Monday, September 17, 2012

Younger Son's Attitude About New Learning Endeavor

To answer two reader's questions after they read this post and this post:

Up to the last month of sixth grade homeschool in (May 2012) my younger son loved check lists and assignment sheets that he could work on independently and check off and then feel successful at having completed the work. When given a list he would work on it diligently in the morning with hopes of finishing up as quickly as possible so he could have free time. I loved seeing that internal motivation. The only thing that bothered me was he was a "do the work and get it out of the way" type of person and that meant that he would not do more than was assigned such as spend hours more deeply reading about a certain topic that piqued his interest. In other areas of his life he has been product centered not process centered. Given all this, I felt this new endeavor would be a perfect fit.

Here are a few other aspects of his personality that affect schoolwork this year.

When doing art it was about having the finished thing look perfect not any enjoyment of the process. (This is the opposite extreme from mine and his brother's.) He is not interested in "enjoying learning".

When talking about a line of work he wants to do, he wants to live comfortably and to that end wants to make decent money and to not suffer living hand to mouth. He thinks he may want to be self-employed so he can work autonomously and be his own boss (answering to no one else and being in control of his career). A first question about a profession that he asks is how much money it makes. Perhaps you think it is greedy but honestly it is about survival. Having lived with unemployment and underemployment and a long-distance move for work, my son seeing that inconsistency, he wants something that gives him more control and something more stable for an occupation than my husband has experienced.

My son is willing to do what it takes to make money not to live a life enjoying doing a certain thing yet suffering monetarily. He has also shown physical endurance and internal drive to do manual labor such as attacking shoveling snow off the deck when he was a little tyke as he was told he could earn a dollar if he did the job. My son is tenacious when he chooses to be, just like me. When he sets his mind to do something, he cannot be stopped.

Anyhow, last May he started slacking at his schoolwork. I chalked it up to burnout as it was the end of the schoolyear and we were getting ready to take our long summer vacation going back East to see friends and relatives. That month he turned 12. Which part of this slacker attitude is developmental, I do not know.


One reason I signed him up for this "not a co-op" class thing is he has enjoyed co-op's in the past. He enjoys being in a classroom with kids. He was asking to go to school and wanted a social scene of being with kids during the day. We were told we would have two full days a week with others in group learning: classroom day and study group day. (The study group day has not materialized yet, no one in my town is running a study group. I offered to host one but no one in the town wants one.)My son has also done school work well under other teacher's guidance. All these things indicated to me that this would be a good fit.

When I mentioned in the prior post about crying I meant the mothers crying over stress not the children.

Right now my son feels overwhelmed with the experience. He fears failing. He feels out of control and confused, that is not something that sets him up for academic success. So we are struggling here.

I thought that my son would be able to work independently but so many of the assignments require parental involvement. How can we discuss literature if I have not read the books myself? Shall I just listen to his answer while I'm ignorant and believe what he says even when it is incorrect?

The readings are taking up a lot of time, about 15 hours of reading of historical fiction and the classic novel. He is having a hard time slogging through 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea due to the 150 year old vocabulary, many words I have not even heard of. I have borrowed the audiobook from 20,000 from the library but it still takes hours and hours to listen to. My son is suddenly having a problem with reading comprehension. I now see he is struggling with the historical fiction (Across Five Aprils). He reads it and it goes in one ear and out the other. I am reading it aloud to him right now and am trying to think of what I can do to help him get better at reading comprehension with independent silent reading. (He had Lyme Disease and a bad strep infection in June-July and I am praying that he does not have a new visual processing problem related to that.)

Adapting to the new processes and procedures is difficult so far and he is not able to take off and run with the independent work. I am overseeing everything. I have to say, "It says here to read pages XX-XX in the architecture book, go get it and read it. Then I have to say, "Find the definitions for these four architectural terms and write them out on the word processor or by hand in your notebook then put the paper in the blue folder to turn in this week." I sure hope that he begins to take on the initiative to do the independent work more as he gets comfortable with reading the long task lists and as he gets acquainted to the books and websites he must use.

To be blunt my son is acting like a lazy slacker. This is very new for him. This does not jive with handling this type of workload. If I am to help my older son with homeschooling at all then I cannot spend 30 hours a week in direct instruction with my younger son. Something has to give.

