September 1, 2009

Update on School - Year 11

Well, we have completed our first week of school, and are beginning week two. So far so good. Eleventh grade is a challenge, to say the least, as there are all those worries and concerns about credit units and graduation (and college) looming up ahead. It also is a great year, because eleventh graders are mature students. They know how to do school, they know what is expected of them, they understand directions, and (best of all) can follow them. They also have interesting ideas and can voice their opinions. They are delightful to have in class and they generally are interested in learning new information.

Our program for Y11 changed radically two weeks ago. We started out as we normally do, set on using House of Education Y10 (from http://www.amblesideonline.org/). DS had been used to this curriculum and had completed Y6-8 and part of 9, over the past few years. AO/HEO is a very good curriculum. It is based off the teaching methods of Charlotte Mason and provides a solid, classical-type education. It is free too, which is a super bonus tossed in just for fun!

However, over the course of the past couple years, we have strayed from using it exclusively. We seem to drift back to it when we get stuck or when the money runs out and we still have some school year left to fill. We don't seem to choose it for the right reasons though. No, we use it as our 'fall back' curriculum, which I think is really a shame. It is a solid, good curriculum in it's own right, and our popping in and out of it, well just doesn't do it any justice.

This past year, I think the truth sunk in for me. My son just hasn't liked using this approach, and while he has been good about completing his courses, he just has been slowly losing interest in school. I thought it was the 'teen years' or hormones, but it became clear to me two weeks ago, when I saw the look on my son's face. It was so obvious that he didn't want to study AO/HEO anymore. He just didn't want to do it. It was a look of reluctance, a look that said "I will do it because you ask, but...I don't really want to do it at all."

I am not the type of parent that runs around picking curriculum to suit my son's interests (some parents do this -- they do total student directed studies). I incorporate his interests, of course, but I do try and keep us on a traditional schedule and plan out a scope and sequence for us to follow. It has just been more and more difficult to find studies that interest him and adhere to my scope and sequence. I am thinking college, he is thinking electronics. I am worried about credit units, he wants to build a robot. See what I mean?

So, two weeks ago, I prayed over my son's reaction to his 11th grade school program, and the Lord gave me His permission to follow my son's lead. I ditched our scope and sequence and embraced the course of study that my child wanted to follow. And...here we are...two weeks later...and finding school interesting and enjoyable again.

I think the biggest change for me was letting go of my scope and sequence and letting my son direct his studies. I still did all the planning, I still found all the books for him to read, etc.; I just followed his suggested timeline instead of my chronological/traditional approach to school.

This is a brief summary of what we are doing this year:


  • Bible - we are reading through the Bible in one year using an online reading plan. We have really enjoyed reading aloud the Word, looking up Hebrew and Greek words, and studying the Old Testament atlas.
  • Math - we are still waiting on our math curriculum. The Lord has directed me to use Saxon Advanced Math along with the Saxon Teacher DVDs for 11-12th grades (sort of split over two years). I need to order this curriculum, but money is tight right now, so we will wait a bit longer.
  • Language Arts - we are doing A LOT of reading this semester. Instead of following CM's recommended approach of reading a book slowly over a long period, I am reading a certain number of books each month. These include biography as well as literature titles. I am also including a poetry study in this course.
  • Social Studies - we are studying Modern Civilizations this semester so I am using a textbook I found at Half-Price books (Prentice Hall). I got it cheap (under $5) and it provides good background history for our course. DS is also reading Carson's "Basic History of the US" along with Churchill's "The Great Democracies". Overall, he should get a good worldview of the 20th century.
  • Science - our science study is really based on interest. DS is reading three "Dummies" books right now: A+ Certification, Robot Building, and Electronics. I will have him demonstrate his understanding of each book through either a report/poster presentation or a model/building project.
  • Music - our music program is on-going. This semester, DS is learning cello and is also teaching me cello (to prepare him to teach beginning music students -- he is such a good teacher!)

That is it. It is a boiled-down program, just the nuts and bolts, nothing fancy. There is no copywork, no nature study, no government books. It is the basics, and frankly, a pretty solid course of study. The books are all excellent; the assignments involve reading and then writing reports. Discussion is key, so we are spending a lot of time going over the books, the history, the author's background, the significant points, relevant themes, and key characteristics of each one. I never had time to do this with AO, but now that we are reading fewer books (more quickly) we are actually able to focus in on these details.

Here is our Fall Semester reading list (Language Arts & Social Studies):

  • World History: Connections to Today (Prentice Hall)
  • Literature: Structure, Sound and Sense by Laurence Perrine (HBJ)
  • A Basic History of the United States by Clarence B. Carson (Vols. 4-5)
  • The Great Democracies by Sir Winston Churchill
  • The Roosevelts: an American saga by Peter Collier
  • Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel by Albert Marrin
  • Hitler by Albert Marrin
  • Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman
  • Mein Kampf (My Struggle) by Adolf Hitler
  • Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
  • The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

This looks like a lot, I know, but in reality it takes about 1-2 hours per day. Our schedule is very low-key, and my son spends most of his time reading from his books. Here is a snapshot of our day today:

  • Bible read aloud from Genesis 3-6 and Matthew 2 (w/Mom)
  • Reading from The Roosevelts (pg. 31-60)
  • Reading from Lord Jim (pg. 19-36)
  • Poetry study using Perrines, ch. 1 along with selected poems (w/Mom)
  • Reading from 1984, pg. 15-26
  • Math - skipped until we get our curriculum in house
  • Piano practice and chamber practice
  • Cello lesson w/Mom (DS teaches, I practice and learn)
  • Reading from A+ Certification book -- DS reads on own, interest led
  • Discussion of books as needed (w/Mom)

Really, that is it. I would say that all in all we spend about four hours more or less. The bulk of our time is spent in discussion (whereas it used to be in reading silently -- DS coming to narrate). I enjoy this approach so much better than how we used to do it with CM. I am actually a partner in my son's learning now. Before, I just facilitated the books. I organized them, handed them out, and then listened to him as he narrated back to me. Now, I am teaching him, helping him understand complex issues, making connections for him (a big no-no in a CM class). I guess I never realized this before, but I am the adult (duh?) and as an adult, I have collective experience to help my student understand important events in our history. If I just let the "books do the teaching" as CM suggested, there is so much my son will miss. He will not see how important a particular book is or why some theme is critical to understand. I am not telling him what to think, I am just introducing key ideas and concepts and showing him why a particular author or book is important to our understanding of history. I guess I am more of a traditional teacher than I am a CM teacher. I simply see the necessity of this type of preparation, especially at the high school level. I can tell all ready that my time has reaped great rewards. My son is far better prepared to tackle a difficult book (like 1984) now that he is armed with some background, historical, and literary information. It just makes sense to me. Oh well...

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