February 26, 2014

Why Study Skills Matter


As many of you know in addition to homeschooling my kids I now tutor students for the ACT (college entrance test), Study Skills, and College Readiness.   One of the things that still continues to surprise me is how unprepared students are for taking major tests and managing their time and study habits.   I work with students of all academic abilities and from a wide variety of schools and VERY few have developed good study skills.  Some feel they don't need it, others feel it is a waste of time, some want to do better but don't know how to start, and teachers have little time to teach it in the classroom.  I don't blame teachers, they have a hard job in front of them right now, and developing study skills is not possible given all they have to teach.  I do blame the schools though, every freshman in high school should be required to take a study skills class, if not taken in junior high.

Growing up I had a Catholic school education and a very good one at that.  I recall a large part of my freshman year was devoted to study skills.  Our teachers required us to learn how to take notes, outline, plan assignments ahead of time, and manage our time.  We took classes that helped us learn vocabulary, Latin roots, and how to read texts efficiently.  Maybe it wasn't a separate class, perhaps it was just incorporated into every class, but I know it was a large part of my high school education and it was ingrained in me.  At the time I probably did not like or appreciate it but as an adult I have come to realize what an advantage that gave me and I try to pass it on to as many students as possible.

Some students are "natural' test takers, others never seem to "need" to study and manage to get by without developing study skills.  This will catch up with them in college, or later in life when they are trying to balance a job and all the time management skills they need.  I actually find my students who have to work at developing study skills and take the time to invest in them are better prepared for college then some of the "naturals" who just believe everything will always be easy for them.  If you have one of these "naturals"  I encourage you to require them to learn the skills and develop them now even when they feel they don't need them - because some day they will and others will have them in place and be prepared.

If you have a student who struggles with tests, time management, assignment completion, or school/works/sports/social balance it is even more important for them to learn these skills as soon as possible.  Once they get the study skills and time management in place everything else has a tendency to improve as well. I often get asked where can I go to develop these skills?  If you have a class in your area or a good tutor some time with them will be well worth your investment.  If not, the internet does offer a lot of resources.  Below are a list of the most important skills your student needs and a few ideas about how to develop them.  You can start working these skills around the age of 12 and they should be well in place by the time they are 15-16 years old.
  1. Time Management 
  2. Organization of Supplies 
  3. Assignment Management
  4. Homework Contracts 
  5. Note Taking in Class
  6. Note Taking from Textbooks
  7. Study Aid Building 
  8. Studying and Practicing for Tests 
  9. Short Term Goals and Rewards
  10. Long Term Goals and Rewards 
Time Management
This is first and most important learning the importance of time management, not just as it relates to school but to overall life balance.  Teach your student to use a calendar and to plan atleast two weeks out at a time.  Consider all the things a student balances including: homework, sports practice and competition, work schedule, social schedule, church, and other obligations.  Many students prefer calendars on their phone or mobile device to a paper calendar.  These offer students the convenience of always having them with them and they can sync with parent and team calendars if you use something like google calendar.  The Pomodora technique can be a good starting place for many people struggling with time management.

Organization of Supplies 
Students should be encouraged to use an organizational system that works for their brain, not their parents.  Some parents love folders and bins while their student loves binders and shelves.  The specific organizational choices are not important, what is important is that some are made and kept up with.  The more ownership a student has in this process the more likely they are to follow through with using it.   I find most junior and senior high students either prefer a single binder with subdivisions or a separate notebook and folder for each subject.  Consider having a long term homework storage folder on their desk at home so they don't need to keep a years worth of paper in their binder or notebook.  I find these work very well for long time storage - you tape a piece of paper to the front and write what is in each number.  One of these could last a student through most of high school.

Assignment Management
Students need to learn how to manage lengthy assignments without procrastination.  Many high school teachers try to help them plan with deadlines along the way (resources, thesis, outline, first draft, final draft, etc).  These are important habits to develop and should start around the age of 12.  In addition to balancing a single long term assignments students need to learn how to manage multiple assignments at the same time with pre-planning instead of tyranny of the urgent dictating their schedule.  I find a simple table that shows all the subjects and then two weeks worth of due dates is a simple easy way to visually see all your upcoming assignments and help you plan.   Students should list all tests, quizzes, major assignments, and anything that has to be handed in.  This works much better for most students than flipping through a calendar and trying to visualize when each thing is due - students who work from a planner tend to look at the next day and maybe two days out when doing homework.  Students who can see two weeks ahead can start to plan better.

