Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Please take one minute (and eight seconds) to watch these compiled scenes from one of my favorite quotable movies, “The Princess Bride.”
              “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  Have you ever wanted to say that to your child?  I know I do.  Vocabulary is vital to any learning program, and we sometimes give so many vocabulary words to learn at once that we don’t allow our child to really understand what each word means.  How can I help my child really understand the vocabulary that s/he is learning each week?
Less is more.  Limit the number of words your child must learn.  During conversations in the teacher’s lounge, I remember one teacher in particular telling about twenty vocabulary words in Reading, ten words from Science, and 15 words from Social Studies, as well as 5 vocabulary words from Math that she had assigned her students to memorize that week.  She talked on and on about how lazy her students were – that they just wouldn’t study, so she was going to start testing them every day on each subject to make sure they studied. 
This teacher assigned her students fifty new vocabulary words on Monday and expected them to know them well enough to be quizzed on them by Tuesday – inconceivable!  (If you watched the link above, then you should be chuckling now!).  Particularly for elementary age students or students who have a limited vocabulary, NEVER assign more than ten vocabulary words per week.  Not ten per subject – ten total!  Middle school and high school student can learn ten per science subject and ten per social studies subject, but I would not go over thirty vocabulary words per week – total.  That means you have to be careful in picking what you want your student to study.  Don’t choose words s/he should already know.  You can discuss these words for review, but if they should know them, don’t waste their time.  Carefully choose “diamonds” for the words you want your child to learn.
With an extremely limited list of words to learn, your child can develop a depth of understanding for each word.  Lexicons can help you develop this necessary complexity of understanding so that your child will be able to use these words appropriately.  Lexicons, according to dictionary.com, are a dictionary, or a list of terms related to a particular subject.  In education, a lexicon can refer to any chart or form in which you disseminate a word or subject for better understanding.  Most teachers have their own favorite lexicons, and they have usually adapted the one they like from someone else’s.  Because of this, you will rarely find two teachers who like using exactly the same one.  This is fine, and homeschooling parents may even want to adapt their style every couple of years to add new skills which your child is learning.
I personally prefer a lexicon which includes the levels of Blooms Taxonomy.  This is simply a list of six different levels of the depth of thinking required for various tasks or assignments.   I love using a list of verbs which use Blooms Taxonomy so that in my lessons, I can ensure that I am making my student(s) think at varying degrees, instead of simply repeating things back.  Simply repeating, though, is necessary, especially when you are beginning your topic of instruction, so don’t only teach from the highest levels. 
Before I give you my lexicon, I want to explain how I used it every week in class.  I would have my students create a vocabulary book (a new one each week) using two or three pieces of paper.  We decorated the cover with the title of our topic of study for the week.  Then, each page was dedicated to one word.  I had them do numbers 1 – 3 & #7 on the list below for each of the words of the week on the first day.  Then, on the second day, we did numbers 4 – 7 for each word.  On day three, I gave them time to complete the book, since only a few of the students would completely finish.  Each day, and the day of the test, I would have them read over the information, read my definition, and change #7 as needed.  My goal was for every word on number 7 to be a #3 or #4 by the end of the week.  Yes, some students figured this out quickly and simply wrote “4” on all of the words, but most of the students enjoyed changing the numbers as they learned.  My grades on this lexicon booklet were simple:  either 100% or 0%.  Either they did the work – and it was impossible do it and not learn! – or they didn’t do it and got a 0%.
Here is the lexicon which I used:
1)       Write the vocabulary word.
2)      Copy the definition of the word.
3)      Locate a sentence in a book using this word.  Write the entire sentence.
4)      Draw a picture, illustrating the meaning of the word.
5)      Write a caption for your picture, using the word in the caption.
6)      Write either a synonym for the word or an example of the word.
7)      How well do you understand the word?  (write the number from the choices below)
1.       I do not know the word at all.
2.       I know the word a little bit.
3.       I think I know what the word means, but I have a hard time explaining it.
4.       Oh, yeah!  I know that word!
In the beginning of using the above lexicon, I created a poster with the above information.  Then, every week, they would create a booklet and use that same pattern on each page for each vocabulary word.  I did NOT copy a page with that information for each word – that would have simply been a waste of time and resources.  As I have said in several other blog posts, one of my favorite sayings is “The one who does the work is the one who learns the most.” 
I have used several adaptations through the years to this lexicon.  Some items which I used at times were:  word origin, separate the word into syllables, write the pronunciation of the word, create your own sentence (though the caption replaced this one), write a simile or a metaphor for this word.  As you can see, the choices are endless what you can add.  I really don’t recommend adding more than one or two items to my above list unless you delete some items in the process. 
              If your child needs more than thirty minutes per day for this activity, lessen how much you expect.  You may only want him/her to do #1 & 2 on the first day, #3 & 4 on the second day, and #5 and 6 on the third day for each word.  Don’t forget to assign your child to do #7 every day, changing it as your child learns the word better.  Remember – you want your child to really learn the meaning and use of the word, not simply do “busy work.”  If these words are related to work you are doing in other lessons (which they should be), this will serve to enhance your child’s true understanding of these words. 
Don’t worry about your child getting bored with this work. At the beginning, I always had a portion of the class who were bored, yet they quickly got over it when they realized it that they were doing it anyway, bored or not.  Some children get out of a lot of work they don’t like by using this manipulative technique – by simply saying you’re bored, your teacher will change the assignment and the student ends up with less to do!   Also, as my students figured out we were doing it every week, many of my students would simply start making the booklets on Monday and wait for me to give the list of words, if I was not using a list from a textbook.  I just love self-motivated students!  If I ever said we were not doing the booklets one particular week, I always had complaints and confused expressions.  The students loved it, once they learned the pattern, and they really learned to use the words we used with a much greater depth than students in other classes with the same vocabulary list.
              By extremely limiting the amount of words per week your child must learn and by using a lexicon to deepen your child’s understanding, your child can know that “this word means what you think it means.”  The motivational speaker Florence Littauer shows that her father expressed the value of a large vocabulary much better than I can in her book "Silver Boxes":  “If you can speak well, use your words correctly, and talk faster than everybody else, you will always get jobs over people that mumble.”  Allow your child to explore his/her words so he can use them well.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Teaching Safety in Tornadoes

