Trust The Children

Monday, December 10, 2018

Learning to LOVE words, not just read them

D. Mark Weiss PhD - Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences

This interview with Frederick is about how my views of our homeschooling experience have changed after completing my degree in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences. I'm hoping to make some things more clear than they were years ago as we journeyed through home schooling with our 11 children.

"In my own family, all 11 of our children can read. But I have noticed that not all of them "love" to read. I've asked them about this observation. They agreed."


Frederick: So you have put some thoughts together about how little children can learn to love words? Let's get to it.

Mark: Well, I have been working on five ideas and just the other day, those ideas finally came together for me. These ideas are about education at home for little children, say between ages one and maybe eight.

Frederick: What about the older children?

Mark: I have gathered some ideas about them too, but let's begin with the the little ones first.

Frederick: OK.

Mark: The first idea is one I have been pondering for maybe 5 or 6 years. I first read it in a book by David A. Bednar called, Increase in Learning and then his book Power to Become. I was struck first by the title Increase In Learning because the title wasn't Increase in Teaching. For me, there has been an elephant in the room about education in the home. We have all experienced teaching that didn't result in learning. And yet learning is the goal for our little ones; for all our children really. So I wondered, is there a way to increase learning without increasing teaching or increasing teacher talking? 

Frederick: That's kind of counter-intuitive.

Mark: It sure was for me. Some people suggest that if a child doesn't learn it's the child's fault. But over the years, I have studied and seen some methods of teaching work better than others when measuring student learning outcomes. So, while our kids do bear some responsibility for their learning, maybe most of it,  those who guide their learning bear some of that responsibility too.

Frederick: That seems fair to me. And parents who decide to educate their children at home have more control over how learning occurs and what methods they use. They don't have to repeat in the home what they experienced when they went to school if they can find better ways.

Mark: Yeah, that's what I have been thinking. So Bednar says in essense that teaching isn't talking first. Rather, "observing, listening and discerning" is a pre-requisite to talking.

Frederick: I'm not sure how that works. That is quite a different picture than I have in my head.

Mark: Right, it was for me too. I kept wondering what he could possibly mean. Another quote from his book  kind of caught me even more by surprise. Bednar, who is a religious leader, continued, "Parents and gospel instructors who talk without observing, listening and discerning teach neither lessons nor people. Rather, they talk to themselves in front of people." That made me laugh at first, when I thought of all the classes I took over the years. I sure saw a lot of professors talk to themselves in front of their students. But, then I began to connect these ideas with some of my research that suggested it was possible for learning to be more student centered rather than teacher centered.

Frederick: How so?

Mark: Observing, listening and discerning painted a picture of a home schooling parent, observing the activities of their little ones, listening to them talk, and then discerning from observing and listening what is really going on in their heads. I began to see that this approach meant that the prompts for what to do next at home, especially for little ones, were centered more in the child and not as much in the parent/teacher. So rather than all the pressure being on the parent/teacher as the "sage on the stage”, observing, listening and discerning positioned the parent/teacher as more of a "guide on the side", more responsive and supportive of the kids.

Frederick: But parents and teachers are the ones who have the knowledge, and the kids don't have that knowledge. I can't see how the kids can drive the learning process?

Mark: That's a great question, which brings me to the second thought in this string of ideas. When Cyndy and I first began our home schooling odyssey, we attended a conference in the early 80's where Elizabeth Montgomery spoke. She said, "The work of a child is play." I found out later Montgomery wasn't the only person who said that.  That didn't make total sense to me then. But now, after my PhD research it makes more sense to me than ever before.

Frederick: In what ways?

Mark: First let's go back to Bednar. He says teaching begins with observing, listening and then discerning.  If a parent/teacher is going to observe their children, the children have to be doing something to observe, they have to be saying something to listen to. What better "something" to observe than your children at play? If a parent/teacher is going to listen to their children, what better time to listen than to hear them talking while they are playing? I mean children talking when they are playing is so unfiltered, so natural, so representative of them.

Frederick: So if the work of a child is play, what is the work of the parent? 

Mark: Perfect question. The work of the parent, for these young children, is... you guessed it. Observe, Listen, Discern. 

Frederick: Ok but what does that have to do with your research?

Mark: Good question. There is a book, and it was a good one for me, called, "How Learning Works" by Susan Ambrose. Her first chapter gathers a bunch of research together in one place that says that one important way we learn is to build on prior knowledge. We could say build on prior experience. We hear something or see something, think something and then we connect it to stuff already in our heads. For little kids this begins as babies. We don't have them attend a class on talking or walking. They learn these very complicated things by having experiences and building one thing upon the other. It's a very natural way of learning. Some call it an "organic" way of learning. So how do little kids get this "prior knowledge" into their heads? Play. Playing fills their minds with all kinds of experiences in a very natural way. They move, they touch, they hear, they interact and all the time, their minds are being filled with experiences that they later can connect to other new experiences. And this is what most adults have forgotton, namely what they experiened/learned when they played as children, and how much play really contributed to a foundation for future learning.  These prior experiences are really important for kids as they go forward. Remember we are focusing on little kids more than older kids. 

Frederick: But not only important for kids, important for the parent/teachers, because as their children play the parents can observe, listen and then ponder what is going on in their kids heads. Is that right?

Mark: It seems right to me. But there are a couple of things that parent/teachers can become uncomfortable about. Since their play experiences are being gathered in their heads, parents get uncomfortable because it's hard to see the "learning" happening. So they get anxious. And then you have the neighbors, grandparents, and even little friends who are asking questions all the time, comparing, "My child is reading and doing math. How about your/our little Billy?" It takes a lot of courage to let this natural learning process happen, well, "naturally". We keep wanting to be the sage on the stage, like we experienced when we went to school, putting pressure on our kids too soon, but more importantly, putting pressure on us as parents to be something we haven’t trained for years to do. 

Frederick: So you keep saying, "natural or organic". Why is it important that learning be natural as you say?

Mark: Another great question. First, if the future you see for your children includes them being "self-directed learners" or as some say, "independent learners", and not just “test takers and forgeters” they need confidence that they can explore and learn on their own. This confidence that they develop also impacts their movitation to learn. Fighting motivation in students is really an uphill battle.  And of course the early years are so formative. So during those formative years, trusting them to mostly learn by their own experiences communicates to them in a powerful but subtle way that you trust them and that's it's ok for them to trust themselves to learn on their own. This trust that little children all have at first, seems to be really fragile. It seems to me that if we impose on them learning from the outside too soon, they can begin to question whether they should continue to learn on their own, or if they should learn by being told from an outside person. I think that is where the "discernment" that Bednar talks about comes in. And if I were to err, I think I would err on the side of preserving their natural curiosity and independent learning and be very careful about formal instruction too soon.

Frederick: Good advice. Another question has been nagging at me. If in at home, the primary responsibility for home schooling rests on the mom, and I'm not saying that is right, she can't spend all day observing, listening and discerning. I mean she has other things to be doing, and one advantage of a more formal approach to learning in the home is that it sets time boundaries. Once the lessons are done, the kids can do their thing and the mom, in this case, can do her things.