Homework Contracts
Homework contracts are a proactive way to teach your student to take control of their schedule and time.  I use these with my study skills students to help them pre-plan their homework.  Students look at their schedule on Saturday or Sunday for the following week and then agree to set aside a certain amount of homework time for the week and pre-plan WHEN they will do homework and how much they will do each day - BEFORE they have all their assignments for the week.  How does this work?  Well Maria says on Saturday I have swim team every day for two hours, I want to go out on Thursday and I have an event Wednesday night.  I will likely have about 10 hours of homework so she plans no homework on Thursday or Wednesday so she knows she has to fit in 10 hours on the other days - she does not like doing homework on the weekend so she plans for 3 hours of homework on Monday, Tuesday and Friday with one hour on Saturday.  Another student might plan a different schedule.  The key is on Monday night when she has finished her homework due on Tuesday in just 1.5 hours she has to keep working for another 1.5 hours on homework due later in the week since she will not be doing anything on Wednesday or Thursday.  Students fill in the squares on the contract for the number of hours they will do each day and share it with their parent and/or tutor for accountability.  The idea behind this is the student is more in control of WHEN the homework gets done by working ahead and in the times that work best for them rather then the tyranny of the urgent.  At first a student may resist but

Note Taking in Class 
It is important students learn how to take notes in the classroom.  Many teachers are now better about giving handouts and powerpoints to students which has led students to abandon the art of taking notes.  This is not helpful for the student in the long run, even though it feels like it is improving their circumstance in the immediate class.  Students need to know how to take notes in their own words and to pay attention to what the instructor thinks is important.  Students can still use the handouts the teachers give them when studying but they need to avoid relying on the printed notes and learn to take their own notes to train themselves for college and for classes where instructors are not so generous with the notes.  I like the Cornell method of notetaking and recommend it for all of my students.  Cornell notes offer pre-made study aids and the student is doing double duty when taking notes - learning and pre-making study aids that make it easier to study for the tests later.  Just like organization the notes must be done in a way the student likes and will follow through with.  However, I do typically push Cornell on students whenever possible as it seems to be the best for most students in the long run.

Note Taking from Textbooks
Few people learn to take notes from textbooks until college or graduate school and this is unfortunate as it is a powerful learning and studying tool.  I teach my own children this helpful habit in 7th grade and I generally teach high school freshman I tutor this.  Students who take AP classes with this habit in place have a huge advantage as they know how to manage large amounts of reading and filter out the most important parts.  I have students use the Cornell method again for note taking from textbooks and often have them work with a timer so they learn how many minutes it takes to outline a typical section or chapter in a textbook.  This helps them plan how long it will take to do this when doing homework.  I teach students to pre-read and then read and take notes at the same time, then review the notes daily (in less than 5 minutes a class) to best prepare for a class.  Students who develop this habit at an early age tend to handle complex classes with much more ease and less stress than students who do not have this habit in place.

Study Aid Building 
I have mentioned study aids several times in the note taking section.  I am a believer in study aids, especially homemade ones that are based around what you need help remembering.  Clean, easy to read notes done in the Cornell system are pre-made study aids that are very nice and easy to work off of.  When teaching my son to build these I had him read a chapter in his Chemistry textbook and time himself.  Then we did the notes together and I had him time himself reading over his important notes, which covered all the main important facts from the chapter.  He realized reading the chapter in a college level textbook took him about 30-40 minutes.  Reading his notes took about 5 minutes total.  This made him a believer in the value of notes.  When it comes time to study for a unit test covering 5 chapters instead of looking at 2-3 hours of reading to review he is looking at 25 minutes to review only the most critical information and it is easy to digest.  Some other useful study aids are vocab column sheets.   Take a sheet of paper and fold it in half or draw a line down the middle.  Write the word on one side and across from it the definition.  Then the next - by leaving these in columns instead of word - definition you have an easy to use study aid.  You can take another sheet of paper and cover the definition to test your skills.  Then you can cover the word and read the definition and test your recollection.  For most students these sheets are more effective than the flashcards I used growing up and they are easy to create as you read your textbook and notebook.  Just keep one sheet for all vocab in the class through the year.  Whatever study aids you build you should review them daily and weekly for maximum effect.

Studying and Practicing for Tests 
All these good habits won't help if your student will not learn to study and practice for exams.  Part of why students balk at studying is it seems tedious and time consuming.  The easier and more streamlined they can make the process the more they will do it.  Studying should be done in frequent short bursts rather than major cramming sessions.  Reviewing the notes and study aids each day for about 5-10 minutes a class is the most effective way to accomplish this.  Then when it comes time to "study" for the test students discover they already "know" so much because their brain has been reminded of it each day.  Some tests lend themselves to "practicing for", the ACT is a perfect example of this as are AP tests.  Other tests require studying and comparing facts and information and being ready to synthesize it all together on the test.  Students may resist this at first but after they learn they really can accomplish a lot in 10 minutes they are much more prone to continue doing so.

