Trust The Children

Friday, October 31, 2008

Self Regulated Without Fiber

Again, another article refined my thinking about the reasons we chose for home schooling. Having your reasons identified, and then reminding your self of them, is important in any educational setting, where it's easy to miss the forest for the trees.

In this article, the concept of self regulation is explained by SEMRA SUNGUR, CEREN TEKKAYA, whose work in researching this area is supposed to be top notch. They wrote in their article:

"Barry Zimmerman (2002), renowned scholar in the field of self-regulated learning, defined self-regulation as the process that students use to activate and sustain their , behaviors, and emotions to reach their goals. According to Zimmerman, self regulated students set goals effectively, plan and use strategies to achieve their goals, manage resources, and monitor their progress. From that perspective, the value of self-regulation in schools is readily obvious. Students who can initiate learning tasks, set goals, decide on appropriate strategies to achieve their goals, then monitor and evaluate their progress are likely to achieve at higher levels than are students who rely on teachers to perform these functions. Zimmerman argued that self-regulated learners continuously adjust their goals and choices of strategies in response to changing intra-personal, interpersonal, and contextual conditions." (Effects of Problem Based Learning and Traditional Instruction on Self-Regulated Learning, SEMRA SUNGUR, CEREN TEKKAYA Middle East Technical University)

Do you mind if I share stuff like this? I hope not. This article is really pretty important. He is comparing how a method of instruction called Problem Based Learning, a variation of which can be done at home, compares to traditional methods of instruction, when it comes to encouraging our children to be well disciplined and continuous life long learners.

I hope all of us have as a goal, the desire to help develop our children in such a way, that they set their own goals, make their own plans, execute their own plans, revise their own plans and persist in achieving what they have planned. Again, if this is one of your goals, then the method of instruction you choose to use at home, matters. Does your method build this kind of propensity in them? Or does the method you choose make your kids just as dependent on you as they would be dependent on a PS teacher?

Is this a valid question? That we consider more methods of instruction than just one, especially in light of how different each of our children are?

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Problem With Assessment

One problem many home schoolers find themselves needing to address is how to assess the progress of their children. Cyndy has also given this a lot of thought. It seems like grades are limited in their ability to inform parents about the potential of a child, because they are often only a snapshot of what has been and not what can be.

While reading an article in my studies, I ran across this quote:

The state of development is never defined alone by what has matured. If the gardener decides only to evaluate the matured or harvested fruits of the apple tree, he cannot determine the state of his orchard. The maturing trees must also be taken into consideration. Correspondingly, the psychologist must not limit his analysis to functions that have matured; he must consider those that are in the process of maturation…the zone of proximal development.


I don't mean to share this to confuse anyone, or even mislead someone into thinking I understand all of what this quote is about. I am still trying to understand. But what I get from this is the importance of considering the orchard and the tree, not just for what they produced this last harvest, but also how the trees are maturing, growing and thriving generally as well.

Do we see or sense in our children the development of the kinds of traits and capacities that we had hoped for? This is of course easier to do, if we decide for ourselves up front, what specifically we hope for in our children. We decided that we wanted our children to be leaders, to be independent learners, and to have a well developed curiosity that only grew stronger over the years. You might decide for other things. There are no right items for this list. Your list might be different than ours and rightly so.

What is important is that 1) we choose a method of instruction that gets the job done we have envisioned on our list, and 2) that we assess the progress of our children against the standards WE have set.

Warning: We have observed over the years, that it is often the case that even well intentioned standard setting for our children will get off track listening to others and responding to their questions or judgments of how they view our children and their growth." Why isn't your child reading at age 4, or even age 8?" for instance. That is so much not anyone's business but your own. These questions are so often really saying is, "I am not comfortable with your approach. I want you to be like me and conform to my standards."

Now that Cyndy and I have married children who are also home schooling, and we see how each of the 11 have developed as leaders, as independent learners and still full of light and curiosity, we have no need to give such judgments the time of day. Further, I have to say, that we didn't pay any attention to them back in the early days either. We trusted in what we were reading and learning about home schooling, because we WERE and ARE students of the art, and we trusted more and more in the goodness and developing potential of each of our children. If others want what a non-home schooling approach has to offer, without questioning it or objectively evaluating the pros and cons of the method, have at it.

