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It’s Time To Think Differently About Homeschooling

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by Terry Heick

The widespread impact of COVID-19 on the world is forcing everyone to reconsider–well, everything.

While it’s true that not everyone can work from home and learn from home–nor should everyone necessarily want to, nor am I suggesting that either are either better or worse than existing alternatives–globalization has made every nation increasingly tied to those around them. As always, everyone affects everyone else but now more so than ever. While this idea sometimes seems overplayed, it’s true that population growth, global trade, and digital technology so seamlessly embedded in our lives have absolutely changed the terms of living and learning in the 21t-century.

Which brings us, for now, to education–and homeschooling, specifically. Years ago, Emma Thompson made (some) British headlines for deciding to homeschool her daughter. Schoolimprovements.net responded cynically, but not much different than I’ve heard from other teachers, writing:

I have no comment on this individual case, but I myself increasingly perplexed by the apparently growing gap between the stringent regulations around ‘normal’ schooling – with, for example, term time holidays banned – and the fact that just about any parent can decide not to send their child to school at all and teach them any way they want at home.

I understand it will work well for some but are we really happy this is always in the children’s best interest or might they end up suffering for what could in reality be the idealism or naivety of their parents? In other words, is homeschooling typically more for the parents or the children? Your thoughts on this? Please share in the comments or via Twitter.

So I did, suggesting that she may misunderstand homeschooling.

Like school, then? Somehow the ‘it doesn’t scale’ and ‘it’s not for everybody’ arguments are smeared all over alternatives to traditional schooling without being applied to school itself. For all of our ranting and raving about their performance, schools are infinitely sympathetic icons–dramatic symbols on our cultural mindscape that can be questioned and criticized endlessly, but (somehow) never replaced.

For context, we need to go a little father back, years ago to a post on Wired–The Techies Who Are Hacking Education by Homeschooling Their Kids. In it, a homeschooling family is followed around the house while they–what’s the verb here?–homeschool? The tech-wielding entrepreneurial dad and the avante garde, life-hacking mom team-up (you have to) to lead the learning of their own three children using a combination of their personalized attention, and the growth of technology.

Dad explains, “I’m feeling like something is brewing right now. The cost of starting a company has gone down because there are online tools you can use for free. I can see that happening with school. So much of that stuff is just up for grabs.” So self-guided inquiry-based and mobile learning. IXL, CK-12. Adaptive learning apps. MOOCs. Smarter Every Day on YouTube. Learning simulations. Dosomething.org. Khan Academy. Google Earth. Learning here becomes less about curriculum and more about possibility.

Or pushed further, it’s a matter not of what you put in, but what you leave out.

I have four children. I taught 8th-grade English-Language Arts while my wife taught ECE. And every day was chaos. We’d see our kids maybe three hours a day. We’d go to baseball practice, finish homework, take baths, do chores, and (maybe) eat dinner together, all while waiting on the weekend, and then suffering the Sunday night blues.

My wife and I had created a family only to have someone else lead it by raising our children, teaching them to read, think, and navigate an increasingly connected world. Life was passing us by, and they were growing so fast it haunted me at night when I tucked them in. Yes, I’m melodramatic, but I couldn’t shake the anxiety of it all. So we thought we’d give homeschooling a try.

My oldest went to a ‘real school until 6th grade, when we began to design learning experiences for them ourselves. Our middle son went through second grade, while our two youngest have never seen the inside of a classroom. One over-simplified-but-still-relevant takeaway? While the data set isn’t very deep here, the impact of formal academia on each of them is what you’d guess it might be.

The oldest, who spent the most time in school, needs the most structure–assurance that ‘she’s doing it right.’ The two youngest just go with very little self-awareness of fear. He’s inventive and playful, and never embarrassed by mistakes. Never scared of being wrong (for better or for worse). The oldest isn’t exactly the opposite, but she seems, whether by nature or nurture, to constantly look for structure, clarity, affirmation, and reward. The one in the middle (who went to school kindergarten and 1st-grade) is somewhere in the middle, but then again he’s the most docile child you’ve ever seen, with soft blue eyes and a way of accepting the world that I never had. (That’s him laying in rain in the featured image.)