            Safety is one of the life skills which I teach my daughter during homeschool.  In the Central and Southern regions of the United States, tornadoes are a strong part of any preparation for safety.  By knowing the danger, making ourselves aware during tornadoes, and planning what to do ahead of time to stay safe, we can be very prepared for tornadic weather.
            The first step to any safety program is to know the danger you are facing.  With the desert in Arizona and New Mexico sending hot, dry air, Canada’s jet stream bringing cold air, and the Gulf of Mexico sending up warm, moist air, the Great Plains and Southern United States have a phenomenon which occurs nowhere else in the world – the Dry Line.  People in these regions are so familiar with dry lines that they may not realize that they are unique to our area – and they are the main reason that Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas see more tornadoes than anywhere else in the world.  Each of these three states sees an average of 50 tornadoes per year.  While it is possible to live in these states all of your life and never see a tornado, you still need to be prepared.  A second region, west of the Ohio Valley, sees a great deal of tornadoes, as well, during the summer months.  Tornadoes have been known to occur in six out of the seven continents (Antarctica is the exception), in all 50 states, and in all 12 months of the year.  So, even though you may not live in an area where tornadoes are common, you still need to know what to do if one does occur.
            Tornadoes do not, as Hollywood implies in multiple movies, simply appear out of nowhere, nor do they chase people personally.  There are special weather conditions which spark tornadoes, and now meteorology has progressed to the point that they can give warning (sometimes several days in advance) that the conditions are going to be right for tornadoes to form.  Warm, moist air (ideally between 70*F - 95*F), and 2 incoming fronts – one a line of dry air and one a front of cooler air – provide the “spark” needed to start multiple tornadic storms, like those seen in the Central and Southern states.  A Tornado Watch is issued over a period of several hours in which severe, tornadic storms may occur, and on those days, people in those areas need to be “weather aware.”  A Tornado Warning is much more specific, and is not usually issued for more than 15 – 45 minutes at a time, and it means that there is a storm which either has already dropped a tornado or very well may do so very soon.  Knowing what to do and preparing for it is the number one way of staying safe during tornadoes.
            Sadly, there have been a “rash” of large tornadoes recently which have resulted in many hundreds of deaths.  The strength of these tornadoes are judged by the strength of damage caused by them, and ranked on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale, from an EF-0 (no damage) to an EF-5 (the foundation is wiped clean and grass is scoured off the ground).  Many individual meteorologists have attempted to make an EF-6 rating, but it is not necessary and there is no such thing as an EF-6 tornado – that is simply someone trying to make a name for himself.
Unfortunately, when two tornadoes (with damage somewhere between EF-3 to EF-5) went through major cities in Alabama and Missouri recently, they each resulted in more than 200 deaths and more than 600 injuries in both cities.  In the Oklahoma City Metro Area, however, 7 tornadoes, ranging also from EF-3 to EF-5, hit – all within 4 hours and less than 100 miles from edge to edge of each other – only 10 deaths occurred and 238 people reported injuries which needed to be treated in local hospitals.  More than 600 homes were damaged or destroyed in the Oklahoma City region (not including businesses), yet there were relatively few people injured or killed, particularly when compared to the tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri.  Why? 
            During a tornado, we need adequate warning.  I lived in Atlanta for five years, and I was shocked with how differently the meteorologists handled tornado threats in that major city.  I remember one night when two tornadoes were on the ground in the suburb of Atlanta.  When this happened, I saw a “rolling words” bar scroll a warning at the bottom of the television screen, saying that there were 2 tornadoes in Smyrna and that they were headed northeast.  The words on the screen warned those in the path of the tornadoes to take shelter, and they flashed an image of the two counties in the Tornado Warning – all the while, showing the television program.  During the next commercial break (about ten minutes after the warning was first issued), the meteorologist came on and repeated the same warning, even though the tornadoes had gone back up.  There were never any streets listed, never any specifics given at any time as to who was actually in the path of the tornados.  They didn’t have any video of the tornadoes on the ground until several hours later - on the eleven o-clock news they showed footage for about ten seconds. 
In Oklahoma, when tornadoes are on the ground, the meteorologists go into “severe weather mode,” and the three local television stations and local news radio stations go on full alert to the weather.  They tell exactly where the tornado (or tornado threat) is by naming streets.  They show live footage from a helicopter and trained storm spotters of the tornado on the ground, or the funnels hanging from the wall clouds.  Everyone in the area of the warning has no reason not to take shelter.  While some people (particularly if they are not in the path of the tornado) are irritated because they cannot watch their favorite television programs, most people in the area are grateful that they receive such wonderful coverage and warnings – and that saves lives, as shown on May 24, 2011. 
            Once you have been warned and know you are in the danger area, you should follow previously prepared plans for safety.  Tornado shelters are fabulous if you have them, but if you don’t, you still need to know what you are going to do BEFORE the tornado sirens sound.  In fact, most towns in Oklahoma do not have public tornado shelters.  In the 1980’s, when public shelters were common, people would wait until the tornado sirens sounded before they would get in their cars and head out to the shelter.  The problem is that when the sirens sound, it is too late to go anywhere.  At least three of the ten deaths in the Oklahoma tornadoes were people who were in the process of seeking shelter when they were hit by a tornado (two were in their cars and one was running out of her trailer when a neighbor’s trailer landed on her).  That is WAY too late to go somewhere – when the sirens sound, take shelter where you are.  Fortunately, most people in the Oklahoma tornado areas either opted to go somewhere safe at the beginning of the tornado outbreak or to go to their safe place on their own property.  That did mean many dinners were very late and television shows were missed, but it also meant people survived what could have been seven deadly tornadoes. 
Unfortunately, at least 3 others who were killed in Oklahoma followed another common saying in Tornado Alley:  “When the sirens sound, go outside and look.”  The three that I have heard about did even more than that – they took their internet-accessible cell phones, their video cameras, and a buddy, and they hopped into their pickup trucks and drove out to see the tornadoes for themselves.  (Okay, they may not all have been in a pickup truck, but I know 2 of them were).  This is the most ludicrous thing anyone can do – and I have never understood those who do this!  The storm chasers which are seen on television have a great deal of training.  Most of them have a degree in meteorology, or they have at least had training from people who have this degree.  Professional storm chasers also have several people who sit in a nice, safe office somewhere with a high-resolution radar and tell them where to go which allows them to good footage, but also stay safe.  The purpose is also different for these groups – professional storm chasers do it for the purpose of warning others, or gathering data which will increase warning times to save lives.  “Good Ole’ Boys” who go out storm chasing do it for the adrenaline rush, and possibly for pictures or video – which people could see if they turned on their television, anyway. 
At least six of the ten deaths in Oklahoma occurred because the people were not where they should have been after the sirens sounded.  I don’t live in the other two regions who were so tragically hit by tornadoes, so I cannot tell you why there were so many deaths.  I can guess that the warnings were not publicized as early and as loudly (and with such force) as they were during the Oklahoma tornado outbreak of May 24.  Because of this, I can also guess that some of the victims in Alabama and Missouri did not know the tornado was even there, or that they did not know what to do if they did know it was coming. 
Any death is tragic, but a death that can be prevented is just horrifying.  I do not know if there will be any more large tornadoes this year, or where they will happen.  There are no guarantees that, even if you do the right thing, that an accident still won’t occur, though you greatly increase the chances that it won’t.  I do know, however, that with enough warning and planning, you can keep your family safe during a tornado.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Year in Review