Short Term and Long Term Goals and Rewards 
Some people will disagree with what I am about to say next but I am a firm believer in it.  Life works with a system of rewards and penalties for us as adults and for young children so why do we not feel that is appropriate for our students?  I recommend teaching your student to have both short and long term goals and to set out rewards for accomplishing them.  I understand the philosophy of "the only reward needed for hard work is the satisfaction of a job well done" but in my experience it does not motivate pre-teens and teenagers - rewards do.

Sit down together and encourage your student to have some goals that can be accomplished in the following time frames:  one week, one month, one semester, one school year.  Most students can not think of tangible goals past a year at a time.   Goals should follow the SMART pattern that businesses employ:  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound.  They should then have an equally weighted reward associated with them.   So don't commit to an ipad for a week long goal :)  Some ideas to get you started.

Goal: I will follow and meet the conditions of my homework contract this week
Reward: You will receive an extra hour of screen time each day next week

Goal: I will hand in all assignments by the due date this month
Reward: You will receive a movie date with mom/dad

Goal:  I will get all B's or above this semester
Reward: You will receive $5 per B and $10 per A if condition met - if any grade fall belows a B you receive nothing for any grade.

Goal: I will receive a 4 or 5 on all AP exams
Reward:  Whatever you feel appropriate.

These are not magic ideas or rewards and your child may not like them.  Work with your child to develop reasonable goals and rewards that make sense to both of you.  Rewards are good and meaningful when they are set from the beginning and worked toward as a goal.  This is how life works for adults, so why not teenagers who are learning to be adults?

Final Thoughts 

Pick one or two items from the list above and start working on them with your student.  I also encourage you to have them read my post themselves and to take ownership of this process.  Most students do not want to do this at 12-14 years old but they are very trainable at this age and having good habits in place before they are 15-16 is very important and they will appreciate it and do it seamlessly when many of their other peers are struggling.  These organizational skills apply well beyond high school into college, graduate school and even the workplace.


Time is Funny

Serona asked me the other day if I still blog and I said "No, I don't have time anymore."  He said "Yes you have time."  It got me to thinking, I suppose I still have the same amount of time but I regularly choose to fill it with different things these days.

I think back to years ago when I was publishing our monthly reading lists and people asked how I could possibly read that much aloud to my kids and I kept thinking "How could I not, why does this seem so hard to people?"  Now I look back and realize it was all about prioritization.  Reading aloud to my kids was my highest priority and the one thing I always said Yes! to.  Now they all read on their own and I am so thankful for that time we had together.

I started reading a book aloud for Sirah this week.  I will often read the first chapter of a new book aloud for her.  She gets more interested in the book this way and feels more comfortable with the names and vocabulary and rhythm of the book after just listening to one chapter.  I started reading The Candyshop Wars aloud and my other kids soon trickled in, even though they are 12 and 14 and have both read the book.  We sat there for two hours with them just listening to me read aloud and them begging at the end of each chapter for just one more.  It made me realize read alouds have always been important to them as well and still are.

Life is different now to be sure.  The demands of high school Chemistry, Algebra 2, fiddle, mandolin, art lessons, competitive swim team, church and friends all seem to pull on my kids and my driving schedule.  I also work outside the home now, well over 20 hours a week sometimes approaching 30.  Life is busy and time seems different.

Today I woke at 4:30am - very unusual for me - and could not fall back asleep.  So here I am taking a minute to touch base here.  Yes I am busy but this blog will always be a part of me - even when time is funny.

I hope you find time to prioritize whatever is important to you today and never forget to Kiss those babies!
Tenniel


December 20, 2013

When the World Changes


It is funny I never fully shut the door on this blog.  I am sure no one reads it anymore as it has been almost a year in between posts, still I feel the need to write today.  The world has changed for us.  It was not an earth shattering change.  It was a change of gradual increments, like the frog in the pot.  It was a natural change, a normal change, a good change in its own, a sad change in others.

As I thought about our Christmas presents to our kids this year I realized this will be the first toy free Christmas.  You could argue books, electronics and music are the toys of the pre-teen and teen I know.  Still, this year there will be no blocks, dolls, legos, and little plastic toys of the year under our tree.  I suppose that is a sign of the change.  My kids are growing up.

My son asked me this week if I felt time goes too fast.  I said no but many people do.  As much as I am a bit sad about the gradual change I know it is the normal process and I am excited for all the other changes it brings.  This morning my youngest daughter played the mandolin for me and her beautiful art canvasses hang on our walls and I realized the world has changed.  In a good way. In a natural way.  I don't feel time has passed me by because we have been on this journey together trying to enjoy each moment.  This is part of why this blog is defunct.  My time is spent in other moments.

