Tuesday, April 22, 2008

goals, objectives, standards, and the like

From the comments to my post about child-led learning, anthromama asked:

I would be interested to hear about whether you have any specific goals for your sons, any milestones that you would like them to pass by a certain age, etc. Essentially, how you will gauge how they are doing. Or if you have something else you are measuring, either qualitative or quantitative.

The short answer is yes.

But I'm guessing you're not here for a short answer, are you? Or at least, I'm not here to give short answers.

I have lots of specific goals for my sons. I want them to love reading, writing, and researching, to be interested and engaged with the world, to develop rigorous thinking about math and science, to have an understanding of cultural conflicts in this country and in the world, and to understand that there are many ways of looking at various kinds of problems. I want them to play music, draw, and paint.

I also want them to have a deep and satisfying knowledge about how to create a comfortable home, by taking part in the daily work that is required to do that. I want them to be able to understand basic directions and find their way home from a friend's house, the mailbox on the corner, or the grocery store.

I want them to have a basic understanding of American and world history, to know a little something about the history of art, and to have a deep understanding about how to find the answers to specific questions that arise.

I want them to have an understanding of how to meditate and do yoga, as tools for living in this world. I want them to know how to eat well.

One of my most important goals is to allow them to reach developmental milestones when they themselves are ready to do so. So I'm not concerned if Little doesn't read "on time," because I have assessed him carefully so I know he doesn't have any kind of reading disability, and my more important goal is that he love to read and write, so I am content to allow that set of skills develop organically.

I'm unconcerned with seeing that they reach specific milestones at certain ages for a number of reasons. For one thing, I believe that milestones are artificial constructs that frequently don't have much relevance for kids. In my first year of teaching, I had a multi-age class in which my youngest student (age 6) wasn't reading, and my oldest student (age 9) was reading on a 12th grade level, and of course there was every reading level in between. Every one of those kids was doing fine, and there was worthwhile, developmentally appropriate work for each of them to do at every moment of the day.

There is a huge range that is normal, or acceptable, or just fine. It is only the graded system in which all kids of a certain age are expected to do the same thing that has created the notion in our minds that this is the only way to ensure our kids are "on track."

The other reason I'm not worried, and I haven't written much about giftedness here because for me it's not particularly relevant, is that my kids are pretty smart. They have never been in an educational setting where it was important for us to find out exactly how smart, so I don't know exactly where they fall on that bell curve. During my teaching years, I had a total of three children who had tested 'profoundly gifted,' and my kids are not like those kids. My kids are more garden-variety gifted. They love to read and reason, they are naturally curious about the world, and school work is easy for them. I know they would be in a gifted and talented program at the local public school, but I also know that it wouldn't be enough.

And that is a big part of why I'm teaching them at home.


Jennifer C said...

"Milestones are artificial constructs" - you touched a nerve with me here. My middle walks to the beat of his own drum. In the public school world, they have repeatedly attempted to pathologize and label him. When we moved last fall, he did not have any OT or PT services for 5 months. And he improved tremendously without any outside interventions. I began to think that the milestones that were so important to the docs and the school folks just do not apply to my kid. He would not potty train until 2 weeks ago and he is 4.5 y.o. Since he was ready, he did it in 1/2 a day.

I admit I have utilized labels, particularly in terms of developmental milestones. But now I tend to shun them. I embrace a sort of code of individualism when it comes to my kids. I see our family homeschooling indefinitely to support their personal passions and interests.

Lindsay said...

What a fascinating way to look at the world. The more that I read about the possibilities of what homeschooling offers, the more that I re-evaluate my education to figure out what was helpful and what wasn't. It is not a line of thought that had even occurred to me before reading your journal. Thanks for sharing.

Becky said...

I'm here via JoVE at Tricotomania -- that was a lovely post.

Our eldest, now 10, spent a bit of time in institutionalized school until partway through first grade. We pulled her out because, before the first day of school, she had already completed the year's curriculum. The teacher didn't know what to do with her, neither did the principal. They tossed around some ideas (all wretched, including letting her languish while all the others got to learn and catch up with her), as well as the phrase "gifted and talented".

