Wednesday, December 14, 2011

You Know You're Taking a Science Exam in a CM School When the First Half Minute Is about the Government

One thing you learn early on with living books is that it's hard to confine them to one subject. They have a delightful way of taking all sorts of rabbit trails. Yesterday Pamela did several examinations. The one about a science book started off like this:
They making a, they doing a bill. Congress. They wrote for your vote. Congress, they're in Washington. House, they had the bill. C-SPAN, they have President. Senate.
Was Pamela adding filler to the exam like so many of us have done in our blue books in years past? Nope! The first chapter we read in this science book was about politics. What does science have to do with politics? Money! The topic of this book is technology, the kind of technology that alters forever how the world communicates. Sometimes, expansion of such technology is funded privately as consumers drive the widening of a network. At other times, the project is so grand, linking nation to nation, requiring large amounts of money, treaties, and legal minutia. The first topic of Pamela's exam narration accurately represents the material she read, taking into account her struggles with aphasia and how well she can communicate.

This week, Pamela and I will wrap up the last few exams for Term 1. Pamela did nothing to prepare for exam week as suggested by Charlotte Mason: "Children taught in this way are remarkable for their keenness after knowledge, and do well afterwards in any examination for which they may have to prepare" (Preface). She had been preparing for them during the entire term by reading and narrating living books every day. Whenever I gave her a choice of narrating one of two stories from a book for an exam, she opted to do both! During exam week, she has smiled often, chuckled and giggled many times, and talked about what she knew supplemented with the most lovely body language. If you doubt me, I dare you to watch the video.

Compare those sweet moments to your experience with exams as a student or as a homeschooling parent. Don't you wish you had had that much fun when you took exams in school? Compare it to the typical experience of cramming as described by Charlotte Mason,
When the schoolboy 'crams' for an examination, writes down what he has thus learned, and behold, it is gone from his gaze for ever: as Ruskin puts it, "They cram to pass, and not to know, they do pass, and they don't know"...we learn that we may know, not that we may grow; hence the parrot-like saying of lessons, the cramming of ill-digested facts for examinations, all the ways of taking in knowledge which the mind does not assimilate. (Pages 155-157)
Here are some points to keep in mind about elementary school examinations:
  • The point is for the child to share what they know and what they think. Exams are a record of what the child knows, not an exercise in tricking the child or uncovering what they don't know.
  • Young children narrate their exams orally: teachers or parents record the narration. In Pamela's case, I pay attention to nonverbal communication.
  • Examinations are done at the end of a term.
  • Questions are open-ended: "Tell the story of..." "Tell the history of [a particular person]." "Describe [a particular event]." "Describe a journey through/to [a particular place]." "Tell what you learned about [a particular place]." "Tell a fairy tale." "Describe your favorite scene from [a book or play]." "Tell about the..." "Draw a diagram or map of..." "Describe [a process in nature]." "What have you noticed yourself about..." [We did worms this term]" (Appendix II)
  • Some things to be narrated involve opinions: "Why do you think?" "What do you think this means?" "What is [an idea] and give an example?"
  • Examinations include singing a song or line from a instrumental composition, describing a favorite painting, reciting a poem, acting out a scene, and speaking or singing in a foreign language.
  • Because of Pamela's theory of mind gaps and difficulties in sequencing thoughts, I do have to make additional declarative comments to help her share more fully what I know she knows.
Lessons Learned about Pamela
  • Pamela takes great delight in narrating. She enjoyed exam week.
  • Her sense of time and technology is exceptional. She easily spots anachronisms.
  • She sees connections between books.
  • Her nonverbal communication emphasizes what she expresses verbally. Her body language continues to blossom.
  • Her ability to retrieve names, pronouns, and verbs is limited. She knows them but she struggles to retrieve them while narrating.
  • Her sequencing is still confused.
My Lessons Learned for Me
  • Doing handwork helps slow me down and refrain from talking too much.
  • I need to think through a plan to work on word retrieval issues and sequencing.
  • I am so thrilled that Pamela uses her body to express herself, even when her words are limited.

The point that I insist upon, however, is that from his sixth year the child should be an "educated child" for his age, should love his lesson books, and enjoy a terminal examination on the books he has read. Children brought up largely on books compare favourably with those educated on a few books and many lectures; they have generous enthusiasms, keen sympathies, a wide outlook and sound judgment, because they are treated from the first as beings of "large discourse looking before and after." They are persons of leisure too, with time for hobbies, because their work is easily done in the hours of morning school. (Page 305)

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