We still homeschool.  The lessons are different, no more letter of the week and nature walks, now it is replaced with private spanish, math, art, and music tutoring.  We drive to Chemistry, gym and a lengthy list of outside classes.  We still read history aloud, we still do math, reading and writing but it all looks different than when we began.  I don't know that I have advice anymore beyond this.

Meet the needs of your kids.  Listen to them and find what they need.  Then provide it.

This may not look as you expect.  For instance, we had been paying for science and spanish classes for awhile but never art or music, until our youngest.  When she asked for professional grade art supplies for Christmas and a mandolin for her birthday and nothing else we knew it was time.  She has private instructors for both and she is thriving.  The picture at the top is her latest creation under her tutor, she is 10 years old.

We are working on staying out of the box and meeting their needs while still providing the best education for each of them.  It looks so much different than I expected.  We have hit bumps and challenges along the way.  I have gone back to working in the evenings and that has brought its own set of challenges and changes but overall we are still doing well.

I always tend to reflect this time of year.  As I close the book on junior high for one and enter high school record keeping years I am thankful for all the stress free, pressure free years we had to explore.  I am determined to keep that philosophy into the high school years as well even as the demands and requirements increase.  With several high school credits under her belt Maria has plenty of room for exploration and unique opportunities even as she continues to fulfill requirements.  Looks like homeschooling high school is a reality with another shortly on the way.  Ciaran is in seventh grade and starting his own high school work already so we can keep the pacing reasonable and interesting in high school itself.  Sirah is still in elementary school and I need to remember to do things like the science museum and those nature walks even as I balance the needs of junior and senior high.  It is good for us all to go back to those very important experiences and just be in the moment.

Maybe I have kept this blog around to reread for myself, to remind myself what is important to us in education and more importantly in life.  We always said "Start with the end in mind" and we want them to love learning and be life long learners.  Even in homeschooling it is easy to lose sight of those goals with another class to run to and another place to be.  Still it is important to reflect and make sure you are still doing what you set out to accomplish and adjust along the way.

If you still stumble upon this blog, may you be blessed by what you find in it.  Take what works, leave the rest and find your own journey.  It is worth the time.  I leave you with a new favorite video of mine, from a precocious 13 year old.

Hug those babies,
Tenniel






January 12, 2013

Why You Should Read Every Day

    20minutes

I find this graphic fascinating and enlightening.  I showed it to Sirah today to encourage her to keep up the good progress she has recently made in reading.  Our children have to read an hour a day from the time they are good independent readers, usually first or second grade.  So if the student who reads 20 minutes a day during the school year reads 1,800,000 words by the end of sixth grade by my calculations (according to their standards) our kids will have read somewhere around 5,400,000 words by the end of sixth grade.  It really goes to show you how the numbers add up.  I am not sure exactly how accurate their numbers are but I recently did a quick calculation for Sirah as she reads Andrew Clements novels.  It appears she reads at a rate of about 33-40 words per minute.   Going with the lower number 722,700 words per year for about 5 years would be 3,613,500 and the higher speed an hour a day adds up to 876,000 words per year and 4,380,000 words between second and sixth grade.  So the study numbers are not that far off as I imagine the rate per minute would only increase.  I have not timed Maria recently but I can not even hazard a guess at how many words she reads over the course of a year and over the course of her education.

Sirah and I talked about how these numbers can be applied to different skill sets and educational goals.  She loves art and swimming and we talked about what these numbers mean for practicing both art and swimming strokes.  It was a great conversation starter.  Do you encourage your kids to read every day?  If not, why not?  Do you read every day?  If not, why not?  Even 20 minutes a day makes a huge difference and you and your kids can start right now.

Hug those babies
Tenniel

January 2, 2013

Reflections on a Decade of Home Schooling

A decade of homeschooling will ring in the year 2013 as will a decade of this blog.  When I first started this blog back in 2003 I wasn't really sure why I was doing it.  I think only my husband and the kids' grandparents read it.  I meant it sort of as a record of our journey through homeschooling.  At times it was exactly that, at times it has been a personal record, at times a place for lesson plans and reading lists.  

