Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thinking About Abandoning a Homeschool Curriculum That Doesn’t Work For My Child

It looked so good, so well thought out and a thorough program. I purchased this vocabulary curriculum feeling it was a good solid product, a useful tool. I’d heard this company’s product praised far and wide in the homeschooling community. I’d avoided it for years as I was trying to avoid workbook based learning for my own personal distaste, due to too many workbook pages having been a part of my own public school education, which wanted short term recall of facts that were soon forgotten once the test was over and the next topic was moved on to. But I got to a point where I wished that more difficult vocabulary words were inside of my son’s brain, having not gotten there by reading good books, and figured an easy way for them to get there was to do short exercises in a workbook based program.

It turns out that the teaching methods of this workbook based vocabulary curriculum is exactly the opposite of what my son needs to be able to learn from it. The weirdest thing happens. He does the work. He does the work correctly and receives good grades. Yet he has learned nothing from the work. None of this information sticks. All that work was for naught. Well, on paper it looks good, for me to report that this child did all this work and we had goals and objectives and they were met. But nothing went into long-term memory. The fact that it was non-fun and the work was forced upon him is good to consider too, for it is one thing if a child does something fun and good and then nothing fantastic educationally come of it, at least they had the fun of doing. But in this case there is not even that.

This child of mine is a “very” right brained learner. To sit and passively read black ink on white pages and do workbook exercises like fill in the blank, true and false and matching exercises does nothing for him. Those things may test knowledge already learned but they do little to actually teach the content to him, unlike other kids whose learning styles are different, so reading words on the page and doing that kind of work somehow cements the content into their mind.

This child of mine also has a visual processing learning disorder, a neurological condition. A thing to know about people with an LD is that they only have so much “room” or “energy” to handle learning in a day. When that is tapped out, they are done for the day. No matter what else someone wants them to do, work that is pushed to be produced, or no matter how much something is studied, they are done and over with for the day. All that effort will be for naught. This son’s LD doesn’t directly affect his ability to learn from this vocabulary curriculum, but I think part of his challenge is the taxed brain itself.

Last year when my son began using this program it was a daily struggle. He put effort into it for a number of days spread out over a couple of months. He used it, took a break from it, revisited it, and did more work in it. I finally gave up and decided compared to all the rest of the things he was doing, this was a low priority. This curriculum covers a full grade of vocabulary.

Today I looked over it again. I’m not feeling very enthusiastic. My sentiment at the moment is “why bother?”

I asked a homeschooling mother who knows a lot about visual spatial learners (right brained learners) how vocabulary could be approached. She said with her child she uses a two pronged approach of some workbook curriculum work and the other half is vocabulary words picked from articles in The Wall Street Journal. They read the article and discuss it and research words the child does not know. To this end I spent time in the spring picking out WSJ articles that would be of interest to my son. I haven’t tried that method yet though.

Thinking about the right brained learning thing, or “visual spatial” learner thing, I have suggestions that I heard Dianne Craft talk about at a homeschooling conference in 2008. She suggested making 8x11 flash cards of the word in bright colors and with hand drawn images placed on top of the word and to associate the graphic with the word’s definition or to tell a story around the word, even a silly story, to cement the info in story format and with bright interesting visual images into the child’s mind. I have used that technique with spelling words (highlighting the mistake in the word in a different color) with success. I have not yet tried this for vocabulary words yet.

I’m feeling torn about vocabulary with my son. Here I have last year’s curriculum in hand. Should I abandon it as it is not working? This is last year’s grade level, should I use this or buy the next level up? Would this kind of work be good practice for taking standardized tests and for school assignments should the child land in middle school or high school—so perhaps I should force him to suffer through it? Should I use these lessons as a base for doing the Dianne Craft method of flash cards? Should we do two chapters a month and then use the other half of the month to read from WSJ article words?

When I started writing this the gist was supposed to be about deciding to quit the use of a curriculum and feeling alright with the decision to abandon it. But now that I’ve thought this out by writing about it I think perhaps a better use of our money would be to keep this curriculum and to modify its use by supplementing it with use of flash cards a la Dianne Craft’s method. I could use half of it, and then add in a second thing (the WSJ article idea).

I guess now the decision is to keep the curriculum and modify its use to customize it to match my unique child.

In case you’re wondering, the curriculum is Wordly Wise 3000 Book 6 second edition, by Kenneth Hodkinson (grade 6).

Student book

Answer Key for Teachers

Teacher Manual which I don’t own and didn’t know existed!

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Marbel said...

My children also hated Wordly Wise. I still think it is a great program but they did not - every lesson was a struggle. So we gave our workbooks away.

I gave up vocabulary as a subject. They read a lot on their own, and I read to them. We talk about difficult words. I try to use difficult/unfamiliar words when talking to them. They have great and varied vocabularies and score very well in that area on their standardized tests.

(For practice on doing standardized tests we use the Spectrum brand Test Prep books. Every year I buy the one for their legal grade level, and we work through them. Not exactly fun, but skill-building.)

Deb said...

Gee...you know, it has never occurred to me to use a vocabulary curriculum.

I just figured that if we speak very precisely, the kids will learn to speak well. When I come across a word that I don't think they know, I make sure to use it and explain it if necessary, just as a matter of daily life. Words also come up when we're doing our Spanish curriculum, because of the roots.

I expect just to go along with this until my kids hit high school. Then, if they want to study for the SAT, they can do actual vocabulary work.