Mark: True, very true. So why not set time boundaries for the observing, listening and discerning?Maybe the parent observes and listens to them for a hour or so, makes a few notes, and calls it good. It sounds too simiple doesn't it? Of course, there would be some spontaneous observing, listening, and discerning moments as well. You wouldn't shut them out. But if moms or dads are going to be able to persist educating in the home, they need to have a life too. So there is a way to get around that.

Frederick: So far this makes sense. But it's kind of high level, kind of theoretical. Can you share some examples to kind of make this approach more accessable?

Mark: Sure. And this is the third idea  and builds on the first two.  The first was "observing, listening and discerning" and the second was "the work of the child is play". The example I will share has to do with learning words and loving them. Getting back to Elizabeth Montgomery. In that presentation we listen to years ago, she introduced to us an educator from New Zealand by the name of Sylvia Ashton Warner. I won't go into her entire story here. But she moved to New Zealand from England and was tasked with using a British teaching method with Maori children about age five. The British method was failing miserably and she began looking for a different approach. If I have this right, and I may not have it perfectly, she changed her daily organization and began each school day with an hour of play, art, dancing, and maybe even walks outside. She moved about among the children and listened to their conversations as they played, noting the words they used. In time, she also noticed that some words used by the children sounded more important somehow. These words were packed with emotion. She eventually called these words, "first words".  So listening to their conversation and paying special attention to the "first words" used by the children, she would write a word down on a thick card. Then she would meet with the child, have them trace each letter of the word with their finger and then she would say the word to them. Then ask them "what is this word?",  whereupon the child would repeat the word back to her. She would congratulate the child, give them the card and have them put it in their back pack.

Frederick: So what happened next?

Mark: Well, the next day she would have them bring the card back out of their backpack, have them look at the card and ask them, "What is this word?" Amazingly, in most cases the child would repeat the word. She would repeat the process frequently enough so that overtime, each child had a number of words and cards that belonged to them. The genius was that the words were the words that the children loved, felt emotion about and were their very own. She used the words that "belonged" to the child, to "teach" them how to read and spell. Over time, as the children came to class, Warner would collect the cards from each child, gather the children together in a circle on the floor, put the cards in the middle of the circle and have each child "claim" a card, one at a time, name the word and spell it. This activity continued until all the cards were claimed. Sometimes a card would go unclaimed, suggesting to Warner, that this word was no longer a "first word" for any of the children in her class. That was fine. She moved on, day by day, collecting more words, making more cards and giving the cards to that child.

Frederick: So this is what you mean by observing, listening and discerning?

Mark: Well it's one way to look at it isn't it? Her approach goes beyond that though.

Frederick: In what way?

Mark: Sometimes, during play time, as she moved around among the children in her class, she not only listened for words, she also listened for the stories the children told one another. Stories about their families, about tradgedies, pets, walking home from school, etc. All kinds of things. She would write down the stories she heard, made up of the words that "belonged" to the children, and would carefully use the stories to "teach" the children reading skills. The words of these stories were words common to most of the children in the class. So when they would "read" them together, they enjoyed the experience. They would help one another too. Learning to read was enjoyable instead of an onerous learning task.

Frederick: So this is quite different than the "Dick and Jane" approach that I remember using at that age in school.

Mark: The "Dick and Jane" approach is ok I guess, except the words may or may not "belong" to the children. Those words are kind of imposed on them in a way. And imposing words may teach the how to read. But they may not learn to love to read. The Dick and Jane experience is just a bit foreign.  The words used in the stories collected by Warner, WERE words that belonged to the children, and the stories were their own too. The experiences in the stories were their own. And the stories represented to the childen, "life" as they really experienced it. There is a certain authenticity to this approach that children seem to recognize and appreciate. This approach is immediately more comfortable. 

Frederick: So, listening, observing and discerning isn't only about "first words",  it's also about stories too... the stories that belong to the kids themselves rather than made up by some curriculum writer. That is really facinating. And it makes sense. But...

Mark: You want to know if I have had experience with this myself? Well I have in senior engineering classes at the university.

Frederick: Really with nearly graduated college students?

Mark: Yep. And actually when we were home schooling our children, Cyndy did something quite similar. She would ask our kids to tell her a story. She would take it down word for word. Then she would help them read it back to her. Or sometimes she would have them draw a picture. Then she would have them tell a story about the picture. Again, she would write it down word for word and then help them read the story back to her.

Frederick: So she came up with that on her own?

Mark: Yes she did. Interestingly, I recently had an experience with this approach, a small one, in my own extended family. Let me share this before I share what happened in the senior engineering class. Our family shares videos with one another online. One of our sons, Ben, shared a video of two of his daughters. Ben had just come home from Mexico and brought home with him large "surprise eggs". These eggs are chocolate, covered with foil and have a surprise inside. His oldest daughter pealed the foil off the egg quickly, opened the egg and found her surprise. The younger daughter was struggling with finding a starting place for the foil. The older daughter grabbed the egg to open it for her sister. We could hear our son's voice on the video say, "Please give the egg back to your sister and let her do it on her own." To which the older daugher replied, "Dad, I am just trying to HELP her." There was an unusual level of emotion attached to the word "help" and I heard it while watching the video. This older daughter is anxious to read. So I called up Ben, reminded him of the video and pointed out to him that when the his older daughter used the word "help" it had a high emotional content attached to it. I explained how he might use this word to help her learn to read. When he got home from work, he didn't use a card, but instead wrote the word on the condensation on a window in his home. Then he explained that this was the word "help", asked her to repeat it and spell it letter for letter. The next day as he was driving to work, he called me and excitedly explained that the next morning before he went to work, he re-wrote the word on the window and without saying the word, asked his daughter what the word was. She said the word and spelled it. That is the end of the story. At this point, we will see if the parents have the discipine to listen, observe and discern how to move forward.

Frederick: So you mention discipline. I mean this is a great story, but this approach is a bit harder than picking up a Dick and Jane book isn't it?

Mark: It kind of depends on the outcome you want for your children. Struggling with kids who don't want to read or don't love to read, can be stressful as well.  As parents, sometimes it's hard to compete with the educational experience we remember having as we were growing up. We don't really remember the younger years that well. We remember the laters years of our education. So we sometimes want to replicate that memory from later in our life, forgetting that we didn't learn that way when we were young.

So if the outcome you want for your children is for them to love to read, how reading is introduced to them, the method of learning to read, can either encourage their love of reading, or discourage it. And it's not just about reading. Let’s talk about senior engineering students. We introduced a completely new way of learning engineering principles. In the interviews afterwards almost to a student they admitted that they wished they had learned engineering this new way from the beginning because it was so authentic and satisfying. They felt that much of their degree had been such a drudgery, and kind of a grind. Warner says that imposing formal learning too soon, is like putting a framework over a tree making it grow in an unnatural shape. "And instead of the wholeness of the expansive tree we have only the twisted and stunted bush." Children can experience in the best of homes imposed frameworks, all well meaning, but that subtly impact that fragile curiosity and natural love of words and learning. They often learn how to accomplish a learning task, at the expense of loving the learning process. We have all seen this.

Frederick: So first words and their own stories. What else did you learn from Warner?

Mark: Warner didn't only use words and stories. During play time, she also had them do crayon drawings. The topics of these drawings, when observed, also provided Warner a window into the minds of their students and provided topics of discussion during class time. If I have it right she would ask questions about the stories and listen to their explanations, gather words and stories, etc. Again, this is another way of observing, listening and discerning.

