Picking the Twaddle Out of Your Noodles

roastnoodlesYesterday was a bit frustrating for our oldest. He had a couple of quizzes, and one of them was the sort that required psychic ability in order to answer some the questions. The interpretation of truth was a bit subjective, and if answers were not given according to the thinking of the assessment writer, well, they were wrong. It reminded me of this humorous portion of an “I Love Lucy” episode:

  • Mr. Mooney: I’ve been trying to find Mr. Burns’ file. It is not under the B’s.
  • Lucy: Oh, I must have put it under the X’s.
  • Mr. Mooney: Why would you put the B file under the X’s?
  • Lucy: That poor little file never has anything in it!
  • Mr. Mooney: Well, where is it??
  • Lucy: Well, wait a minute. Oh, I bet I know what I did…you see, Mr. Burns, I always have trouble remembering names, so I took a course in word association. Now, “burns” reminds me of fire.
  • Mr. Mooney: So you filed it under the F’s?
  • Lucy: No. “Fire” reminds me of “stove”.
  • George Burns: So you put my file under the S’s?
  • Lucy: No…”stove” reminds me of pot roast.
  • Burns (to Mr. Mooney): It’s your turn.
  • Mr. Mooney: You filed it under the P’s?
  • Lucy: No, pot roast reminds me of noodles.
  • Mr. Mooney: Mrs. Carmichael…you’re making me angry…
  • Burns: She’s making me hungry!
  • Lucy: And noodles reminds me of my mother!
  • Mr. Mooney (to Burns): Your turn.
  • Burns: “Noodles” reminds you of your mother?
  • Lucy: Yeah, she made the best noodles! And I’ll be that’s where I put your file.
  • Burns: Under “noodles”.
  • Lucy: No, under “gravy”.

This is one of the reasons I love having a front row seat for educating our kids. I was able to come in the back door on that quiz, see the way some the questions were phrased rather ambiguously, and make a judgement call.

Yes, I have eliminated quiz questions. Sometimes I’ve tossed out entire assessments because there was a better way to see if my child had assimilated knowledge. I don’t think questions which ask for ridiculously detailed information are necessarily profitable. What was the name of a certain prominent person’s second cousin’s husband’s pet? Nope.

I also know our kids, and I have watched them shaping into who God intends for them to be. Because of that, I can decide if certain questions, projects, even subjects should carry more weight with regard to time and focus. Yes, we fulfill what the state requirements mandate; but we do it our own way, and reasonably. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Some material is simply twaddle. I really dislike busy work immensely. Things which occupy time, but don’t serve to build or teach much of anything (except perhaps patience) are subject to educational extinction in our house.

Today, I punted a quiz. I saw my child struggling to decipher it, and making several attempts to answer the way the program wanted him to answer. He kept his cool. He did not get angry and storm off. He did not declare he hated the subject, hated the program, or hated school. He handled the whole thing maturely. So we went question by question verbally, and I tweaked the phrasing so he could comprehend more fully what he was being asked. His understanding was more complete after that than it would have been if he had guessed his way through, absently clicking buttons. He passed just fine, mom style. I commended him for his attitude and perseverance. I told him that was of more value than A’s to me.

Give yourself the freedom to do this.

For the love of learning,
Diane ๐Ÿ™‚

When Failing is a Good Thing

failure2We have taken a new direction in our education, and it is more demanding with many more assessments and evaluations (read: quizzes and tests) than what our kids had been accustomed to. To them, it can seem tedious…but it helps me to ensure they know what they are doing before coming to that realization on a big exam.

I’ve often told our kids that failures can be a stumbling block or a stepping stone…the choice is ours. Today, one of the kids had an assessment on a math lesson and failed badly. We were about to see how that plays out in real life.

In going over the answers, I saw that at least half of the errors were simple things like not paying attention to the wording or the symbols in equations. This was not an official quiz, so I cleared all the work, had my student come by me, and we went through the assessment, question by question. We reviewed concepts. We looked up definitions. We worked things out on the Boogie Board. We even borrowed the brains of Sal Khan for one particular question. The result? When the assessment was retaken, the result was well above average. But that is not the best thing.

I didn’t look for perfection. I looked for education. Real learning. Not just the “I think I have an idea, and so I will color in this bubble” facsimile of going-through-the-motions education.

Coming out of this experience, I know my student has a solid grasp on where the weaknesses were in understanding and comprehension. Exactly. My finger is right on that pulse. When we were done with our session, we both knew the material (I’d forgotten all about “multiplicative inverses”…so, thanks Sal!) solidly. That’s important. It’s supremely key if we are going to call what we are doing e-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n. In the words of a family friend, “Do you understand what you know about that?”ย 

Getting A’s is all well and good, but if the grade is achieved by skillful guessing, or merely a rudimentary understanding (the “I’ll learn this for a test, but I plan to let it vaporize post haste!” kind), then we need to look more closely at how we are educating and less at the alphabet. Quizzes, tests, and exams are not the end. They can be used as a means to achieve learning, if we choose to grade smarter instead of harder. Grading, if you choose to do it, should be a used as a barometer. It should tell you if the synapses are connecting. It should never be interpreted as a reflection of who your child is. Let’s all remember that.

