Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Educational Philosophies

We sent several of the kids to traditional school this year. Some of the experiences have been successful, others have been less positive.

I'm currently annoyed with spelling. Granted, I have a lot more time on my hands to get upset about things, but poor Paige is beginning to believe that she is a weak speller. What irritates me so much is that she is a good speller. She can spend 5 minutes looking over a spelling list and spell all the words correctly. She hasn't just managed to put the spellings in her short term memory for a test. She consistently spells the words correctly in her writing.

Last week, Paige brought home her list of words for the week. I was a little surprised at the list, but we worked every night on these words. Some of the words seemed silly to me for a third grade child. Here are my personal favorites:

absolute location
direction words
relative location

Her list was made up of 20 words. Five were "normal" third grade words. Two were super easy words. Three words were challenging words. The remaining words were very difficult. I looked up the very difficult spelling words to check the spelling grade level. The words ranged from 7th-9th grade. No wonder it took so long to learn how to spell them!

I like to challenge my children and don't have a problem with them learning to spell difficult words. My gripe is that spelling words should be made up of words that they actually use in their normal vocabulary. Spelling words are even more meaningful if they consist of words that the child uses to write. I can't remember the last time that I used absolute location in a sentence. Wouldn't it make more sense to learn the differences between they're, there and their? We spent about 45 minutes each night studying these very difficult words, breaking them down into syllables that she could sound out.

Paige took her test Friday and missed absolute location and relative location. She wrote the letter c backwards. She came home from school crushed and cried when she showed me her spelling test. Her teacher had said that Paige hadn't studied the words enough last week. I understand that Paige was incorrect when she wrote the letter c backward, but the words were actually spelled correctly. The teacher should have focused on the penmanship aspect of the error, instead of assuming that Paige hadn't spent time learning how to spell the words. I was there.....we spent plenty of time on these words.

I hate to see Paige getting discouraged, but I know that she expects to always get everything right. There is a learning curve to adjust to the traditional school procedures and ways of assessing progress. Paige needs to learn that she will make mistakes and how to shake off her feeling of failure.

The girls are getting more and more homework each evening. This is a typical evening's homework assignment:

Read for 20 documented minutes-Paige
Read a book 5 times for testing by a classroom helper the next day-Allie
2 pages of math-Paige
1 page of math-Allie
2 pages of penmanship-Allie
2 pages of English/writing-Paige
30 minutes of outside activity with a family member (must be documented)-both girls
study spelling words-Paige
write sentences-Allie

To me, the amount of homework seems excessive. What are they doing at school all day? Why do the young elementary students need to spend 1-2 hours doing homework after being in the classroom for 7 1/2 hours? When do they get to be children?
There isn't much time for playing outside, helping mom cook, listening to stories before bed, or even keeping their bedrooms picked up.

Children need balance in their lives. Endless hours spent doing busy work deprive children of their ability to solve problems and think outside of the box. Growing children need time to run, jump, shout, imagine and absorb vitamin D.

I am struggling to accept that the kids no longer have time for family activities. My girls are missing their dad and wanting to cuddle with me more than usual. We are missing our time together.

Philosophically, my priorities for our children are different than the public school's emphasis. I resent spending all our time together doing homework, especially when much of it is busy work. Filling out endless paper irritates me.
We just began our second month of the public school experience and I'm beginning to think that the benefits are outweighed by the negative aspects.


Dakotapam said...

Wow Karen, that is really interesting. We moved our younger boys out of our (expensive) Lutheran School to our local public elementary. Where they had been frustrated by some inflexible teaching at the parochial school, they seem to be thriving in a public school environment (I know that seems to be the opposite of what we would think!)
I think Paige's teacher is throwing Social Studies /Geography words into the spelling list to make it more "meaningful". We can both see how that is not always effective. As for the homework, that was a frustration of mine at the last school. They used Saxon math which gave homework for the sake of homework and my boys were totally burnt out on school by the time they came home. I was dreading homework time as much as they were. Now, homework, so far is to read (good) and finish anything they ran out of time for in class. Sometimes the second grader has a math game to play with a family member (making change, adding with dice or playing cards). I want to come observe a class sometime. The classes are nearly double what they were in private school, yet the teachers at our school seem calm and collected about it. (perhaps it is because they have 32 and 37 years of experience!)
My 4th grader had an instant boost in his spelling grade. The boost? They take it on a computer! No reversed letters, or messy handwriting. Not only that they can have the computer repeat the words as many times as they need and go at a comfortable pace. Last year Owen was losing track of spelling words during the tests because there were three spelling groups, yet his teacher would dictate the test at the same time! So, he would get bored after hearing his word, his mind would wander and he would not hear a few of his work. He is the first kid I ever saw have empty slots on a spelling test.
I hope things start to improve for your kids:) I am learning that there really is no one size fits all perfect educational plan!

Karen said...

It's interesting that your children had such a different experience! Paige's teacher is brand new. Allie (who I expected to have a more difficult time keeping up with the work) has a teacher with 25 years of experience and just keeps plugging along.

I love the use of the computer for spelling tests! The students can focus without the added distractions and work at their own pace.

Both of my girls have parents who volunteer at the school each day to test children on all the reading that they do at home. If the kids pass the test with 90%, they get a book at a slightly higher level to read that night.
The required at home reading is taking the joy out of literature for Allie. These are the books we are supposed to read 5 times. We don't have the time to do reading for enjoyment.

I'm glad that you have found a solution to your situation. Hopefully, we'll work out our kinks soon.

Melrose said...

Karen, this makes me think of my own very short experience with home school styles. At first this year we were "doing school at home". I had a schedule with time amounts for each subject and worksheets that must be completed. At the end of the day he was less than enthusiastic about anything we had done and when his Dad asked him about it he would shrug his shoulders. It totally took away, even at the tender age of 5, his love of learning.

So we started over. I put the books away and tuned into his interests. We start the day on the couch snuggled up reading. He loves to read about animals and loves to have folktales read. When we're done reading he can retell every single thing I said. It's amazing. Then I print off free color sheets of things we read about and while he colors I read from our chapter book (Little house books right now). At some point in the day he loves to do the new starfall website which has math on it. I also look for random times in the day to do math with money, linking cubes, etc. I heard him playing math games adding and subtracting things on his own in the playroom today. Finally, our son is extremely interested in ships right now. My husband just finished reading a chapter book about the WWII German ship Bismark and is now reading to him about the Titanic.

Anyhow, I'm sorry your public school experience isn't working out like you hoped. All the things you spoke about sound so frustrating. I hope you find peace in doing whatever is right for your family no matter what that means.