13 January 2011
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: Guest Writer.
Guest Blogger: Steven David Horwich
Homeschooling is a profound challenge for a parent. Sure, it’s a challenge for the student, too. But the parent has to suddenly become an expert teacher. And since it’s your children that you’re teaching, you want to be a great teacher!
- Don’t restrict the student to the “three R’s”.
Listen, and when the student expresses an interest in a subject (other than video games), do what you can to expose them to subjects they’re reaching for. You may go through several of these and find your student rejecting them before hitting on one or two they love. Expect to waste some money and time. But those interests which they embrace will help shape the rest of the student’s life, provide them joy and possible security. This is a real advantage homeschool families have that schools generally cannot provide; flexibility in subject matter which can be tailored to the student’s interests. Interested students work harder at their studies than uninterested students.
- Don’t micromanage any more than is necessary.
The more responsibility the student takes, the more they’ll learn. We expect a lot from our children, but we rarely grant them authority equal to the level of responsibility. You probably don’t like it much when you’re told to do a thing but not given the freedom to do it your way. Your student doesn’t like it, either. A gradual, careful surrendering to a student of authority over their education empowers and prepares them for life. We call people who are entirely responsible for themselves “adults”. (At least, that’s the idea.) That should be where your student is headed.
- Don’t edit or “critique” your student’s creative efforts.
Creativity is a deeply personal thing. A creative work is nothing less than a part of the person who created it, shared with the world. Accordingly, few qualities are as fragile as creativity. A disapproving look at the wrong time can slow creativity down. Correcting spelling in a creative writing exercise, when creative expression and not spelling was the point, can blunt the student’s interest. And “helping” with ideas, plots, melodies, whatever, only tells the student that their own ideas aren’t enough, or good enough. Left alone with plenty of opportunity to experiment, almost anyone could become an artist of some sort. In the arts, study and experience (exposure and practice) generate expertise far more than critique ever did. Willing artists create far more than those who are brow-beaten and who have been “trained” to doubt their own insights and skills.
The Dos? Do listen, answer questions, provide resources and opportunities, and admire your students and their creations.
These don’ts and dos can go a long way toward making you an excellent teacher, to your student’s lifelong advantage.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steven David Horwich has been both a professional writer and a professional educator his entire adult life. He started authoring a curricula that would become Connect The Thoughts when he withdrew his children from private school in September, 2002. Incidentally, Steven’s daughter, Katherine, came up with the name Connect The Thoughts, and his son, William, was the first to complete the entire Upper School program. He worked exclusively authoring CTT from 2002 to 2010.
5 August 2009
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: Malaysian schools.
I didn’t want to be knocking our education system or the good teachers who are trying to make a difference, but then I caught this article in the STAR.
When will we ever learn
by Jacqueline Pereira
They say a teacher’s job is never done, but our columnist tells why she is done with teaching.
I NEVER wanted to be a teacher. Looking back now, it was a short, five-year career stint that began with a deliberately badly done entrance exam and a sulky monosyllabic interview.
I categorically stated that I did not want to teach. Yet I was accepted.
In the beginning, it all went well. The teacher training process was unexpectedly engaging. From tennis to trekking, English Literature and lesson planning, every day was an absorbing learning experience.
The assignments, though many, were creative and thought-provoking. Even better, we were located in the middle of Kuala Lumpur. With the thriving distractions the city offered in the late 1980s, college life was a party that did not end for two-and-a-half years.
Nevertheless, that first semester, my mates and I worked really hard at our coursework. All outings were put on hold while, in our cramped hostel rooms, we concentrated on passing our exams.
That was until we sat for the first paper. We simply couldn’t believe our luck. It was easy, and in the following semesters we wised up.We would sneak back into our hostels at 7am after another disco-crawl, then shower, change and dash into the halls to sit for our exams. And we graduated at the top of our class.
Thus, with armfuls of ideas, renewed enthusiasm and misguided (as I would find out later) idealism, the first few terms in a real school were very satisfying.
The makeshift library at the back of the classroom actually attracted students to read. The speak-English-only day saw students hesitantly trying out new words with their limited vocabulary. And I had a growing collection of gifts – stickers and used erasers.
So, despite not wanting to be a teacher, I greatly enjoyed the process of imparting knowledge to receptive young minds, testing their capabilities and truly appreciating the progress these students made by the end of each school year.