Frederick: Is there more?

Mark:  She also took the children on walks. A nearby forest and field provided triggers for the kids to talk and ask questions. She also used nature walks to explain arithmetic, pairing, comparing, colors, shapes, and sizes. She would begin with "Explain to me what you see here." And the pointing to something, the conversation would begin as would he observation, listening, and discerning.

Another thought I have had recently has to do with how this applies to Sunday worship in the home. For home schoolers who are religiously oriented, and not all are, I think these same principles can apply. Reading them a story from your religous tradition and asking them to tell it back to you, or draw it for you, can provide yet another opportunity to observe, listen and discern, connecting words, phrases and stories from family experiences to your religious tradition.

Frederick: So let's summarize these ideas.

Mark: Sure. So 1) Bednar suggests observe, listen and discern. Montgomery and others say that 2) the work of the child is play. Ambrose summarized that 3) learning consists of building on prior experiences stored in the mind. We connect that idea with #2, play is the finest way for younger children to put experiences into their minds to which future learning is connected. We need to trust that learning is occurring when they are simply playing. In addition,  4) observing children playing provides an opportunity to observe, listen and discern, especially with the words we hear them speak that are associated with their emotions. Other ways of observing, listening and discerning include  5) the stories children tell one another, the drawings and art they produce, and taking nature walks.

Frederick: Thanks Mark. You've given us a lot to think about.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

UHEA Conference - Class on Problem-based Learning

Had the privilege of presenting PBL at the Utah Home Educators Conference. The session was on Problem-based learning in the home. I had a nice group that began with about 12 and grew to about 20. The presentation went well with lots of really great participation. I will put more here later, but now need to head off to the conference for my session this morning about Project-based learning. That will be fun. The home as a place for education has so many options. Wonderful!

Monday, April 06, 2015

The opportunity home schoolers have

"We learn to think through intellectual engagement and intellectual combat, not through indoctrination. 

Our entire notion of school is wrong. We need to stop “teaching” and we need to start letting kids explore their own interests with adult guidance. There is no need to defend the liberal arts. Make the choices interesting and then give them many choices. By this I do not mean choices of courses to take. Enough with courses and classes. Let them choose experiences to have. It is our job to build potential experiences for them, guide them through the ones they have chosen, and offer alternatives when they change their minds."

This quote from Roger Shank describes those moments when home schooling made the biggest difference in our children. The whole motivation issue associated with formal teaching goes away when kids have fun learning through exploration and we as parent assure them that it counts for real learning

Friday, December 05, 2014

Student Learning instead of teacher teaching?

I understand that there is more to the story about Ben Carson, but this is an example of how home schooling at it simplest makes huge differences. I speaks to trusting our children to learn, even when we distrust our ability to teach. It reminds me of a great book I read called, "Teaching With Your Mouth Shut". I imagine every home schooling parent could keep their mouth shut and still teach... as is the case in this story. Thanks to Elder Canister...

Ben Carson said of himself, “I was the worst student in my whole fifth-grade class.” One day Ben took a math test with 30 problems. The student behind him corrected it and handed it back. The teacher, Mrs. Williamson, started calling each student’s name for the score. Finally, she got to Ben. Out of embarrassment, he mumbled the answer. Mrs. Williamson, thinking he had said “9,” replied that for Ben to score 9 out of 30 was a wonderful improvement. The student behind Ben then yelled out, “Not nine! … He got none … right.” Ben said he wanted to drop through the floor.

"At the same time, Ben’s mother, Sonya, faced obstacles of her own. She was one of 24 children, had only a third-grade education, and could not read. She was married at age 13, was divorced, had two sons, and was raising them in the ghettos of Detroit. Nonetheless, she was fiercely self-reliant and had a firm belief that God would help her and her sons if they did their part.

One day a turning point came in her life and that of her sons. It dawned on her that successful people for whom she cleaned homes had libraries—they read. After work she went home and turned off the television that Ben and his brother were watching. She said in essence: You boys are watching too much television. From now on you can watch three programs a week. In your free time you will go to the library—read two books a week and give me a report.

The boys were shocked. Ben said he had never read a book in his entire life except when required to do so at school. They protested, they complained, they argued, but it was to no avail. Then Ben reflected, “She laid down the law. I didn’t like the rule, but her determination to see us improve changed the course of my life.”

And what a change it made. By the seventh grade he was at the top of his class. He went on to attend Yale University on a scholarship, then Johns Hopkins medical school, where at age 33 he became its chief of pediatric neurosurgery and a world-renowned surgeon. How was that possible? Largely because of a mother who, without many of the advantages of life, magnified her calling as a parent."


Home schooling is not easy. But it's made harder when we don't leverage simple approaches like this and at the same time trust our children to learn. It's a child centered approach instead of a teacher centered approach. Many of us have not been 'conditioned' by our own school experience to think that way. But we can help students learn, without saying much, if we approach it differently.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Improved student engagement follows topics of high personal relevance

Turns out that when educational approaches are personally relevant to the student, it makes a huge difference in creating in them lasting learning. One more reason to support our children as they follow their own interests and curiosities as means to learn the basics at the same time. Read for yourself.

The Homeschooling Opportunity

Even though our philosophies of public education purport to graduating students who are responsible citizens capable of participating thoughtfully in a democracy, our educational practices have a tendency to foster dependence, passivity and a "tell me what to do and think" attitude. 

(Marge Dawe, a teacher at Richard Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan, describes how she works to build personal confidence in the minds of her students. [Audio file, 162k] Excerpted from the video series Schools That Work: The Research Advantage, videoconference #7, Preparing Students for Work in the 21st Century (NCREL, 1992).)

This attitude is almost impossible to overcome when our children find themselves on their own in college, jobs, missions (i.e. LDS missions) where they prosper according to their ability to think on their feet and make choices consistent with their own heart instead of the expectations that they have traditionally learned to respond to. 

Example: We had one son who we home schooled. He had so many questions he was never at a loss to find something to learn each day.  He decided he wanted to go to public school and entered the 6th grade. His teachers loved his bright inquisitive mind as well as his polite and respectful manners. One teacher named her newborn son after him she was so impressed. When he decided later to come back to home schooling, we noticed that he kept waiting each day to be told what to do and learn. It was as if he had lost the innate inquiring mind. It was sad to see. It took him 1 1/2 years before he re-learned to give himself again permission to follow his own interests and curiosity. 

Was that because he had found the "easier" way in public school as is mentioned above by Marge? had public school fostered in him "dependence, passivity and a 'tell me what to do and think' attitude?" Or was it just the mind of a 6th grader maturing as 6th graders do? 

It seems to me, that one opportunity we have as home schoolers, that comes with a price, is to preserve something in our children that once lost is seldom reclaimed. What is that something? Self direction and permission to follow their own heart, their own dreams and set their own learning goals.  We can often do this better at home, if we allow it. Instead of offering parent support at home that mimics necessary public school teaching habits, (i.e. tell them what to do and how to think), home schooling parents can, if they are willing, offer their children freedom and support to pursue individual and personal interests. Our experience has been that for our children as they progressed along their way, they still learned basic skills needed to achieve in higher education. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Julie Dirkson ... "What's the difference between a learning experience that's effective versus one that gets forgotten as soon as the learner is done?"

