Friday, April 29, 2011

Doing the Work

            Many homeschool moms have told me that they purchase curriculum because they just don’t have the time, with three, five, seven, children to create their own lessons.  Teachers say they do not teach in projects because there is no way they could “cover” all of the material required for the curriculum unless it came in a textbook.  My question is:  Why is the mom or the teacher doing all of the work?
            A workshop teacher I once listened to (sorry, I do not know who it was or I’d be happy to give her credit) said a sentence that completely changed the way I taught.  She said, “The one who does the work is the one who learns the most.”  She continued to point out that at the end of a typical school day, teachers are drooping, exhausted, while the students are bouncing out the door, so much energy that they barely have the time to say goodbye.  This is not how school should be.  When we purchase pre-written texts and just have the students read the information, someone else has done all of the work.  The teacher then has to work to figure out ways to present the lesson, which is also a form of doing the work.  What is the student’s job?  To listen, read, and copy definitions, timelines, or general information from something that is set before them.  We are “spoon-feeding” our children long past the age they should be fed.  They are bored and we are frustrated trying to force them to just accept what we are giving them. 
            Unfortunately, however, children cannot structure their own lessons – they just don’t know how.  If you say, “Research the American Revolution” to a ten year old, s/he may grin excitedly, but then look at you blankly, wondering where to start.  They may even make a couple of attempts to find information, but they do not know what to do with the information they have.  They don’t want to be spoon-fed, but they do need help.  Somehow, we need to change our lessons so that the children are doing the work, yet have enough structure that they can be successful.
            Projects were the solution which I found allowed children to do the work, but I was able to put enough structure around the project so that the children would explore the topics which I chose.  Through all of the various projects which I introduced to my students, I found that there are three essential components for a successful project:  clear objective/requirements, time to work, and time to present their findings.
            Clear objectives or requirements were actually very difficult in the beginning.  I knew I wanted my students to learn about habitats (also called biomes), but what should I require them to learn?  I decided I wanted something to show that they had read about information first.  There were 2 ways which I did this:  a booklet where they answered questions with increasing depth, or a chart contrasting information in the texts.  I also recognized that they should have at least three sources, not just one textbook.  Next, I wanted them to do some type of learning that they did not have to write about.  Finally, I wanted them to have something they were going to present to the class, which would be the “final exam.”  These three elements were somehow involved in every project which I created for my students.
            My next problem was to make sure my objectives were easily accessible to the students.  I once took a college class, “Art in the Elementary Classroom,” in which the students (in groups of six) were required to write a play, create puppets, and present the puppet show at the end of the class.  The teacher very carefully spent twenty or more minutes listing all of her detailed requirements.  In the middle of these requirements, she also stated that all puppets must have mouths which move as the puppet speaks.  She never mentioned this requirement again.  While the class was working on our puppets, she helped many groups with many issues, but there was not one group where she reminded them of this requirement (believe me, we all discussed this at the end of the class!).  Then, on the day of the final “exam,” the college students proudly presented their puppet shows.  Four out of six teams failed the final exam for the simple reason that someone in the group had a puppet which did not have a movable mouth – which the teacher claimed was fifty percent of the grade for the puppet show!  2/3 of the class failed the final exam because one small detail was not followed!  The fact that the teacher intentionally helped students with everything except for this one small detail meant that her entire focus was to try to “trick” the students – she said it was to see if we were listening.  Based on the three pages of notes which I copied down that matched all of the others in our group, I don’t think that was a problem.  Movable mouths on puppets was not the purpose of the project, and tests like this have no part in a serious classroom.  The entire class learned a great deal in the project that went far beyond the five minute puppet shows, but all of that learning was brought into question because the teacher’s idea to trick her students. 
            All requirements from the teacher should be written in a clear format.  I suggest you use an outline format, because it makes it easy for students to consult the list and find information s/he is looking for.  Small details, unless they are of serious importance, should never be a requirement.  Creating puppets with movable mouths was not the focus of the class, yet I remember it in great detail fourteen years after I took that class.  The project was wonderful in providing learning opportunities far beyond the textbook, but the teacher’s trickery at the final exam completely counteracted everything else that was learned.  Never try to trick your students.  Keep the requirements loose enough that students can have some flexibility, but specific enough that they have some structure.  Saying, “Read page 5 – 15 in your textbook” does not provide much flexibility.  Saying, “Site three sources for your information” provides flexibility without completely controlling everything your student looks at.  For a student to find three viable sources, s/he will have to look at many more than three texts and will learn much more than you could ever have taught.