The teaching stint also presented me with opportunities to be creative and to experiment with teaching methods and tools to enhance the students’ learning experience.
Yet, eventually, all good intentions faded.
For a start, 80% of my coursemates could hardly speak English, let alone complete their assignments without help.
(Read the rest here)
28 May 2009
Anyone who has ever sat through a normal class will immediately agree that what is taught is not the same as what is learnt. It’s such a simple principle, yet one of the most overlooked. The most colourful curricula and the most dedicated teacher do not guarantee that learning has taken place. I know that sounds so discouraging, especially to a homeschooling mom or dad who thinks that the right curriculum and a whole load of enthusiasm get the job done.
Consider this provocative list of top ten mistakes in education and you’ll see what I mean. I say provocative because it turns what a lot of people believe education is all about on its head, homeschoolers included. Although the author had in mind teaching structures in traditional schools, the list is just as relevant to parents who educate their children at home.
Mistake #1: Schools act as if learning can be disassociated from doing.
There really is no learning without doing. There is the appearance of learning without doing when we ask children to memorize stuff. But adults know that they learn best on the job, from experience, by trying things out. Children learn best that way, too. If there is nothing to actually do in a subject area we want to teach children it may be the case that there really isn’t anything that children ought to learn in that subject area.
Mistake #2: Schools believe they have the job of assessment as part of their natural role.
Assessment is not the job of the schools. Products ought to be assessed by the buyer of those products, not the producer of those products. Let the schools do the best job they can and then let the buyer beware. Schools must concentrate on learning and teaching, not testing and comparing.
Mistake #3: Schools believe they have an obligation to create standard curricula.
Why should everyone know the same stuff? What a dull world it would be if everyone knew only the same material. Let children choose where they want to go, and with proper guidance they will choose well and create an alive and diverse society.
Mistake #4: Teachers believe they ought to tell students what they think it is important to know.
There isn’t all that much that it is important to know. There is a lot that it is important to know how to do, however. Teachers should help students figure out how to do stuff the students actually want to do.
Mistake #5: Schools believe instruction can be independent of motivation for actual use.
We really have to get over the idea that some stuff is just worth knowing even if you never do anything with it. Human memories happily erase stuff that has no purpose, so why try to fill up children’s heads with such stuff? Concentrate on figuring out why someone would ever want to know something before you teach it, and teach the reason, in a way that can be believed, at the same time.
Mistake #6: Schools believe studying is an important part of learning.
Practice is an important part of learning, not studying. Studying is a complete waste of time. No one ever remembers the stuff they cram into their heads the night before the exam, so why do it? Practice, on the other hand, makes perfect. But, you have to be practicing a skill that you actually want to know how to perform.
Mistake #7: Schools believe that grading according to age group is an intrinsic part of the organization of a school.
This is just a historical accident and it’s a terrible idea. Age-grouped grades are one of the principal sources of terror for children in school, because they are always feeling they are not as good as someone else or better than someone else, and so on. Such comparisons and other social problems caused by age-similar grades cause many a child to have terrible confidence problems. Allowing students to help those who are younger, on the other hand, works well for both parties.
Mistake #8: Schools believe children will accomplish things only by having grades to strive for.
Grades serve as motivation for some children, but not for all. Some children get very frustrated by the arbitrary use of power represented by grades and simply give up.
Mistake #9: Schools believe discipline is an inherent part of learning.
Old people especially believe this, probably because schools were seriously rigid and uptight in their day. The threat of a ruler across the head makes children anxious and quiet. It does not make them learn. It makes them afraid to fail, which is a different thing altogether.
Mistake #10: Schools believe students have a basic interest in learning whatever it is schools decide to teach to them.
What kid would choose learning mathematics over learning about animals, trucks, sports, or whatever? Is there one? Good. Then, teach him mathematics. Leave the other children alone.
The above was written by Dr Robert Schank, founder of Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University. If you want to be a better educator – whether you’re homeschooling or unschooling or teaching in a traditional school – you’ll want to pay his site Engines for Education a visit.
