Thursday, August 13, 2009

Size Does Matter - At Least in the Classroom!


The old argument about classrooms finally has research proof that size does matter. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association just published their latest research on how homeschooled children compare with traditionally schooled kids and there is no surprise, homeschoolers performed 37% better on standardized tests. So a classroom size of 1-5 children (even if their ages and grade levels are all different) is better than classroom sizes of 20-30. And the reason is in my humble opinion is that with a smaller classroom size, the teacher is better able to adapt the teaching method and pace to the student as they have fewer students to evaluate and learn what the best approach is for each student and then to implement that teaching style at exactly the right pace. I don't think there would be enough time in the school year to evaluate 20-30 students for learning style or pace and then to develop a teaching style to address each one, not to mention the implementation of many different teaching styles delivered at exactly the right pace for each individual.

So these levels of improved performance results might explain why homeschooling continues to grow at a 7% annual rate accounting for about 1.5 million of today's school age students. The Department of Education also estimates that an additional 1.5 million students are receiving remedial or supplemental education using traditional homeschool approaches to augment their public or private school lessons.

What's the bottomline? Again, no surprises, to improve a student's performance in school, parental involvment is key, only because it isn't financially feasible for public or even private schools to go down to classroom sizes that approximate homeschool classes (1-5 kids). However full-time homeschooling may not be an option for many families who can't devote their entire day to teaching and educating their kids.

These parents may want to consider augmenting their more traditional approach with homeschooling activities that include direct parental involvement for the evaluation, identification of learning styles, adoption of a methodology that matches the student's learning style and pace and then the delivery of that program with guidance, praise, direction and participation by the parent. There isn't any magic formula, just paying attention and being involved enough to act on what you observe to turn it into improved performance for both the parent and the child.

The even more amazing thing is that the cost of homeschooling was found to be only 5% of the cost per student in public education ($500 versus $10,000 per student) but of course this doesn't include the opportunity cost of the parent who is not able to work a full-time job and homeschool. However about 20% of homeschooling parents do hold a full or part time job with nearly 85% of those being part time. One thing that is nearly universal is the existance of a computer in the home for homeschoolers (98.3%) as technology is one way to improve the experience and the delivery in both learning style and pace. Again the cost of the computer and Internet access is normally not considered in the $500 cost above as it is typically an appliance available in most households today.

Compelling research, results with serious implications and food for thought for all parents that care about their children's education.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Standardized Testing to Standardize Our Kids?


I totally understand the concept of No Child Left Behind but the rhetoric is much better than the execution. It is a catchy title but that alone won't accomplish the results intended and a soundbite on it's own isn't worth the digital media it is embedded on. What we need isn't standardized testing, we need a rock solid, standardized curriculum that specifies what kids need to know in order to advance to each grade level. And why in the world should it be state specific? I think New England got it right when all of these neighboring states said, let's agree on standards for all of our collective states instead of each one of us doing this on our own. What if we took it two steps further a nationwide standard but not on tests, on knowledge and curriculum - blasphemy.

Focusing on the test is like our focus on the symptoms, not the cause of an illness. The reason/cause that kids are left behind is that they don't learn the things they need to succeed in life, but instead of focusing on that, we focus on testing to see what kids know at each grade level, so our kids get good at taking tests which may or may not measure what they need to know. If we are lucky they do, but without a healthy well defined curriculum it is more pot luck than by plan and design.

And it isn't bad enough that we had to create these standardized tests, we had to do it 45 times, once for each state (less the New England gang who agreed on one test for their collective). So just for fun and giggles you can read all about these non-standard, standardized tests and weep for all of the state tax dollars we are spending for each individual state to create, execute, administer, monitor and report on these non-standard, standardized tests.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Power Of Interactive Graphics

I have sons who struggle with Central Auditory Processing Disorder. Which simply means that their brains do not organize what they hear auditorily. For years I would read posts from other homeschooling families who would sit around and read a loud wonderful works of literature and think that it was my job to teach my children to love being read to and even more importantly that it was my job to learn to love doing it. What was frustrating was that I would invest all this time reading out loud, only to have my children look at me blankly when I would finish and begin to ask them questions about what we had just read.

Then in "2007" I was introduced to a new on-line curriculum that looked intriguing because my children could pop on some headphones and work independently. That whole first year I worried that they weren't learning because I wasn't there working, reading, listening with them. Don't get me wrong I was availalbe, I checked their tests every single day because this program had on-line grading, but I had spent years thinking that the harder I worked the better they would do. Not True!

Imagine my surprise when we went for their year end testing and at the end of that one year their test results went up more than they EVER had in math and every other subject was accelerated as well? It threw me for a loop? How could that be? Had I been doing it wrong? Well, that year I went to a home education convention and heard a speaker talk about Auditory Processing. What she shared helped all the pieces of the puzzle come together.

You see, However, God has given my boys an incredible visual learning capacity. When information was going in auditorily it was getting lost because their brains do not know how to organize information received by hearing. However, my new curriculum, Time4Learning used strong visual graphics that plays to their strength (Visual) and the information they learn is able to go into the brain appropriately so that it sticks and stays put!


Now here we are two years since we switched to on-line learning and I am a solid believer that more is not better, more is just more. Now I work smarter, not harder!