Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Transcripts, credits, and grades, oh my!"

"Transcripts, Credits, and Grades, oh my!"  This was the intro to a talk at my local homeschool convention recently.  The speaker's point was a very valid one.  Many homeschoolers I speak to are very concerned with how to record-keep and track their student in the high school years to be able to get that student into college.  There are so many good planning tools available out there.  I am going to offer some suggestions here, but please let me know if you have questions beyond what I cover here.

My first recommendation, is plan high school in 8th grade.  This plan might change as you go through the high school years, but take an evening during your student's 8th grade year and discuss with him his goals for the future.  What subjects draw his attention the most?  What fields is he interested in pursuing?  What are your goals for him as parents?  Use that information and a list of your state's requirements to put together a plan for high school credits.  If he knows what schools he might be interested in, go to those websites and look at the requirements they set for incoming students.  Here is a chart of the requirements for my state.

As you are planning out your plan of study, think of ways you can incorporate your students activities and interests as credits.  I have heard of families using eagle scout projects for a project management course, flying lessons paired with book work for an aeronautical engineering course, speech or debate club as a variety of credits, ballet as a fine arts credit, and so on.  Your goal is to both educate your child to be well-rounded and with depth in his fields of interest, but also to present that information in a simplified form that college admission officers need.  Near the end of the Well-Trained Mind is a section that converts WTM types of courses like the chronological study of the Great Books into a more typical list of courses for your transcript.  It's a great resource.

As you go through the high school years, write for yourself course descriptions for each course your student will take.  This will save time and scrambling when your student applies for college and the college asks to see that information.  A course description basically gives the details of the course--what is taught, what resources are used, and how it is evaluated.

The transcript itself can be set up either by year (ex. all work in 9th grade grouped together), or by subject (all history grouped together).  The way you compile it is your preference.  The basic information you need is the title of the course, how much credit it is worth, and the credit earned.  There are so many templates and help available for writing course descriptions and transcripts.  I personally love the planning materials available for free at Donna Young Printables.

And finally, my most favorite record keeping tool for high school is found here.  This free download allows you to keep up with your grades and will calculate final grades and gpa for you.  It also has places for booklists, activities, and any thing else you might want to keep up with during those high school years.  When you get to college applications, you will need to know volunteer hours, leadership and club experiences, and awards, as well as traditional schoolwork.  Those areas allow homeschoolers to shine, so keep track of them well.  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

What does Montessori at home look like?

For my youngest learners, we try to follow a Montessori approach.  There are so many reasons why Montessori is so good for little ones.  First, in Montessori, you follow a concrete to abstract process of learning.  The kids learn skills through hands-on exploration of their world--the way they natural approach new things.  They touch, feel, manipulate objects to learn concepts such as big and little, place value, and even grammar.  The concrete, multi-sensory learning helps  to cement  concepts into their brain.  Montessori is also individualized.  Each child will move through the materials at their own pace and as they are ready for them.  They can move as fast or as slow as they like, and they can go back to a lesson as much as they need to get the concepts.  And because they move at their own pace with self-correcting materials, they build a sense of pride and a love of learning.

For a homeschool mom, Montessori has so many benefits.  It keeps little ones busy and independently learning, allowing me to work with older kids.  They are both entertained and doing school, and I don’t have to be directly involved.  Montessori lessons are designed to be appealing and enticing to kids, and they love having their own schoolwork.   Also, Montessori lessons are introduced start to finish, which encourages your student to not only get out the materials and work on their own, but to also clean up their work as they complete the task.  All materials needed for the lesson are included on the tray or bowl holding the materials—they won’t need you to get anything out, help them through it, and they won’t make a mess.  You will interact with them when you can, and they are happily learning when you can’t.

Montessori at home for us involves low shelves with a variety of materials displayed.  Each lesson is self-contained.  Everything the child needs to complete the lesson is included on the tray.  For example, if the lesson is pouring, not only will the measuring cups and spoons be included, but a piece of sponge so that the child can clean up her own drips when the lesson is complete.  I have a limited space so I cycle which lessons I have out and available at any given time.  I also have a basket of small mats that my students can place on the ground before they select a tray with a lesson.