When people ask my wife and I about ‘homeschooling,’ the language is very dramatic.

When did you make ‘the decision’?

As if everything is defined by our collective psychological response to ‘pulling them out of school’ rather than world backward from ‘What is possible in my life with my children?’

When did you ‘pull them out’ of school?

As if the primary consideration is what I’m ‘taking them’ from instead of what I’m bringing them to.

Aren’t you scared they’re going to be weird?

As if school makes children ‘normal.’

I don’t know how you do it. I love my children, but I need a break from them.

As if I could ever think this way.

Or the most telling: How could you do that to them?  

There is a lot of implication going on here, but the latter is the most interesting to me. I’ve heard it more than once, often from adults who themselves had been ‘homeschooled’ growing up, but the word ‘homeschooled’ tells you as much about their learning experience as does ‘schooling.’ Schooled how? Learning what, how, and why? Saying you’ve ‘seen homeschooling’ is like saying you’ve seen salad or computer code or the internet.

But more crucially, as a parent how could I not accept the opportunity to lead my children intellectually? I didn’t homeschool as a rejection of public education, but as loving statement of affection and priority. Homeschooling is not a rejection of a school. I am an educator! Why the either/or?

How I saw myself as a father–what I thought my children needed on a moment-by-moment basis, and my belief in myself to be able to provide that for them, or live with the guilt when I couldn’t–would lead to how my children saw themselves as learners. Somehow it’s easier to push that on schools and classroom teachers–that’s ‘their job,’ after all.

And when the learning doesn’t happen and the curiosity is stunted and the creativity unsure of itself and the literacy fragmented and confused, we can fall back on the hope that someone, somewhere is working on a ‘solution.’ And just like that, families become bystanders and passive, and their children–as students rather than learners–take on the same tone.

The Wired article editorializes, “Unless every family homeschools their children—a prospect that even homeschooling advocates say is untenable—it will remain an individualized solution to a social need.” There’s the ‘scale’ argument again, as if public schools haven’t scaled themselves all the way off the map decades ago. The art of living is an individualized solution to a social need. So is learning. So is a person’s work or craft. And agriculture. And the design of a building.

That’s what life is.

But to evaluate homeschooling–to know if it ‘works’ or not–we have to know what it’s supposed to do. Same with a school or curriculum or assessment. Which means we have to define homeschooling 2.0, first by saying what it’s probably not for many: reproducing school at home.

While short on experts, rules, and policies, a home has agility and scale that a school necessarily lacks. This is an extraordinary opportunity if we can define what learning is and should be for students. If you’re trying to create a facsimile of a classroom at the kitchen table, parents and children are going to be miserable. But if you can let go of that? In 2020, it’s breathtaking.

Homeschooling has long suffered from the harmful connotation of politics, religion, and social aloofness. This might be thought of as homeschooling 1.0.

Homeschooling 2.0, then, is a logical response to locally prevailing technology. Things are possible today that weren’t even ten years ago, which offers new potential in how children learn. Like forward-thinking teachers, schools, and districts, there are some families on a kind of edge seeing what’s possible, and willing to be wrong about their choices.

There are deeper issues here, including the nature of knowledge, the role of education, the definition of ‘home’ and ‘family,’ and the rights–and accountability–of families and communities. Also missing from this discussion? The idea of service, community interaction, humility, place-based education, project-based learning, the cost of technology, and more. Or, crucially, the justification of a model of learning that seems to tend towards the white, ‘plugged-in,’ and affluent.

The answer to all of this has to do with the bugger that keeps creeping up–scale. The scale of learning for one child–or in my case, three–suggests new paradigms for the process, content, and forms of learning of learning in 2020 and beyond. If we’re re-envisioning libraries for a modern society, for example, should we start with the library as it exists and iterate it forward, adding computers and eBook checkout and so on and maybe put a 3D printer at the entrance when you first walk in to give the glow of technology?

