Tonight I am grinning from ear to ear. I can't begin to even express how happy I am, seriously. You know, homeschooling is still very new to us. We've only been at it full time with all the kids for about 6 months or so. Every day I sit back and wonder who is learning more, me or the kids. I don't have any training for the very unique challenges we face every day. What I do have is some awesome backup with friends who care and love our kids, and a passionate desire to see our kids succeed. Throw in a little mix of mom intuition, and that is about all we have going for us. To say that at moments I still break out in a cold sweat would not be too far off the mark.
Since we began, I have made it a policy not to test the kids, other than the thrice yearly testing required by the program we are enrolled in. You see, I am of the opinion that tests have been used to flog kids to death, to make them feel either superior to others or to drag their self-esteem through the mud. Testing is to measure how much knowledge a child has gained and retained from their education. If you don't DO something with those test results, then what is the point? For years and years, children take tests and if they do poorly, no one really remediates. No one sits down with them and goes back over the material again and again until they know for certain it is understood. Instead, we measure and assess, push the kid on, and then NOTHING is done with that information! I don't get it! For example, state testing...this huge emphasis is put on annual state tests, but the results don't really do anything but categorize a school. No one takes those results, then goes back to the child and works on areas where there are deficits. Often those test results don't even come back until the child is well on their way to their next year of school.
In our case, testing really doesn't serve much of a purpose. Because we are working with them on every single assignment, because we correct it and make them redo whatever is missed, because we do NOT let them move forward until we feel a concept is grasped reasonably well, test results are sort of pointless...they don't aid us in teaching or the kids in learning. We already know their weak areas and are targeting them, a test won't really tell us much more than we already know. Now, I know there is some value in them learning HOW to take a test, so from time to time I have decided to go ahead and give them one.
This past Wednesday, the last day before I left town, was one of those times. We had "The Test". It had the kids shaking in their boots and doing a little sweating of their own :-) Hahaha! I had a purpose for testing them, I wanted to determine exactly what they were gaining from their science curriculum. Since much of it is group work with follow up worksheets designed more to reinforce topics, I felt a need to measure their learning in this subject. We had just finished our year's curriculum (we are moving faster through it than is standard in an effort to try and catch up in this area), and so it was the dreaded "Final Exam".
It was funny to watch Angela take it oh-so-seriously and study over and over again for it, reviewing terms, definitions and words repeatedly. She and Kenny worked with each other a lot. Matthew helped Joshua and Olesya study in the back of the van on two or three longer drives. It was good to see all of them take me at my word that this was going to be a tough test, and I was not going to make it easy on them.
And I didn't!
35 questions, all open ended, not a single multiple choice. Yes, even Joshua...and I do realize this is not the style of test a 2nd grader would usually have to face, but instead this was more like a high school style test. I was quite curious to see how he would handle it. I was not grading on spelling, for that would be unfair at this point for all but Matthew, but I WAS looking for thorough and complete answers, with appropriate expectations for grade level and ability.
Like I said, this was not a pushover test by any stretch of the imagination. I asked questions like "List the different kinds of habitats you can remember and describe them." and "Define exoskeleton" and even "List the life stages of a human and share what you remember about each life stage." Then there were other words to define like metamorphosis, deciduous and entomologist.
I had no idea what to expect, and frankly I was secretly worried they would all "tank". I mean, think about it, I am asking the questions above of 2 children who have spoken English for only a single year, another whose learning disabilities are a real challenge, and an 8 year old! Basically, I was setting the bar ridiculously high, gearing the test to the highest student and not the lowest. I wondered if I was being unfair, but I really wanted to see what had been retained and if they could do more than eliminate the wrong answers and guess a right one with multiple choices.
I finally had the chance to correct their tests tonight, and found myself alternately cracking up and thrilled at the same time. They all did an outstanding job, really WAY better than I expected. with none lower than 80%. But you will never guess this...guess who TOTALLY rocked the house?? Mr. Kenneth Toktogul LaJoy!!! Reading his answers I literally wanted to cry, I was so darned proud of him. Somehow, and I don't even know how, we have hit on a way that really, really works for him. I don't know if it is the discussions we have, if it is my awareness that he learns differently and I try and draw things out more for him with pictures and colors, I don't know if it is me animating a lot of things in our teaching, but whatever it is, it is working beyond my wildest dreams and I just can't believe it.
For example, for the open ended question "Share with me what you know about the skeleton." here is what Kenny wrote, misspellings included: "There is two hundred six bones in your skeleton. Your head is called a skull and you have eight bones on top of your shull it is called a crainiom. The feamer is the largest bone in your body. The rips protet you orgoins. The spine holds your rips together and it holds you up straght." Shoot...I am in tears just typing this. This is my child who can't remember the months of the year, but can name the number of bones in the body and cranium. This is the little guy that can't remember how to spell "does" and spells it "dose" every time. When I asked "How do some animals protect themselves" Kenny responded "By looking bigger or conofloshing (camouflaging) into their habitat."
Can I do the happy homeschooling dance now? Just for a minute? After all, I know tomorrow will bring some reason NOT to do it...hahahaha! But I want to enjoy the victory of today while I can!
Matthew won for the funniest answer when he responded about the digestive system that it included "the esophogus, mouth, small/large intestine, bladder/POOPIE CHUTE." Heck, I was impressed that he got the right form of "chute"!! He is not known for his terrific spelling. It seemed that the question about the digestive system created great fodder for the funnier answers. Joshie's was "it is your system that smushes up your food into mush." Yup, for 2nd grade, I think that is the perfect answer!
There are days that are hard, there are even some days that are super hard and I want to throw my hands up in the air in despair when I get blank stares or "I dunno's". But I live for moments like these, when I feel validated for taking the harder road and not giving in to complacency myself. It can be very hard not to compare ourselves to others, and in the homeschooling world it often seems as if every kid is headed off to Harvard at 14 years old, because you often hear these terrific success stories and think "Well, that sure isn't going to be us! We must be doing something wrong." We just want healthy, happy, well rounded kids. We don't want or need another Einstein or another musical prodigy. Man, there are days when I am just happy if we can manage to get the date written correctly on the paper without forgetting how it is done yet again. That is not even written tongue in cheek, that is really the truth.
Somehow though, we have been blessed with bright and curious kids. At first glance they may not all appear to be that way, for others have no idea what they have had to overcome. But we know, and we recognize that there is a lot more going on here than merely being able to read and write. I am so glad that WE see them for all that they have going for themselves, that WE see their unlimited potential and can encourage and try and find ways to inspire them. I am so stinking happy to see the light in Kenny's eyes these days, to see him shine so completely as he straightens his shoulders and realizes just how remarkably smart he really is...and that Mom and Dad truly believe that and will do everything within their power to help him realize his dreams. Now if we can only get Olesya there...
So as I lay down tonight and place my head upon my pillow, I will once again give thanks to God for all we have been given. I will be thankful for the thunderous voice I heard proclaiming we needed to homeschool, as I looked upwards saying "You can't be serious!!" And as I looked at the girls papers and realized the enormity of all that they had taken in this year, I again said a prayer of gratitude for finding a path that worked for us. We could be in a very different place right now, and not acknowledging that would not be fair.
But here we are, and for just tonight, I have my clogging shoes on and am doing a jig!