I've come to realize that all three kids are smarter than the average bear, but if I need a phrase, I'll go with "bright and motivated", with seems to be a pretty apt for each of them. I want to keep that fire alive in their bright little eyes.

One thing I don't understand about modern life is how, with all the progress and advances, most teachers nowadays with all their training can't cope with children at different levels, but 100 years ago, teachers who were little more than children themselves managed so well with a one-room schoolhouse.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Elsie, for your detailed answer.

It's funny, most of your goals for your sons are similar to what Waldorf schools aspire to, but they still have lots of structure and certainly milestones as a result of the yearly curricula. But the fundamental goal is to help the children become functional, healthy, well-rounded social beings. Which is clearly what you want, as well.

I was labeled as "gifted and talented" when I switched from parochial to public school in third grade. In my case, this resulted in a very odd and unhelpful math curriculum and being sent to reading with the sixth grade, which was enormously awful socially.

I suppose it did put me "on track" to take lots of honors and AP courses in high school, but really it was just evidence that I liked to read and tested well.

It sounds to me like you are striving to create/encourage a love of learning, which really seems to be the most important thing of all in the long term. I love that "garden-variety gifted"...I think that describes an awful lot of people who aren't crushed by arbitrary milestone expectations!

So, I asked you those questions out of doubt that child-led learning could cover all the expected bases, so to speak. But what I'm realizing is that that is my fear of my own inadequacy as a potential teacher.

Next question, if I may: When you allow the children to lead, will they grow up thinking that they only need to study or do what they want?

I know you talked about some parental enforcement regarding math, and perhaps that kind of social lesson comes in other parts of life outside of "education."

But I have personally observed homeschool parents who essentially constantly defer to their children, which in my experience is bewildering for the child and the opposite of empowering. The general Waldorf view is that children need adults to have natural authority--not authoritarian, but authoritative. I wonder how child-led learning could work with that.

sandy said...

Becky, I'm not so sure about those one-room school houses, honestly. A lot of students didn't make it into them, a lot of students didn't stay particularly long. And the teachers were often allowed to beat the children to motivate them into learning and submission.

elsie deluxe said...

Jen, great to see you in the comments. Wish we could have a cup of tea.

Linds, good to see you too. It is fascinating to me that this thinking is exotic to you... you are a bit of a thinker, after all.

Becky, I don't think it's the teachers' fault. There are so many mandates, so much prescribed curriculum, and so many standardized tests, that many teachers hands are just tied. It is very, very difficult to differentiate instruction if you're being told, on a district-wide level, that all first graders will do this, that and the other thing in the fall, and this other set of things in the spring. And many districts are even more prescriptive than that... going so far as to decide that everyone will be doing the same thing on the same day.

anthromama, thanks for your question, keep em coming, and I'll write a post about that next.

Sandy, I think you're right. The one room school house is an interesting model, and it is personally intriguing to me, but as an historical moment, I don't think any of us want to go back there.

Becky said...

Sandy, I live in rural Alberta where those one-room school houses lasted into the 1950s. Many students, especially boys -- as my father in law did -- did quit after 8th grade.

But I've heard few stories about beatings, and an amazing amount of now elderly adults with incredibly fond memories of school. And these older men and women have, compared to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, superior grammar, vocabulary, diction, and computation skills. I can't speak directly for anywhere else in North America, but the the one-room school houses of Alberta did a fine job. And I think one should consider how far the U.S. and the rest of Canada came by the early 19th century, on the strength of mostly one-room schoolhouses.

Casey said...

I love this post. A schoolteacher relative of mine recently asked if I give my homeschooled kids standardized tests "so I'll know how they're doing." I know how they're doing because I observe them daily!

I did print out a section of the Texas sample test for Rocketboy's grade level and let him look it over. He thought it was sad that kids have to spend an entire year prepping for a test that he described as too easy and really boring.