Thursday, August 1, 2019

Spero Academy Curriculum Picks: 2019-20

Yes, you read that right. We are no longer Preedy Academy! When we moved to our new house, I had to update our address for our school registration, and thought I might take advantage of the opportunity to give us a more creative name that reflects our style more. Spero is a Latin word that can mean "I hope, I dream, I wonder, I Imagine." That about sums it up. Latin, Wonder, Imagination.

So. These curriculum pick posts may be becoming a bit redundant, as about three years ago I really found our sweet spot and the people and companies we trust. There's not much deviation now. But I suppose each year we're doing a new grade level for the first time, and are figuring that out as we go. :) So here it is: 

Time Period as a Family: Antiquity

Meryn: 3rd grade

-All About Spelling Level 3
-McGuffey Reader Book 1 & 2
-Writing Through Ancient History by Brookdale House
-Song School Latin 2

-Math-U-see Gamma

Levi: 4th grade

-All About Spelling Level 4
-Writing & Rhetoric Books 1-2: Fable and Narrative 1
-McGuffey Readers 2 &3
-Writing Through Ancient History for cursive copy work/practice

-Math-U-see Delta

Combined Subjects for Levi and Meryn together: 
-Berean Builders Science in the Ancient World (last year we did a lot of nature study on animals, ecosystems, habitats, plants and trees. They want some active experiments this year!) 

-History: A Picturesque Tale of Progress vol. 1-4
Various projects with books like: Ancient Israelites and Their Neighbors, Tools of the Ancient Greeks, Explore Ancient Rome
-The Story:  a narrative version of the Bible. This will be a family Read-Aloud.

Literature Book List: 
-Famous Men of Greece
-Famous Men of Rome
-Gilgamesh Trilogy by Zeman
-The Golden Goblet
-The Children's Homer by Padraic Colum
-D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths
-Ulysses by Charles Lamb
-God King
-City by David Macaulay
-Mystery of the Roman Ransom
-Galen: My Life in Imperial Rome
-Cautionary Tales by Hillaire Belloc
-The Phoenix and the Carpet by Nesbit
-The Cat of the Bubastes
-My Bookhouse vol. 6 & 7

Luke and Kiryn: 8th and 7th

-Latin Alive! 1: I will be teaching an online class with one other family. 
-The Argument Builder by CAP: The other mom is teaching this. It's a good trade-off. :) 
-Writing & Rhetoric Book 9: Description and Impersonation
-Magic Lens 1 and Poetry and Humanity by Royal Fireworks Press. 

-Jacob's Geometry with Dr. Callahan's videos
-MUS Algebra 1 with Honors lessons

-Geography III by Memoria Press

-Ancient History: Streams of Civilization and The Story of Ancient Greece, The Story of Ancient Rome by Suzanne Strauss Art, covering pre-history through the Roman Republic. 

-The Bible as Literature: A House for My Name by Peter Leithart, and The Bible Project videos as aids to reading through a good portion of the Old and New Testament over the year

-Close Reads: Antiquity
This will be a class at co-op in which we will read: 
-Tales of Ancient Egypt by Roger Lancelyn Greene
-Gilgamesh the Hero by Geraldine McCaughreon
-Bulfinch's Age of Fable
-Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliffe
-The Odyssey, translated by T.E. Lawrence
-The Aeneid for Boys and Girls by Alfred Church
-The Young Carthaginian by G.A. Henry
-Julius Caesar by Shakespeare

The kids will continue practicing close reading with the tools in the CiRCE Reading Guide and discussion with the tools in Teaching the Classics. I also would like for Kiryn and Luke to read with Paul and me: 
-Classical Me, Classical Thee by Rebekah Merkle
-How to Be Your Own Selfish Pig by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
-The Screwtape Letters by C.s. Lewis

In addition to this, they will both be enrolled at the local middle school for 8th grade Orchestra, as well as choir. So two hours a day at the middle school again!

Friday Schole Day
On Fridays I hope to have most of the book work done, and have a lot of rest and beauty infused into the day. We'll do artist and composer studies, spiritual formation read aloud. We'll spend time on our quadrivium studies with A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe, watching the videos and drawing the constructions. Fridays will also be discussion days for history and Bible, as well as time set aside for Keeping. The older kids will keep a commonplace and/or timeline/journal of their studies this year across any and all subjects. 

