Monday, December 12, 2011

Where are the Indians?

When I was a school girl, we didn't learn much about the first Americans. I remember learning Mississippi history in 9th grade, and a bit about the Choctaws and Chickasaws. And that's it.

Julia's studying "Early Modern" this year: 1600-1850. One of her history texts is about the earliest Americans. As we went through the book, we came across a map. Julia loves maps. So I had her make a new map on a piece of long paper, leaving little boxes where the various Indian tribe names should be, indicating their general locations. Then she made little rectangular papers with the tribe names, and for several days did a matching game, placing the papers in the correct boxes, checking herself against the book, and gradually improving until she made a 100% on the final quiz.
And this is another thing I love about homeschooling. This area was a hole in my own education, a hole I wanted filled in Julia's. In most classrooms, if this assignment weren't in the designated curriculum for the class, it just wouldn't be taught. Or the student would be asked to memorize a map in a book, or perhaps a list, and the quiz would have been in text on paper. The reason this assignment is so successful is that it's both visual and tactile. In making the map and papers herself, all the information is reinforced deeply from the outset. The repetition and practice is fun. And if the student is diligent, the quiz at the end (in which Julia simply wrote the tribe names in the boxes) is sure to result in a great grade.

Parents, if you're not teaching your kid, be sure his teacher has a teeny bit of creativity to see assignments that aren't in the curriculum, but will be successful and useful. This one lesson taught geography, spelling, and history. This information is not easily forgotten, in contrast to the simple memorization and regurgitation that is required for most quizzes. I hated giving quizzes as a teacher. Quizzes are supposed to assess for comprehension; all the students read the material, and I quiz them to see whether they understood it. But in reality in schools, this isn't the case. Quizzes are designed to asses whether the student read the material at all. Students who did, usually get an A, and students who didn't will fail the quiz. So, quizzes become a grade trap for students who weren't diligent enough to read the material. Granted, they deserve to fail if they weren't diligent to read. However, I loathe an assessment that is so shallow, so devoid of real content. Besides, the quiz is unnecessary. I could tell you ahead of time which ones read and which ones didn't. Why take a quiz? Sigh.

I prefer assignments that students will do, that force the information into the brain, that are easily tested, and that produce good grades after diligent work. I always felt a bit mean, giving quizzes that I knew beforehand that Sally, Ben and Joe would certainly fail. Ugh. I'm also unwilling to do all the work. The fact is this: the person doing the work is the person who is learning. If the teacher is performing all the effort, the student is just sitting back, smiling, and watching her work.

At home, I can ensure that Julia repeats the map practice sufficient times to learn the material. If she'd been lazy (which she never is, in schoolwork) I'd have gone ahead and quizzed the map, and let her have the bad grade. Laziness deserves a bad grade, parents.  Often young students need supervision, to master the material before a quiz. There's not enough class time to do that; it must be done at home. If you have an 11th grader who isn't working at home, and is doing poorly, don't criticize the teacher. She's giving him work, waiting for him to master it, and testing him on it. It's up to him to figure out a way to get it in his brain.

Unless you homeschool. Then you have the whole day to come up with creative ways to help your child really engage with the material, enjoy it, and remember it. The quiz becomes nearly redundant at that point. I knew Julia would ace that quiz. I'd watched her ace it already several times. What confidence that gives her! And rather than trying to trap her into a bad grade, I have the joy of rewarding her with the 100% that she's worked for. That's a pleasure for both teacher and student.

Just some thoughts. I loved my years as a classroom teacher, but I want to admit some of the weaknesses of that system. This is one. Homeschooling gives immense accountability and contact between teacher and student. The classroom does not. We teachers don't want to be babysitters, but students need repetition of material, in order to learn it, and 45 minutes in a room with 20 other distracting kids does not promote repetition and learning.

So, Julia knows her Indian names and locations. That makes me happy.

1 comment:

  1. I believe that we're using the same history texts that you and Julia are using, "The History of U.S." by Joy Hakim. I truly appreciate her storytelling approach, with inclusion of interesting details that make history come alive. We're in Vol. 4 now. I read it aloud to 4 of my students, grades 3,4,5 and 6, with narration and discussion. I do want to caution you, however, that, although there is much truth in Hakim's perspective, she emphasizes the exploitation and abuse of Native Americans and slaves almost to a fault. Although many Christian texts err in another direction, over-emphasizing the Christian values of our founding fathers, she places almost no emphasis on this, minimizing it. Just something to look out for in your discussions. I still love the books.

    Oh, and I feel about all testing the way you do about the "quiz", although Dr. Gordon Clark never gave anything more than a "quiz" in his courses, managing to require a student to regurgitate a whole semester's study in answer to three short questions that he's write on the blackboard!

    I'm so happy for you that you have these sweet hours with your lastborn. Blessings! Beth Ann

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