Sandy, a fellow teacher and the parent of one of my former students, asked a really good question about my post about constructing curriculum out of children's questions. She writes:
My problem is getting caught up in product and assessment. Should we write a report about Lewis and Clark, or make a play or draw a picture... I have to let go of that and see process as important. But how to balance that - how much am I doing For her, how much should she be doing for Herself. See, I'm a unit planning kind of person - it makes me feel safe and like I know what is going on. I guess that's why people like systems, so they don't feel like they're just doing a bunch of random unconnected stuff that doesn't get synthesized at the end (into a research paper!) That final synthesis of learning seems like an important step.
This is something I struggle with, too, and I'm not at all sure I'm doing this right. I am really just starting out on this home schooling gig.
First of all, I'm open to the kids writing a report, or putting on a play, or making illustrations for a book of some kind. We're not done with Lewis and Clark, and I don't yet know where it's going to take us. I may even insist on it: a recent post at Mother Crone's Homeschool has got me thinking a lot about the importance of developing kids' ability to persevere, and seeing a project through to its logical conclusion, even if they're excited about something new, can help kids learn to develop that persistence. When I was teaching, I would have certainly insisted that every child participate in some kind of final project.
But now that I'm not teaching other people's kids, I have to ask myself why that final synthesis was necessary. One obvious purpose of an end-project is to assess a child's learning. In a classroom of 15 kids, I needed that. I was pretty familiar with what every kids was learning, but not completely on top of every little detail. Not so with teaching my kids at home. It would be pretty hard to miss seeing where they're missing something.
Another purpose was always to report to parents about what the kids were learning. We would make posters, or put on a presentation, or write a book, and that became something I could show parents when they were wondering what we were doing. This, obviously, is completely out the window. I'm the teacher-parent, I know exactly what we're doing, and Joe, bless him, trusts me completely.
There's another important feature of classroom learning that is just missing from our experience at home. Lots of final synthesis projects were designed to give kids who hadn't yet taken part a piece of the action. It's the same reason we would do the same topic in lots of different ways: a hands-on experiment, books from the library, a field trip, an expert from the university visiting the classroom. These are called 'multiple entry points' in the trade, and they really serve to make sure that every kid gets something out of a unit study. Some kids are more into book learning, some are more into field trips, some kids need a hands-on experience, and some kids will only pull it together if you ask them to write a report or a book about it.
My kid is like me: he's a book learner.
But I am having this sinking feeling right now, that even though I know that's true, and he's perfectly capable of gleaning huge amounts of information from books, that we'd all be having more fun if we were doing some of those other things I just described.
So, thanks to Angela and Sandy, looks like I need to rethink some of what we're doing.