            Students also need time to “explore” the topic.  Finding “multi-intelligence” charts gave me many ideas of activities which my students could do with other students.  In team jobs, they would be required to discuss things they were learning, which would give a deeper understanding of the subject matter.  For our study on biomes, I had one class of students create dioramas.  Another class I taught how to create PowerPoint slideshows. Both classes were assigned two contrasting biomes which were required to be in the final project.  They learned much more about these two biomes (which were different for each group of four students) than they could ever have been taught by a lecture by me.
            Finally, every project should end with the students presenting what they have learned.  Notice I did not say to give a final, multiple-choice test.  Students can be very creative in the ways they present, and this will allow you to easily recognize that they have learned about the topic.  Whether the presentation is in front of Mom and Dad at homeschool or in front of the class in a schoolroom, students need the opportunity to proudly display and explain their research results.
            Projects allow students to do the work within structure provided by the teacher.  All projects should include clear objectives, opportunities to learn more than will be tested, and a final presentation to exhibit their new knowledge.  Remember, “the one who does the work is the one who learns the most.”  Help your student(s) to learn the most that they can.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Cornerstones of Reading

            Cornerstones are the most important part of the foundation of a building.  The building will fall without a well-chosen cornerstone, so it is important to ensure that these stones are strong.  If you want a strong reading program, you need to carefully make sure all parts of reading are supported. 
            The first necessary step in reading is one which is most common – reading aloud.  Students need to have time every day to read aloud, whether individually or chorally.  This can be a short story, a chapter from a novel, an article from a magazine or a newspaper, or an assignment from a textbook.  If a child reads something aloud, they do not skip sections, as they might if they are reading silently, and they are more likely to pay attention to what they are reading.  If they have a great deal of difficulty reading a section aloud, it may mean that the child is not ready for this level of reading, so it could tell the teacher that they need something different.  Reading aloud is important to any reading program.
            Reading silently is also vital to reading.  I recently heard a study over how much time students in public school spend reading silently per week.  What would you expect?  As a note, this was an average from grades K-12 and I do not know how wide-spread the study was, but it included at least a couple of large metro school districts.  Over a week-long period, how much was expected during school hours to read silently?  The answer shocked me – 50 minutes!  Not even an hour of silent reading per week!  When I heard this, I patted myself on the back.  My fourth grade students kept what I called DEAR Time (Drop Everything And Read) for 20 to 30 minutes at least 4 times per week, plus I had scheduled times in our routine where each day they read one subject’s reading silently.  In our class, we ended up with about five hours per week – more than five times the findings of this study.
            How is that possible?  Was the study flawed?  My thought at first was that the study was wrong.  How could students go through the day and not be required to read silently?  Then I started thinking about the lessons of other teachers which we discussed in the teacher’s lounge, and I started thinking it may not be wrong after all.  I also know that I had to work hard to protect our silent reading time, especially if we were running behind in another lesson.  Most teachers recognize that if children are to read silently, they do not need someone wandering around, distracting them.  If a principal walks into a room and the teacher is sitting behind her desk or at the front of the room, s/he usually assumes the teacher is being lazy (or at least the teachers think they are thinking that).  Most principals require teachers to turn in lesson plans which cover any activity which may occur if they enter the classroom, and reading silently doesn’t “look” as good on a lesson plan as an activity. 
            Think about your reading program – do you have a regular time every day for your student(s) to read silently?  I hope so.  If not, how could you rearrange your day so that you can work it in?  Reading silently gives students time to practice their reading skills, and they should have practice with books of their choosing as well as readings that are required for education.
            A much overlooked cornerstone of reading is listening to someone read aloud.  Oh, for younger children, this occurs regularly because they may be unable to read on their own.  What about pre-teens?  What about young teenagers?  High Schoolers?  Do you read to them?  If not, you should.  In my classroom, I tried to read for at least 15 – 20 minutes four or five days per week.  I chose books which were slightly higher than the class’s reading level, and usually books which I knew they would enjoy (and I would also), but that they would never choose on their own.  Classics such as “Tom Sawyer,” “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” and “Hatchet” found their way into my class every year.  I would also change a few of the other stories with other classics, and occasionally a requested book.  When children have nothing to do except listen to a story, they relax and listen.  They also learn inflection and other vocal techniques which they would never have learned if they were left on their own.  Children who read in a monotone have probably rarely been read aloud to.  Even when my step-daughter was sixteen, we read “The Chronicles of Narnia” together, and we both enjoyed it.  Children of all ages should be read to by an adult.
