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Monday, June 10, 2013

How examining exams can help teachers teach better

There may often be a direct correlation between exam success and the quality of the term's work. Exams ala Charlotte Mason can be a pretty good indicator of whether or not things are going well with books, methods, character, etc. Though maybe not in the way we'd be naturally inclined to think. We are primarily looking for what the student DOES know, not what they missed. Exam week should simply be an extension of term work, an opportunity for the student to remind herself (& you) of the things s/he has spent time caring to know about.

What we have perhaps failed to discover hitherto is the immense hunger for knowledge (curiosity) existing in everyone and the immeasurable power of attention with which everyone is endowed; that everyone likes knowledge best in a literary form; that the knowledge should be exceedingly various concerning many things on which the mind of man reflects; but that knowledge is acquired only by what we may call "the act of knowing," which is both encouraged and tested by narration, and which further requires the later test and record afforded by examinations."   v6, p291

Taking a closer look at how we feel about exams and reviewing the student's given answers, I suspect, we might uncover some clues as to how we as teachers could improve; in order to increase and inspire MORE opportunities for 'acts of knowing' in subsequent terms. If exams are stressful for our kids, maybe we're getting too much in the way, or pressuring them unduly. If their answers are lacking, maybe we're asking the wrong questions. Or maybe the books we're feeding them are leaving them dry as dust? Considering exams can also help us become aware of personal weak spots (ours and theirs).

In this post, I'm going to take a look at a couple areas that recent examinations have exposed in our homeschool. But first, let's look at some of the main perks, guidelines and ideals in term exams.

Boys and girls taught in this way take up ordinary school work, preparation for examinations, etc., with intelligence, zeal, and success. v3, p302

When the terminal examination is at hand so much ground has been covered that revision is out of the question; what the children have read they know, and write on any part of it with ease and fluency... v6, p7

At the end of the term an examination paper is sent out containing one or two questions on each book. v3, p273

They appear to enjoy doing this; indeed, the examinations which come at the end of each term are a pleasure; the only difficulty is that small children want to go on 'telling.' v3, p276

For it is a mistake to suppose that the greater the number of 'subjects' the greater the scholar's labour; the contrary is the case as the variety in itself affords refreshment, and the child who has written thirty or forty sheets during an examination week comes out unfagged. Not the number of subjects but the hours of work bring fatigue to the scholar; and bearing this in mind we have short hours and no evening preparation. v6, p158

It is not the best children that answer the examination questions; the general rule is that everybody takes every question. v6, p297

After the experience of over a quarter of a century in selecting the lesson books proper to children of all ages, we still make mistakes, and the next examination paper discovers the error! Children cannot answer questions set on the wrong book; and the difficulty of selection is increased by the fact that what they like in books is no more a guide than what they like in food. v6, p249

"The terminal examinations are of great importance. They are not merely and chiefly tests of knowledge but records which are likely to be permanent. There are things which every child must know, every child, for the days have gone by when 'the education befitting a gentleman' was our aim. v6, p291

So, now that we have those key things about exams in our minds, let's take as an example a few of the things that our recent exams have made me aware of in our homeschool.

Books (History, Geography, Literature, etc):
This is my kids' strong point. What they read, they know. And I love that. As long as the questions are open-ended, they can usually give me something awesome. (Over the years there have been a very few problem books, when they just don't 'care' and there was serious lack of 'book connect'. But thankfully, that wasn't the case this term. Besides, I'm usually aware of that before exam time anyway).
Teacher takeaway: I can't take credit for all our book choices. But I can take credit for choosing the way we do learning around here. I'm SO glad for Charlotte Mason's philosophy, especially her emphasis on living books, and for AO's attempt at modern day CM programmes! :)
Something we've learned from past years... one issue we have to be careful of in particular is, having two students in the same year, they share the same books. I have to be careful to give the kids their questions a solas or else give them different questions, otherwise they are bent towards comparing.