Today I spent some time back on the first few posts of this blog and I was struck by this one I wrote and how true it still rings today.  I wrote this when the kids where 4 and 2 and in the womb the very first month of this blog. I realize looking back how much of who my kids are today was present back then.  They have grown and matured, as have I, still much is the same: their current learning styles, their unique interests and approach to life were in part obvious back then.  From June 2003

The early days...    Before I started formally thinking about homeschooling I've always been teaching my kids both informally and in more formal ways as was age appropriate. My first was subjected to so much in utero as I was finishing my masters degree in Communications Studies and coaching intercollegiate debate throughout almost my entire pregnancy. Serona's favorite early baby pastime was reading science fiction and fantasy books out loud to her while she laid on his chest. Then we moved across country and I found myself at home with a very young child as my only companion and I talked to her and with her almost all day long and not in baby talk either. We moved through our days together and I explained and labelled everything in her world and mine. When we went to the grocery store, each item we put in our basket was named and described. This is a pepper, it is red, it grows in the ground, etc. This continued and has only gotten more detailed as they got older. Serona thought a good challenge word for her when she was two years old was Anti-disestablishmentarianism and we are very proud of the fact that at age three she could name her president, senator and governor and recognize them by picture. But the thing is we never saw this as odd, until others were shocked or surprised. 
We just always have had the philosophy of sharing the world with them and taking them to places others might not take their kids and teaching them by experience. They've been at political rallies, speeches at universities, formal talks by activists and religious scholars, band performances at bars, drama productions, a star wars convention and numerous other "unusual" places to find infants, toddlers and preschoolers. They have done amazingly well and have learned so much from their experiences. They have waved signs on election day and participated in campaigning, they have heard the president and first lady speak in person, and have shook hands with Ralph Nader. Sure they had their moments at some of these events - but overall they were extremely well behaved and received many positive comments from those around us. I can't help but believe that this has contributed to how well adjusted and smart they already are.
For a long time I just moved through life this way - teaching in the teachable moments and making it very real to them in ways they could understand. When our daughter was three she seemed to need more - her options would have been to go to a "preschool" which in most cases is paying for daycare and play with other kids, or to spend over $500 a month to go to a Montessori or Waldorf program - who actually do teach young children. So we decided just to increase our formal working with her at home. I began more structured (not to structured though - it is me and she was 3 after all) teaching. We picked a letter a day at first and then settled on a letter a week to learn about. We would make lists of words that started with that letter, keep a cardboard box that she filled with things that began with that letter, made collages from magazine cutouts of objects that start with that letter and practice recognizing and reading that letter. We would pick themes to go with the week, A week we visited an apple orchard, made apple pie, apple soup and learned a song about apples. B week we learned about bears and made our kitchen table into a cave and hibernated. C week we watched clouds and read "It looked like spilt milk" and so on the list went. She loved it, we had plans and my son then 1 1/2 started to get interested in it as well and we moved through the days learning and having fun, without too much structure but enough to keep us organized. By three and a half she was really ready to want to start reading on her own and we began trying to foster that desire. 
My son is a completely different child with a completely different learning style. He is a very active child and easily bored, he needs hands on experiences and had little patience for sitting still. I found that I could meet both of their needs when "teaching" in the way I did. I could read a book about a subject and then have hands on experiences or objects that my son could learn from. I began to realize that this enhanced and stretched both of their learning styles while meeting the needs of each of them. I would spend more of the hands on time with my son making sure he understood what we were doing then and more of my attention went to my daughter when we focused on more bookish teaching techniques. Yet each was able to get what they needed from the lesson and a bit extra as well. It was and is a very natural combination of teaching and learning for us. 
Being a pretty left brained individual I have found it more challenging to teach my younger son - but that is good as it stretches me too and helps us all to have more well rounded experiences. While flash cards and books were very effective in teaching my daughter colors and language - they did very little for my son. However playing with certain toys, letting him touch and see green leaves and oranges and our little cardboard sound box worked very well for him. Music and art and anything physical helps him learn and we utilize that in our life teaching experiences. I have many teachable moments with him playing in the yard that I need to take advantage of and in those moments I really see the advantages of homeschooling as both my kids would be likely lost in the "system" for completely different reasons. My daughter would go largely unchallenged and quickly become bored and my son would be forced to learn in a method that is not conducive to his learning style and would probably be left behind or misunderstood and mislabeled
I am so thankful for these early experiences we have had for they have shown me the benefits that teaching our kids at home can offer our family and has given me the confidence that we have naturally been doing that at home all along. I have learned so much about each of my children and myself through these experiences and that can only serve to enhance our education throughout our lives. As we stand at a crossroads where we are making a choice to "homeschool" I realize that we made that choice a long time ago and that we have been doing it all along, we are just choosing to continue and improve upon that. 


Our days are no longer filled with Letter of the Week, colors and preschool activities.  Now we have chemistry, fencing, engineering club, and swim team to fill our days.  Still it is amazing how much is the same about our approach to education and life.  We still find ourselves moving through life taking advantage of the natural teachable moments. It is my job to find and create more of them now.