            Finally, peer reading is a necessary element in any reading program.  This is simply where a student reads with another student. In my classroom, we had at least 3 days per week where we would have peer reading.  Twice were self-directed, once was teacher-directed with our reading textbook.  I always gave students the choice of changing readers after every paragraph or after every page.  The students were allowed to sit where they liked (under tables, in corners, behind my bookcase – they were very creative sometimes).   During the self-directed times, I told them everyone had to have your own book to read.  Then they had a choice:  They could either take turns reading one person’s book for 15 minutes and then read the other person’s book (this would have been my choice, but it was not everyone’s, and that was fine), or they could read one page from one book and then the other reader would read one page from the other book.  This second choice worked well with informational magazines or non-fiction books.  Novels were usually used with the first choice.  It did not take long for this time to be the favorite times of the week.  Even with 14 different conversations going on at the same time, it was easy for each set of students to listen to his/her partner.  This activity greatly helped with comprehension, because the students did not want to admit to their peer that they did not know what the story was about, yet they also did not mind asking their friend for clarification for a specific piece of information.  They would also joyfully exclaim over things which they were both interested in.  As long as they were not being so loud that they were disrupting other groups, I allowed short conversations, as they were almost always related to the book they were reading.
            Reading aloud, reading silently, listening to an adult, and reading with a peer are all important aspects to a comprehensive reading program.  They should all be done several times per week, if not daily.  Even in public school, it is possible to have individualized reading instruction if all four elements of this comprehensive reading program are met.  Students will improve comprehension, fluency, and overall enjoyment of reading if they are given the freedom to read using these four cornerstones of reading.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Teaching Patterns

            Patterns are a part of every Math program, particularly in the elementary ages.  Many teachers – whether public school, private school, or homeschool – quickly teach a pattern and then go on to another topic.  Others will use the lessons of patterns as an art activity and not connect the lesson to any other form of math.   Is patterning really worth teaching? 
            In a word, my answer is ABSOLUTELY!  Patterning is the basis of algebra, which, in turn, teaches logical reasoning, which is vital in adulthood.  Skipping patterning skills, or only regulating them to an occasional art project, is missing a cornerstone in mathematics.
            In the beginning, patterning should include simply recognizing a pattern.  These lessons include something like looking at a set of squares of different colors and the child must recognize that the pattern is “red, blue, red, blue,” and then tell that the next square should be “red.”  Developmentally, these lessons should really begin with concrete objects, like stuffed animals, different colored candies or cereal pieces, toy cars of varying sizes, colors, number of tires, etc.  The second step should be pictures on a paper, which is what most math programs include.  Colors, shapes, and pictures of objects are frequently used to demonstrate patterning skills.  Children should be able to tell what the pattern is and then be able to continue that pattern.
            This is a good beginning, but this is not where patterning lessons should end.  One step that is frequently skipped by teachers, particularly homeschool moms/teachers, is called patterning “transference.”  Once a child can recognize the pattern, the objects should be labeled with a letter or number.  For example, a “red, blue, red, blue” pattern can be transferred to an “AB” pattern.  A “square, circle, triangle, triangle” pattern can be called an “ABCC” pattern.  This is an important step because then the child can then transfer the pattern to a similar pattern, using different objects.  A “square, circle, triangle, triangle” pattern, once labeled “ABCC,” can then be connected to a “red, blue, yellow, yellow” pattern.  This is an essential step to developing logical reasoning.
            After a child is able to recognize a pattern, then transfer the same pattern to other objects, the next step is recognizing number patterns.  Numbers are more abstract, so that is why it is not in the beginning.  Patterning, like every other lesson objective, should be developmentally appropriate. Children should be able to explore different patterns, with increasingly more difficult steps.  Having children using number patterns of “add three” or “divide by 2” are examples, but you have to give them time to explore and create their own  number patterns before they are able to do more abstract patterns, such as find the rule of a table.
            When I taught fourth grade, we were required to teach something called a “function machine.”  For abstract thinkers, a function machine, or a table which lists numbers based on a set rule, makes it much easier to understand more complicated patterns.  An example of a pattern inserted in these tables would be, “2, 4, 6, 8.”  The recognizable pattern in this case is “add 2.”  The pattern is not stated – it must be recognized.  Then you can transfer this pattern, beginning with any number.  However, as stated in my article, “Not Just a Little Adult,” a fourth grader (generally ages 8 – 9) is firmly in the “Concrete” stage of development.  They are not ready for these non-stated patterns.  As a result, fourth and fifth grade teachers are very frustrated in teaching these concepts.
            To combat objectives the students were not developmentally ready for when I was a teacher and had no choice what to teach, I had to find a way to take this “abstract” idea and make it “concrete.”  What I did was teach the children that if the number pattern went up, the two choices were either addition or multiplication.  If the number pattern went down, the choices were subtraction or division.  Then they had to see what was needed to get from the first number to the second number.  I had them write the problem either above or below the number pattern, so they could physically see the pattern.  As you can tell, the above number pattern goes up, so my choices are either addition or multiplication.  Then I see what I can do to the first number to get to the second number.  2+2=4, so I can try to add 2.  However, 2x2=4 also, so then I have to check the next number.  If the pattern is add to, then 4+2=6.  Is 6 my next number?  Yes, so this is probably the answer, but I always need to check the other option.  4x2=8.  Is 8 my next answer?  No.  That means “add 2” is my pattern.  I took an abstract concept and made it concrete, so my students could understand it and do it.