See the previous post...


I see this so often in Mission prep. Kids waiting to be told. Some, however, are really diving right in with all of them. As a teacher, after 9 years of teaching the same class, you just plain see the difference between learners. 

(sorry for the caps)

I really love this...Radical New Teaching...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Living With Differences

"This "living with differences" is something we as Christians must do." Dallin H. Oaks

Friday, September 09, 2011

What is meant by "Trust the Children" ?

What I have always meant by this, and what we have learned over and over again as parents, is that if for any reason you can't trust yourself in the eduction of your children, there is a way to trust that your children will still learn.

You may not be at your best always; there may be others who can explain better; and there will always be those whose own self doubt turns into promoting self doubt inside you.

In the face of all of this and more, you can trust your children to learn. Focus on creating the environment that fuels their native curiosity. Kids who are not dumbed down by a "telling is learning" anesthetic, can be supercharged learners by following their own natural tendencies and interests in a nurturing, inquisitive and "supportive of curiosity" environment.

When we finally realize that we have been conditioned to believe that "instructionist" education is the only trustable education when other more productive approaches have always been available, then we can make a space in our hearts, to "trust the children" even if we don't trust ourselves always.

It is this unquenchable trust in the souls of young children that allows me to hope, in a world that is increasingly hostile to virtue, innocence and the power of purity.

I trust my children to learn much more than my ability to teach. To learn by their own daily experience as living human beings possessing agency all their own, is how it was meant to be for the most part, mixed in with a little "teaching is telling" for good measure.

The more I learn about learning, I become more convinced of the power of freedom, curiosity and good environment creators.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

What's Wrong With Wanting More From My Education?

I am not sure when I first noticed. Like you, I spent hours in the classroom, being told what I was supposed to learn. I did pass tests for the most part so at least my parents thought I was learning. And I was learning to a certain level. Still, some teachers in school and some coaches in sports and some experiences at home, took learning to a deeper level, a more lasting level, a level that contributed so much more to my own self esteem and vision of self worth.

I didn't know why, but all my life, I felt that "teacher-tell" style of instruction was good, but not enough. When teachers justified this "teacher-transmitted content and teacher-directed learning" (Weimer) method of instruction, by claiming that it was the only way to reach 30 kids in a classroom efficiently, I understood what they were saying, but felt inside, that I didn't really care about the constraints of their job choice. What I cared about was my learning so I could get ahead in my life and do what I wanted to do with my time on earth. I wanted to learn with other students who felt the same way as I did about it. So it wasn't the classroom that bugged me, and it wasn't the teacher. I enjoyed my friends in class and I enjoyed the occasional learning experience with other students who were excited and motivated. What I didn't enjoy is endlessly being "talked to" instead of being given the chance to learn some things on my own. There needed to be more of a balance than I was experiencing.

Now that I have been studying instruction for the last 3 years, still learning, I now know that part of what I was seeking is called, "Learner Centered Instruction." Learner Centered Instruction is allowing others to learn for themselves to distinguish one thing from another. Instead of "told and tested" being the definition of "learning", students experience and use what they learn in practical ways as part of the learning experience. It's ok for a teacher to "tell" and even "test", but the student experience doesn't end there. In a learner centered classroom, the teacher creates an environment where students can work with ideas, applying them, and using them and testing them. The outcomes of this kind of "learner centered" approach are promising, according to Maryellen Weimer, author of the book, "Learner-Centered Teaching":

1. Students will understand more of what they are learning
2. Students will retain what they learn longer
3. Students will learn more than just the content
4. Chances are good students will be changed by what they learn
5. Students will love learning more

She writes, "When students interact with the content, when they speak about it and work with it, they make it their own and it becomes meaningful to them. It makes sense. They see why it's important, why they must know it and how it fits with what they already know and still need to learn."

Interestingly enough, these were the outcomes we felt we could experience in our home schooling environment. It was these outcomes that guided us to a more natural learning model at home. Over time, it formed the basis upon which we could "Trust The Children" to learn through experience and be just fine. We chose to make little use of organized curriculum programs, although I don't think they are necessarily bad. For us, they were too expensive and unnecessary. We had the scriptures, the newspaper, the local library and the internet.

Sam and I were talking about this a few weeks ago. He reminded me, that during one of their home schooling play times, they lined up desks, had Allison, our oldest, stand up at the front talking, and they "played" school. Then after that was boring ,they went back to their normal routine, which was playing and experimenting and building things, which is where the real learning took place in their minds.

A self directed, student centered approach, is uncomfortable for some. There are personality types, who need everything to be outlined, sequential, step by step. Sometimes, these folks are often unconcerned with personal agency as part of the learning process. "I know better so shut up and listen to me tell you". And of course some of that is completely necessary. However, life also respects than we should be engaged in doing many things of our own free will and encourage personal learning in this way as well.

Of course for the students who have been spoon fed in the teacher centered environment, having to do little or no work in order complete the requirements of the class, asking them to do more than sit there and veg out, can be problematic. Often, their "personal choosing" muscle has been weakened by over protecting environments at home and at school. Many students have been on the public school "dole system" for years and having to work to learn is a new experience. We found with one child who decided to "experience" public school, that after he returned home it took about 1 1/2 years to get him to believe that it was OK not to be told what to learn, but rather much better to follow his own curiosity and trust that that was plenty. Nine Masters and baccalaureate degrees later and counting, it turned out to be enough.

The purpose of this article is to pique your interest in a style of teaching and learning, that you may not have experienced in your own public school experience, but might have experienced a great deal of in your own life. I hope you will consider trusting the idea of Student Centered Learning to the point of experimenting with it in your homes. Google is your friend so just type in "Student Centered Learning" and you are off on your own learning adventure. A student centered one!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Losing Curiosity - Result of Traditional Education?

Even when children are high achievers and facile with new technology, many seem gradually to lose their sense of wonder and curiosity, notes John Seely Brown. Traditional educational methods may be smothering their innate drive to explore the world.

I also read his book "The Social Life Of Information" which helps us see that traditional education, "Teachers talk, students listen and get tested" may not be the only way, or even the best way to learn.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What a GREAT post about student being "behind" !

This writer nails it. So many parents are scared that their children might be "behind" in their studies. We had several bouts of this virus in our homeschooling home as a couple of our children were slow to develop reading skills. Both are voracious readers today, and both have excelled in their college studies. But Cyndy was freaked out at the time. This is where her training as a public school teacher really did not help.

So read this link. It really says it better than I could.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Club

I am thrilled to recommend a great book for home schooling parents, Mom's especially. If you haven't read it please give it some serious consideration. The title is "The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brene´Brown.

First you might want to listen to her 20 minute TED talk by clicking here. (

As a home schooler, and as a husband and dad, it was clear to me, that my wife would need a great deal of strength to consistently home school our 11 children. I was the bread winner and she was the primary framer, shaper and "source" for our children.

This talk and this book, help us access the strength we need. Founded on true principles, over time, all of us can get stronger and see things clearer.