Not only is it hard for me to figure out all the new systems for my younger son but I feel stress and pressure because I also need to give some time to my older son. At the same exact time my older son was struggling to learn to use a website for three online courses in which all the teachers used the same website in all different ways. I needed to help both kids and did not have enough time to help either one sufficiently.

A piece of advice for anyone designing classes and various formal learning situation "schools" for homeschoolers is: I think more administrators need to put themselves in the seat of the learner and realize the importance of having systems that are the most user-friendly as possible. Instead of thinking what is easiest for the teacher to do, they need to think what is manageable for the minor aged children they are teaching. Kids are still learning organization skills and they need systems that are consistent and routine and organized. Each school should have guidelines to define standard operating procedures and they should make their teachers follow them. Every company I worked for had a standard operating procedure and schools should be no different.

Enjoying? Fun?

So, I was asked if my son is enjoying this.

Answer: no, not yet. And that is okay.

I am a firm believer that as a child gets older, in my case, we are talking about seventh grade, junior high, the work will get harder and it is not all fun and games. Learning skills such as how to write a good paragraph or how to take notes in class and better ways to memorize for a test are not fun for most students.

The rest of the learning should be as least-torturous as possible, I believe. But here is where the compromise lays. If we homeschooling parents feel capable of designing our own courses, and if our kids will actually learn from us, and if we are qualified to do things such as evaluating their writing, then by all means the parent perhaps should continue this method of homeschooling. However if any of those things is no longer functioning, then outside teaching should be sought. If the student is giving their mother too much push-back and won't do the studies, then something must change so the student can learn those topics. If the mother is too busy doing something else (like teaching the other kids in the family) or any other number of things are happening that prevent the mother from doing what she should, then outsourcing should take place. At the very least there are state law requirements for minimal teaching that must be done but in some cases even that is hard to administer.

When we choose to outsource the teaching, we have to make compromises. One such compromise is dealing with the fact that the main text for a course may not be what we personally would have selected. Perhaps the science text is more religious than we think is necessary. Maybe the history book is boring and does not bring history alive in the way we prefer. Perhaps there are more tests than we think are necessary or the teacher gives pop quizzes that we think are unnecessary. Compromise is a must. Anyone who uses regular school already knows about compromise. For us rebellious homeschoolers this compromise may seem offensive but for school kids and their parents this is a way of life that they have dealt with from day one. A little compromise and learning to deal with situations that are less than perfect never killed anyone and some adversity builds character.

We are sticking this out and as more time goes by we will learn if the pros outweigh the cons. I would like to think that we are just suffering through a steep learning curve.

I haven't cried in a week and hope the two crying spells I had are done and over with.


elisabeth s. said...

I hope the crying and frustration are over, too. I agree completely about the road getting steeper as a child matures and progresses into higher grades, and I applaud your decision to work through the frustrations and to compromise. I have seen some homeschool families simply turn education over to their children and a computer screen when the grade level is higher and the teen or pre-teen starts to push back.

Good job for analyzing the situation, and digging in to finding a solution that could work. You seem surprised that the curriculum requires so much parental involvement. Do you think that may be a feature that is built in to the beginning of the curriculum to build your trust in the system/company? I can see why the strict structure my eventually be a great fit for your list loving son, and I hope he becomes more comfortable in it.

I so admire the dedication and realism you bring to world of homeschooling, parenting, and life in general. Keep plugging along with classical, and keep us posted!

Cori said...

The online schooling has really been a mixed bag for us, especially with navigating the site/lessons/resources. What we are doing now with once a week co-op is helping keep me on track, though. But, sending the oldest to school is still very much an option (I have to remind myself that or I will feel like a caged animal). Either way, having other teachers involved is forcing us to do WAY more and do much harder work than we've ever done on our own. There is much gnashing of teeth, but I have to believe that this experience is good for us all. Honestly, just about every experience is good so long as you walk into it with the right attitude. Mine has been hopeful at times, but it's a wait and see more often than not because I've gotten so jaded about traditional education overall, anyway. Perhaps, I'm where today's kids are with questioning this business model (because education is big business). It's been a virtual world for them their own lives. What we are presenting to them could be just as real as a video game....and because their brains are formed this way, there isn't much that will change it short of learning to live hand to mouth, which is probably the best thing that college teaches some of us. I think we are going to see over the next few years that what kids need most is their religion, a second language, and a trade to survive what all we have allowed to happen to this country.