              I have memories - but only a fool stores his past in the future.”  ~David Gerrold
              As a school teacher, I always found myself looking back over the past school year, asking myself, “What worked?  What didn’t work?  What did I want to do but didn’t?  How can I make it better?”  These questions are good and should be addressed after every school year, but as Gerrold said, don’t make the past your future.  Don’t spend so much time feeling guilty over what you didn’t do that you don’t plan to improve in the future.  Also, don’t spend so much time celebrating your successes that you can’t see the new year. 
              For our first year homeschooling, I would call this year a great success, though with many “learning moments” for me.  At the beginning of this year, we spent two months with me chasing her around, trying to get her to sit down to learn.  Then, when we finally got to sit down, I discovered that my daughter could do exactly what she could do two years ago in reading – she knew her letters and their sounds, but she couldn’t quite put them together to read words.  She is now reading on a mid-first grade level (according to my “guess-timate”).  Wow!  She actually picks up books and looks for words she could read, where she used to not even attempt to sound out any word besides her name.  She has made great leaps and bounds in reading.
              In math, Babygirl has developed confidence more than skill.  I count that as a success, too.  At the beginning, she was convinced that if I said, “Math,” she couldn’t do whatever I suggested.  Now, she knows how to count to 100, count backwards from 30, and can do some basic addition.  The most important success in Math, though, is her confidence level.  The computation can come later, but if she won’t even attempt it, we are at a dead end.  I see great things coming next year in math!
              Probably the greatest success I’ve seen is Babygirl’s conversation.  Only a few short months ago, it was almost impossible to hold a conversation with her unless you just happened to know what she was thinking, and then it was more subjects about her opinion on things.  Through our studies on holidays, she knows that these special days come around every year.  Every holiday is not Christmas or Halloween.  She is making connections with our family (whose child is whose, etc.), instead of just a general “blob” of a family unit.  When we studied the community, she learned that if she put a letter in the mail, Grandma and Poppa would get it a few days later (and they would usually call and tell her they got it and describe the picture!).  Our studies on Science have opened up discussions about real life sea serpents (called oar fish – I learned a lot in that study!), real life dragons (komodo dragons – “they are carnivores but they don’t have wings or breathe fire”), and that different animals have different characteristics.  Our trips to the zoo have opened up numerous animals which are fascinating to observe.  She even recognized a connection with hyenas – they like to pace, just like she and Daddy do!  These conversations made her much more interested in the world around her and have opened up a plethora of discussions which we never used to be able to have.
              On a disappointing level, I didn’t teach Babygirl to do the chores which I had planned.  I wanted to help her organize her room, as well as do dusting and cleaning the bathroom.  While I did teach her how to do these chores, I have not been consistent in having her do them.  It is so much easier for me to do them, so I do – okay, honestly, I do occasionally.  We did start a garden, but, yet again, it’s easier for me to do the planting and weeding on my own, rather than bring her in.  I still feel these things are vitally important to our homeschooling, so I will just set them as a goal to do a better job on next year.
              I have learned that Babygirl and I have different styles.  My teaching style, which I spent so many years developing and which is so successful with literally hundreds of kids, doesn’t work with my own daughter.  I’ve had to learn that planning events on a daily basis doesn’t work with her.  She may wake up and be in no mood for a trip to the library.  The reading assignment which I planned so carefully may just be completely out of her grasp on one day, whereas another day it may fit perfectly.  I haven’t given up on planning daily, but I have realized the value of having a general plan, as well as specific daily plans.  Spontaneity has definitely taken a strong hold in our homeschool, but that’s okay. 
              After reflecting on this year, I like to think what I want to do differently next year.  I really want to start projects next year.  We might do one or two small ones over the summer (Babygirl has said she wants to do school over the summer, but it’s not going to be a usual school week all summer – I need a break, too!).  I want her to start some learning on her own, though developmentally she may not be ready for much yet. While she is behind in reading and math, her interests are exactly where they should be for her age, so I’m going to use the objectives for our state in her regular grade level when I write out my plans.   
Every year is different – that is how life works.  Never try to force one year (whether successful or not) into the confines of another year.  Pick out what worked and discard what didn’t.  Use the past to help refine your future, and enjoy schooling!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Educating Through Projects

