Monday, June 10, 2013

The requisite post-convention post, plus a little letter to curriculum publishers

My speaking gig went well... I think. People came. I communicated information. The audience laughed at my jokes. (A bit. I think everyone was pretty tired having spent the day listening to people talk at them.) And then I was free to enjoy the rest of the convention without worry that people would think I was the most boring thing since they last watched paint drying.

For me, the best part of going to the state homeschooling convention is having a break and spending time with friends. Oh, and doing a little shopping at the vendor hall. It was a fruitful endeavor because not only did I pick-up the books various people needed for the fall, I also created a plan for what we would study together. It looks as though we'll focus on Ancient Rome and marine science. When I ran it by the intended audience, they all thought it sounded interesting, too.

All of this leads me to the real point of this post. After having looked at a lot of curricula over the years and used it myself and talked with other people, I have a really important suggestion for publishers who market curricula to homeschoolers. Please, please, please would all of you lose the grade numbers on your students books? I bet if you would make this one simple change, you would sell more of your product.

I don't know about you, but my children do not learn everything at the same rate. For some, their strength is in words and they move quickly through language based subjects. Math, though is another story. Let's just say, some do not zip through their math books. I have a couple of others for whom this is flipped. But not one of them is learning everything at exactly the same pace. Consequently, none of them work through a certain grade level's set of curriculum at the same rate either. The majority of my children are using books from various different grade levels at any given time.

For some reason, perhaps because I have said the grade level doesn't matter enough times, they all seem OK with this. But I've spoken with many parents for whom this is a major issue for their children. That little number on the front of the book communicates a whole lot to the child and sometimes the child doesn't like what it says. For some children, if the number is not large enough, they feel they are stupid or slow or something is wrong with them. It makes it difficult for the parent to put the child in the book they need because of everything that little number is yelling.

This is nuts because the beauty of homeschooling is that it is so easy to tailor a child's education to how they learn. That means if you have a child who loves math and is good at it, that child is not stuck in his or her supposed grade level. They can move as fast as they want and can handle. It also means that a child who learns best by a lot of practice and repetition (and often this is more practice and repetition than the typical textbook provides) can get what they need to actually learn something before moving on. I have done several different books with a child on a certain concept before moving on just so they could learn it.

But the curriculum companies (who very often are selling the same product to schools), don't really seem to get how homeschoolers work. They are stuck in the grade level mentality instead of the mastery mentality. And they label all their books accordingly. I spent some time this past weekend encouraging friends to buy what their child needed and then invest in stickers to cover the offending number. Those grade numbers and hang-up even intelligent parents, too. (Those of us who went to public school for our education still have moments of needing to unschool ourselves.)

I understand the need to order a curriculum so that a teacher can know what order the books go in. It also makes it easier to compare curriculum across publishers (and they really do differ widely). I'm not saying that the grade numbers need to go completely, just from the students books. Here are a couple of suggestions. It would be easy enough to use any other symbol to indicate level... letters, shapes, dots, etc. It would also be easy enough to publish a sheet indicating what each of those symbols mean. If a parent is smart enough to teach their child, they can handle interpreting symbols. Even letters do not communicate quite the same thing that grade numbers do. Letters merely indicate order.

One story to finish with. When I was teaching many more piano students than I do now, every once in a while there would be one student for whom learning to read music was a struggle. Very often I would need to take that student through the basics several times and in different ways before everything clicked. Now, for the most part, children are OK with starting again with a new series once, but a third time can be demoralizing. And sometimes there was a child who really did need a third time. There was one method publisher who had a truly bizarre way of indicating the level of its teaching books. There were many small books and each one has a number so that by the time a child was in a traditional level 2, the number on these books was something like 12. And there were certain moments in my teaching career where I gave great thanks to this publisher because here was a method I could use for another time through learning to read music and the child had no idea how to compare it with what they had already done.

We don't mean to communicate so much with a little number, but we very often do. Children do compare themselves with others whether we like it or not. This would be one small idea that could serve everyone well. And really, when it boils right down to it, what does grade level really mean anyway? It tells us a child's age, but not who that child is. His strengths and weaknesses. Her likes and dislikes. We don't need to herd our children into age-segregated classrooms, so I wish that the curriculum publishers would stop acting as though we do.

3 comments:

Lucy said...

It sounds like they could just leave off the word "Grade" and go with volume 1 - whatever. I think most kids get that work is ordered sequentially, and you have to master volume 1 before you can do volume 2...

On a related note, what do your kids say when people ask what grade they are in? Mine usually give a number, followed by a hesitant "I think?" Which comes off sounding the worst of all possibilities :)

Diana said...

I teach piano full time and run into the same problem once in awhile. There are some kids that get caught up in the number and think they aren't progressing, or that someone else is more advanced because the number on their book says differently. Piano methods range so much in leveling!
Do you remember the name of the piano books you mentioned? I don't remember seeing a series like that.

thecurryseven said...

Diana -- I haven't had a large studio for about seven years, but when I was teaching heavily it was the books by Noona that had the odd numbering system. They were nothing exceptional, except that they provided yet one more time through the basics without the child feeling like a failure.

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