            As a homeschooling mom, I recognize it’s a waste of my daughter’s time to teach her something she is completely not developmentally ready for.  At age 12, my daughter will probably be ready for this abstract concept, and it won’t take nearly as long for her to understand what she is doing.  If she is developmentally ready, she won’t have nearly the frustration level that she would have if it were taught too early.  In fourth grade, I will be teaching my daughter more complex, concrete problems which she will transfer to other objects, colors, or shapes.  I will not just check off a list that she understands it, but I will give her opportunities to explore these concepts so that she is ready when we start algebra and other more difficult concepts which rely on these base concepts.
            Patterning is a vital step in any mathematical program because it teaches logic.  Children should be able to transfer a pattern to other media, and they should be able to create their own patterns which they can then transfer.  Number patterns, tables, and function machines should be taught once a child is in the abstract level of comprehension.  These tables greatly simplify the concepts taught in algebra, so they should not be skipped, but they should be taught when the child is ready to learn.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Speed it Up

            Blaise Pascal once said, “Reason is the slow and torturous method by which those who do not know the truth discover it.  “Slow and torturous” are pretty good descriptions if you have ever sat and listened to an early reader practice reading a book.  You wonder if the torture will EVER end!  So the question is, how can you help a slow reader to speed it up?
            The speed which at which a reader reads is called fluency, and it is measured in words per minute.  Slow reading, however, is worse for the child than it is for the instructor, because this difficult, arduous task ends up as meaningless, which is disheartening.  If it takes ten minutes to read one paragraph, you will also probably not remember what the paragraph is even about.  The slow reader knows how slow he is, but he does not know how to fix the problem.  There are two aspects of reading which need instruction to improve fluency.
            The first step is to improve how quickly a child sees high-frequency words.  There is a list of high-frequency words which is highly used and which has been divided into grade levels.  This list is called “Dolch Words.”  You can easily use any search engine on the internet to find these words.  No matter what grade your child is in, you should begin with the pre-primer words and work your way up the list.  Children should be able to read these words very quickly, yet most slow readers generally sound these words out. 
            To speed up these common words, they need to pick twenty (I go in order, but you do not have to).  In the “old days,” teachers would write the words on flash cards and have the students read the card and flip it quickly.  I like to use PowerPoint.  I type one word per slide (using 106 font).  Duplicate each slide before you put in the individual words so that the words are in the same place on each slide – you are not trying to trick your child, just teach him.  Then set the “slide transition” so that it changes once every second (don’t try to be fancy – that gets confusing.  The focus should be on the words).  I call this “fast.”  Practice this 1 – 3 times per day for about 3 days.  If a child is not able to read a word before it switches, NEVER interrupt the slide.  Just let it go until the end, then go back to that word (or all the words) that he had problems with and read it for him, letting him repeat it.  Then do it again until he is able to get all, or most, of the 20 words correct. 
            After 3 days on “fast,” move it to “super fast.”  This means changing the “slide transition” speed to 00:00.5 seconds.  I do it once on “fast” and twice on “super fast.”  This goes on for another couple of days.  If your child is younger than eight, I would NOT go on to super fast.  He is reading fast enough at the first speed.
            Do not introduce more than 20 words (one slide show) per week, and practice those a few times per day.  If you have more than one child, they should read it together (called “choral reading”).  I used to do it with an entire class of students – they loved it!  And, more importantly, the reading specialist every year told me, “I don’t know what you do with the kids in your class, but they always show so much more improvement than the other classes!”  That let me know that this “Flash Practice” was working.  After you finish all of the Dolch words, go on to spelling words, using the same methods.  I promise you that you will see results in your child’s overall reading very quickly.
            The second aspect of reading which affects fluency is vocabulary.  You should work on no more than ten words per week, but they should be words which your child will come into contact with in that week’s reading.  Some teachers have the child pick the words from a book he is reading.  Some teachers pick the words themselves from a text.  It really doesn’t matter where they come from as long as they are exposed to these words in context that week.  Then, you need to allow the child multiple opportunities to explore the meaning of these ten words.
            In the classroom, I used to make PowerPoint slides with these words.  I would type one word in the title, then put the definition from a children’s dictionary as the “body” of the slide.  I liked to have the words “wipe” on, but they don’t have to.  Be consistent with the method you use – the effects are not the focus, the words are.  I had the children read the words and their definitions aloud, then I clicked the next slide.  If I could find some clip art to help with the meaning, I used it in one corner of the slide – just don’t get too elaborate with this.  We read through these words once every day, then had a test at the end of the week.