I would be interested to know if you feel the same way?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Another link on Personal Learning Environments

I just read an article this morning about how personal learning environments can augment the learning of our children. The idea of a personal learning environment is really a wonderful and advanced approach for high school aged students, who are home schooling. I suggest you read it.

Click here

Let me know if this link doesn't work.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

How You Think Children Learn Can Define How You Decide To Teach

This is a strange title for a blog post, simply because it seems to imply that home schooling is about a lot of "teaching". Teaching meaning the didactic, lecture, assume student's heads are empty home schooling mom's role is to fill it, mentality. That is not to say that all lecture is bad, it isn't. However if your goal is to develop in your children, through your educational choices, greater ability to make good choices when faced with a decisions, lecture might not be your best teaching choice. Imagine choosing to teach in a way, where good judgment abilities in your children are promoted and developed?

With that preamble, I would like to share a few quotes. Formal teaching in the home, can and does occur in homeschooling environments. I just feel that too often, formal teaching may be too frequently used, and used too soon in the life of a child.

I can envision smaller amounts of formal teaching from birth to age 10-12. So here are the quotes. Please read them before turning off to the idea.

How does learning actually take place in the heads of our children, or even adults?

MARIA ROUSSOU, (2004): "Current thinking about how learning takes place emphasizes the constructivist approach, which argues that learners must actively “construct” knowledge by drawing it out of experiences that have meaning and importance to them [Dewey 1966]. Participants in an activity construct their own knowledge by testing ideas and concepts based on prior knowledge and experience, applying them to a new situation, and integrating the new knowledge with pre-existing intellectual constructs; a process familiar to us from real- world situations. The individual continually constructs hypotheses, and thereby attempts to generate knowledge that must ultimately be pieced together." p. 4

Now add to this idea of constructivism the following idea by Piaget:

"Piaget's constructivism is rooted in stimulating interest, initiative, experimentation, discovery, play, and imagination as fundamental to the development of a child's capacity to learn [Piaget 1973]. Play, in particular, can unite imagination and intellect in more than one way, and help children discover things at their own pace and in their own way." p. 4-5

Then Dewey:

"Dewey argued that education depends on action [Dewey 1966]. Piaget, known for his theory on the psychological development of children, believed in the role of action in development and the notion that children develop cognitive structure through action and spontaneous activity [Piaget 1973; DeVries and Kohlberg 1987].

The point of these quotes is to emphasize once again, that in the early years, home schooling parents are not required nor bound in any way, to "instruct" their kids after the manner of the didactic tell down approach found in the traditional school environment we all grew up in. Smart people who have access to lots of research and testing, have suggested that the early years can be a much looser instructional approach, and that kids still turn out ok. In fact, as we look forward to a future we cannot predict, but one our children will surely live in, developing a new set of skills by virtue of our educational choices, may not only be more fun, but also necessary.

It's hard for some, to imagine using an educational approach in the home, that may be different than the one we have been exposed to while we grew up. I am not suggesting that the approach we learned in our school experience is of no use. I am suggesting that in the early years, taking a too formal "teacher centered" approach, is not only more work for the home schooling parent, but in addition, might not be in the best interest of the student, your child.

Go back and re-read the quotes cited above, and let your imagination run a bit. Notice the bolded words in the Piaget quote. What would it take to create activities each day for young children, that met the standard of daily activities that promote "interest, initiative, experimentation, discovery, play, and imagination as fundamental to the development of a child's capacity to learn [Piaget 1973]

Maybe it's just as easy as saying, "Go outside and play". Sound irresponsible? It may not be.

You can find most of these articles by searching for the titles in Google or Yahoo.

DEVRIES, R. AND KOHLBERG, L. 1987. Programs of Early Education: The Constructivist View. Longman, New York.
DEWEY, J. 1966. Democracy and Education. Free Press, New York.
PAPERT, S. 1980. Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. Basic Books, New York.
PIAGET, J. 1973. To Understand is to Invent: The Future of Education. Grossman, New York.
ROUSSOU, M. 2004 Learning by Doing and Learning Through Play: An Exploration of Interactivity in Virtual Environments for Children, ACM Computers in Entertainment, Volume 2, Number 1, January 2004, Article 1.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Please, Please, Please Watch This

Please Click Here and View the Video


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Homeschoolers using Social Media

The world is my educational Oyster!

The traditional view of education is one where students "go there" to get "it". They leave home and go to the school much like an employee going to his place of employment. Each day, at school (the learning place), education happens. Once out of school the rest of life, happens. While at school, teachers are there who have been given a curriculum, i.e. gathered material in behalf of the student, filtered it and prepared it and present it, so that students are one step removed from the actual material they need to learn. School is an interpreted environment. Rather than the student engaging with material of their interest where motivation to learn is natural, often much of the "school experience", (not all) could be defined as teachers engaging, interpreting and telling the students what the material means and what they need to know.

We might think of the teacher as a aggregator. This is a new term for many, but it means simply a person who gathers or aggregates material, synthesizes it and then shares the shorter version with others. In today's world of technology, even computers have algorithms, (forumlas) that "read" information and aggregate it, and then pass on the summary the computer produces to us. For us older folks, its kind of like "Cliffnotes", the short and to the point version of a much larger information set.

It is not uncommon for each of us to rely on and use people around us as aggregators. Whether we know it or not. We attend Sunday School, and someone is aggregating or interpreting information for us, and passing it on. We read a blog on the internet or even read the newspaper and in all of these places, information is being summarized and shared for our consumption.

Social media, like Facebook and Twitter, in a very small sense, and the world of blogs, in a much larger sense, serve the purpose of aggregation. A parent or a child, can search the internet and find blogs or topics in Facebook or even people in twitter, who have a natural interest in a topic. Once found, we can study it, and even share our views on that topic if we want, entering into a useful dialog or discussion, which we can learn from.

All of us, parents and children, can, as students, use the work of these people and their sharing on the internet for our own custom educational purposes. Over time, if we find these resources, and the people who share them, trustworthy, we can leverage their natural interests to augment and inform our own. Some people call this a Personal Learning System. I took the time to draw out this example.

This is a more adult example, but still you get the idea. It's all free and it doesn't take 6 hours a day. And it is like school, in that you are depending on others to aggregate information for you. It is like school in that you interact with others, albeit online instead of face to face. It is different than school in that you as the student learn from "teachers" or aggregators of your choice, instead of those chosen for you by the school system.

And if you like, you can create a facebook group or join one already there, and share information with others in areas of your interest. In other words, "teach one another out of the best books". You can find "discussion" places on the internet, on about any topic, by just entering these words in Google, "Blog Sailing" or "Blog Quilting" or whatever your interest is. Once you find these places bookmark them in your internet browser, or better yet, have someone help you create a topic folder named "PLS" (Personal Learning System) right in your browser, and under that topic, put the links to the stuff you want to follow and are interested in. Then in one place you have your own "School" of sorts, easy to find and use.