              Teachers and homeschool moms agree that there are other, sometimes better, ways to educate a child than to hand him/her a book and say, “Read it.”  Students need to be self-motivated to get the most value from their education, but most children do not know how to effectively research a topic.  Is it possible for a child (with a minimal help from a teacher or parent) to create a project which will help him learn?  Absolutely!  The more that the child actually plans, the more the child will want to learn about the topic.  By “child,” I mean pre-teen (about age 11) and above.  Let me explain how a child can create an effective learning project by setting objectives, finding multiple methods of research, and presenting what s/he has found.
              First, you must set objectives to be studied.  I recommend one to three objectives, or goals, for the topic you are researching.  You might even want to divide a larger project into smaller, more manageable chunks, so that you can thoroughly study your topic.  If you are studying a subject covered in public schools, I first recommend looking at the state requirements for this class.  In Oklahoma, these objectives are called PASS Skills, but all states are required to have objectives for every required subject, and these must be made available for all to see.  I have attached a link to the PASS skills, which are overall very good, except for the fact that there are too many in the elementary grades for reading and math.  If you are using a textbook on the subject, use the Table of Contents to give you a list of topics to study.  If there are no written objectives for the topic you want to study, find an article, a short book, or a documentary film to give you an overall view of the topic you want to study.  From this source, create a list of people or events which are important for this subject and use that list as your objectives.  It is vital for you to have a list of one to three objectives for any project you want to research.
              After listing objectives, you should decide on multiple ways you want to learn about the subject.  Just reading one book (usually a textbook) is not enough.  You should get your information from a minimum of three sources, and usually more than that.  There are many ways to get and demonstrate this information, as I will explain in the next few paragraphs. 
I like to use the method of “concrete – pictoral – abstract” as a general guide when creating a project.  “Concrete” means something you can physically touch, which means a field trip to a museum or site where you can actually walk through and possibly touch items related to the project, or possibly interviewing someone who is more familiar with the project.  “Pictoral” means watch something, or look at pictures (usually with some type of description).  This could be a documentary or a photographic book which will give you more information.  It could also use a web page which is mostly photographs with informative captions.  Finally, “Abstract” sources should be used.  This is reading about the topic, whether it be a textbook, web page, magazine article, research paper, or encyclopedia.  All three of these methods should be used, in this order, even if you choose one of the other procedures which I will describe next.
Another method which could be used is by following the state required Process Skills.  There are two types of skills – Process Skills and Content Skills.  The Process Skills tell you how to research objectives, the Content Skills are listing topics for you to actually research.  You would try to use all of the Process Skills in EACH of the Content objectives which you research.  There are usually 5 – 7 Process Skills for subjects, so you would only want to do one Content Skill at a time, using all of the Process Skills in your research.  They are typically listed under the general subject heading (i.e., 6th Grade Science), but they are then separated into two lists so that they are easily found.  To use this method, you will need to closely follow the required skills by your state.
A third method of diversifying a research topic is to use the Multiple Intelligence charts which are easily accessed at no cost on-line.  Multiple Intelligences are based on a concept by Howard Gardner, in which he lists seven ways in which people differ in intelligence.  Others have come in later and added to his original list, but this will give you a variety of activities in which you can discover information about a topic.  To find these lists, simply go to a search engine (such as Google.com or Bing.com) and type in “Multiple Intelligence Chart Activities.”  This will list several web pages which have activities under different “Intelligences.”  If you use this method, I suggest that for each objective, you chose one activity from each category in the Intelligence Chart.  Using the Multiple Intelligence Chart will give you a variety of ways to research your topic.
Any of the previously listed three methods would add structure necessary to plan your project.  Parents or teachers should expect to help with the planning (though as your child learns how it works, you should not be needed as much through the process).  You should have a current calendar available and schedule each activity or research step as part of this planning stage.  You should also plan consultation times, when the child will either hand in a piece of research (possibly an essay describing information learned in a field trip) or may get direction on where to go from the stage they are on.  Parents should expect to “spot-check” for correct information and, if a great number of errors are found, send the child back to repeat the process more accurately.  Do not wait until the day of the presentation to discover that your child thinks Christopher Columbus was the first president of the United States!  You should check occasionally, but not looking over his/her shoulder.  They need some freedom to discover and correct their errors before you step in.
Finally, after defining objectives and researching your topic, you should have some type of presentation prepared to demonstrate what you have learned.  This presentation should be a culmination of your research, not separate from it.  You can use a PowerPoint slide show to present information you discovered, or a diorama created during one of your activities.  If your research project is about Art or Music, you could have an Art Show or a Concert to display what you have learned.  If your topic is over a culture, you could have a party in which you use items from that culture which you researched, inviting only your family or a whole host of friends.  A research project over a historical event could provide you with the opportunity to make your own documentary film using original footage and possibly reenactments of events which you learned about.  This presentation could be done in front of parents, a class, or a group of friends and family.  Be creative and have fun with this presentation, but also be very careful that the information which you are presenting is accurate.  Make sure you include time for the audience to ask questions, whether during the presentation itself or individually afterwards. 
Creating projects by using clearly defined objectives, multiple research methods, and a presentation at the end of the research provides a child with a variety of ways to discover his/her assigned topic.  Whether it lasts a couple of days, a week, or a couple of months, if you follow these guidelines, your project will definitely provide a greater depth of understanding than simply reading a textbook and answering questions.  You will, I suspect, also find something of even greater value – a joy for learning!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Writing Process