Artist study:
Not one of my kids knew the name of our artist this term. Um, that's right, nobody knew. And I am a little embarrassed about that. Poor Seurat. While everyone definitely had a favorite painting or two or three, and I did read about the artist and mention his name, somehow it completely slipped ALL of their minds.
Teacher takeaway: Frequently, but unobtrusively, incorporate artist's name, the name of painting and other interesting data into weekly picture studies.

Several of my kids don't write their names/dates very well. Though, this is not the end of the world with an 8yo, it is practically unforgivable with a 14yo.
Teacher takeaway: After thinking, I've realized that I rarely ask for assignments where they write their names. I bet it won't take more than a week to fix this little slip.

Also, CM says this, "Children in Class III. write the whole of their examination work." (v3, p288) Yet, my y8 students did about half written and half oral answers. I suppose that's in part because we did exams this year over three days instead of an entire week, and oral work is quicker. But the other part, honest-to-goodness, is due to my extreme aversion to reading cryptic handwriting and diversified spelling (note the courteous phrasing). I can honestly hardly bear reading their written answers. This is my bad.
Teacher takeaway: This is completely lackadaisical on my part. I need to keep them writing and I need to diligently correct a portion of their weekly written work. Even if I hate it. Perhaps not tons, but a regular amount until we see marked improvement. I am failing them as a writing teacher if I don't.

Anything musical seems to be the most happy part of all our schooling. Everyone everywhere around here likes to sing everything singable every term, be it folksongs, hymns, harmony... what have you, we like it. Fun, huh?!
Teacher takeaway: Keep up the good work! And on the dull days, sing something to cheer us all up. Make sure to stay positively encouraging in everything musical. And PLEASE get on top of piano lessons before it's too late!!

Recitation and Memorization:
We consider these two separate subjects, even though there can be overlap. All of my kids did well with their recitations considering how little they've actually been taught. They read their selections nicely with good enunciation and inflection, even if their eyes were glued to the page. It was obvious their teacher {ahem!} had failed to teach them of the importance of connecting with the audience (eye contact, body language, etc). The only memorization we do is several Bible selections a term.
Teacher takeaway: While I regularly feel we come up short on the quantity of memorized material each term, my kids are slowly improving their presentation of such. I have given very little attention to the whole read aloud/memorize, prepare and present for an audience thing each week. Next term, I'll set aside some moments to go over this each week and maybe watch some examples on youtube.

"It cannot be too often said that information is not education. You may answer an examination question about the position of the Seychelles and the Comoro Islands without having been anywise nourished by the fact of these island groups existing in such and such latitudes and longitudes; but if you follow Bullen in The Cruise of the Cachelot the names excite that little mental stir which indicates the reception of real knowledge."  v3, p169

So, we know that even with Charlotte Mason style exams, as with other types of exams, at first glance, children might come off successfully from exams without having cared deeply about the term's work. But hopefully, as we listen carefully to their answers, especially to what's between the lines, we'll sense the extent to which they really care about the knowledge they're acquiring. Troubleshooting, we may look into areas of personal habits as well as quality of material. It's the teacher's job to analyze these things, adjusting to make sure we're doing all we can to lay the feast, stay out of the way and encourage the child to take a personal interest in and responsibility for learning. Our ultimate goal being that they and we take advantage of the full life set before us.

“The question is not, -- how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education -- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” v3, p171

More Fisher posts on exams:
Nervous about CM-style exams? Don't be.
Our Exams {AO year 8, term 3}

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Book matters for summer...

Summer Reading for Me & Mine.
I'll be steadily working at making a dent in my Extremely Daunting Reading List for 2013 (this linked 2013 list is no longer current as I've finished some but didn't cross them out AND several headings have grown by about 20 books... ur, well, who knows what year I'll finish :).

The kids will be snacking on Leftovers (the list of books we that we were supposed to but didn't get done this year ... which consist of a few y3 & y8 free reads... oh, and Desiring God which we had all along but I didn't know it. {nervous chuckle}).

But, I'm also hoping to go through some nature study science-ish stuff with the kids, particularly A World in a Drop of Water: Exploring with a Microscope, among others.