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Of MRIs and Scantrons

mriI have a friend who recently had an MRI done. She mentioned how surprised she was at how any little movement could skew the results. Breathing too rapidly or too deeply could result in needing a re-do. And it got me to thinking…

Now, these are my opinions, of course. I’m not speaking for the entirety of the homeschooling community. This can be one of those “hot button” topics, so bear with me.

I’m not a fan of standardized testing. There. I said it. You may have as well.

I don’t believe that there is any kid who can tick off all the boxes to meet every benchmark of what a 2nd grader, 6th grader, or 11th grader… should be. This is why schools are loaded with kids who are “gifted” or, on the contrary, are judged to be sub-par and require remedial instruction. Are gifted kids gifted in everything? Not likely. They probably have areas which could do with some sharpening. Are sub-par kids underachievers in everything? Doubtful. A child who struggles terribly in writing and reading may be a mathematical prodigy. What I’ve found in over a decade of homeschooling is that kids are really…fluid. Changeable. Growing. Developing. A bit…subjective. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Every child is a mixed bag of variables, all of which are developing at different rates. To suggest that every child should meet certain standards by a certain age simply isn’t fair or realistic.

So here is where my MRI connection comes in with standardized tests.

What if, on the day of your testing event, you have one (or more!) of the following coming into play? (Think of these as the fidgeting and things that blur the MRI results). What if your child:

  • Slept badly the night before
  • Ate Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs for breakfast (yes, I know…”responsible” moms wouldn’t serve such a thing on such an important day…but things happen)
  • Has test anxiety issues
  • Has learning disabilities
  • Has chemical imbalances
  • Has behavioral struggles
  • Has had a difficult life event recently
  • Is easily distracted
  • Has processing disorders
  • Is wearing clothes with itchy tags (we have days when we can’t move forward until we get a change of clothes)
  • Hates the pencil he/she has to use
  • And the list goes on…

scantronSo now we have a testing event, upon which this child may be judged, placed, or otherwise assessed. It’s important. It goes “in the records”. And the cards may be badly stacked against him…for posterity. Unlike the MRI, there is no re-do.

So, do we just quit testing? No. I test our kids with the materials we are using at the time. They are evaluated through “formal” tests and quizzes as well as oral assessments, worksheets, and essays. The difference is, I know my kids better than a machine that scans pencil marks. I know what they ate. I know what they are strong in and what they need help with. I know when they are simply not trying their best, and when there is legitimately something going on that messes with their performance on a given day. I know my kids. I can raise the bar (or lower it to a more reasonable level) according to my awareness of their strengths and weaknesses.

teachermoreMy heart goes out to those who are awesome teachers (private, public, or home school) who know their kids, but their hands are tied because they are obligated to subject them to the cookie cutter tests. What’s more, when not only the student is judged by how he colors in the bubbles…but the teacher’s effectiveness is also judged by those results…well, my goodness. Things get very mixed up from there on. Teachers becoming the scapegoat for a child’s poor performance is rarely the right thing to do. We’ve all heard the phrase “teach the test”…and that is what happens in some classrooms, unfortunately. To save everyone’s skins. That’s not education.

I read recently in an educational article that “standardized tests measure a student’s ability to memorize information.” Is that education? I don’t believe so. Helping my kids to love learning and to want to continue it all their lives…that is part of my mission as a homeschooler, and what I believe is the essence of true education.

Case in point? This morning our 4th grader was eating her cereal at the table. Around her were: two reading books, a book on the solar system, a book on the history of flight, a book on antique automobiles, and her sketching pencils. I didn’t make her do that. She chose to surround herself with things that answered her questions. She has an inquiring mind. It wants to know. I believe kids are hard-wired this way, and we squelch it terribly when we reduce school to rote memorization of dates, names, and theorems.

Babies begin to learn before they can ever speak. They touch, they put everything in their mouths. They investigate. Toddlers ask question upon question. Our son asked “Mom, I have a question…” so often that I got him a notebook in which to write them down, so he could learn to find answers for himself…because moms know a lot, but we certainly don’t know everything!

You may be a homeschooler who is required to have your students take standardized evaluations. We’ve been there. All you can do is muddle through, fulfill your requirement, and try your best to help your kids come away from the experience unscathed. Don’t let it affect your passion for teaching and learning. Keep on keepin’ on! Let’s bring the beauty, individuality, and personality back to the educational experience. Let’s kindle that spark!

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