Your homeschool kids can do the same thing. Of course you might want to have a Parental Control Filter there and create custom permissions for the right stuff for your children, and block them from the bad stuff. (On Apple computers this is a standard feature). The world is your oyster when it comes to learning these days. It's free, it's easy, it's convenient and only requires an internet connection and your desire to read and think. You say, you don't have time ? Well, that too is your problem to solve. If you study one topic for one hour a day for a year, possibly two years, you can become the world expert on that topic according to some experts in education (Who read about education for one hour a day for a couple of years). All it takes is the vision and the will to become the educated person you want to become. And help your children do the same.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Jon's Idea

Jon's idea was to point a website to It creates a wordle image showing the words use on the site. The frequency of a word determines how large a word is displayed. I need to process this a bit. It's interesting to see what is and isn't emphasized over the last 4 years of blogging.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Just reading an article about narrative centered learning environments. This is where your lesson is a story line, and you insert the students into that story line as one of the characters. The example was an island where biological research is going on. A group of students get to visit the island as part of a field trip. While there, the biologists begin to get sick and must be quarantined. As the plague continues, the visiting science students have to take over and figure out where the sickness comes from and how to stop it. They can talk to "people" on the island. They can read the notes of the now sick scientists, and the can run experiments.

What is interesting about this was a measurement in this study of the kids attitudes (boredom, flow, confusion, frustration, delight, and surprise) while they did this lesson and how their attitudes changed or didn't change in the process of this learning experience. In this experiment, for many of the kids, there was evidence of all kinds of movement from one state of attitude to another. Some began bored, and then got into it and became delighted, etc. All except one condition. Can you guess which one? Frustration. Frustrated learners, remained frustrated learners. You just couldn't get them to transition away from frustration.

What then, creates a frustrated learner? This seems to me to be an important question to answer for home schoolers. If this study has any merit, it suggests that once a student is frustrated, it's pretty tough to get them off that stump.

Your thoughts?

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Stream of Consciousness re: Education

Transfer, getting something from a class experience outside of the classroom and into students lives outside of that classroom, is a messy business.

The scriptures are full of declarative statements. i.e. the answers. it is our job to help our students identify and/or discover all the possible questions that led to the answer. When a student finds and expresses questions associated with the answers given there, pay attention! There is a lot about the student to learn from their questions. Also, Question -> Reflection -> Divine Inspiration!

Sometimes you have to dejunk to make room for more current needs. Giving knowledge away, even valuable knowledge, is one way of making space for God to give you more. Share your ideas freely. Even the great ones.

On my mind? Home, is the place where information can be put into practice, which allows us to make sense of it, through the use of it. Paraphrasing JSB, home, different from many other places, is where knowledge can travel person to person with remarkable ease.

One more. Ryle's argument... "know that" doesn't produce "know how." Bruner's argument..."learning about" doesn't, on it's own, allow you to "learn to be". Information, on it's own, is not enough to produce actionable knowledge. Practice too is required. For practice, it's best to look to a community of practitioners. JSB

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Put an end to summer - Obama

President Obama proposes the end of summer for our kids?

Probably a political move to "help" the teachers union and get votes he desparately needs after ignoring the public and spending us and our kids into oblivion. Most teachers I know, count the summer off as a huge part of why they stick with the profession. Our President is proposing today, that kids spend more time in school. I suppose this supports single parents, and parents who both work outside of the home, but at what cost to our future?

However, this proposal by our President prompted me to reflect and share the following from an article I read for one of my classes. My son David, blogged about it too. The same quote.

I have felt for a long long time, that there was something inside of me, regarding instruction of our children, that was trying to get out. This blog, over the years, is an attempt to verbalize those inner ideas that I haven't quite put a total handle on yet. When I read this article, these ideas seemed to encapsulate a large chunk of my feelings in a logical and informative way. While I am only sharing the first part of this article, the rest of it goes on to describe the author's instructional solutions for the dilemma we expose children to, when we send them to public school. The author, Keith Sawyer shares:

By the twentieth century, all major industrialized countries offered formal schooling to all of their children. When these schools took shape in the ninetieth and twentieth centuries, scientist didn't know very much about how people learn. Even by the 1920s, when schools began to become the large bureaucratic institutions that we know today, there still was not sustained study of how people learn. As a result, the schools we have today were designed around commonsense assumptions that had never been tested scientifically.

Sawyer goes on to outline these problematic "commonsense assumptions" as follows:

  • Knowledge is a collection of facts about the world and procedures for how to solve problems. Facts are statements like "The earth is titled on its axis by 23.45 degrees" and procedures are step-by-step instructions like how to do multidigit addition by carrying to the next column.
  • The goal of schooling is to get these facts and procedures into the student's head. People are considered to be educated when they possess a large collection of these facts and procedures.
  • Teachers know these facts and procedures, and their job is to transmit them to students.
  • Simpler facts and procedures should be learned first, followed by progressively more complex facts and procedures. The definitions of "simplicity" and "complexity" and the proper sequencing of material were determined either by teachers, by textbook authors, or by asking expert adults like mathematicians, scientists, or historians - not by studying how children actually learn.
  • The way to determine the success of schooling is to test students to see how many of these facts and procedures they have acquired.

This traditional vision of schooling is known as instructionism (Papert, 1993). Instructionism prepared students for the industrialized economy of the early twentieth century. But the world today is much more technologically complex and economically competitive, and instructionism is increasingly failing to educate our students to participate in this new kind of society. Economists and organizational theorists have reached a consensus that today we are living in a knowledge economy, an economy that is built on knowledge work (Bereiter, 2002; Drucker, 1993). In the knowledge economy, memorization of facts and procedures is not enough for success. Educated graduates need a deep conceptual understanding of complex concepts, and the ability to work with them creatively to generate new ideas, new theories, new products, and new knowledge. They need to be able to critically evaluate what they read, to be able to express themselves clearly both verbally and in writing, and to be able to understand scientific and mathematical thinking. They need to learn integrated and usable knowledge, rather than the sets of compartmentalized and de-contextualized facts emphasized by instructionism. They need to be able to take responsibility for their own continuing, lifelong learning. These abilities are important to the economy, to the continued success of participatory democracy, and to living a fulfilling, meaningful life. Instructionism is particularly ill-suited to the education of creative professionals who can develop new knowledge and continually further their own understanding; instructionism is an anachronism in the modern innovation economy. (R.K. Sawyer, The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, Cambridge University Press, 2006.)

Do any of these ideas resonate with you too?

I am thinking that I ought to begin sharing ideas that parents can use, that make instruction and learning at home more interesting. Practical, simple ideas that have been tested scientifically. Ideas, that show that teaching, while partly an art form, is not ALL an art form. Good teaching need not be limited to the degree baring college trained among us. Teaching anything, at home, work, church or the community can be engaging, interesting, effective and memorable. In fact, maybe in some ways, more so than what the professionals offer. And why shouldn't our children we teach at home have the benefit of interesting teaching too?

Maybe it's time to put the overwhelming and scary part of "teaching" anything, in its place and begin focusing on the simple things that can make learning fun and enjoyable for our precious students.

I'll have to think about this some more.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Why is Instruction Ineffective?


"Often students need to learn facts or even skills, for the purpose of finishing a set of home work problems or in order to pass a test. [Most often] there is nothing about their new knowledge that helps them achieve a goal that is both relevant and meaningful to them." Roger Shank

In some ways, this is another way of describing the ADD or ADHD child. It is true, that brain scans show a difference between an ADD and non-ADD child. But so often, the kids are just bored. They need to move. They are hunting for answers to "Why am I doing this at all?"

Much instruction does not answer the question, "Therefore, what?"