We still choose to homeschool ten years later and I suppose no matter the educational choices we make we will always continue to homeschool.  I am thankful for this past decade and all we have learned and discovered together.  I look forward to the next decade and all that it may bring.  Ten years from now if all goes according to plan our homeschool days will be finished with our youngest in her first year of college :) When I started I certainly did not think I was signing up for two decades of homeschooling but now I can't imagine anything different. 

Kiss those babies,
Tenniel

December 13, 2012

September - November Humanities Reading

Below is a list of books read for a 20th Century High School Humanities Course.  These books were read between the months of September and December of 2012 and deal with the years 1900-1930.  More to follow throughout the year.  Order is not relevant.




Brave New World

The Complete Sherlock Holmes

The Hobbit

Animal Farm

The 1920s from Prohibition to Charles Lindbergh

The 1930s from the Great Depression to the Wizard of Oz

The Great Depression

The Great Gatsby

Duke Ellington

The Long March: The Making of Communist China

A Nation Is Born: World War I and Independence, 1910-1929

The Causes of World War I

Winston Churchill: British Soldier, Writer, Statesman

Notorious Americans - Al Capone (Notorious Americans)

The Wall Street Crash, October 29, 1929 (Days That Shook the World)

The Magnificent Ambersons

World History Biographies: Gandhi: The Young Protester Who Founded a Nation

Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition

Prohibition

World War I

The United Nations

Titanic: Voices From the Disaster

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Heart of Darkness

Maria Montessori: Teacher of Teachers

Genius: A Photobiography of Albert Einstein

The Russian Revolution (20th Century Perspectives)

The 1900s

Marie Curie

The Wright Brothers: First in Flight

Paul C'Zanne

Monet

Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium

The Jungle

Kitty Hawk: The Flight of the Wright Brothers

Albert Einstein

Henri Matisse

Henry Ford: Automobile Manufacturer And Innovator

The Naacp: An Organization Working To End Discrimination

20th Century Day By Day

Timelines of the 20th Century: A Chronology of 7,500 Key Events, Works, Discoveries, and People That Shaped Our Time

Art Of The 20th Century   The History Of Art Year By Year From 1900 To 1999

The 1910s from World War I to Ragtime Music

August 17, 2012

Making History Interesting to Teens


Maria made the mistake of telling me last year that she does not like history, she finds it boring.  You would think by now my kids would know better, or at least be able to predict what will follow a statement like that :)

I have spent the last few weeks creating a high school 20th Century Humanities course for this fall.  Each month we will focus on a single decade 1900-1909, 1910-1919, etc all the way through 1999.  We will study historic events, famous people, inventions, science discoveries, art, music, literature, film, television, and philosophy.  The goal will be to prove to Maria that history is fascinating and linked to everything else going on in the world at any given time.  The course will be interdisciplinary and have both breadth and depth.  I have been having a lot of fun putting the class together. 

I have learned through my years of teaching that most learning occurs when students are engaged, interested and having fun.  They rarely realize they are learning because it is just so interesting.  This is the goal and so far I think I will be able to accomplish it with her.  Yesterday I spent the day looking at 100 years of art selecting our works for the year.  You really learn a lot about a culture when you spend a day doing that.  Today the focus was music, the day before literature and inventions.  I can already see trends and patterns across just these few subjects.  Connections will be formed all semester long and hopefully carry with her throughout her life. 

The key is finding the hook.  I thought my way in would be through film and literature.  As I prepare though I realize in her case it will be through science and inventions.  So many amazing things happened and were developed last century.  Science played a critical role and she will enjoy that part being the scientist that she is.  The literature will be interesting and fun, the music telling of the cultural changes but as I prepared I realized there are so many more connections between science, inventions and history this past decade that I am getting excited to discover them all and help her along the way. 

I remember my first interdisciplinary class, my high school senior art class.  We only combined history, art and music but it had a profound affect on my understanding of the world to be able to see all the connections.  I have always approached my kids education with an interdisciplinary/unit study flare but this will be our first year studying exclusively this way.  Only her math curriculum and chemistry class will be outside of this class.  I was tempted to bring my younger kids into the study, it certainly would be easier for me, yet I know this needs to remain just a high school level class.  The 20th century saw a lot of events, art, music, and historical figures that one needs to have a certain level of maturity to grasp and handle emotionally.  I know Maria is ready for this and the others are not, so they will have to wait their turn. 

