. It discusses how to provide a good education to both special needs and specially gifted children. It addresses common school problems and what to do if your school or child is dealing with these. It makes a case for the need for character education, health education, and extracurricular activities in addition to academics. It also includes a very useful chapter describing a variety of issues currently debated in education such as : Education standards, skills vs. knowledge, multiculturalism, discovery learning, multiple intelligences, self-esteem, cooperative learning, public vs. private schools, charter schools, home schooling, religion and schools, social promotion, tracking, uniforms, year-round schooling, bilingual education, teachers unions, and more. The final chapter addresses the issue of becoming involved in education reform. This is not talking about theoretical reform but the nuts and bolts of bringing about change from the local level to the national level.

So after reading this I should ask the question of "what did I get out of it?" The book talks a great deal about the public school situation so does it have anything to say to a homeschool mom? The answer is yes. I related well to their repeated emphasis that the parent must be involved in their child's schooling and the person responsible for seeing to it that their child gets a good education no matter what choice of school they decide on. I found the discussion of core curriculum helpful to me so that I can gauge whether we are making good curriculum choices for our kids. I found the section about parents helping their child succeed to be very good practical advice for any parent and several areas gave me food for thought. One was teaching good study habits. A weakness we have doing school at home is that it is difficult to provide a quiet area for study when some kids are in school and some are not. I will need to find some better solutions for this problem. The Pillowfight Fairy already complains about the distractions bothering her and I know the Adrenaline Junkie is even more susceptible to the problem. So I have some brainstorming to do on this one. They talked a bit about testing, reasons for and against it, how to develop test taking skills, and how to do authentic assessment. I'm not big on doing a lot of testing. I am wary of teaching to the test instead of making sure real lasting learning is taking place. However testing is useful in some ways. We already do spelling tests and math tests on a regular basis. I verbally quiz her on her readings to see what she is getting from them. But, I have been reluctant to do any official, comprehensive tests, partly because they are not required in our state, and partly because I don't want to pigeon-hole my kids into a category and instead think in terms of individual skills and knowledge rather than grades. However, at some point we will probably do more testing, so I need to consider how to train in test studying and test taking. They also presented the idea of the IEP (individualized education program) that is used in special education programs and bemoaned that it isn't available for all kids. This is the idea that every child's progress is reviewed at least once a year and a new plan put in place for how to give that child the best chance at a good education. I love this. This is what many homeschoolers already do when they are tailoring the education to each child. Perhaps we don't all do it in a formal fashion, but it encourages me to continue to make my plan every year and review how we are progressing frequently (I need to review more frequently than I do). I was reassured in the school problems section that we are so far avoiding the problems that they mentioned. In the area on non-academics, I was challenged that I don't have a plan in place for teaching character, physical education and other extra-curricular subjects. It's not that we don't do this. We are simply doing it haphazardly. Having a more specific plan with clear goals would be a good thing. I liked the section explaining the various educational issues out there. I already have my personal gut reaction to each debate, but it was helpful to get more background on it and a better understanding of why the opposite side holds the view it does. It didn't change my mind about anything, but it helped me clarify my position on each debate.

All in all, it was a helpful book and I'm glad I read it. If anything it encouraged me that our choice to homeschool is going to give our kids a good education. Not because homeschooling is inherently better, but because of the seriousness and effort with which we approach our task. So I'm ready for another book to read, but have no idea what it will be. The shelf I had look at wasn't very big. I may have to check their online catalog and ask them to hold one for me that I find more interesting (leisurely browsing doesn't happen with three kids seven and younger at the library).

Friday, May 14, 2010

End of school! Yea!

The Pillowfight Fairy is quite pleased to know that we finished her second grade year today. She has some very unrealistic ideas about doing whatever she pleases for the foreseeable future. What she doesn't realize is that her Mommy is at least as excited as she is. No more prep. work. No more being the bad guy by making her get back to her studies. It is a well deserved break.

Unfortunately, I tend to look ahead and know that the break isn't really all that long. A mere month and a half. But, I have nearly completed next year's lesson plans for both girls, so I can spend that free time doing other things. I think my general priorities are getting financial information in order again (it's amazing how fast I get behind on that when my attention is elsewhere), cleaning, organizing, discarding, and one craft project promised to be done in August. All that cleaning, organizing, and discarding is my normal personality but it tends to go into overdrive when I'm pregnant. You could say that I have a perpetual nesting instinct.

So, now that school is over again, I can look back on the year with satisfaction. The day to day schoolwork didn't always go smoothly, but it went anyway and with fewer bumps than in the previous year. I think that I am getting better at the teaching side of things. I also think that the Fairy is appreciating her schoolwork more (even though she still complains). I will probably be spending a fair amount of my free thinking time to mull over the best ways to work with the Adrenaline Junkie. I need to cover the same material as I did with her sister, but now I need to present it differently to a very different girl. I have noticed signs that the Junkie is making a mental transition that comes between preschool and grade school. That gives me hope that she'll be a little bit more able to learn academic subjects. The trick will be how to incorporate ideas that she relates to in order to retain her attention.

I also don't know how far along the Happy Boy will be in the next year. He will still be a preschooler of course. But, he is beginning to be able to draw semi-recognizable things and likes to have people write words for him. I suspect that I will be encouraging him to do lots of drawing this year. He will probably want to participate when I'm reviewing phonics with the Junkie. I would not be surprised if he ends up being another early reader. He will probably stop having afternoon naps this year too. So, I'll probably need to break out the playdough and paints again (much to everyone's joy).

I don't know if you have noticed, but I talk a lot about what I see or plan for the future. I like to think about it. I think it just helps me prepare myself for the real thing if I can visualize it in my head first. Then I end up writing it in this blog. That gives me a chance to put it outside of myself and look at it from a different angle. Sometimes I'm simply planning what I need to do tomorrow. Sometimes, I'm wondering how the next year's schooling will progress. Other times, I'm trying to glimpse a distant time yet ahead (like when I no longer have to change diapers or potty train). I have learned that my looking ahead can be both good and bad. I have been known to plan something too far in advance and had to redo all of my work to get it right. But, when I plan ahead, I do accomplish so much more than if I didn't.

Besides school, there have been a few other things going on. I've finally been making jelly from last year's pomegranate harvest that has been taking up way too much room in my freezer. I bought myself a new food dehydrator to prepare for this year's fruit harvest. I've been making plans for summer camps, swim lessons and road trips. I've been potty training the Happy Boy for about a month now (with mixed results).

I'm now into my second trimester. My visit to my health provider last week was uneventful. It was mainly checking the heart beat of the baby (in the 140-150 range for those who follow such things) and scheduling my next blood test to look for abnormalities. The blood test I took care of today. I won't have the results back right away. I'll probably have them by my next appointment in June. I will also have my ultrasound in June. We are looking forward to it because we are curious about whether we are having a boy or girl. But, we are also dreading it, because we have already had bad news from ultrasounds twice in previous pregnancies. I am forcing myself to assume the best until told otherwise.

We also took a cat in for surgery today. One of our three cats has had a nasty growth or abscess on her tail for a while. After several vet visits, we finally had to have them remove most of her tail. I'm not sure what the recovery time is on tail amputations, but we'll have to be keeping an extra close eye on her for a while. So far she seems to be doing well, but she is a bit wobbly from the medication she is on.

That's all of my news for now.