Wouldn't this add an extremely fun aspect to nature study?!
Check out Imagination Childhood blog's new summer catalog accompanied by 
a GIVEAWAY ending 6/11/13!

From the Feedly Feast: {inspiration blog reader} 
On Summer Reading
Tell me a story - Summer reading list
More Library Additions
2013 Summer Reading Guide - Ultimate beach reading
The Books of May
What I'm Reading this Summer
What we are reading
Reading Aloud

Other Posts of Interest
Spanish Online Game - Dia en el Circo
Why Finnish Babies Sleep in Cardboard Boxes

Friday, June 7, 2013

Our Exams {AO year 8, term 3}

While I went ahead and printed off AO's Year 8, Term 3 exam and did follow it relatively closely, as I went along I felt the need to customize and generalize a little. And you should too. Some trouble with past exams has been rooted in this very thing - me expecting to be able to use someone else's specific exam questions and then subsequently feeling like a failure when those questions don't happen to spark my kids' remembrance.

Recently, we've been WAY more successful when relying on more general questions (often based on discussions we've had throughout the term) which allow them to share what DID stick with them, which in turn reminds them of lots of things they thought they had forgotten. This, and we didn't follow the AOy8 schedule word for word in the first place, so I didn't use all of the questions and added a few of my own.

I have two sets of students in the same AO years, and though we do exams simultaneously, they are done very individually. Only one student is present when they give their oral answers and often I vary the question so that they aren't tempted to compare or compete; this is very important!

Observe, the evil lies in the competition, not in the examination. If the old axiom be true, that the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind itself; it is relatively true that knowledge conveyed from without must needs be tested from without. Probably, work on a given syllabus tested by a final examination is the condition of definite knowledge and steady progress. All we contend for is that the examination shall not be competitive. v2,p218

Here's what this year's Charlotte Mason styled exam ended up looking like:

Summarize & explain one of the parables we read this term. [recorded]
Write a poem about the life of Joseph. [written]

Write from Dictation:
"Hence it happened, either that she proposed to herself as a good end what was not such in reality, or employed means which would rather produce an opposite effect, or thought them allowable when they were not at all so, from a certain vague supposition, that he who does more than his duty, may also go beyond his right; it happened that she could not see in an event what was actually there, or did see what was not there; and many other similar things, which may and do happen to all, not excepting the best; but to Donna Prassede far too often, and, not unfrequently, all at once."
pp17, chXXV, I Promessi Sposi

Describe an episode from I Promessi Sposi. [recorded]
Summarize your favorite Milton poem you read this term. [recorded]

Grammar: (taken from Jensen's Grammar extra exercises)
Write all main verbs & identify them as V or LV. Write each noun and give its proper function: S, O, IO, OP, NSC (or PN), mod.
1. Columbus was a man of great importance in history.
2. His voyage and subsequent discovery of America have influenced all of our lives.
3. Christopher was obviously used in God's plan for this world.

Give an account of the civil war between the Roundheads and Royalists. [recorded]
Tell about the "Lord Protector" or the "Merry Monarch". [recorded]
Discuss the great plague and Great Fire of 1666. [written]
What is the difference between a Whig and a Tory? [written]

Tell everything you know about St. Peter's or Pompeii. [recorded]

Science/Natural History:
Draw a diagram of the circulation of the blood. [drawn]
Write an account of one memorable nature study you had this term in Susan Fennimore Cooper's style. [written]

Considering Nicias' character, which things do you admire and which would you not imitate? [written]
Discuss two areas of life where you were most convicted about showing justice. [recorded]

Reading (in English & Spanish):
Dad selected passages. [recorded]

Problems taken from MEP y9 lessons. [written]

Foreign Language:
In French, politely describe someone in the room. Use complete sentences. [recorded]

Picture Study:
Describe your favorite painting from this term's Picture Study. [recorded]

Recitation, Music, FolksongsHymns were performed and Handicrafts examined. :)

"The work is arranged on the principles which have been set forth in this volume; a wide curriculum, a considerable number of books for each child in the severnl classes, and, besides, a couple of hours' work daily, not with Books but with Things. Many of the pupils in the school have absorbed, in a way, the culture of their parents; but the children of uncultured parents take with equal readiness and comparable results to this sort of work, which is, I think, fitted, not only for the clever, but for the average and even the dull child."
CM in v3, p272

Javen's post-exam decompression plan... making a timeline. oh yeah. :)
See?! Exams make them want to do MORE school. Apparently! heheh.