With each child we saw halting steps and bumps in the road of their development, but we continued to trust that they would get over such things, and they always did. We stuck to our guns, in both method and standards, and we can tell you, it worked. And it can work for you as well.

Plant well. Nourish well. Look at the tree, look at the general health of the orchard, and sleep deeply.

NSDL Website

I found a great source for science information I mention it here and on my blog.

Most of the content is free. Some has a small fee. I was able to get some great information about the Apollo Space Program.

From their website:

"Educators need efficient and reliable methods to discover and use science and math materials that will help them meet the demands of instruction, assessment, and professional development in an increasingly complex technology-based world.
NSDL was established by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2000 as an online library providing access for users to exemplary resources for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and research.

NSDL provides an organized point of access to high-quality STEM content that is aggregated from a variety of other digital libraries, NSF-funded projects, and NSDL-reviewed web sites. NSDL also provides access to services and tools that enhance the use of this content in a variety of contexts. NSDL is designed primarily for K-16 educators, but anyone can access and search the library at no cost. Access to most of the resources discovered through NSDL is free; however, some content providers may require a login, or a nominal fee or subscription to retrieve their specific resources."


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Not A Bar Of Metal

"We are to regard the mind not as a piece of iron to be laid upon the anvil and hammered into any shape, nor as a block of marble in which we are to find the statute by removing the rubbish, nor as a receptacle into which knowledge may be poured; but as a flame that is to be fed, as an active being that must be strengthened to think and feel - to dare, to do, and to suffer. -

Mark Hopkins, Induction address as president of Williams College, 1836 as found at

Notice the date!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I May Have Found It

I had a wonderful interview with the Assistant Dean of the Huntsman School of business today. He is assisting me in some research I am doing and a short paper I am writing. One idea that came out of the discussion has stuck with me all day.

I am not sure why it is, but as home educators we often say, and I have said, that there are as many approaches to educating at home as there are children. At the same time we make that statement, we are kind of also saying, that any method of instruction will do. So you choose your way and I will choose mine and since our children are different the whole world is at peace. You don't criticize my choice and I won't criticize yours. Mutually assured educational choice. Peace in tension.

I will always respect educational choice, personal choice, freedom to choose. More and more, however, the consequences of those choices are becoming more clear. In other words, the method of instruction does make a difference. I just read tonight the following written by educational theorists, Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter in their article, "Computer Support for Knowledge-Building Communities". (The title of the article obscures the focus of their theory so don't be too put off by that.)

They said: "Although schools are devoted to teaching useful cognitive skills and formal knowledge, they are not designed to foster the progressive problem solving that generates the vast informal knowledge that has been found to characterize expert competence...." (Scardamalia-Bereiter 1994)

Without going into the details of the article, they contend that there are visible forms of knowledge, that are stressed in most of the efforts to educate children. Such visible forms of knowledge are acknowledged largely because they ARE visible and obvious to both teachers and parents. This kind of obvious knowledge also fits neatly into accepted forms of testing and evaluation, as well as being easily observed, measured and compared. Traditional methods of education support and encourage this visible knowledge.

However, what is not easily seen, appreciated, evaluated or easily assessed are the other important individual capacities that are the result of fostering, "the progressive problem solving that generates the vast informal knowledge that has been found to characterize expert competence." (Scardamalia-Bereiter 1994) The capacities I am talking about, such as judgment, discernment, application of knowledge outside the learning context, synthesis, adaptation, etc. are all too often quietly and effectively swept aside. As Clyde Freeman Herreid put it,

"What does our current teaching method produce? Answer: A cadre of students who if they remember anything about science it is facts, facts and more facts that can be used to answer questions on "Jeopardy," "The Wheel of Fortune," and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" We produce people who can't see any reason to understand mitosis or the Second Law of Thermodynamics because they know deep in their hearts they will never need to know this. What good is this information? We clearly fail to convince them. It's not that they try to forget this information, it just never gets into their long-term memory banks.

