Recently, while homeschooling my seventh grader, and while overseeing his independent work on some Boy Scout merit badges I have realized how easy it is for a parent to misjudge a child's work. It is fairly easy to look at the work a student does and deem it wonderful, correct, adequate or even above-average if not brilliant, especially if the parent doesn't know much about the content the student is learning.
On the surface when looking at work produced it can seem wonderful!
The student produced the assignment as required: they wrote X number of sentences, X number of paragraphs, filled in all the worksheet blanks or produced a polished looking Power Point presentation.
Oh my child is so smart!
Look at this wonderful work produced!
But sometimes when I've gone beyond the role of supervisor, when I've taught myself the content (as my son was also learning about it by facilitating his own learning) I have realized sometimes this impressive looking work is error-ridden fact-wise, although written well, looking good and sounding good on the surface. This surprises me because I'd like to think that my bright son did comprehend what he read and that he is learning correct information. However sometimes his work reveals that my desire is not his reality.
In the case of reading comprehension homeschool lessons, while grading worksheet papers I sometimes found errors. Rather than just give a grade and move on I want my son to learn from his mistakes. In order to discuss this with my son I read the passage myself and then read through the question (because to try to discuss it without having read this sometimes is impossible). I have been surprised at how my son has made true mistakes, wrong assumptions and other things based on wrong interpretation of information. Sometimes he admits he didn't know what one word meant, and rather than look it up in a dictionary, he guessed, and guessed wrong, which meant the whole thing was misunderstood. At the worst, the entire point of the piece, or something crucial was missed altogether.
While working on some Boy Scout merit badges this month, my son has to do some worksheet pages, some written reports and some oral presentations to the class. I grew curious about this information he was researching on his own and wanting to satisfy my curiosity I took a small amount of time to read through the same materials my son had read. Some of these are BSA materials and some are websites he found on his own.
Then when I read his work, although it seemed to be impressive writing, it contained factual errors. The number of sentences was there "the teacher said he wanted 8-10 sentences if I add one more then it will be wrong" to which my response is "that sentence is very important for explaining how the movie relates to the whole theme of citizenship in the community, I don't care if the thing winds up being 11 sentences total, you need to have it there!"
I'm fairly certain that these mistakes in the oral presentations and the written reports might not be caught by the merit badge counselor, especially for the niche topics of my son's choosing that are not common knowledge. (Do you know who Ida Tarbell is, why she is considered a significant person in US History, what she has done? I sure didn't, but my husband did, as she has relevance to his career field.)
My goal is for my children is to learn (not just to produce assigned work that fulfills the requirements (write one paragraph about ______), and my goal is not just that he earn a certain grade) so I addressed these things using prompts to go re-investigate. "Was that really what made the writer famous or was it some other project?" and "Those statistics from the 2000 census don't look right to me" (when his notes, right in front of me, had different numbers and I'd noticed that he'd transposed the figures incorrectly), are two things I said. I don't directly tell him what is wrong but make him figure it out. I make him change his work; I don't dictate to him what to say.
Some may use these examples to show that only the most diligent homeschool parents are adequate enough to teach their own children. Or worse, they might say that only professional teachers should be allowed to educate children. I believe that a committed parent who is willing to do the hard work, whatever form that takes, is indeed capable of homeschooling their children. (I feel in general I'm in that category but believe me I'm not always that self-confident. Sometimes I do worry that I'm not good enough for this job.
One point I want to make by sharing these thoughts is just how easy it is to overestimate the child's school work as better than it actually is. Even if the parent knows the child is smart or bright, it doesn't mean all the work they produce is of high quality or is factually correct. Mistakes can easily be made and facts can be omitted from student's work and the piece can still appear to be well written.
Once again this homeschool parent is feeling pity for the school teachers. How they can deal with twenty or so students of various abilities, different developmental stages, with diverse personalities and different learning styles is beyond me.
How each child in school can be reached, how all can take away what the lesson or the school or the state feels they should know about X, Y, and Z without directly spoon-feeding dumbed down facts (so they are not misunderstood) is beyond me.
It seems to me that schools or teachers must reduce the expectations so the work load to a certain low level just so there is time to teach it.
The last challenge is not just the teaching part that the teacher does but trying to figure out what the student knows or doesn't know and based on their produced work, how to try to correct any errors, so the student takes away the right facts or the main point of a topic, is something beyond my comprehension. How do the teachers do that? I have a feeling they can't, and don't, because the general model in American education is once something is taught, some projects are done (or answers to questions are written out) and then content is tested, and then it is time to move on to the next thing.
To get through to each child, to directly speak to what it is they misunderstood to correct that is too time consuming for school teachers with a full classroom. The best they can do is perhaps to repeat and repeat some main points to the entire class, and hope everyone gets those. (Flashback memory: in middle school and high school the teachers would spend an entire period stating what would be on the test and urging us to study that.) The sad thing is all the repetition is boring and slows down the kids who do get it ("how many times does the teacher have to repeat that fact?), and the struggling learners who think they ALREADY get it may be tuning the teacher out and not even paying attention.
These opinions are largely based on my experience working one on one with my children in our homeschool--when you work that closely with kids you can make a lot of observations about the way their minds work. It is based also from my work to teach Cub Scouts (as leader in the role of a teacher) getting them to learn the required material (to earn ranks and extra badges). It is also based on my memories of attending public school as a bored, bright, good grade earning student.