            Besides the PowerPoint, I would also have the children make a vocabulary booklet using our words for the week.  I had them fold enough papers together and write one words at the top of each page.  Then over the next two or three days, I would have them fill in the pages with specific pieces of information.  Here is what I asked for with every week’s words:  “(1) write the word, (2) write the definition, (3) write a sentence using the word, (4) draw an illustration showing the meaning of the word, (5) write a caption for your illustration, (6) write a synonym of the word or give an example of the word in action, (7) on a scale from 1 – 4, how well do you understand this word?”  One means that they do not know the word at all, four means they know it really well.  This number should change as the week goes on and the child understands the word better.  The child should find this information – not just be “spoon-fed” by the teacher.
            Fluency of high-frequency words and increased vocabulary are key in improving your child’s reading speed.  If you improve your child’s speed in reading, you will also greatly improve his comprehension.  Most importantly, your child will begin to enjoy reading in a way he has never experienced.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Weekend

     On a recent post, a friend of mine said, "Today is Good Friday.  Let's spend it remembering friends and family who we have lost."  My first thought was that it was a nice sentiment - it's always nice to remember those we loved who are no longer with us.  My second thought, however, was, "That is not the purpose of Good Friday.  Our Friends and Loved Ones are not specifically who we are celebrating."  The purpose of Easter really has nothing to do with hiding eggs, a bunny, a lion wearing bunny ears (though he is very cute on the commericals), or chocolate.  On this Easter weekend, let's remember the real purpose:  The death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
     I could try to retell the story, but there is a book which tells it much more precisely, and with much better accuracy, than I ever could.  That is the Bible.  Here is the account from John chapters 19 - 20.  It is no longer than an article in the newspaper, so please read it all the way through.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.  The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe  and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
  Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.”  When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
  As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
   But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
  The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
  When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid,  and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.  “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
  Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
  From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
  When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha).  It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
   “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
  But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
   “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
   “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
  Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
The Crucifixion of Jesus
    So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.  Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).  There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
  Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.  Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.  The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
  Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
  When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
  “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
   This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
   “They divided my clothes among them
   and cast lots for my garment.”
   So this is what the soldiers did.
  Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
The Death of Jesus
  Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
  Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.  The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.  But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.  Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.  The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.  These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
The Burial of Jesus
  Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.  He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.  At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.  Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

John 20

The Empty Tomb
  Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.  So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
  So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there,  as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.  Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.  (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)  Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
  Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb  and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
  They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
   “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”  At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
  He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
   Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
  Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
   She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
  Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
  Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Jesus Appears to His Disciples
  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Jesus Appears to Thomas
  Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
   But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
  A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The Purpose of John’s Gospel
  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Who is in Charge?

            One of the reasons I left my job to stay home and homeschool was that I looked at my life and time with my daughter.  I realized that I spent half an hour with her in the morning (mostly yelling at her to put her clothes and shoes on for school).  Then I would take her to daycare, where she would be picked up by a bus to go to school.  After school, she would go back to the babysitter, until my husband picked her up about four o’clock. I would come home somewhere between five and six o’clock, give her a quick hug, then I’d cook dinner.  We would have an hour or two together as a family (when we were all exhausted from our various schedules), and then I would put my daughter to bed at eight o’clock, when she could stay awake that long.  It hit me, as I reflected on my life, that someone else was raising my daughter.  I was thankful for the daycare and the school, but they were not my husband and me.  I looked through the scriptures and could not find anything recommending how to find someone else to train her.  Even with all of our personal flaws, I wanted my husband and me to raise our daughter. 
            Because I do not want others raising Babygirl, I have chosen not to use curriculum or other classes to teach my daughter.  Even though I know how to teach, I have never taught the primary grades (grades Kindergarten through third grade).  Okay, I spent one year teaching second grade, but it took me until December to lower my expectations enough that they could actually do the work!  I think that year doesn’t count.
            My lack of experience, however, did not stop me from wanting to make my plan and teach her.  I may eventually have Babygirl take a class in painting, pottery, gymnastics, or something that I just don’t have the skills to teach, but it will only be after I have tried to find the information online and only if my daughter still wants to learn it.  I want to be the one in charge of my daughter’s education, not a teacher of a year-long class, not the director of a learning coop, not the writer of a curriculum.  I suppose some people could say that we are “unschooling,” but we are doing it with a plan.   I will explain that process in another post in the future.