Writing allows us to express our ideas, as well as demonstrate information which we have discovered about a topic.  Yet, every writing program seems to have different steps to the writing process.  The fact is, they all basically describe the same procedures, just adapting it a little differently.  My state lists the process as:  Prewriting, Drafting, Editing, Revising, and Publishing/Sharing.  Some programs combine Editing and Revising, some add something about re-reading or reviewing, but all writing programs use the same basic steps.  What do each of these steps mean and is it really worth the extra trouble?
              Prewriting is the first and most vital step to the writing process.  Prewriting is done before the actual writing of the paragraph, as the name implies.  This is getting your ideas on paper and organizing them.  Complete sentences are not normally used at this point – the focus is on the concepts, not the grammar or complete thought.  Prewriting can include brainstorming, outlining, free writing, webbing, or the “4-square” process.  If you are writing a research paper, this will also include the actual research of the topic, normally written on index cards, and then organized using one of the other prewriting methods.  This step should only take about 10 minutes (longer for a research paper), but it makes the rest of the process much easier.
              Next in the writing process is Drafting.  This is when you actually start writing a paragraph/essay/research paper.  Many people skip the prewriting stage and immediately start writing a paragraph, but if you do this, your paragraph(s) will not be as organized as it should be.  You will also probably get some additional thoughts later and have to decide if it is worth re-writing the paragraph.  However, if the prewriting step is done correctly, you can write your ideas down and choose the best before you start writing the paragraph.  In the drafting stage, the focus is on getting the ideas on paper, not necessarily on punctuation, spelling, or grammar, however, you should try your best to get them as accurate as possible the first time.  Those errors which are left will be corrected in the next step. 
              Editing occurs after the drafting stage, and it simply means you are fixing your mistakes.  These errors could be in punctuation, capitalization, spelling, or adding/deleting details.  You should also check your information at this stage and make sure your facts were written down accurately.  Checking for plagiarism should also be done at this stage, because no one wants to be sued (or to lose a grade) for accidentally repeating information from a copyrighted piece.  Proofreading marks are typically used to make it easier to correct these mistakes.  Never use an eraser to edit a paper – you may change your mind later and need to remember what you originally wrote.  Reading your paper aloud, both before and after you make corrections, will help you identify errors which should be corrected.
              The fourth step, Revising, is often skipped, or at least it is frequently combined with Editing.  I think it should be done separately, however, because it is vital to writing an interesting essay.  Revising includes replacing frequently-used words by using a thesaurus, adding interesting, clarifying details, and transitional words or phrases (such as “Next” or “As you can see”).  You should check the pattern of the sentences, making sure you are not starting every sentence (or paragraph) with the same phrase or using the same number of words in every sentence.  Sometimes words or phrases need to be inverted (switched) or completely rewritten to add variety to your writing style.  After revising, you should always return to the Drafting stage and rewrite your paragraph, using your corrections.  The Editing and Revising stages should also be repeated, frequently done several times before going to the last step.
              Finally, you should Publish or Share your writing.  Unless it is a diary or private journal, everything you write should be expected to be read by someone else.  Publishing could include traditional methods, such as creating a book or magazine.  Technology has also opened other ways to Publish your works, including a web page or PowerPoint presentation.  Sharing could include simply reading your paragraph aloud in front of an audience of one or several dozen people.  Writing, like all other work, should be recognized at its completion.
              Prewriting, Drafting, Editing, Revising, and Publishing are all included in every comprehensive writing process.  While at the surface level they seem to add time and more work to a simple writing assignment, they actually will help your writing to be more organized and accurate.  Most importantly, your writing will be much more interesting to read!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Celebrate the Times