I'm not normally an unschooler, but I guess that this is an unschooling approach to the subject.

christinemm said...

I used to have the real world learning approach too. This was my first use of vocabulary curriculum & it was grade 6.

The kid is pretty well spoken. But I was finding he didn't know some words I thought he should know. This was one discovery after using a reading comprehension workbook curriculum when he got answers wrong that involved predicing future events or what a sentence meant & he goofed as didn't know a word I'd assumed he knew 'from real life' or from context of the story.

When he reads silently to himself he doesn't research or ask about words he doesn't know. He skips it and goes on & tries to get gist by the book's context.

As for SATs I figured a little learning spread over years may be better than cramming hundreds of words.

I'm so torn!

Deb said...

Might a compromise be that you go through the curriculum together, and you talk about each word, acting it out or something?

A Mac and a Mug O' Joe said...

I have used WW for 2 years and plan to use it again with my 12 yo ds ( WW7) I look at it as exposure to new vocabulary and the opportunity to work independently. I give an oral or written spelling test after each section is complete. Ds reviews the list of words each day, then does one exercise/day. The reading section is done by completing 2-3 questions/day.

The great thing about HSing is being able to adapt, improvise and overcome!

DanaW said...

I am not sure how old your son is, but we very successfully used Vocabulary Cartoons (http://www.vocabularycartoons.com/) which has an elementary and a SAT edition, as well as learning vocabulary in the context of what we were reading for history, literature and science. We discussed the words before or when coming across them in our reading and then tried to incorporate them soon into our writing. Words learned on their own don't seem to stick unless they are actually incorporated into speech or writing soon after they are reviewed.

Hope that helps!

Dana Wilson

christinethecurious said...

We also used the read a lot, ask questions, and look things up method, (I have to do the looking up with them, their curiosity does not extend to research yet. I find this annoying, but I don't think it's something I can delegate yet.) my Dad loved to look into the roots of words, and that is one thing I loved about being his kid, it was like I'd cheated and learned secret grown up things - I knew the meaning of the magic words, (including cuss words, but I wasn't allowed to say them).

So that's how I've worked with my kids, and for my oldest, it's worked. I'm still getting to know my middle boy, his memory is more like my husband's, lots of short term, not as much long term. I have very little short term, but can describe most of my experiences from age two until the present.

I can't spell for beans, so I taught them with Spell To Write and Read to compensate. It includes many multi sensory methods of teaching spelling and vocabulary besides direct writing, but that is the main method. With my older boy's near dysgraphia, and poor visual memory, that has been a big struggle until this year, when something clicked. But he does love the explanations of why things are spelled the way they are, the Greek, Latin, and old English roots stories, and the emphasis on suffixes and prefixes for figuring out the meanings of related words. We talk about that part, so he doesn't have to write it. Sometimes we talk about it because he'd rather talk about anything rather than write!

Taking Latin with Grandma for the last two years has also unlocked many words for him. He loves to ask if some word or another off the BBC or NPR means such and such - because he's got the magic roots and can show off to the grown ups.

This is probably no help to you of course, but you brought up an interesting topic, and I'd rather write than finish vacuuming, which I'd better go do now!

Lots of sympathy on the worries of curriculum choice and abandonment!

-Christine in Massachusetts

Crimson Wife said...

DanaW beat me to the recommendation of Vocabulary Cartoons. I've heard that they are fabulous, especially for boys!

Shez said...

I own the Vocabulary Cartoons and my issue with them is that each word is taught independently. While I agree that the cartoons provide a very funny aide memoire, you still have to use brute force to remember the meanings of all the words.

I far prefer the roots method of teaching vocabulary as learning fewer roots provides a larger vocabulary.

The joy of homeschooling is that we can pick and choose what works for us, and our children.

christinemm said...

Shez I'm with you on your idea of roots.

We used Vocabulary from Classical Roots workbook last year and not much was learned either. I had high hopes. Same issues for that son of mine with workbook learning.

Perhaps I should get the English From the Roots Up back off the shelf. We hated "Rummy Roots" game (sadly).

Shez said...

Christine, see if you can lay your hands on a copy of "Vocabulary on the Vine". It contains a long list of games you can play to help cement roots.

We play quite a few of those games as the do help the kids. Must admit that my kids love Rummy Roots.

We started doing "Latin for Children" this year and my kids are loving it. I expand on each lesson and show them how the words they learned are roots/stems.

I find that Chanting helps my daughter immensely

topsy-techie said...

Another mom of a "right-brained learner" here. We actually don't do a formal vocabulary curriculum, but find lots of ways to integrate vocabulary into our daily lives. Talk about new words when we come across them in reading, television, conversation, etc. And my son loves the games on Vocabulary.co.il. They are a really fun way to boost word power! Best of luck...

christinemm said...

Shez, glad to hear you like Vocabulary Vine. I have heard it praised by others.

Topsy...thanks for the comment. I guess my attempt at an easier time for me and something that looks structured (workbook) is not going to do it. With these visual spatial kids as Dianne Craft says it isn't about finding a new curriculum we often have to put in time ourselves to be creative or make our own materials. In the case of "more conversations" in real life or whatever, is hard as can't plan it out and wind up being more unschoolish, trying to do worthwhile things and hope good experiences come of it, making the most of real life.

I have a theory that I should blog about, right brained learner homeschoolers, stay tuned...