9 May 2009
Brit journalist Rod Liddle who writes for The Spectator thinks homeschooling is a farce and that we should leave teaching to the professionals. Titled, Who is right about homeschooling? you can read it here. Hmm. But I found a reply by one Amanda Craig to Liddle’s rather cynical take on homeschool (or ‘truancy’ as he prefers to call it). I’m reproducing her response here:
From Amanda Craig
Sir: I was interested in Rod Liddle’s article ‘Who is right about home schooling?’ (23 September) because I too have children at top private schools and have noticed large gaps in their general knowledge thanks to the detestable National Curriculum.
However, the solution is quite simple and does not necessitate removing them from their friends.
Stick a map of the world and a map of Britain up where they have meals, and they will learn geography. Make a time-line with them, and they will learn history. Listen to Radio Three in the car if you do a school run, and they will learn more about classical music than in a hundred music lessons.
Teach them, formally, how to draw. Watch familiar DVDs in foreign languages. Walk with them for at least half an hour every day, and talk to them about anything under the sun, including politics. Above all, keep reading to them every night, until they can read Jane Austen. It will only take an hour out of each day at most, is a total pleasure, and makes a huge difference to a child’s knowledge and self-confidence.
I went to a progressive boarding school where, as an academic pupil, I learnt almost nothing worth knowing. However, I got into Cambridge because I had a mother who followed these principles. All half-decent parents home-educate their children, in effect, until children learn to educate themselves.
Amanda Craig London NW1
13 November 2008
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: Q & A.
I was quite surprised to read that the Education Ministry is once again reviewing the Education Act 1996. It appears there is a bill that requires all teachers in educational institutions (kindergartens to colleges) to be registered with the education department before they can teach anyone. That doesn’t sound too encouraging to homeschooling parents who are already nervous about dealing with mandatory education for primary kids. It does make you wonder what sort of repercussions it will have on parents who educate their own children at home. The new amendment isn’t law yet, but MP for Sungei Siput, Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, has raised it in Parliament in August 25, 2008. You can read it here.
Interestingly, homeschooling mom Momie Tullotes in an article titled Can a Parent Be a Homeschool Teacher Without a Degree, writes that while a teaching degree may be helpful, it is not necessary. What a homeschooling parent needs is determination and dedication. Read her piece here.
Beyond legal issues, parents often wonder if they are qualified to teach their own children. To be qualified means so many things! Common fears cited include a poor grasp of English, lack of education, and an inability to discipline one’s own children. It is unfortunate that many parents in Malaysia feel that homeschooling can only be conducted in English. This is certainly not true. HSLDA has links to homeschooling groups in Taiwan and I am pretty sure a simple search will lead any seeker to more links.
Apart from the issue of language, I can understand the anxiety at the very thought of educating one’s children. Here’s an article I came across that addresses this question: “Am I really qualified to teach my own children?” The writer Richard J. Prystowsky spells out what he sees as crucial links in parent-child teaching. He says:
My intention here is to help parents—especially those new to and those thinking about homeschooling—who are struggling with the questions of whether or not they really are both capable of teaching and qualified to teach their own and whether or not they are (or would be) acting responsibly by homeschooling their children. To this end, I offer a discussion of the following personal traits, which, in my nearly twenty years of college teaching, I have come to see as being essential for anyone to possess who desires to be a good teacher, that person’s profound knowledge of her subject matter or in-depth training in teaching notwithstanding. (Note: one’s being “certified” to teach is not synonymous with one’s being “qualified” to teach.) My greatest mentors possessed these traits, although, to the best of my knowledge, none had taken a single course in educational theory or methods. If you yourself have or are striving to have all of these traits (the following list is not meant to be exhaustive), then you are probably fit to teach your own. On the other hand, if you lack and have no interest in attaining them, then perhaps you ought not teach either your own or anyone else’s children. (Read the rest here)
His is a helpful list (non-exhaustive, as he writes), but again, the stress is on desire and determination. Hmm. Thousands upon thousands of parents who have homeschooled their children couldn’t have agreed more.
5 November 2008
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: College/University.
Not a day passes without someone asking, “So, what about college?” Homeschoolers like everyone else wonder if at the end of their journey they each have what it takes to enter college. Now here’s an article by Charles Murray of the Wall Street Journal who wonders whether we’re making too much of college certification and degrees:
Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:
First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn’t meet the goal. We will call the goal a “BA.”
You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that’s the system we have in place.