I was disappointed to discover there was no curriculum already made that could do what I wanted.  Still it has forced me to make it truly what I want as I develop everything from scratch.  There are many wonderful resources available so mostly I am compiling a big spreadsheet of lists and material to study.  We will focus on primary and original sources whenever possible.  Most of the original material is readily available thanks to the internet and the library.  I will report back at the end of the year letting you know if I found a way to make history interesting to teens, or at least to my teenage daughter. 


August 12, 2012

Teenagers are Amazing. Stop Judging Them so Harshly

http://www.thefinestdj.com/images/shutterstock_2000969.gifI have always loved teenagers.  Everyone tells me that will change when I have my own.  So far we are doing okay but we are only a month into the official teen years.  People told me to hate two year olds and I did not.  I actually found two to be a magical and interesting year for my children.  I will go into the teen years positively and take it as it comes. 

My own teenagers are not the motivation for this post, teenagers in general are.  I thoroughly enjoy teenagers and I am at a loss as to why more people do not enjoy them as well.  Sure they are loud and at times rude and rambunctious but they are always interesting.  Teens are fascinating as they learn to navigate the world around them as themselves and not as who their parents told them to be. The teenage mind is interesting to watch a problem and see their creative ways through difficulties.  Yes they can be impulsive but often that is because we allow excuses for them to fall back on. 

For anyone who thinks they dislike teenagers I challenge you to get to know some teens.  Really get to know them and ask them about their interests, joys and hardships.  Learn about how they balance school, work, sports and friendships.  Ask about their goals and dreams and how they plan to get there. 

I always tell people my favorite age people are 15-22.  So much happens in those years.  The mind is developing, strategizing, understanding, negotiating, and it is amazing to witness that process.  Conversations, debates, and discussions are very rich with individuals in this age group.  Opinions alternate between firm, fluid, unsure and firm again.  People in this age range are trying to figure out who they are, what their place in this world is, what this world is all about and what it really should be like.  They love to engage on issues of religion, politics, sexuality, money and all the world's biggest issues and questions.  Adults are foolish to not engage and learn from them and help teens and young adults learn from them and see the world from other perspectives. 


I am a tutor.  I primarily work with teenagers on their study skills and their ACT test prep.  The first question I ask them is what sports or musical instruments they have played.  I ask about their favorite movies, music, books and video games.  I work hard to find connection points with each of my students and to help them feel comfortable with me.  The only part I dislike about my job is that when I am successful I work myself out of it.  When my students succeed they stop working with me and I miss getting to know them and see their success and journey. 

I watch other adults look at teenagers with disgust or cross a street to avoid them and I am saddened.  Our culture needs more cross generational relationships and the adults in this culture are doing little to connect with the teenagers and young adults and be active parts of their lives.  If I was a teen receiving looks from adults like I observe I would not want relationships with adults and I would likely continue behaviors that were repelling the adults. 

Our home school group meets at the beach every week.  Several times this summer I set up in the middle of the high school/college zone.  It was interesting to see how the teens served as "adult repellent" with no other adults wanting to be anywhere near them.  Yes they smoked, yes many of them swore, yes they gave me incredulous looks at first.  A strange thing happened though after I smiled, returned a football that landed at my feet and they realized I was not going away.  They spoke to me, they smiled, they seemed to have cleaned up their language some and even spoke a little softer.  I did not ask them to, I did not encourage them to, I did not even really interact with them. 

I work with many teenagers and every one of them is unique and interesting.  They are totally amazing and special people.  They are polite, kind and engaging.  They just want people to treat them with respect and kindness.  They want people to believe in them, build them up, support and encourage them.  They don't want to be talked down to, belittled, or prejudged.   They care burdens and walk hard paths.  They want to do hard things, be challenged and will respond to the opportunities laid before them. 

In all of my years of teaching and tutoring I have learned you always teach up.  Students long to be recognized, they long to have someone notice the specialness within them and help bring it out.  Students will always rise to the challenge when encouraged and supported.  I still believe Aristotle was right and work hard to help all my students realize I am only helping them discover what they themselves already knew.  It is not about the teacher, it is the student who knew and just needed a little help getting it out of themselves.

Teenagers want the adults in this world to realize they are just as capable and hard working as fellow adults.  Teenagers want to be treated like adults but also be given some breathing room to be allowed to make mistakes and screw up along the way, they are still learning.  Treat teens with respect and you will be amazed at the results.  You will meet some really interesting and amazing people along the way. 



June 19, 2012

Reflections on Eight Years of a Reader



I have kept journals for each of my children since I was pregnant with them.  Their journal is a place I record important times in their lives, funny stories I want to remember and advice I want to give them years later.  These pages are made up of moments I want them to remember, a picture of their childhood without all the snapshots, just my verbal descriptions.  

