Monday, September 2, 2013

Writing Curriculum

I've been working on writing curriculum more and more over the past year.  In my mind, I've spurned all the things I hated about lesson plans from my public school teaching days.  But, I realized this morning that I threw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.  The curriculum I've written so far hasn't been bad.  But, it hasn't been as purposeful as the curriculum I'm writing right now needs to be.

When we write, we start by identifying the purpose of our writing.  Next, we make an outline. Then, we identify the details we want to include.  And finally, then we start writing.  Once finished, we proofread and edit.

It's the same with writing curriculum.
1) Identify the goals:  what you want your child to know and be able to do once the study is completed.  These are two separate and important things.  #1 Content and #2 Skills.  The more specific the goals,
2) Make an outline of what are the main topics or ideas that you want covered.  Then hang smaller topics on each of the larger ones.
3) Now look at the skills that you want your child to learn and keep these in mind as you compile reading passages and assignments to cover the subject material--the outline of topics you made.
4) Look back at your goals and identify how you have assessed whether or not they've learned the content and acquired the skills you wanted them to.  Assessment in homeschooling is different than in classroom settings, but it's still important.  I want to discuss that in a minute.
5) Write out a list for each unit of the assignments to be completed.  Make sure everything is copied and assembled.  
6) Revise and modify assignments as needed--as students are completing them--realizing that you may have planned more than can be realistically completed.  A particular assignment may not be connecting the dots together for your child, so add something else in, or take something away.

I read this statement by Mac Duis this morning "information retention is less important than information usage in solving problems and making decisions." on

Hmmm...  I'm not sure that I entirely agree with this statement.  I use a lot of the information I've learned over the years and not just the tools that I have learned about how to solve problems and make decisions.  I think students need both.  I don't think one is more important than the other.  It is interesting to me.  This statement is rooted in the belief that technology gives people instant access to information on the web.  But, there are potential problems with this.  There are long-term concerns that this will affect people's ability to remember in old age.  They won't have a wealth of personal knowledge to draw on.  Their brains won't have been exercising and strengthening their ability to retain and remember experiences and information.  I don't believe technology is not the savior and cure all that many people believe it to be.  

I think your opinion about this statement will shape how you write curriculum and modify the curriculum you are using for your children.  For some children, it is genuinely difficult to absorb and retain a lot of information all at once.  So, we modify our curriculum and goals--making adjustments so that our expectations are appropriate.  But, I still believe that we should not make those expectations too low.  Learning to remember information and understand the world is important--which connects to my belief about schema theory.... 

I have been struggling with the US History curriculum I am writing.  I agree with the schema theory of education, that Jon Piaget developed.  If a child connects something they are learning to something they already know, then they are more likely to retain that knowledge.  I picture it like a web.  

For the first unit, I wrote I had to come up with the basic web.  Thankfully, I later found a document online that had basic web outlines for each of the units of US History that I wanted to cover.  This made my job of writing curriculum much easier.  When we write curriculum, this web is the basics that we want our children to know.  The web will be simpler for some students and more complex for others--based on their ages and abilities.  It should be written appropriately.  You can make a separate web for information to be mastered and one for skills (connecting the topics/activities to the skills to be worked on).  

As for assessment...
Here are three webpages about assessment:
The most helpful one to read:

Homeschoolers use tests and tangible reports as assessment measures.  Written assignments and reports are necessarily assessed differently than they would be in a classroom.  The teacher doesn't have 30 students to compare work.  A homeschooling parent has only one or a few at most.  I took a course last summer and tried to explain to a former school principal who was facilitating the course how different assessment is for homeschoolers.  He didn't want to discuss it with me.  I was sad.  I really wanted to discuss it with him!  

Grades have a completely different purpose in homeschooling than in the classroom.  In the classroom setting, a grade is the quickest way to communicated to a child's parent (and the educational system) whether or not the child is mastering the information and "how" they are doing.  In the last document about assessment above, other reasons are named, but honestly--as a teacher, I think grades have more to do with the parents than the children.  In homeschooling, a grade is used to communicate to a child whether their work is satisfactory or excellent or needs improvement.  It is a means of communicating to a child whether they need to work harder or put more effort into their assignment.  Normally, children in a classroom learn this by comparing themselves to one another (which is a potential positive effect of peer pressure, but also one that can backfire).  I am introducing grades this year with Autumn (5th grade).  I realized when she completed her first reports last year that it is time.  She needs to understand when her work is not satisfactory.  Rubrics are very good for helping children with this.  

I found this site with writing rubrics for kindergarten through fifth grades.  I was told by a veteran homeschooler that writing is one of the most difficult subjects for parents to assess.  Rubrics can help with that struggle by breaking down all the elements that children need to have present in their writing.  This is a post written for homeschoolers about how to write rubrics.

What I am most concerned about when it comes to math is mastery of concepts.  They must get 90-100% correct on their chapter review (without help) to move on to the next chapter without any remediation.  I can tell if they don't understand a concept by talking to my child.  This is very different than the way it works in the public schools.  The class will still move on even if several children are at 70% mastery.  With homeschooling, I don't.  

Assessment of verbal skills and information mastery in a homeschooling setting is a lot of parent/teacher observation, presentations, noticing the child bringing up what they've learned in later discussions with friends and family.  We see our kids up close.  We talk with them in the cars and while were going from one place to another.  We are continually teaching them.  This is both formative (ongoing, in progress) and summative (conclusionary, final) assessment.  

I hope some of this information might be helpful to someone.  Whenever I start a post like this one, it's really my way of processing out loud and bringing together all the scattered thoughts in my brain.  I was reminded of several things I needed to remember in the process and found several new resources that I need to integrate into my curriculum (the writing rubrics!).  Blogging is a funny thing to me.  I can't quite articulate why I write.  But, part of it is because it is a way that God works in my life to help me.  It organizes my thinking.

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