Saturday, September 10, 2011

Less, Not More

One struggle many homeschoolers face is the feeling of not doing enough. To prove we are doing a good job, we push our children harder and teach skills earlier. With special needs children, the stakes seem higher because some tell us we are not qualified to teach. That seed of doubt tempt us to forget that children are born persons. They have their own timetables. While we may know typical developmental patterns, we cannot force development to go any faster than it is. Pushing harder may very well train the habit of frustration, creating setbacks instead of progress.

It is okay to step back and table a goal when tasks cause tears. It is okay to slow down or to reevaluate what you are doing. Last year, I felt rushed to get everything done some days. This year, I cut the amount of reading by 13% (measured by word count). Rather than spend ten minutes on a book three times a week, we read for five minutes a day if ten minutes is too long because of the complexity of the language. The benefits of a more leisurely pace became evident last week.

One book was written in the 1960s. A passage describes a large room full of computing machines. That unusual turn of phrase caught Pamela's eye. She stopped our reading (we alternate reading aloud sentences) and asked, "What about computers?" I explained that back in those days they called it a computing machine, which filled a whole room. Computers didn't work very well, and they were huge. We continued the reading, and she stopped me again when the book described a long tape being fed into the computer. "Just like tape recorder. No CDs, yet," she added. I explained that, in those days, computers had reel-to-reel tapes and people used cards with holes punched into them. While Pamela said very little, the questions revealed much about the thinking going on in her mind.

Two thoughts come to my mind. First, living books have a way of shining light on other subjects. While the passage came from a literature book, the ideas led to a conversation about history and science. Second, the sign of understanding isn't the ability to answer questions. It is the ability to ask them. "The mind can know nothing save what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put to the mind by itself" (Page 16). Each time Pamela stops and asks a question, she reveals what she knows and how she thinks. A good friend who is new to Mason's ideas points out how much teacher training she received on asking the "right" questions to elicit critical thinking skills. Now, my friend realizes we take the opportunity to apply these skills in the act of reading when we do all the thinking to ask the "right" questions.

Pamela stops and shares her thoughts through reactions or in words far more frequently than she did last year. In one book, she laughed out loud at one angry character telling another to sit on a tack, just as she did with the wild inauguration party at the White House during Andrew Jackson's presidency. She applied "together or alone" thinking and said "just like RDI" when characters assessed the possibility of one character pulling all the pranks described without help. Her face lit up in another book when she learned that one character is the cousin of a president she studied last year.  While taking turns reading lines from a poem about language, she suddenly felt inspired to read aloud in unison with me just as the topic switched to conversations and dialogues.

I scaffold Pamela whenever possible. I suspected she wouldn't understand the meaning of deductions in a story about sharecroppers, so I linked it to a word she already knows: debt and debtors. I told her the sharecroppers had too many deductions whenever they shopped at the store. They gave them too much debt, and they became debtors. I found a pattern in the books that didn't work for her last year. Nearly all of them have very short stories that only take a few days to breeze through. I believe she needs to live with a character or event for much longer. So, instead of reading books that leap from story to story, I substituted recommended books with Hawthorne's A Wonder Book for mythology and Tappan's In the Days of Alfred the Great for English history (part of our own history when you think about it). Perhaps, in the future, with an imagination warmed toward a few more key monarchs and stories, Pamela can start to take possession of a pageant of our historical roots.
It is a great thing to possess a pageant of history in the background of one's thoughts. We may not be able to recall this or that circumstance, but, 'the imagination is warmed'... (Page 178)


Phyllis said...

Wise words, lady! I wish I had read something like this when I was teaching my first child. I made all those mistakes. :)

Bright Side of Life said...

I have been following your blog for a few years and am absolutely fascinated with Pamela's lovely progress. Thank you for sharing.

walking said...

Pamela is truly a late bloomer. Even though we took an extended break from homeschooling while I was busy conferencing and writing, her vocabulary and sense of connectedness while reading clearly improved. :-)

Stephanie said...

This post reminded me why I've always loved your blog so much. You do a magnificent job of clearly translating the process of real learning into words, and I always find encouragement here.

Recently I was fighting panic about my 17-year-old Aspergian daughter who is "supposed" to be close to graduating from high school but has a long way to go before she's ready. Like Pamela, she's made tremendous stirdes, and I need to focus on taking things more slowly (the mantra I learned in RDI :-)) and making sure we experience success.

Sonya Shafer said...

Thanks for the timely reminder and encouragement, friend!