              “Celebrate the times – come on!”  I guess I’m “dating” myself by naming “Celebration,” sung by Kool and the Gang from 1980, but it puts into words something that many classes and homeschools are missing.  As I am realizing that my daughter will never again be in second grade, I know that we need to celebrate this achievement, as well as her many successes throughout the year. 
              What celebrations do I mean?  We should take the time to recognize small victories, as well as large victories.  This was not done much when I was in school, and I honestly don’t do it enough in my own life, which carries over to my daughter, too.  Think about it:  when you finish a big project at work, do you celebrate?  Or do you simply reach for the next assignment? 
              Celebrate on a regular basis.  Some people say that if we celebrate every success, they won’t mean much.  Well, that depends on how you do it.   If your family goes out for pizza every time your child completes a Math paper, you will probably be eating pizza every night and won’t enjoy it much after a time.  Find different ways to celebrate different things.  Daily successes could be done with stickers on a chart.  Then, when the chart is full, go to a park for the afternoon or rent a movie that the family enjoys.  Save the big style celebrations for big events.  Celebrations don’t have to cost much.  When your child finishes studying about the American Revolution, you could invite a few friends and family over for a cook out.  Even though you might have done that anyway, you can recognize your child’s accomplishments (yes, more than one child can be recognized at the same event!).  Use those Pizza Hut Reading Club coupons.  For those in areas fortunate enough to have Braum’s stores, use the Braum’s ice cream coupons.  Celebrate yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily the successes your child is achieving.  A small bottle of bubbles presented at the park by a proud mother can be all that is required at times, but it is so valuable!
              Keep your celebrations meaningful.  Don’t make them empty (“Yeah!  You cleaned your plate” to a child who always eats well isn’t much reason to cheer), it’s obvious when you really mean it.   “Graduation” is a term that I think is used too much in schools today.  I do think that is over-used, though I do not know ANY High School seniors who consider graduation for high school in the same category as graduation from sixth grade.  However, you might want to save that term for the “big” graduation event.  We will be having a “Promotion Ceremony” at a local park with another homeschooling family.  While we could do it easier during the day, we will be celebrating at a time when our entire family can be there.   We’re going to a park with a bridge where our children can walk over the bridge “to go to” the next grade.  Our entire ceremony with both families will probably take a total of fifteen minutes (most of that will probably be chasing down the kids to line them up), but it will be special and everyone, including our husbands, can recognize the achievement of completing another entire year of education.
              Celebrations should be held regularly, the reward should vary (whether verbal praise or large gifts), and they should honestly celebrate an achievement.  Remember, Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”  Remember to celebrate life. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Money Exchange Game

            Money is – without a doubt – an essential life skill which all children need to understand.  Unfortunately, telling a “concrete” child that a dime is equal to ten pennies, or five nickels are equal to one quarter just doesn’t make sense.  They can see that there are more pennies than dimes, so how is it possible for them to be equal?  While the child really won’t be able to understand it until he reaches the “formal” stage of thinking, around age 12, you can do some things so that your child can use money and explain it, even though they may not fully understand it.  One of these methods is using the Money Exchange Game.
            For the Money Exchange Game, you need at least 20 pennies per person, at least 10 dimes per person, 2 dice per person, and one dollar bill.  The coins should be put in two piles in the center of the playing area, and the dollar bill should be placed where everyone can see it in the center. 
            Players take turns rolling the two dice.  For each number rolled, they take one penny.  When a player has 10 pennies, they exchange them for one dime.  It makes rolling a 10 or above on the dice very exciting because they can choose a dime instead of a handful of pennies.  Of course, a roll of an 11 or 12 allows them to choose a dime and one or two pennies to match the number – which is even better.
            When a player gets 10 dimes, s/he can exchange them for the dollar bill.  This person is the winner of the game – congratulations!  It is up to you, as the parent or teacher, to decide if this child gets to keep the dollar or if s/he has to give it back. 
            This game can be very fast paced, but it’s a lot of counting.  If your child is very young or has great difficulty counting, you might want to lower it to 50 cents instead of a dollar.  It is a fabulous game which addresses many different skills and will keep the interest of children of many different ages and abilities. 
            Playing games can be fun, but they’re much better if they can learn while they are playing them.  This is not a game you want to play more than once per day, but maybe once or twice a week would provide great skill practice for counting