As I was getting started with my Montessori homeschooling, I found the books Teaching Montessori in the Home:  The preschool years and Teaching Montessori in the Home:  the school years, to both be extremely helpful.  These books describe how to introduce each lesson, their function, and the order they should be used.  Many of the materials needed for lessons can be made with instructions in these books, or printed from sites such as   I also put together many practical life lessons using normal household materials, or even Melissa and Doug toys we already had.  For the lessons that I couldn't make, I found most of those lessons readily available on ebay.

I created an excel spreadsheet with each of my lessons laid out by appropriate year.  I can then track each student—whether I've introduced a lesson, whether they are working on it, or whether they have mastered that lesson. 

Each morning, my students will select a mat and then move through lessons at their own pace.  When I am able, I might join them for a lesson, or I might take a few minutes and introduce a new lesson as they are ready.  Oftentimes, I do a group lesson relating to some science materials I have recently put out, or a geography lesson.  We get out the Montessori globe and world map and look at pictures from representative countries on the particular continent we are studying at the time. 

There are so many free Montessori materials available.  They make a nice addition to any homeschool, even if you don’t chose to set up an entire classroom.  We are currently adding to our own classroom, so I will take pictures and add them when we complete that work. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Analytical Grammar

As my oldest entered high school, I went researching for a solid grammar curriculum he could use to finish out his grammar studies.  I was looking for something that wasn't too involved, since he had already been exposed to these concepts.  He mostly needed some review and reinforcement during his high school years.  He needed something straightforward and not terribly time consuming.  He had already learned the rules of grammar, and now needed to focus most of his time on his great book studies.  We finally landed on Analytical Grammar and it was a perfect fit.

The philosophy of the writers of Analytical Grammar is  "that they don't need to be "doing" a grammar worksheet every day, all year long, for years and years and years!  If grammar is taught sequentially and logically, there is no need for so much repetition."  They argue that grammar instruction isn't even needed until middle school ages.  I know, I know.  That's hard for us parents to hear--especially those of us who are Classically minded.  While I am not ready to drop grammar from my elementary students' work plans, the idea of not having to struggle through busy work is very appealing.  I had noticed that my oldest and his 6 years younger sister were doing basically the same grammar work year after year, and really that much repetition wasn't necessary to achieve our goals.  

The program of Analytical Grammar is set up in 3 seasons.  You purchase 1 set and that set includes all you need for those 3 years of grammar.  You can modify the seasons and complete them sooner than 3 years, but we stuck to the 3 year plan.  The first 10-12 weeks of the year consist of new lessons with new material, as well as some practice pages. The curriculum teaches parsing and diagramming as it goes, using real literature such as Twain and the Gettysburg Address.  If you aren't comfortable teaching, they sell dvds that cover the material for you.  I found that my student was able to read the lesson and understand it himself without my instruction.  After those initial weeks, the student will complete a page of practice every other week for the rest of the year.  I hear your skepticism.  The reality is, it works.  My oldest was never a good diagrammer, and I wondered how much he would retain with only this much practice.  I was blown away by both the depth he learned and the ease at which he can now diagram complicated sentences, but also the depth of retention from one season to the next.  He just didn't need the drill when the lessons were taught with an emphasis on patterns.  

The 3 seasons can be completed anytime from 6th grade onward.  Once those seasons are complete, your student can  move on to the high school reinforcement books which allow for practice using real literature from American authors, British authors, World authors, or Shakespeare.  If you can't wait to start until 6th, they also have Jr. Analytical grammar, which my oldest daughter used and loved this past year.

The program is no-frills and uses real literature.  It teaches grammar in a logical progression, without excessive repetition and busy work.  It fits our goals and priorities well, while teaching solid grammar rules and constructions.  We have been very pleased and look forward to trying out their new writing curriculum as well.