Or should we think of why libraries came to be in the first place–their function–and rethink them in light of modern technology? A reader and a need–and desire–to read? A student and a need to know?

For my family, I made a shift from content to habits and forms. The ultimate goal is wisdom and self-knowledge practiced through inquiry, critical literacy, and learning through play. I am an educator, and so is my wife, and we’ve spent $6000 in the last year making all of this possible. That’s luck and privilege, and that part doesn’t scale–especially in times of economic uncertainty.

But what can scale is the recentering of my home as a place of affection, curiosity, and literacy. If that can’t ‘scale,’ we might need to rethink the relationship between schools and families and have some frank discussions about whether or not schools have created a vision–and tone–for learning so overtly academic that it no longer serves to communities that need its leadership.

We could begin by evolving how we see the relationship between communities and knowledge. After that, we could get together and with a playful and curious and affectionate mindset, scrutinize more closely what children learn and why.

It’s Time To Think Differently About Homeschooling

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Four Stages Of A Self-Directed Learning Model

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by TeachThought Staff

Self-Directed Learning is not new–but is perhaps misunderstood.

In the linked post above, Terry Heick wondered about the relationship between self-directed learning and the purpose of education:

The goal of the model isn’t content knowledge (though it should produce that), but rather something closer to wisdom–learning how to learn, understanding what’s worth understanding, and perhaps most importantly, analyzing the purpose of learning (e.g., personal and social change). It also encourages the student to examine the relationship between study and work–an authentic ‘need to know’ with important abstractions like citizenship and legacy.

Studied in terms of adult education and vocation for years, self-directed learning is increasing in popularity for a variety of reasons, including growing dissatisfaction with public schooling, and the rich formal and informal learning materials available online. This is the ‘age of information’ after all.

Self-directed learning is one response, something slideshare user Barbara Stokes captures in this chart, based on the model by Gerald Grow. The four stages–very similar to the gradual release of responsibility model–appear below.

The Four Stages Of The Self-Directed Learning Model

Learner                            Teacher

Stage 1   Dependent        Authority, Coach

Examples: Coaching with immediate feedback. Drill. Informational lecture. Overcoming deficiencies and resistance.

Stage 2:  Interested          Motivator, Guide

Examples: Inspiring lecture plus guided discussion. Goal-seting and learning strategies.

Stage 3:  Involved             Facilitator

Examples: Discussion faciliated by teacher who participates as equal. Seminar. Group projects.

Stage 4:  Self-Directed     Consultant, Delegator

Examples: Internship, dissertation, individual work or self-directed study group.

Theories of Teaching and Learning: The Staged Self-Directed Learning Model, G.Grow. from Barbara Stokes; Four Stages Of A  Self-Directed Learning Model

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The Benefits Of Competency-Based Assessment

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The Benefits Of Competency-Based Assessment

contributed by David Garrick, Dean of Graduate School of Education, UCDS College for School Culture

The general idea behind a competency-based assessment is that it provides students and families with specific feedback about student performance that can lead to a clearer understanding of progress and skills gained over time.

As Dean of the Graduate School of Education at the UCDS College for School Culture, I’ve gained a unique perspective on the possibilities that competency-based assessment can provide. Students who attend University Child Development School (UCDS) in Seattle don’t earn A’s, B’s, or F’s. Instead, student assessments are communicated through our own set of competency-based continua for various subjects.

These continua, paired with narrative communication with students and families, make up the school’s framework for assessment, based on skill progressions. I’ve seen the benefits first-hand in Pre-K through elementary classrooms, and also in training at the graduate level.  

By providing specific information about the academic and social skills students exhibit, schools provide detailed and actionable information. This empowers students in their learning and educators in their teaching practices. Here’s a general overview of the benefits of competency-based assessment.

