Sunday, March 18, 2007

Different Kids, Different Approaches

This year has been a bit of an experiment for me. I posted almost a year ago that my about-to-be-seventh grader had asked for textbooks. The actual title of the original post was :::Gasp!::: Textbooks in which I conveyed some of my misgivings in employing what I had come to believe was mediocre means of learning. She originally "discovered" textbooks one afternoon at our public library, where there is a large shelf containing all of the state-adopted texts by grade level. She found all of the grade 7 selections and brought the big stack over to our table. I remember watching her as she grew more and more interested. "Oh, I like this one!" "Wow, this is the history??" "Hey, Mom, can we use this for grammar next year?" I sat there next to my crate o' living books, my library clipboard in hand (and still clutching my somewhat superior attitude, I must admit) and said through a forced smile, "We'll see, honey..."

I remember thinking, "How can this be?" Since kindergarten I had been sifting through the "twaddle," making sure we read excellent books and following the Well-Trained Mind method as closely as I could manage without going insane. To me, the classical method of education represented "excellence" and the textbook model represented "mediocrity" or perhaps, "settling." I looked at that stack of books and thought about it for a few moments, then I began going through them, one by one. Each week when we returned to the library, I looked through them again and again.

I decided that we would go with the state adopted Texas history and grammar books. She insisted that she also wanted a [gulp] literature book, but I didn't want the state textbook for that, as it really didn't line up with our family's philosophical or theological beliefs. We ended up picking up an Abeka literature book as it had varied selections of classics from solid authors. I refuse to "curriculum hop" in math, so we didn't consider the state math book. She had asked for BJU science in sixth grade, which we'd used and enjoyed, so we stuck with BJU for seventh. For French, I found the newly-adopted French 1 text (high school) which we are taking two years to work through. By summer's end she had her textbooks all lined up in her locker, wrapped in cute book covers, ready to go. She was thrilled. (For links to all of her books, you may click "Grade 7" under "Our Curriculum" in the sidebar.)

She has spent seventh grade faithfully plugging through her beloved textbooks while her brother has been more "classically" taught. So, how has the year gone for her? (As Dr. Phil would say, "How'zat workin' out for ya?") Actually, splendidly! She has flourished! She told me the other day that grammar is now her favorite subject. She told me recently that her Texas history book is the only reason she likes history. She has read all of the assigned selections in her literature book and has responded with wonderfully well-written paragraphs. She is "faison le bon progres" in her French text. It's really been one of her best years ever! She has always been a strong student, obediently doing whatever is assigned and participating in any and all activities I have planned, but this year has been unusually... pleasant. And I'm seeing evidence that she's actually retaining what she is learning.

So, what am I to make of this? Is it an either/or proposition? Either classical education OR textbooks? I don't think so. Back to what I said earlier that the classical method represented "excellence" to me. I believe one can pursue a textbook-y education with excellence. I have been pleased that we are concurrently working through logic books, so she is able to reason through and "argue with" some of what she is reading, particularly in history. (There is no reason to argue with adjectival clauses in grammar, really.) She is fully aware that what is in her texts is in no way the exhaustive knowledge of the subject, and that the texts (including the Christian ones) are written according to the bias of the authors/committees who wrote them. Overall, it's been a very positive year for her, and for me as her teacher. We have continued Latin and, as I mentioned, logic. I have also been assigning her novels out of the Sonlight list, so that she reads entire books, not just selections/snippets of books. We have great discussions about what she is learning.

What I have discovered is that the classical education I wanted for my kids was putting an emphasis on what I wanted. How I wanted to teach, what I wanted them to have. I believe it laid a great foundation for her in the grammar stage, and it continues to be the way my son learns best. He loves the piles of books, the Socratic discussions, the never-ending amount of information through which to plow each day. Don't get me wrong- he loves his "assignment sheet" and he loves to be DONE at the end of the day, but the continual stream of books into this house energizes him, whereas it seemed to overwhelm her.

I am continuing to learn. Not just the subject matter (which I now have to study ahead of them!) but how they learn, and how to adapt according to their changing needs. I am learning that it's okay to do things differently for each of them. I am learning that it's okay to do what works. I am still thankful for the classical model, and how it continues to shape our homeschool, even in our "textbook phase!"

"As for me, all I know is that I know nothing." ~Socrates

"Never discourage anyone... who continually makes progress, no matter how slow." ~Plato

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." ~Aristotle


Sherri said...

What I have just read is a perfect example of a child led education. Even though your daughter wanted something that you weren't crazy about, you let her make the decisions. Because of that, she did wonderfully. She sounds very self directed and should be very proud. Had you stuck to what you wanted and refused to give, it would have worked against everything that you had worked to build...the method that you wanted to use. I'm proud of you..what a great testimony!!

playingschool said...

That would be a hard decision to make, but it sounds like you made a great one! Thanks for sharing that learning can take place in different ways for different learners.


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