            Because of my belief that the parents should be in charge of the learning of their children, I am not eager to teach classes to homeschooled students.  I would much rather teach the parents how to teach, so that they can effectively teach their own children.  I have been shocked at how many homeschool parents say that is their own philosophy, but they have no interest in learning a different method to teach (unless it’s a fully prepared curriculum where they do not have to do anything except pick up the next lesson and read a script).  These same parents are also very eager to sign their children up for classes, many times which take up an entire day, where someone else is teaching their child or a coop where they have very little responsibility.  Many homeschool parents have no idea what their children are learning, and they seem very content with that, exactly the same as parents of children in public or private schools.  They have no idea what their child is learning, and that’s okay with them.  I have to say, I am very confused and, yes, I have to admit, I get irritated at times, too.  I gave up working so that I could know what was going on in Babygirl’s life and here are other parents who have no idea and really don’t care what their children are learning, as long as they are learning something and they (the parents) don’t have to do anything.
            If your child is in public school (and very possibly those in private school), your child’s teacher probably sees herself as being the one responsible for raising your child.  I know of many teachers, teaching children in many different socio-economic situations, many different cultural situations, who do not want the parent involved in the classroom, besides possibly acting as a secretary (copying paper, grading papers – which is actually illegal unless the parent is hired by the school district, monitoring students during lunch or recess).  There is a very strong feeling of teachers that the parents are not responsible for a child’s development, and most teachers think that is how it should be.  They get very irritated with parents who actually want to know what their child is learning and have some influence on that education.
            “But, Terri,” some have told me, “they’re just children.  They enjoy going to school/their coop/the class.”  If you do not know what is being taught, who is raising your child?  Read the following quote:
Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”
            The person who said the above quote was certain that four years was all he needed to change a child’s life.  He was right.  His name was Vladimir Lenin, the Russian communist leader and propagandist.  He led a “peaceful revolution” in October 1917 that changed Russia for the next seventy-five years.  I highly encourage you to research him.
            I’m not saying the person teaching your child is Vladimir Lenin.  However, if you are just blindly allowing anyone to teach your child, what are they teaching?  Education is more than just academics.  Your child is learning how to solve problems that come up daily by the way in which the teacher solves problems.  S/he is learning proper ways to speak, act at the dinner table, converse with superiors, peers, and those who are younger by watching this person.  If your child is in public school, even if the teacher is a Christian, s/he cannot quote scripture or explain why the way s/he acted was in line with the Bible.  Also, many teachers are overwhelmed to the point that they are only teaching what they are told, and even they do not know where these ideas are coming from.  Most teachers today are simply teaching what they are hired to teach, and they don’t usually ask where the information comes from.  If your homeschool coop is directed by a curriculum, then someone else who you do not know is picking and choosing what is important for your child will learn.
            Who is in charge?  Who is raising your child/ren?  I hope, for their sake, it is you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Keep it Real

            I firmly believe that the Bible has the answers to every issue we may face in life, if we look for them.  In my previous article, “What Does it Mean to Teach Diamonds,” I pointed out many time-wasting focuses that public and private schools have.  With my daughter, I wanted our “school” time to be spent on educational pursuits, not on the time-wasters that are in schools and in most (if not all) curriculums.  Reading textbook after reading textbook is filled with fictional stories, with the reasoning being that it doesn’t really matter what children read as long as they read something.  That reading practice will increase their reading skills.  In designing my homeschool, I asked the question:  Should I teach my daughter to read fiction?
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4
            Ouch!  This scripture, when applied to the setting of homeschool, makes the answer to my question very clear.  Do I read fiction because I know my daughter will enjoy it?  According to this scripture, the answer is no.  This is happening in schools today, both public and private.  Some of you may argue that “I was taught fiction in school and I turned out okay.”  Well, true, but how much time today do you spend in real things as compared to fictional pursuits?  Do you like to learn how to improve the things around you in work or home, or is your focus on entertainment? 
            The problem with spending valuable classroom time teaching fiction is that the fiction-world and the non-fiction (or real) world get muddled in children’s minds.  Every year as a teacher I would model science experiments for my students, or I would give them materials and directions for experiments, and EVERY TIME afterward I would have someone (usually one of the most intelligent students) come up to me and say, “Teacher, was that real?” That question was always a strange one to me, and yet year after year, the smartest kids would come up and ask me that.
            You say, “Yeah, but they are still kids.  As adults, they’ll figure it out.”  Really?  How many adults with a Masters Degree or a PhD in Business cannot find a job?  If they truly looked at what they learned in education as something viable in their lives, wouldn’t they be able to start their own businesses if they saw what they learned as being something usable, instead of theory? 
            Americans today are focused on entertainment, not achievement.  We value creativity over accuracy.  One example was a news story reported on our local news station within this last week.  There was a news release over the AP (Associated Press) wire that General Electric (GE) would repay $3.2 billion because of a public outcry at its unpaid taxes.  This was sent out over the “wire” to every reporter in the US (and a great number abroad) without a single person checking for accuracy.  In 35 minutes, it was proven that this was a complete fabrication – completely made up by someone wanting to make a point about corporate taxes, and yet it should never have been sent across the wire in the first place.  News reporters, and particularly the Associated Press (the source for much of the national news), should have checked the accuracy of the statement instead of simply relaying information. 