We faculty just don't get it. Even though we passed through the same mind-numbing process ourselves and have "learned" the same things and forgotten them just as fast, we seem to think that everyone has to pass through the same hazing process we did. After all, we survived. Someday in graduate school or beyond we might finally figure out how to use the "book learning." But perhaps not. It will never dawn on most of us that there must be a better way." (Herreid, 2003)

It is not my purpose tonight to explore what might be the possible "better way". In large, that is what the myriad of learning theories are all about, attempts to figure out that "better way". However, at what point does it dawn on us, that our generation's concerns with the education, safety and moral conditioning of our children, is not unique to our generation. For the last 100+ years, not 100+ months, bright minds such as John Dewey at the first of the 20th century to John Holt in our generation have concluded that the system is failing our children and method, not the teacher, is at the center of it.

What I have finally come to grips with is that method does matter. If Cyndy and I would have set as a goal for our children to give them minds that were full of facts, figures, historical dates, and word definitions alone, it was our responsibility to select a method of teaching to use with them that was efficient and effective in accomplishing just that. However, if we also wanted, in addition to the aforementioned goals, other skills like leadership, decision making ability, judgment, discernment, ability to communicate, moral fiber, etc. it was our obligation to select additional learning methods that best accomplish the building of those things in our our children. Method matters. A screwdriver just isn't very effective as a hammer. A spoon just isn't that effective as a can opener. The tool or the method one choses, makes a difference.

I have in my mind, the development of additional capacities in each of us, and am on the hunt for the teaching methods that will make that possible and make those capacities stick. In a recent stint with young men in a youth program, I can now see that parents were not interested in these kinds of capacities being developed in their sons because the process to make that happen, was not acceptable to them. They wanted and want the more visible forms of development, the more acceptable form of learning, to them and their sons, than the other forms of capacity that require a different approach. What a sad, but predictable choice. Sad, because like Herreid said, "Someday in graduate school or beyond we might finally figure out how to use the "book learning." But perhaps not. It will never dawn on most of us that there must be a better way." (Herreid, 2003)

Existing models serve a valuable purpose. However, when it comes to building the capacities of leadership, and character, commonly accepted educational methods just don't serve. I am now blessed to be in the hunt, when it comes to that something better. In these last few weeks, it has been nice to find out, after all these years, that there are actually some pretty smart people, who have already brought back the very game I have been hunting for. I get to hunt with them now for a while. I am so happy.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

What Is The Simple Idea?

Why should (our children) be "abandoned" to systems that (fail) to take into account the fact that children learn by imitating the people around them? Having good models, having lots of time to play, and being surrounded by people who love them (not judge them and grade them and mold them) is the recipe for successful growth. - Pat Montgomery

Children learn more from watching other people learn, than from watching other people teach. - James Ferrell

I am the Way, The Truth, and the light. - Jesus Christ

Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do; - Jesus Christ

Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do.

The foundation of influence with others is example. Stephen Covey

How we teach is what we teach. Dean John H. McArther Harvard Business School

The first approach to any subject in school, if thought is to be arroused, and not words acquired, should be as unschoolastic as possible. John Dewey

A careful inspection of methods which are permanently successful in formal education... give pupils something to do, not something to learn: and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking, or the intentional noting of connections; learning naturally results. John Dewey

I trust that home educating is really this simple. Mark Weiss

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


I wonder what percentage of families who begin to home school actually persist in one form or another for longer than 10 years? Longer than 5 years?

Let's say a family persists in educating their children at home for 5 years. Which five years would be the most important five years to home school? I suppose that it depends on what a family's goals are for home schooling in the first place, right?

Since there is little formal schooling before age 4-5, I am going to suggest we assume that those years are at home anyway. So I am going to suggest that the best 5 years might be.... (drum roll) age 5-10. Why? Plasticity.

One definition of the word plasticity is "easily shaped or molded" as in "he rendered the material more plastic." In educational terms, plasticity is referred to when discussing the biological bases of learning and memory. Experimental evidence has shown that brain functions in certain environments change for the better and in other environments change for the worse. "An enriched environment can significantly enhance cognitive development, especially when the enrichment comes at an early age." (Driscoll, p. 296-297) Driscoll continues, "there is also evidence that neuronal plasticity declines with age in many species, including humans. This is thought to be a function of mature individuals committing increasing portions of their nervous system to memory storage."

Combine this concept, minds being more easily shaped and formed at earlier ages, with how values inform decision making. For me, it makes sense that the time to have children in the "value oven" of the home, is in the younger years. As it says in the Bible, "Train up a child in the way he shall go, and when he is old, he shall not depart from it".