Building Competency-Based Assessments: The Benefits

1. Improved clarity & transparency

Greater clarity allows teachers and families to identify areas of strength and areas where students may need additional support. In all cases, these assessments provide teachers with detailed knowledge about student progress that can be used to build individualized goals and educational plans.

In addition to evaluating proficiency in these domains, teachers should regularly share comprehensive feedback individual student accomplishments and struggles. For example, UCDS teachers provide narrative commentary to families where they focus on how a student engages within each domain, as well as notable accomplishments and struggles.

Focusing on comprehensive feedback brings clarity to the learner, and clarity to the family about what’s happening in the classroom. Letter grades don’t show the full picture (suggesting alternatives to letter grades), and a competency-based model is better equipped to provide students, families and future schools with clear information about each student’s social and academic progress.

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2. More seamless personalization of learning

Through Competency-Based Learning, educators have a better chance to provide a deeper view into each student’s learning attitudes and strategies and can provide resources that best support individual needs. This type of information is key to understanding the unique modes, strategies, and coaching to which each student responds best. This is the foundation of personalized learning.

3. It helps shift towards a culture of assessment

To successfully adopt competency-based strategies, teachers and administrators must first reevaluate assessment. While traditional forms of assessment (i.e., exams and quizzes) are valuable when placing students on a general scale of progress, they don’t show the whole picture. Making changes to assessment can be daunting for some educators, especially those who have been using traditional assessment practices throughout their career. It can also be a shift for parents to evaluate their student’s performance without a grade.

It’s important that teachers pursue resources and professional development that introduce different methods of assessing student progress, and why they hold value. As every teacher knows, the learning never stops – and by staying on top of current trends, curriculum can be adapted to meet every students’ needs.

4. Students better understand their own learning profile

Through comprehensive, competency-based assessment methods, teachers can help students to reach college and career readiness with greater self-knowledge about their learning approaches and needs. Working from a continuum of skills ensures that every student is being challenged in a way that is appropriate to what they want and need to learn and that educators can give individualized support as needed to help them move forward.

Removing the stress of being placed on a tiered grading scale shifts the focus back to learning, while building the confidence to make mistakes. Students take ownership of their learning. They feel empowered when mastering a skill and learn to identify what’s next.

Conclusion

For teachers, competency-based assessment brings depth and value to curriculum. With the focus shifted away from letters and percentages, students become more involved in long-term progress and are more apt to become engaged and take risks while learning.

Ranking students based on undefined competencies and then using that rank to determine their future prospects and contributions is a practice best left to past eras. Competency-based assessment provides more detailed information that promotes better-targeted teaching and learning for all parties involved.  

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5 Learning Strategies That Make Students Curious

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Causing curiosity in students boils down to knowing that student.

5 Learning Strategies That Make Students Curious

by Terry Heick

Understanding where curiosity comes from is the holy grail of education.

Education, of course, is different than learning but both depend on curiosity.

Education implies a formal, systematic, and strategic intent to cause learning. In this case, content to be learned is identified, learning experiences are planned, learning results are assessed, and data from said assessments play some role in the planning of new learning experiences. Learning strategies are applied, and snapshots of understanding are taken as frequently as possible.

This approach is clinical and more than a smidgeon scientific. It arrests emotion and spontaneity in pursuit of planning and precision, a logical trade in the eyes of science.

Of course, very little about learning is scientific. While data, goals, assessment, and planning should all play a role in any system that purports to actually accomplish anything, learning and education are fundamentally different. The former is messy and personal, painful and fantastic. The latter attempts to assimilate the former—or at least streamline it as much as possible in the name of efficiency.

An analogy might help. (I love teaching with analogies.)

learning : education :: true love : dating service

True love may very well come from a dating service, and dating services do all they can to make it happen, but in the end—well, there’s a fair bit of hocus pocus at work behind it all.