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Read to Learn

A few years ago, I was in a teacher’s workshop where the speaker said, “From Kindergarten to third grade, you are learning to read.  From fourth grade on up, you should be reading to learn.”  There is a lot of wisdom in those words.  Somewhere between third and fourth grades, the focus of learning changes from learning phonics to learning comprehension.  This is not exclusive – many children older than third grade need reminders of phonics rules, and children should be learning to understand what they are reading as soon as they pick up their first book – but this phrase gives us focus for our reading instruction plan.  How do you teach a child to read to learn?
Reading should be meaningful.  For some reason which I have never understood, the focus of educational reading has turned to fiction.  There was a great emphasis on making story maps and thinking creatively.  However, my question is:  Why?  Children of all ages (including adults) enjoy learning about things they are interested in – real things.  Why would we take our limited instructional time and teach them something which has no basis in reality and is completely made up?  Even if it has a lesson which we can draw, it is still made up!  This is a waste of time.  Yes, children do enjoy reading fiction, but they get even greater enjoyment from reading things that they can then spend time researching more on their own.  All reading lessons should use non-fictional texts.
When a child reads, he needs to understand the vocabulary in the text.  If a child does not understand at least 95% of what he reads, he will be frustrated and will decide the topic is not for him.  This means that when a child reads, if they miss more than one out of 20 words, they aren’t “getting it.”  It is highly important to prepare your child for reading a text which may use a number of words with which he is unfamiliar.  Giving him a list of vocabulary words might help a little, but giving him experiences where he uses the words will help him much more. 
Let’s say you wanted your child to study biomes (different habitats/environments).  You could hand him a book and say, “Read this.”  You also could send him to a website with information and pictures, or possibly a game where you are matching animals with their correct biome. 
While I believe these are important and should be used in learning, I do not think this is where you should start – whatever the age of your child.  I recommend instead taking a few well planned field trips.  Possibly have your child keep a notebook of plants and animals, as well as non-living things he sees.  He could also take a camera and later create a photo journal or an informational webpage of different habitats which you explore.  Many parks have more than one biome.  Have conversations, introducing a lot of the vocabulary you want him to learn while you walk through the paths (bring notes with you, it’s okay!).  You don’t even have to see everything you want to introduce.  If you want to talk about an animal or plant which you do not see, you can tell stories about it while you walk.  This will give your child an experience connected with the vocabulary that he needs so that he can go back and read a book or a computer website and can build on his experiences.  Even as an adult, I gained from a workshop where we left the college and went to some undeveloped land which the college owned and simply wandered through the fields and rivers with the professors giving us some ideas of what to look for.
Being able to relate to the topic is vital for reading to learn.  You should not introduce history to a child under the age of 12 unless it is about places where he can physically go and look over.  They are still thinking very concretely, and simply reading about events that happened in places where they have never been does not have much to connect to.  As a child gets older, they are better able to relate, but having experiences in the topic greatly increases his ability to learn.
Besides reading about things which a child has experiences with, it is also important that the teacher (or parent) forget about learning the “right thing.”  Why is one piece of information of more importance than another?  If that’s true, then who gets to decide what is so important that everyone should know it?
I used to teach fifth grade and had to teach about the explorers.  We only had about a month to teach this important topic, so I had to pick and choose what the students should leanr.  I decided to focus on the names of the “big” explorers, the country they were from, and the purpose for their explorations.  My students learned a great deal about each of the eight explorers which we studied and they could all explain, to varying degrees, the purposes of each explorer.  Months later, I was very pleased that my students remembered this information.  Then, after they took the test, I proudly asked how they did on the test.  They shook their heads and many of the smarter students told me that nothing we studied was on the test.  I was not allowed to look at the test, so I asked them for an example of what questions were asked.  They told me one of them was “Which country brought horses to the Americas.”  Horses?  That was what the state felt was vital to their learning about the explorers – who brought horses from Europe?  I have to tell you that I had to look up the answer, and I was furious that this was one of the questions when there was so much more that I felt was much more valuable that we had studied.  None of the students could remember one question being asked about what the purpose for explorers were – which I felt like was very important. 
The fact is, different people recognize different things as being important.  If there is something specific you want them to learn, you should state that.  However, most of the learning experience should be allowing the child to explore the topic, through hands-on experiences, reading books, and exploring websites.  The student should also be expected to present what he has learned, whether it be an oral presentation, a diorama, a PowerPoint presentation, a research paper, or a homemade documentary using a regular video camera.  Allow your child to find a way to demonstrate what he learned, and you will be surprised what he will come up with!
The last item which should be taught used to be very commonly used – the “Rule of 3.”  All research should have at least three sources.  Unfortunately, many classrooms today use one source only – the textbook.  If the teacher is able to find a classroom set of another, supplementary book, that provides a second source of information, but they rarely support three sources for the same information.  It is too easy for one text to pick and choose the information to be presented that biases the reader one direction or another.  If a student tries to find three sources, they are much more likely to find valid information instead of the belief of the author of a particular text.  Always read at least three sources to get information about a topic.
Providing experiences related to the topic, remembering there is not a “right thing” to learn about a topic, and reading at least three sources for the topic are all necessary when teaching a child to read to learn.  Do not start with a large, confusing topic.  I suggest you begin studying things around you – things your child may already be interested in or which you may explore nearby.  With just a little practice, your child will soon eagerly be reading to learn.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Unschooling With a Plan

