Tuesday, May 01, 2012

"I Can't Wait for Exams!"

People are starting to wake up to the thought that high-stakes testing is burning out our kids and teachers. It's also undermining creativity and encouraging cheating. Even homeschoolers are not immune to the pressure, either because some states require it or parents feel pressured to cave into societal expectations. People do not realize we can assess learning without creating anxiety. Our secret is oral exams: Pamela tells me everything she knows about each and every book or thing we did.

Because of Pamela's delayed language, we didn't even try exam week until last year. We did another round of exams last fall, and we started our third attempt yesterday. We are not even half way through exam week, and I can see such progress in Pamela's ability to communicate fully. More importantly, for the first time in her education, I feel like we are equally yoked!

What does equally yoked mean? Study the picture of Farmer Boy and his yoked oxen. When one ox is physically stronger than the other, they do not share the load very well. Not only that, one walks faster and one walks slowly, resulting in going around in circles. For years, I have been the one driving us to make things happen. I made the yearly plan, the weekly schedule, the daily box. If I was too burnt out to keep going, we stopped. Usually, by spring, we slowed down considerably because (1) I was tired, (2) my tree pollen allergies zapped me even more, and (3) I was gearing up for the June conference. The end of our school year would dwindle, which didn't make me fret too much for Pamela always find something to keep her mind going, but at a slower pace.

This year is different!

Pamela now sets up the daily box. When we are finished with a book for the week, she puts it next to the computer because she knows I stack them until I add them to the schedule for the next week She watches me make the weekly schedule and catches me when I make typos! She has even figured out the first few tasks I perform in Excel to get a new week going. When I'm tempted to call it a day, she often inspires me to keep up with her. Instead of taking five hours to get through our subjects, she's only requiring three or four. Pamela's zeal is helping me get through the spring blahs. She has even figured out how I categorize books, saying to me, "I want border history," when she wants to read our books on Mexico and Canada!

I can see this mindfulness in her exams too. Monday morning, the first thing Pamela said to me was "I can't wait for exams." Pamela eagerly narrates her exams. She speaks a tad more fully. Sentences are flowing more easily. She elaborates with her body language. She knits her brow in concentration. She even looks up in our weekly sheets what chapter we were reading at the beginning of the term. It is almost like she has prepared for this because she often goes from chapter to chapter, often recalling the title of each one, without peeking in the book. We are finally living what Charlotte Mason described in a passage our study group will be discussing next week:
Parents and those who stand in loco parentis have a delicate task. There must be subjection, but it must be proud, work as a distinction, an order of merit... There is no great gulf fixed between teacher and taught; both are pursuing the same ends, engaged on, the same theme, enriched by mutual interests; and probably the quite delightful pursuit of knowledge affords the only intrinsic liberty for both teacher and taught. (Page 71)
This "equality" between teacher and taught is what high-stakes testing steals from our kids. Because teachers end up drilling children to prepare (I know some staying after school right now because their pre-tests hadn't measured up), students lose interest and their minds wander. "To allow repetition of a lesson is to shift the responsibility for it from the shoulders of the pupil to those of the teacher who says, in effect,––'I'll see that you know it,' so his pupils make no effort of attention. Thus the same stale stuff is repeated again and again and the children get bored and restive, ready for pranks by way of a change." (Page 75)

Through our daily efforts of learning together, side-by-side, Pamela has achieved a most important lesson of education: "Children are aware of the responsibility of learning; it is their business to know that which has been taught." (Page 74) The proof is in the determination she has shown in her exams and in owning what she can do in planning.

I decided to compare Pamela narrating the same book for all three exams: A Wrinkle in Time. Keep in mind that, when we moved to Carolina in the summer of 2005, I was thrilled if Pamela could remember three words after we closed a book. THREE WORDS. Folks! She was sixteen years old, well past the magical age of neural plasticity when the door to language is supposed to slam shut forever. We began reading this book in September 2010, and we finished in the middle of February 2012.

January 2011 - Pamela is eager and quietly narrates. She needs me to guide her to the next thought when she gets stuck. She doesn't use many proper names. Her verbs are a bit limited.

[Meg and Charles] had no dad somewhere. Somebody, it had no father anymore. They had family. They had hot cocoa. It was snow. It’s too cold.

They saw the ghost. “Boo!” Scared. They had the soup. It’s good. They had the magic. It [the ghost] turned into a unicorn, white horse. Unicorn is white. It giddy-up. Mrs. Whatsit. Three ghosts.

They go space. They fly into space. They saw the stars and the shadows. It’s darkly. It’s scary. It’s boo! The happy medium in the crystal balls. They had the earth. Meg with children, they were cute.
November 2011 - Pamela's narrations flow more easily, and proper nouns come to her more easily. She gestures a little bit.

Meg, Calvin, Charles Wallace saw a man spinning with the eyes. They had the bad man. They were grumpy. They were in a space. The space was awful. Charles Wallace was soul. He disappeared. It’s gone. They can’t find Charles Wallace anymore.

They had a computer and electricity. They saw a bed. The bed was huge and chair was huge. They can’t Father anymore. They go look for space. They have to find Father. They found it. They have to go It. They have to find Mars, wrong one. It was a space. Space wasn’t wonderful. It had brain. “Boop-boop!” Charles Wallace turned into cold. Father was so sad. They can’t find Charles Wallace.

They had Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, wearing the glasses and the ghost. They go to space. They had the stars. The stars had in their eyes.

Calvin had two children. Charles Wallace turned cold fingers turn into cold. Meg was a cold. She has a frozen. It was so cold. They [Father and Calvin] were helping a rescue to the two children. They were save.
May 2012 - Keep in mind that Pamela finished reading the book TEN WEEKS AGO! She would have remembered far more details had I recorded an exam then. Pamela is delighted, eager, and confident. Her body language and face are so animated. Names come to her more easily. She tries to pronounce words like "tesseract" which she can see on the page in her mind (something I've seen her do in her daily work). She includes sequencing words like next and last. When I look up the title of the last chapter, she leans in with interest.

Meg doesn’t have father anymore. They feel sad. It has no more sky. Right. They went. They drinking hot cocoa. They saw Mrs. Whatsit. Was a ghost. They saw Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which. Who was a ghost.

Charles and Calvin. Black Thing: They said, “You can’t go! They’re very dangerous!” Tesseract about 3D.

They had a happy medium. They had saw Central, Central [and] man with the red eyes. Spinning. Scared. Charles Wallace! The next chapter, “It.” They found the father. They go Absolute Ten. They’re flying. About Aunt Beast: they were furs, tentacles. They had tentacles, alien.

Last chapter about foolish weakest. Foolish and the Weak, they can go find Charles Wallace’s soul. They feel happy. They return to the earth; said, “Good-bye,” to Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. “So long!”

1 comment:

Kathleen said...