            The scripture I listed above reveals this fact:  they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”  Are you interested in learning about things that will improve your life?  Or do you spend your time filling your head with fables that don’t change anything?  (NOTE:  those fables don’t just apply to reading…. think about what you watch and how much time you spend on tv, videos, movies, sports, etc.)
            I am not saying that fiction is evil and we should have nothing to do with it.  I enjoy realistic fiction, with a little science fiction occasionally, but that should not be my focus, and it certainly should not be the focus of my schooling time with my daughter.  Children in the Preoperational and Concrete stages of development WANT to learn about the world around them.  That is what they are designed to do, explore.  Just imagine how much better my daughter’s favorite book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” would have been had Eric Carle actually studied a real caterpillar, took photos, and listed items that it really ate in a seven day period.  It would have gone from very good to AWESOME. 
            Kids below the age of twelve need to learn about the world around them.  When they are taught fiction, they have a very hard time distinguishing reality from make-believe.  Yes, they can tell you something is not real, but in the back of their head, they are not really sure.  Beyond age twelve, they are preparing for their lives as adults.  Why would we waste their time studying “Lord of the Flies?” It is a completely fictional book designed to teach a lesson which could instead be taught using accurate, historical events instead of William Golding’s semi-creative attempt at recreating a story about what could happen in an isolated society.  No, I did not like Lord of the Flies, but that is not the point.  The point is that had he researched a real tribe, of which I am sure there are many, or the survivors of a shipwreck, he could have made the same points, but more effectively and with more opportunities for further research.
            Fiction is a form of enjoyment.  Non-fiction is a form of learning.  William Shakespeare once said, “If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work.”  Just because it is fiction does not mean children will enjoy it more.  Children were designed to learn about the world around them.  When they do so, they know they are spending their time in worthwhile pursuits, and they are much more focused and willing to explore further.  That is the purpose of schooling.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Keeping Healthy Food on the Table

            As I said in my earlier article, “In the Beginning,” the idea of starting homeschooling was not very hard.  The finances, however, were a big concern.  One stipulation my husband and I firmly agreed upon was that we did NOT want to start putting junk food on our table, saying we could not afford anything else.  If it got to that point, we discussed, then we would consider putting Babygirl back into public schools and me going back to work.  We wanted healthy food on our table, but with the prices of groceries skyrocketing, how was I to find a way?
            Fortunately, I had a great deal of help in this area from encouraging, insightful friends and family members who provided ways in which the food on our table is not only healthier than when we were on two incomes, but it also tastes much better than what we ate when I worked. 
           For my entire working lifetime, I would come home tired and have to “throw something together” for dinner.  If I was too tired to do that, we ate at restaurants (because my husband is not a fan of fast food).  Now, however, I am at home with time to plan and bake our meals.  The vast improvement in what we eat now was brought to my attention two months ago when my husband and I were discussing where to take the family for a Valentine’s meal.  We could not decide on anywhere, though we discussed some of our favorites of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Johnny Carrino’s.  We thought Babygirl would definitely pipe up with requesting Cici’s Pizza (her favorite), but she surprised both of us.  Without even pausing to think about her answer (which is very rare for her – she considers every question at length before answering), Babygirl replied, “I want your food.  I want to stay home.”  That was the best Valentine’s Day gift I’ve ever received!  I loved hearing that my food was better than our favorite restaurants.
            I did say that I got help, and cooking was definitely something I needed help with.  My wonderful, insightful mother started purchasing the cooking magazine, “A Taste of Home” for my sister and me a couple of years ago as part of our Christmas gifts.  Along with the magazine came access to their website, with thousands upon thousands of tested and tasted recipes.  All I have to do is type in “chicken” in the search menu and it gives me hundreds of recipes, which I can narrow down to the type of recipe I want to make that evening.  I have made breads, desserts, main courses, side dishes… I’ve made it all with this one website’s recipes.  If by chance a recipe is not on the site, then I can “Google” it and usually find it.  The cost per year is not very high, but it has been an invaluable gift.  Thanks, Mom!!
            The other blessing which we have received to keep the food on our table healthy came from my neighbor, who also home schools her children and has been a stay at home Mom many more years than I have.  She has been a resource I could not have done without this year!  She taught me something called a produce coop.  She had been in one, but when I told her I was definitely going to stay home, she brought up the subject of us starting one ourselves.  That suggestion has kept two bushels of fresh fruits and vegetables on my table every other week all year.  In doing the coop, also, I have been able to meet many people who I enjoy talking to, and it also blesses their lives with inexpensive, delicious produce.