I have pictures of scales on my wall. Elements that oppose one another sometimes.

Learn "that" vs Learn "how to".
Know "that" vs " Know "why".
Content coverage vs. Critical/engaged thinking
Transmissive education vs Interactive education
Mastery of content vs Mastery of the process of learning.
Content vs skills

Kids feel instruction has impact when it contains "meaningful imagery, surprise, amazement, and when it contains practice that makes them better at something." (Michael Allen) As a grandparent with grandkids living with me for a few weeks, nothing brings a smile to me and my grandchildren more, than when they come running up to me and say, "Grandpa, Grandpa look what I can do!" (Merrill) The total opposite of a bored, unengaged learner. They love learning when they can do stuff better. More how to instead of about. (Google David Merrill- First Principles of Instruction. It's really not that hard to read.)

So what makes instruction ineffective? Here are a few ideas... add your own.
Why is instruction ineffective?

1. It does not lead to results or actual transfer from the learning environment to the real world.

2. It doesn't lead to the personal life success of the students, but makes the teacher's ego feel good... "I really taught them alright!"

3. It lacks contextual structure. The right approach for the right intent of the class. (Michael Allen) they hear all about biology and not why it makes a hill of beans in their lives, except the state requirements are achieved. Liberal Arts education should be about going broad to FIND something. And when you find it. Stop and take it deep. Go deep and learn to love it. But no, the bell rings and we need to suppress any enthusiasm we might have for the topic and move on.

4. The relationship between the student and the teacher isn't a reciprocal one. Most often the teacher sees the student as empty and it's her job to fill them up. Teachers ask questions of students. Yet, if students were asking questions of teachers, they would be mastering the very art that leads to reflection, inspiration and innovation... question asking. Without reciprocity in the classroom, the experience is largely one way, and discovery is discouraged. Result? Bored kids. Its so much about convincing instead of communicating.

Good teaching is hard, and most teachers just don't have time for it. A few days ago, a colleague dropped by and I showed him a new instructional model meant to enhance the chance that a student would actually take something out of the classroom and use it. He became very excited and then his face turned down to a frown as he said, "This would take a long time to prepare."

Yep, it does. So what's the option? Go back to talking down to students where learning doesn't happen? Unfortunately, that is usually the case. Not meaning to give someone a guilt trip. Teaching can be a wonderful adventure, until it isn't any more.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Why is Instruction Boring, whether at home or in the system?

It's been quite a while since I posted something here. It's not because I don't type a lot, or write a lot, its' because, you don't grade me and this blog isn't a strategic part of my degree. And that is terrible. So I need to repent and change. I am older now, slower and have more to do than I ever thought I would. I am long since out of familiar patterns of accomplishment, and in what Vygotsky calls, "The zone of proximal development", which is basically anything that is NOT the comfort zone.

I have these major authors who I have come to respect, because, at least over the last 2 years, their ideas have stuck. They have not gone away. I use their ideas all the time, and our online instruction is a cut above others out there because of these ideas.

So I asked my self the question: Why is instruction boring? I ask this question all the time, because frankly, I don't want to create boring instruction if I can avoid it. And in a book that you might not think had much to do with the topic, I found some answers. The book is titled, "Death by Meeting" and the author is Patrick Lencioni.

Anyway, I made this list of answers to that question, from his book and a few other sources. I thought I might share as part of my penance So here goes:

Instruction is boring because:

1) Most often it lacks drama or conflict.
2) It doesn't answer the question, "What is at stake?" or in other words, "if you don't know this what is going to go haywire in your life?" What is at stake if you don't get this.
3) Teachers don't mine for conflict. I don't mean encouraging "contention" I mean encouraging different points of view and negotiated them against a common family value.
4) Teachers don't reinforce engagement. Teachers reinforce finding the right answer, instead of rewarding students for finding, expressing and possessing different "questions". Like Cheri Toledo said, "If we can teach them to ask questions, and give permission for their questioning, we set the stage for critical thinking to occur." We need not be afraid of critical thinking, because if we don't have the answers as parents, we get to study something else of interest WITH our kids.
5) It lacks real world context. This is simply helping our kids see how one thing relates to another thing. That biology is related to math and related to history too.
6) It lacks personal relevant challenge. A 13 year old worries about acne and might be interested to know that Napoleon did too. But we all have to get over it. And that is a challenge. Besides it's cool learning about math so you can build a workshop on your property and build an airplane with your dad.
7) Teachers too often teach about the topic instead of the persons relationship to the topic. "How does this topic mean a hill of beans to me" is what kids want to know. The great teachers can answer that question.
8) Because it lacks, imagery, surprise, amazement, and meaningful practice so that kids get better at something and know it.
9) When it is not set in the context of the kid's lives. They don't live in school really, no matter how much the government wants to have that control. They also live at home, at church, at work, with their friends, parents and cousins, in their hobby life, sports, clubs and just in the neighborhood. If you want instruction in your "classroom" to stay in your classroom and go nowhere else, then don't teach it framed in these other places kids live. But if you want your instruction to be used outside of your classroom, frame it in these other places as you teach it.

I need to go, but my next post will be some ideas about Why instruction is ineffective? or at least a few possible reasons that lead to that.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Out of the mouth of babes...

If you haven't read this, it is wonderful (except for the implied generlized corporate corruption)

The text is better than the video.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Instructional Moment To Consider:

If you want more than an outside chance of people using your instruction outside of the classroom, the instruction needs to somehow possess elements of, be a picture of, the place you want them to use it. Otherwise what was taught in Las Vegas, ends up staying in Las Vegas. Most "teachers" when they think of it, want what they teach to be used in life, not just meant to take up class time.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What Does This Mean, Really?

Our son Sam, just returned from two years in Brazil. He was under the gun to earn some money and get registered at USU to begin his college experience. He took the advanced placement math test and did well. With prayer and persistent effort, he made it all happen and aeronautical engineering, here we come.

He attended his first math class. As the teacher began explaining things on the board, what should have been pretty easy, seemed more complicated than he expected. After class, he read the book though, it was was crystal clear to him. He thought about it and after a while realized that in all the years he had studied math, he had never had a teacher. Using Saxon Math, he had taught himself math from grade school, all the way through high school. Imagine that, taught himself. Learning this subject from a teacher was for him, the exception, not the rule.

So is this good or bad? He will certainly encounter college classes where he will need to learn from a teacher. But how cool is it that he has habits of self direction that allow him to be an independent learner? In a subject like math?

As we consider the benefits, goals and hopes for a home schooling life, what balance of self taught and teacher taught do you want to see in your child?

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Teaching Kids a Problem Solving Process

One of the major complaints I have with a lot of education is it's focus on content. A teacher shares knowledge about some topic, and tests for recall of that knowledge. Traditional instruction calls this process learning. Even formulae in math are often applied without a background understanding of how they came to be in the first place. The problem with this idea for me is that you can never learn enough content to solve all the problems you are facing. Let's say you get taught biology and then call yourself "educated". You mastered the content, passed the tests and call it good.

Well you go out into the world, and encounter a novel problem. Low and behold, the problem is an anthropology problem. So you are hosed. You go back to school, master anthropology and figure you are finally "educated". However when you go back out into the real world, you encounter an unexpected problem and the problem is related to history, of which you have little or no content in your brain. So you go back to school and learn history, only to go out into the real world, only to find a psychology problem. And so it goes. You can never learn enough content, you can never put enough content into your head to solve all the varied problems life is going to present to you.