We have seen this in our own home. As I am in school and Cyndy has agreed to work outside the home. Our youngest is 14. With Joe, are still doing at least half of our educating at home and with Will, our 16 year old it is about the same. In conversations with them, they are very clear about the pros and cons of what the formal school environment offers, and what it does not. We talk openly about it and consider ways to avoid any negative influence from our current choices. For me, this is possible, however, because when their minds were more pliable, "plastic", they were home full time. Our family and religious/moral values are more firmly implanted from the years at home than they would have been if we had allowed other value systems to take root when their minds and hearts were so pliable.

It seems to me that any political policy or social norms that encourage younger children especially, to to be outside the home. Spending many hours outside the home when young hands others a large power of influence on the value development of our children. This can only result in a higher probability that such children will lean toward making a higher number of decisions not informed by family values. Why? Because those decisions are now informed by values other than our own. So many parents are shocked in the teen age years, when decisions made by their children seem so foreign to what they thought was being taught at home. If they stepped back and realized the dominance of the influence of others, in any educational setting other than the home, it would become evident that they were fighting a battle of time that they were losing all along.

A certain kind of plasticity can however have a negative effect on our children as well. I am speaking of moral plasticity where value system have become relative. In a relative moral environment, some things being true or valuable in one circumstance can be considered untrue and worthless in another without any sense of conflict or inconsistency. Plastic values lead to plastic decisions. When decisions are informed by variable values, plastic values if you will, you just never know where someone is going to come from! Trust erodes, relationships can suffer, true peace of mind vanishes by degrees. Such moral relativism, if implanted into supple minds at early ages, seems to be very difficult to overcome in the later years.

This all seems like common sense to most who read these posts. I guess I mention it because it is nice to know that other people, who actually do research, find a fundamental basis in their studies, that supports what seems to many so natural and obvious. I vote to keep kids home as long as possible, as long as their minds are plastic, pliable and open to our finest teaching and values clarification efforts.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Re-Emergence of PLAY! Woo Whoooo!

One of the most influential experiences of my life was listening to Pat Montgomery speak at a Home Schooling Conference in Tacoma Washington. We were on the University of Puget Sound Campus, years before our daughter Allison would have a scholarship to go there for 5 years. I remember kind of day-dreaming during the talk, when all of the sudden I heard her say, "The work of a child is play." I think I turned to Cyndy and asked her, "What did she say?" When I heard it again, I was glued to her for the rest of the talk.

Since that time, whenever I mention this to other parents who home school, the almost universal reaction is eyes rolling and a mental shut down. Even Cyndy has said several times, "Mark, you have to be careful about saying that. People get the wrong idea. They think we don't do anything else in the early years but irresponsibly allow our children to play." Of course we do other things, but that isn't the point.

I am currently a graduate student in my first year, at Utah State University. I am subscribed to the Journal of Learning Sciences. This is a journal that may publish about 12% of the articles submitted if that. So the stuff has to be good. I was scanning past articles for another topic I will soon blog about, "Case-based Learning for Middle School Kids" (A type of learning that many believe is only found at Harvard, Standford, and other graduate school environments) when I found an article entitled "Rescuing Play". I thought to myself, could a journal of this type, actually be publishing an article about the benefits of children playing? Could there actually be some academic evidence to consider about this topic that for so long I have felt so ignored about? Turns out there is.

So the link below is the article. The article is short, and the interview and discussion with the authors, a bonus, is also short. It isn't at all too academic to read. And actually brings up several key points I hadn't thought of. I had planned to blog on this topic anyway. I have been studying the various learning theories (and I stress theories) and have been surprised at how a couple these theories strongly support the idea of "play" as well. In order share that stuff, I was stumped on how to present it, without getting all complicated about some theory in order to do it. I just haven't got it down well enough to present it simple yet.

Anyway, I encourage you to read this and ponder it. While we are free to use any method to teach at our children at home, we are not free from the consequences of that choice. There are different influences associated with each "method, curriculum and approach" and they aren't all good. Some "influences" associated with our choice of method, are subliminal, and harmful as I have said before. So as you read this article, consider the influences on the mind of your son or daughter, from using play earlier, and more frequently from age 5 to 12 or so.
Click Here to read Article from The Journal of Learning Sciences