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).

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