Hubris & Education

Education is simultaneously the most noble and hubristic of all endeavors. There are two minds to every educator. This may all reek of sensationalism, but watch anyone at play, honing a craft, lost in a book, or engaged in a digital simulation and you’ll see a completely different person—one there physically, but far removed in spirit.

In a better place.

Causing this in a classroom is possible, but is as often the result of good fortune than good planning. The best substitutes that can masquerade as curiosity are dutiful compliance and engagement. Neither of these are curiosity, which has among its sources a strong sense of volition, accountability, and curiosity.

Here, let me try.

I want to show you what I can do.

I want to know.

And that last one—a sign of curiosity–is a bugger, one we’ve talked about before. Like the caffeine in coffee, the chords on a guitar, or the wet in water, genuine curiosity is not a thing, it’s the thing.

Not temporarily wanting to know, or being vaguely interested in an answer, but being able to put together past experience and knowledge like the millions of fibers on a network–only to be maddeningly stopped from branching further without understanding or knowing this one bit.

Like stopping an incredible movie right at the climax—that awful, crazy feeling inside would be unfulfilled curiosity—and it’d just kill you not to know. But where does it come from?

And can you consistently cause it in a learner?

If formal learning environments driven by outcomes-based systems have taught us nothing else, it’s that while we often can “cause” something to happen in learner, it is only by considerable effort, resources, and angst.

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But we certainly can create ideal conditions where natural curiosity can begin to grow. What we do when it happens—and disrupts our planned lessons and tidy little units—is another story altogether.

5 Things That Make Students Curious

1. Revisit Old Questions

The simplest curiosities arise from old questions that were never fully answered, or that no attempt to answer was made.

Of course, any question worth its salt is never ‘fully answered’ any more than a good conversation is ever finished, but as we learn and reflect and grow, old answers can look positively awkward, as they are bound by old knowledge.

Strategy to actuate: Revisit old questions—through a journal prompt, Socrative discussion, QFT (Question Formulation Technique), or even a fishbowl discussion. And also revisit the thinking from the first go-round to see what has changed.

2. Model & Promote Ambition

Ambition precedes curiosity. Without wanting to advance in position, thinking, or design, curiosity is simply a biological and neurological reaction to stimulus. But ambition is what makes us human, and its fraternal twin is curiosity.

Strategy to actuate: Well thought-out mentoring, peer-to-peer modeling, Project-Based Learning and a genuine ‘need to know.’

3. Play

A learner at play is a signal that there is a comfortable mind focused on a fully-internalized goal.

It may or may not be the same goal as those given externally, but play is hypnotic and more efficient than the most well-planned instructional sequence. A learner playing and learning through play, nearly by definition, is curious about something, or otherwise they’re simply manipulating bits and pieces mindlessly.

Strategy to actuate: Game-Based Learning and learning games and simulations like Armadillo Run, Civilization VI, Bridge Constructor, and Age of Empires all empower the learner to play. Same with Challenge-Based learning and other forms of learning.

4. The Right Collaboration At The Right Time

Seeing what is possible modeled by peers is powerful stuff for learners. Some may not be initially curious about content, but seeing what peers accomplish can be a powerful actuator for curiosity. How did they do this? How might I do what they did in my own way? Which of these ideas I’m seeing are valuable to me—right here, right now–and which are not?

Strategy to actuate: Grouping is not necessarily collaboration. To actuate collaboration, and thus curiosity, students must have a genuine need for another resource, idea, perspective, or something else otherwise not immediately available to them. Cause them to need something, not simply to finish an assignment, but to achieve the goal they set for themselves.

5. Use Diverse & Unpredictable Content

Diverse content is likely the most accessible pathway to at least a modicum of curiosity from learners. New projects, new games, new novels, new poets, new things to think about.

Strategy to actuate: Invite the learners to understand the need for a resource or bit of content and have them source it. Instant diversity class-wide, and likely divergence from where you were going with it all. At worst you’ve got engaged learners, and a real shot at curiosity.

5 Learning Strategies That Make Students Curious

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