            This is how our produce coop works.  The members of our coop pay $20 for a bushel of produce.  We have told them our aim is to make the shares 1/3 fruit, 2/3 vegetables (because vegetables last longer).  We then take their money to a produce distributor and purchase several cases of fresh fruits and vegetables.  (Actually, our distributor e-mails their price list to us and we call our order in a few days before “Coop Day”).  We try to spend every penny they give us, to make it as good of a deal as possible for our members.  We then take the cases home (it usually fills the entire back of a van, with the back seat down or removed) and divide it evenly among the shares of people in the coop, adding 2 shares for me (it is held at my house) and one for my neighbor as payment for doing the work.  We put these shares in bushel-sized laundry baskets, which the members return before the next pick up date in two weeks.  They get a great deal on fresh produce and we get to keep fruits and vegetables on our table in exchange for doing the work.  This would definitely qualify as a Win-Win deal!
            With limited income, it is very difficult to keep healthy food on the table.  It is much easier to go pick up “Five for $5” bags of burgers with a side of greasy fries, but it’s not healthy to do on a regular basis.  I am thankful to God for the help which He has brought into my family so that we can eat food that is unprocessed and delicious, and that doesn’t cost too much money.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Time to Explore

            I loved being an elementary school teacher.  I loved my students, I loved teaching them and watching them understand something that they thought they would never get.  The process was very similar every year, and yet it was still exciting to watch.  One of the major problems I had with public schools, though, was that there were just too many different objectives to teach, and we were not given enough time to teach it.  A speaker once said that Oklahoma objectives were actually pretty good, except for the fact that there were just too many of them.  My teammates and I once figured that if we taught one reading skill and one math skill per day, we would just barely finish in time to give the state test in April.  When children learn a new skill, they need time to explore it, not just test and go on.
            Let me share an example of what I did with Babygirl.  After two months of homeschool, I was able to sit down and read with her, but math was still a problem.  Babygirl was convinced that she could not do anything right academically.  I had to convince her that was not true, though she did have great difficulty with even the basic concept of counting objects. She got mixed up after counting five objects, so I decided she had to conquer that before we could do anything else in math.
            I helped Babygirl to fill up a milk crate with stuffed animals from her room.   We brought them out into the living room and sat down on the floor.  I told her to pick one.  It took an excruciating amount of time for her to choose, but she finally did, and I directed her to put in on the floor in front of me.  I then took a number one flashcard and set it next to that animal.  I touched the animal and said, “One.”  I had her repeat it by pointing to the card and pointing to the animal.  Then I had her choose a second animal.  She eventually did and set it on the floor next to the first animal.  I put the flashcard number two next to it.  I pointed to the first animal and said, “One.”  Then I pointed to the second animal and said, “Two.”  She repeated me, and we added another animal.  It took almost an hour to get all of the animals on the floor with numbered flashcards next to them (believe me, I seriously regretted getting such a large box!), and she was finally able to count to eighteen animals. 
            During this activity, somewhere between numbers twelve and sixteen, I saw a light bulb go on in my daughter’s eyes.  I had taken an abstract concept (a theory, something only understood in your head) into a concrete concept (hands-on, something she could touch) by allowing her to move things around and placing the numbers next to the animals.  I then switched the animals around, without adding or taking any away, and asked her how many was there now.  She had to think about it, but she said, “Eighteen.”  Then she waited, eyes eager with anticipation of what we would do next.
            I was thrilled that we had spent so much time on math!  So, since she was really into the activity, I decided to see if she could transfer the information.  We left the flashcards in their spots on the rug, but we picked up the animals.  After a lot of comforting from her, telling each animal that they did a good job and it was okay to go back into the crate, we went to her room and picked up her “My Little Pony” horses.  Bringing them out in a box, she placed each one next to a flashcard.  We had exactly eighteen (after I went back and looked behind bookcases and in her closet for the stragglers).  This taught her that eighteen was eighteen, no matter what we were counting.  She got it, and more importantly, she knew she got it.
            We did this same type of activity for two days.  I caught her playing in her room outside of school times with her stuffed animals, placing them in lines and counting them.  She had finally understood and she needed time to explore the concept. 
            That is what is missing in schools today.  Children are not allowed time to explore.  If schools are going to have a chance of success, they need to cut back on the number of objectives taught in the elementary ages.  Babygirl’s school teachers had been trying for three years to teach this skill, to the frustration of the teachers and Babygirl.  What she needed was concrete objects and time to explore.  All elementary students need this time to explore new concepts, if they are going to truly understand mathematical skills.  They need lesser objectives but more time to explore the important skills.