This is a guest post by Brenda, a former public school teacher, full-time working, day-care dropping off mama who by God’s grace was turned into a homemaker and a homeschool mom a few years ago. She’s still sort of new to all this, and considers herself greatly blessed. She blogs about all the changes they’ve undergone at The Family Revised.
When I first began homeschooling a few years ago, there were three subjects that I did not bother teaching. Well, at least not that first year anyway. There are two subjects that I am still not teaching… yet.
Travel back in time with me, will you? My oldest daughter (and only “student” that year) was in 2nd grade. She had attended both public and private school prior to our homeschool opening it’s doors. In addition, I had both attended and taught public school, for a grand total between us of 26 years of school experience.
That is why I knew not to bother teaching spelling, grammar, or writing. Want to know why?
This one I didn’t teach that year simply because I didn’t know what curriculum I wanted to use. All I did know was standard spelling methods from public school didn’t work. And I didn’t want to spin my wheels all year for nothing.
See, I “looped” with my class one year. That means that I was their 3rd grade teacher and then moved up to 4th grade with them. (The loop comes when you circle back down to 3rd grade and pick up a new class the following year, but I bailed before that happened!) I found some online spelling test that you gave out loud to the class and it told you what grade level they were spelling on. I gave it to them at the beginning of 3rd grade, and then I gave the same test at the end of 4th grade. Guess what? Not one single student had improved. Every single one of them were still on the same spelling grade level at the end of 2 years.
I used to wonder why I had so many parent conferences about spelling. Why so many notes, complaints, and phone calls about a subject that counted toward so very little of the student’s final grade? Then a veteran teacher told me: it’s because spelling is the one thing that has not changed from when parents went to school. THIS they knew how to talk about.
It’s the same just about everywhere. There is a pre-test, an assigned list of words for the week, assignments based on those words, and a test on Friday. But it isn’t teaching anyone to spell. From my experience, the naturally good spellers could have passed that test on Monday and the struggling spellers could have worked on that list for 3 weeks and still struggled to pass the test at the end. Spelling, as it has been taught for years, isn’t working.
So I spent a year researching before I settled on a curriculum. My second daughter will be a 1st grader this coming year and I will be teaching spelling to her–now that I know what to use.
This subject is also sometimes called “English” or “Language” but I have not bothered to teach it yet because of what I know from public school. See, in school, grammar is taught every year. In fact, the exact same things are taught every year and at the end you still have a roomful of students who blink at you when you ask them what a verb is. I wish I was kidding. I started teaching in 3rd and 4th grades and of course I just thought those earlier teachers had not done their job. THEN I moved to the 1st grade hall and what should I see in my book but the exact same grammar lessons–just at an easier level. Come to find out, these students are getting the same lessons year after year and they aren’t retaining very much of it at all. I’m thinking the way grammar is being taught isn’t working.
Here’s some proof. Check out this link. Start at the 1st grade level and work your way up. You only need to really look at a few lessons to see it. The lessons are basically the same, they are just getting more complicated and detailed as the grades go on. That makes sense. You would think that would work.
I am convinced that if you wait until your child has been reading fluently for several years, and is mature enough, that you should only need to teach grammar one really good time and be done with it. Maybe twice. I’m waiting until my daughter is middle school aged before we begin grammar. By that time she will have been a reader for many years and a fluent one for several years. After you have absorbed that many books and that much language in an actual context….it can’t be that hard to understand the parts of speech, you know? And she won’t have to transition from calling it an “action word” to a “verb.” She can just go ahead and learn the real name for everything right up front. We’ll see if my theory is correct in a few years!
Now, having said all of that, I do expose her to grammar. Now that I know what I want to use.
In my home state of Texas, 4th grade students take a writing test. Oh boy do they take a writing test. I cannot begin to explain the stress caused from this test. What I do know is from the time we came back to school from Christmas break one year, until the writing test was over in February, we taught a minimum of 90 minutes of writing a day. Oh and many of the students stayed after school for an hour and 45 minutes of MORE writing tutoring. Good times.
May I just say that students who are still struggling with the physical aspects of writing are not ready for this type of work? There is SO MUCH going on when you ask a child to write. Younger students are still concentrating a portion of their brain on “Now which way does the ‘b’ go?” and “What makes the /k/ sound?” There is also the mental activity that goes into planning for a written composition and using your imagination all at the same time, while remembering the rules of punctuation and capitalization and spelling. Can you honestly tell me that the majority of elementary aged children are ready for all of that?
However, my children write books all the time. I spend a small fortune on reams of paper. They LOVE to write. I have them practice handwriting. We do copywork. Instead of practicing spelling and writing everything wrong and then me marking it all up….they practice writing things correctly. When they are older…..and ready….I will teach formal writing/composition. And because they will have had years of practice under their belts at that point–they will be able to focus on the writing lesson. By that time, the mechanics of writing will be second nature and they will be free to think only about WHAT and HOW they are writing—not struggling to hold the pencil in their chubby, tired hands.
I say all of this to help some of you homeschool mamas relax. I share what I know for those of you who have never put your kids in school. But you don’t have to follow my example! After all, my oldest is only going to be 11….what do I know? As far as the spelling curriculum and grammar practice, I’ll post what I use and why on my blog, The Family Revised, tomorrow. I hope you’ll visit me over there and let me know what you use. Together, we probably have 300-something years worth of experience, don’t you think?