            I knew from the beginning of our homeschool that I did not want to buy curriculum.  As a teacher, I picked and chose from the curriculum the district purchased, some years not even handing out certain textbooks.  So I knew it was possible to teach without purchasing someone else’s plan.  I had heard the term “Unschooling,” but as I read more about it, it was too loose for me.  I did not just want to blindly go through day by day with no plan, just depending on what my daughter was interested in.  I came up with the method that works for me.  I call it, “Unschooling with a plan.”  It is a very simple concept, and it does not cost much at all.  Here is the method in which I decide what to teach.
1)  First, before I started teaching, I decided what subjects I wanted to teach.  I chose reading, math, handwriting, finances, PE, nutrition/cooking, science, social studies, speech, OT, and PT.  That sounded like a lot, but I knew I did not need to teach everything every day.  I also decided to leave out subjects which were not developmentally appropriate (like English-grammar) or which were mostly a waste of time to teach by itself (like Spelling).

2)  My next step was to look at the state requirements for each subject.  Oklahoma has very good pass skills – they just have too many in elementary ages.  I figured I would pick what my daughter would focus on for the year and push what we did not work on to another year.  To find your state skills, just go to any search engine on the internet and type in the name of your state and State Department of Education. You should be able to find the required objectives for each year.  In Oklahoma, the website is:  http://sde.state.ok.us/Curriculum/PASS/default.html

3)  I made a Word document with a 3 by 4 chart, one chart for each of the subjects which I was teaching.  I labeled it with an objective I wanted to focus on each year per subject.  Using the skills which I saw on the state website, I assigned one skill per month.  If there was no skill, I made up something I wanted to focus on which fit with what I wanted to accomplish this year.  Here was my chart for math:

Math – Number awareness & Place Value to 999 & add/subtract 1- & 2-digit numbers

July – 2 weeks only
One-on-One correspondence
Read & write numbers to 100
Read & write numbers to 100
Add & subtract 1-digit
Read & write numbers to 100
Add & subtract 1-digit
December – 2 weeks only
Read & write numbers to 100
Add & subtract 1-digit
Add & subtract 2-digit
Add & subtract 2-digit
Place Value to 999
Place Value to 999
Place Value to 999
OFF – No School

As you can see, I extended several skills to more than one month.  Notice I did not make any specific lesson plans at this point – just chose what I wanted the focus to be on for that month.  I did this for every subject which I decided to teach.  It did take a couple of hours, and I’ve been doing something similar for years with my classroom, so plan on spending a good amount of time on this step.  15 minutes of planning is worth hours of just jumping in and doing.  Make a chart for every subject which you are teaching this year.

NOTE: You really need to do this step, even if you are using curriculum.  Write down the objective for the lesson, which should be stated in the Table of Contents.   Do not just write down “Chapters 1 – 5” or “pages 16 – 82.”  It is a great help if you know the subject of what you are studying, even if you are following chapters.  If you have never done a yearly plan, you’ll be shocked at how much this plan helps you bring in related subjects and study with greater depth.

3)  Make another Word document, listing one month per page.  This will be your monthly lesson plan, and you will use it all year.  Then look at your tables and write each subject and what you are teaching that month.  Here was what I wrote: 
Reading:          Rhyming words & word families
  Vocabulary:   Dolch Words – up to 200 high frequency words;
  Comprehension:  Identify beginning, middle, end of a story & who, what, when, where, why
  Fluency:  DEAR Time
Math:              Patterns
Writing:           Writing Without Tears
Science:           One-on-One correspondence; Read & write numbers to 100
SS:                    Friendship; Zack’s birthday
OT:                  Create objects with playdough
PT:                   Demonstrate manipulative skills of catching, throwing, kicking, striking, and dribbling with hand and foot.
Cooking:          Identify Fruits & veggies from our meals
Finances:         Give/Save/Spend envelopes; Chores & Commission begin

NOTE:  I had planned on using my daughter’s IEP for her Speech objectives, but as the year went on, I decided that Speech worked better by focusing on vocabulary.  Any speech issues she had with certain letters, I addressed as needed, without specific focuses per month.   Basically, we dropped this subject as the year went on.

4)  As each month gets closer, I decided specifically what we would do that month to teach that skill.  That is where you write chapters, page numbers, and what you are doing specifically on a week-to-week, day-to-day basis. 
These plans were invaluable – especially in the beginning!  Even when my daughter would not sit down with me at a table, I knew that for math we were to work on patterns, so we went to her room and made “small, medium, large” patterns with her stuffed animals, or made patterns by color with “My Little Ponies.”  Even though we were not sitting at a desk with pencil in hand, we were able to work on the skills which I had chosen for the month.  As the year went on, I changed some of our plans to better fit.  Remember that these objectives are not written in stone, so when they do not fit, you can change them – just don’t change them without a reason to do so.
            Unschooling with a plan has been an incredible blessing this year.  I have the flexibility to teach my daughter in the way which fits her learning style, and we can change activities without notice and still keep inside our skills for the month.  I could work on projects or give assignments on the internet without feeling guilty, because I knew our plans for the month.  I could make field trips and library books fit our plans easily.  Unschooling with a plan was the best plan for our home, and I hope it helps you, too.