Actually it's even worse than that. What could be worse? You can't go to public gatherings and discuss things half way intelligently, because someone is always talking about something you didn't study. So no polite discussion, you become a social outcast, and spend the rest of your life as a hermit or hermitess.

What is missing is that content is NOT king. It is important, but without a process, or a framework or a method of attacking problems for which you don't already have the answer for in your brain, you are in trouble.

There are many processes or problem solving frameworks that help our kids get to a solution, when at first they don't have content knowledge. When I give models for problem solving to my children in addition to content, I teach them HOW to fish instead of giving them a fish. I encourage them to feel the success of learning on their own, and becoming independent of me.

So here is the problem solving process in this article mentioned in the previous post: (this article is about Problem Based Learning in a Medical School Environment)

The Educational Goals for the Learners

The facilitator’s (home school parent's) overall educational goals for the students were for them to be able to
(1) explain disease processes responsible for a patient’s symptoms and signs and describe what interventions can be undertaken,
(2) employ an effective reasoning process,
(3) be aware of knowledge limitations,
(4) meet knowledge needs through self-directed learning and social knowledge construction, and 5) evaluate their learning and performance.

So if these are the goals for the learners, what were the goals that the "teacher/parent" needed to keep in mind for their performance?

The facilitator’s (parent's) performance goals were to
(1) keep all students active in the learning process,
(2) keep the learning process on track,
(3) make the students’ thoughts and their depth of understanding apparent, and
(4) encourage students to become self-reliant for direction and information.

Isn't this cool? It is to me.

To paraphrase, for my kids at home:

1) Help them identify the real problem
2) Help them think through what steps the need to take to get to the solution
3) What do they already know about the problem?
4) Where do they need to go to get more information?
5) Review with them after they have come up with their best solution the process they went though and the results it led them too, in order to reinforce the success they just had.

Doing this, enables our children to carry this sign on their chest... CAPABLE.

Late Night Reading

I am reading, tonight, yet another journal article for one of my graduate classes. I do a fair amount of this kind of reading. I don't understand everything I read the first time, but usually on the second pass, I begin to catch more of the meaning. Overall, I am getting better at it after a year working on a Masters Degree than at the beginning.

This article is about Problem Based Learning. But as I read, I feel I am reading a story about the model home schooling environment contrasted with the traditional public school approach. While not all public classrooms operate in a "teacher-tell" manner, many still do. Teachers sadly, end up often teaching as they were taught, if not in every respect, at least in most fundamental ways. I felt to share two excerpts to demonstrate what I mean...

Excerpt One

The goals and beliefs that teachers hold help frame the strategies that they implement. Schoenfeld (1998), through detailed analyses of expert and novice teachers, examined how teachers’ knowledge, goals, and beliefs lead them to implement action plans. In his study, the novice teacher used a teacher-centered approach, (1) asking known-answer questions, (2) listening to students’ responses, and then (3) evaluating the responses. For example, when teaching a lesson on exponents, this teacher (1a) asked for the answer to a problem, (2a) the student responded correctly that he subtracted, and the teacher (3a) answered “OK,” an evaluation of the response. The teacher asked the student what he subtracted and then elaborated on the student’s correct response. All this proceeded according to the teacher’s plan. This teacher believed that the students’ responses provided springboards for teacher explanations. When students’ responses diverged (as in the student didn't have the correct answer), [the teacher's] limited pedagogical content knowledge prevented him from adapting his plan. Later, on a more difficult problem, students’ responses were not what the teacher expected, and the teacher had to generate an alternative example. TThe students did not understand the connection between the new example and the original problem, and they did not produce an answer that the teacher could use to build an explanation as in the earlier example. he teacher did not have an understanding of how incorrect student responses could be a window into their understanding and how these understandings could be used to focus discussions.

Excerpt Two

In contrast, Schoenfeld (1998) found very different results in the analyses of expert teachers (Jim Minstrell and Deborah Ball). Minstrell viewed learning as a sense-making activity and used questioning in productive ways. The lesson studied focused on issues of measurement in everyday contexts. Rather than being driven by a topic from the text, as with the novice teacher, the lesson was driven by problem-centered discussions. The teacher used questioning to guide student thinking. In particular, he used a technique called the reflective toss. (otherwise known as rephrasing) In the reflective toss, the teacher takes the meaning of a student statement and throws responsibility for elaboration back to the student. (ie. "Can you share your thoughts using other words?) He used these statements to help students clarify meaning, consider a variety of views, and monitor their own thinking. For example, as students were discussing how one might decide what number might be a best value from a list of measurements, a student noted that one number in a list was repeated several times. Minstrell asked the student for clarification (using the rephrasing technique) and if there were any other repeated numbers. Another student proposed what was essentially a formula for a weighted average. This was unexpected. As Minstrell asked the students for further explanation, they developed a formula for calculating the weighted average. Ball’s classroom was more student-centered; her goal was to develop a particular type of intellectual community in which the pursuit of mathematical ideas was highly valued. She juggled competing goals as the students and teachers co-constructed the agenda. She started her elementary mathematics class by asking students for comments on the previous days’ lessons. They then discussed issues related to their understanding.

What are the characteristics of a model PBL, or home schooling teacher? (Substitute PBL Teacher or PBL Facilitator with Homeschooling parent)

The PBL method requires students to become responsible for their own learning. The PBL teacher is a facilitator of student learning, and his/her interventions diminish as students progressively take on responsibility for their own learning processes. This method is characteristically carried out in small, facilitated groups and takes advantage of the social aspect of learning through discussion, problem solving, and study with peers (Hmelo-Silver, 2004). The facilitator guides students in the learning process, pushing them to think deeply, and models the kinds of questions that students need to be asking themselves, thus forming a cognitive apprenticeship (Collins et al., 1989). As a cognitive apprenticeship, PBL situates learning in complex problems (Hmelo-Silver, 2004). Facilitators make key aspects of expertise visible through questions that scaffold student learning through modeling, coaching, and eventually fading back some of their support. In PBL the facilitator is an expert learner, able to model good strategies for learning and thinking, rather than providing expertise in specific content. This role is critical, as the facilitator must continually monitor the discussion, selecting and implementing appropriate strategies as needed. As students become more experienced with PBL, facilitators can fade their scaffolding until finally the learners adopt much of their questioning role. Student learning occurs as students collaboratively engage in constructive processing. (A subtle sales pitch for larger families ;-).

(The article is entitled "Goals and Strategies of a Problem-based Learning Facilitator, by
Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver and Howard S. Barrows,

The article begins with a simple example of a gradeschool classroom and moves to a medical school, where Problem Based Learning is used in much the same way to prepare medical students over a two year period for their NBDE-1 exam.

My point is sharing this, is to reinforce how simple teaching and learning at home can be. As I have asked my children about their home schooling experience, it was the projects, and major work projects like adding on to the house, and remodeling, and building of go karts and hover crafts, that presented meaningful problems and validating solutions as they figured it out.

Maybe this isn't for everyone. I am so thankful it was for our kids and family though.