Finding a better way should be easy. The BA acquired its current inflated status by accident. Advanced skills for people with brains really did get more valuable over the course of the 20th century, but the acquisition of those skills got conflated with the existing system of colleges, which had evolved the BA for completely different purposes.
Outside a handful of majors — engineering and some of the sciences — a bachelor’s degree tells an employer nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance. Even a degree in a vocational major like business administration can mean anything from a solid base of knowledge to four years of barely remembered gut courses.
The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them. They need a certification, not a degree. [Read more]
It was also interesting to read another opinion piece by Marty Nemko that pretty much says that a Bachelor’s degree is way overrated. His argument is not so much the value of the degree, but whether it means anything when studies repeatedly show how little undergraduates actually learn in college:
College students may be dissatisfied with instruction, but, despite that, do they learn? A 2006 study supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50 percent of college seniors scored below “proficient” levels on a test that required them to do such basic tasks as understand the arguments of newspaper editorials or compare credit-card offers. Almost 20 percent of seniors had only basic quantitative skills. The students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station.
Unbelievably, according to the Spellings Report, which was released in 2006 by a federal commission that examined the future of American higher education, things are getting even worse: “Over the past decade, literacy among college graduates has actually declined. … According to the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, for instance, the percentage of college graduates deemed proficient in prose literacy has actually declined from 40 to 31 percent in the past decade. … Employers report repeatedly that many new graduates they hire are not prepared to work, lacking the critical thinking, writing and problem-solving skills needed in today’s workplaces.” [Read more]
10 January 2005
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: FAQ.
2 couples visited to chat about homeschool Saturday night. Mr & Mrs J are wringing their hands in exasperation at the state of public schools (wife works with a publisher of Malaysian textbooks) and are pretty much sold on homeschooling their 5-year old son. We showed them our boys’ old scrapbooks and journals and encouraged them to take it easy and not rush into formal learning. We pulled out books and catalogues, and explained how to purchase curriculum off the Net, and as always, ended up talking about the legality of homeschool. They were an enthusiastic couple and both husband and wife talked about how exciting it would be to be learning and growing together.
Mr & Mrs Y (they have 3 kids) who rang the doorbell as the first couple was leaving was a picture of contrast. Y wasn’t happy that his wife wanted to homeschool and he expressed his indignation and skepticism throughout the evening. He understood his wife’s concerns, said Y, and that was why he agreed to talk to homeschoolers (evidence of an open mind, he added). Y admitted he did not have any idea what homeschooling was about, and concepts about schooling and education were largely defined by his personal experiences in public school. Both had views that were opposed to each other, but Mrs Y had gone on ahead to order homeschool books for their preschoolers, which to her husband was tantamount to open defiance.
I thought they were very honest in airing their differences to someone whom they had just met, and both Sook Ching and I told them they had to work things out together before homeschooling their kids. Here was a practical man who wanted answers to all his questions, including, “How much time do I really have to spend with my children?” and “What do I have to expect 5 years from now, or 10 years later?” Not an involved father to start with as it became apparent, but legitimate questions nonetheless. Seeing none of us at home was a crystal ball gazer, I’m not sure if we were entirely helpful. We also shared about the importance of conversations as one aspect of informal learning at home – we always have lots of things to talk about each time we sit down together, in the car, at meals, etc. Y turned to our 15-year old son Ethan and asked, besides “talking,” how much time does his Dad spend “teaching” him? Ethan gave him his typically lazy, quizzical look and said, “Well, talking is teaching too.” Don’t know if that meant anything to Y!
Anyway, what intrigued me most about the two couples was something both men asked. They’ve heard all these nice things about homeschool, but what about failures and dropouts? Aren’t there any? On balance, are there ‘negatives’ they should know about? Y reported that a church leader warned of a family whose teen had had a nervous breakdown shortly after homeschooling.
It always strikes me as utterly bizarre that all the violence and obvious breakdown in conventional schools never give detractors of homeschooling cause for pause. Apparently it’s alright when they happen in a conventional school, because these ‘negatives’ don’t make anyone say, “Careful, you don’t wanna send your children to zoos like these.” But talk about homeschooling, and someone goes, “Say, wasn’t that Yates woman who drowned her five kids a homeschooler?”
Now where do you think that came from?