Occasionally when I write in these I skim back over past years and see where they have been and where they are now, even in their young lives you can begin to trace paths and see how each experience led to the next.  I was doing that recently when I came across an entry that stuck with me.  I wrote in Maria’s journal on January 22, 2004 when she was 4 years old.  

Today was a special day.  It was as if the light bulb just clicked and you truly got it.  I was so thankful to be a part of it - to be there to help and to see you read your first words and whole book.  Your first book was “Al” by Primary Phonics read on January 22, 2004.  I truly hope this develops into a passion for reading much like your father and I both have.  You love being read to and your excitement over reading yourself is contagious.  You are so proud of yourself as you should be - not many children read at the age of 4.  Thank you for sharing your life passion and learning with me - it truly is a gift I cherish and am so thankful for.  Love, Mommy.”

Part of why this entry struck me was the timing in relation to recent accomplishments in Maria’s life.  In February 2012 she took the ACT (College Entrance Exam) as a twelve year old.  As I drove her to the college where she took her test I was struck by the fact that just eight years ago I was witnessing her learning to read independently and praying for her to have a passion for reading.  

It was this very passion that led her to take the ACT in the first place, to experience a challenge in reading.  As I dropped her off in a classroom of juniors and seniors in high school and walked away I wondered if what she was doing was right for her.  I am not a fan of grade skipping and I am not a tiger parent, yet there I sat with my 12 year old daughter taking an exam to determine her college readiness.  

Of course I knew she was not taking it to try to get into a college and her reasons for taking the test were sound.  I am glad she had the initiative to do so and I was so proud of her for being brave enough to give it a try.  As  I sat at a coffee shop a few blocks away I wrote her a long letter about her journey that brought her to this point.  I shared some of what I hoped would follow which continued with the theme of lifelong passion for reading and being a lifelong learner.  I have no journal entry from this day because I wrote a letter and handed it to her when she got in the car after the exam.  

I asked her reactions to the test and she said “It was fun!”  Not what I expected, though I probably should have.  She said the math was hard because she had not even learned half of it yet and science was too time pressured but the rest of the test was fun.  As I drove away I was thinking about how much can change and how much stays the same in eight years.  Maria has always loved reading and she devours books of all types.  She has had a lot of freedom to read as often as she wants and if the 10,000 hours to become an expert rule has merit I am pretty confident she has achieved that level or is very close to the threshold :)

We recently attended ceremonies on the campuses of Northwestern University and Hamline University to celebrate her accomplishments on the ACT.  Taking that test and her results have opened many new doors and possibilities to her for her present and her future.  She has discovered some new things about herself and her potential and plans to use them well.  She is as excited and motivated as she was eight years ago when she first learned to read.  Her enthusiasm is at times contagious.  Now though my messages to her are a bit different.  

From my journal entry after we received her ACT scores.  

While it is true that your composite ACT score and all your subscores would get you into most colleges now, we would not encourage you to or let you go to college now :)  As I tell you all the time I am pro balanced life.  I want you to excel in school and do well but I also want you to enjoy swimming, youth group, and just having fun with your friends. I want you to keep your whole life in balance even as you pursue your passions and gifts....You are extremely self motivated and disciplined.  You set very high goals for yourself and work harder than almost anyone I know to achieve them.  Set your goals for a whole and balanced life where you still pursue your passions and talents becoming a lifelong learner and person who is happy with the whole of her life.”

I am very proud of Maria but not because of the results of a single test.  I am proud of her bravery, her discipline, her hard work, her passion and talent and her willingness to try new things.  I am proud of how she attacks a problem and faces new challenges.  Her test results show this more than anything else.  Her test results just confirm what we have known about her for a long time.  

Her journey of reading may seem incredible to some from learning to read to a perfect reading score in just eight years and it is quite an accomplishment!  When I reflect though I realize she was given freedom and encouragement and support to explore and pursue her passions and talents at the rate that was best for her individual personality and motivation.  She is very hard working and always willing to try new things and challenge herself.  

Each child has their own bend, talent, passion and motivation level.  As parents we need to encourage and support those passions in our children and give them the freedom to explore on their own and provide new challenges to help them rise to the next level when they seem to be leveling off or stagnating.  This is one of my favorite parts of home schooling.  Having the freedom to give my children freedom and room to grow and become who they want to be.

I have enjoyed walking this eight year reading journey with my daughter and I look forward to seeing what the next 6 years bring.  It will be fun and interesting to see where she decides to continue her journey when she takes the ACT to actually apply to colleges and heads out the door to one, if that is the path she chooses to follow.  A lot can change in six years but then again a lot can also stay the same :)  

Kiss those babies,
Tenniel