More thoughts about Charlotte Mason style exams:
Nervous about CM style exams? Don't be.
AO Thoughts on Exams
Term Exam Year 11 (CM style)
CM Exam (Year 2, Term 3)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Nervous about CM-style exams? Don't be.

StateLibQld 1 100348

Way back in 1919, an enquiry was made into the methods and results of the PNEU schools... here is what the examiner had to say after witnessing Charlotte Mason style exams:

There is the answer to that examination bogey. Let the teachers and the children lay it. There is no need of other words than theirs.

An Assistant who teaches the eight-year-olds in M. writes, “Miss Mason’s Scheme is at present one of the great surprises. We did not take any examinations at the end of the Summer Term, and many sighs were uttered and great dread felt when we heard we were taking the Christmas Examination. The feelings of utter helplessness and chaos grew worse as the dreaded Monday morning came. There was no relief when the questions came, many of which were on the first lessons of the term. The teacher stood before the class and gave out the first examination, a history question on the very first story told in the last week of August.

For a moment or two there was a blank. Then one by one the children pulled themselves together, and gathered up from the backs of their memories with most wonderful results. Hardly a tiny detail was missing by the time they had finished. After the first plunge the teacher breathed, and each examination was waited for with greater and greater serenity.”

From an early enquiry into CM's theory taken in 1919.
From the Digital Archives (by searching for cmc65 or here).

This week is exam week at Fisher Academy. 
I admit to feeling pretty nervous even after the first plunge, but now on the third day, I am much more serene. You might even say, I'm quite pleased. :)  I'll have more to say about exams in another post.

More exam posts here:
AO Thoughts on Exams
Charlotte Mason and Tests
Why Do I Give Examinations?
A Charlotte Mason Examination {AOy2, term3}

Monday, June 3, 2013

Nature Study Monday :: June!! {LINKup}

The {Nature Study Monday} link up is for ANY nature study-ish blog post written at any time during the current month. Which means, when you submit your link, it will show up in every. single. {NSM} post. during the whole month! Oh, and be not confused, feel free to link up on any day, be it Monday or not! (scroll down for linky).

Have you ever seen AO's Nature Study Rotation page? Well, it just happens to say this:
Summer/Fall: Birds

And whadya know?! Here we are at the dawn of summer in 2013, and we have actually been learning about BIRDS; right exactly at the time when we were supposed to! Honestly, I feel pretty proud of that, even if did happen completely on accident.  Uh... OOPS. Scratch that. We are an entire year LATE. hahahahahahah!

We are supposed to be studying:
Summer/Fall: Trees/Shrubs/Vines
Don't mind me.

It helps that I actually found this nest in the midst of some vines, though right?!

In another part of my brain, I've been thinking about gardening. 
Apparently as soon as I had my gardener hat on, 
I completely forgot about being a good naturalist... :( 
Read more at the end of this post.

Note what else that page says:
"A rotation that covers all the topics in the handbook of Nature Study in five years: This arrangement balances more accessible subjects and more complex (slightly less tangible) subjects evenly throughout the rotation, as well as interspersing living and non-living objects. Although these were arranged to facilitate seasonal observations, feel free to re-arrange terms to suit the region you live in.  [Schedule by Amy Tuttle]" (emphasis mine)

You see, I may have pieced together a Nature Study Rotation, but that does NOT mean that I follow it to a tee. I do like having it all thought out and written down so that I can know that in a period of five years or so we will at least have briefly touched on everything (if I ever get my act together! ;), but I do not feel in the slightest bit bound to the schedule. After all...
"The schedule was created for mom, not mom for the schedule." ~ Amy Tuttle
heheh. And you can quote me on that. ;)

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