For some comments on 8th grade picks: 

-Math: I took the Liberal Arts Atrium class last year. I came away from that fully convinced that Euclidean geometry is the only way to go.  I could really only find two options: Jacob's Geometry, and Classical Math 1 by Polymath Classical Tutorials. As CM1 is reading Euclid's Elements and some Nichomachus and keeping a journal of the proofs, I didn't really think that Luke was ready for that, since he's only 14 and starting geometry in 8th grade.  So based on the advice of Mr. Steve and some folks in the Atrium class, we're doing two years of geometry. :) This first year will be a normal textbook, but still Euclidean geometry.  Next year, with that as a background and foundation, he will hopefully be ready to do Classical Math as an Honors Euclidean Geometry course. I gave Luke the option of doing either Math-U-See Geometry or Jacob's. He took a look at both and picked Jacob's! I got the textbook and answer key for $20 at a used sale, found the DVD's on for super cheap, and then found an extended Teacher Guide and My Father's World Lesson Plan for the year on eBay. It's the whole book planned out over 34 weeks. Easy button!

Language:  Typically we do two books of Writing & Rhetoric each school year. But since The Argument Builder covers Aristotle's Five Common Topics and is a good bit of writing, I opted to do one book of W&R. Also, to spread it out evenly, we'll do the whole Magic Lens in about 6-7 weeks at the beginning of the school year, and once it's finished, we'll begin Writing & Rhetoric. We'll take three weeks for each essay, giving them plenty of time to write a good one.  Poetics will be the last 8-10 weeks of the year after we're done with W&R. So just two things at a time

Science: So last year about halfway through Novare Earth Science (which I loved), it was just a bit of a stretch for them, so I looked and realized... Novare intends Physical Science for 7th grade, and Earth Science for 8th grade! It was a stretch for my 6th and 7th graders for good reason. The good news is, we finished it, and the kids are in for an easier year of science this year! A shorter text with more engaging labs. :) I grabbed the $5 lessons plans from Memoria Press for another major easy button. No thinking about how much to do or when. Just follow their plans! 

Humanities: I'm really excited about all of this this year!  I wanted a simple, but more analytical approach to history. After pre-reading several different books, to my surprise I settled on Streams of Civilization. One big thing that persuaded me is I already have the Tapestry of Grace lesson plans, weekly questions, and evals for all of the years. They schedule Streams in as an alternate spine book. So, that's my history planning basically done. Questions written, tests ready, discussion prompts, creative writing assignments on the reading all ready to go. I decided to make it as easy on myself as possible. Streams has a really good scope of ancient civilizations all around the world. And we'll dig a little deeper into Greece and Rome with the Suzanne Strauss Art books.

It's a a constant challenge as a homeschool mom to give our kids the education we envision while also living and operating within our real limitations as one mom to many kids, many grades, all the subjects, all the books, all the plans, all the grading. As we move forward into high school, I'm going to be relying more on trusted programs from master teachers, and on my kids to be self-driven learners. I want to be more of a learner alongside them in a few areas like Latin, history and literature, and then just hold them accountable to all the other things they have to do while providing the support they need in thing like math and science. :) 

I'm basically ready. All the plans are printed, my planner is done, I've done a whole lot of the pre-reading for history and literature already. I'm praying for a restful year and for my kids to grow in knowledge and wisdom!

"Assessment That Blesses": Keeping Track of High School Credits and Grades

It's two weeks away from the start of the school year. It's been hitting me this summer. Luke is doing Geometry. Geometry is a high school credit. I need to have a plan to keep track of actual grades and credits and such, at least for this one class....

Years ago, I purchased OLLY for both my desktop and the iPad. I quickly realized it was more than I needed, and I couldn't figure out how to make it work for me at the time. So I abandoned it. But thankfully, I didn't delete it!

I resurrected that dinosaur of an app this month and began tinkering around with it. It's going to work GREAT for me to keep up with grading assignments that really need to be graded, assigning credits and keeping track of what we need to get to graduation.

I've set it up to give me accountability with grading. I don't have all the kids assignments in there. I just have plotted out the assignments and exams that will receive a grade. This year will be a trial run to see if I've set it up well. Geometry is the only thing on our schedule this year that we NEED to keep track of for high school credit, but I'm going to grade things in every subject they're doing, for the first time. Once I wrapped my head around how OLLY is designed to work, thanks to their helpful videos and flow charts on the website, I think I've got a handle on things.

First, you create a Course:

These are the courses I have created for last year and this coming school year. I think it's going to work better for me to name the courses each year based on what they're actually taking, because the Course Title is what shows up on the transcript, from what I can tell. I started off with a generic "Humanities, Math, Science, Language Arts", but it didn't have any detail as to what was actually done on the transcript. So I've given more specific Course Titles. 

Next, you make Lesson Plans: 

Each of these assignments are what I will actually grade and what their grade will be based upon. 

Once you have your Lessons Plans done, you assign each lesson plan to a course by dragging and dropping them. This is what our course load looks like. Some of our courses have more than one lesson plan, like science: it includes physical science and geography. 

Next, you assign the Lesson Plans to specific days on the calendar: 

This is as simple as dragging and dropping each lesson onto the date you want it to be completed (or, the date that I want to grade it). I wasn't too precise about this though, because I can grade it anytime. 

Next, you go into Records and enter the grades for the actual assignments.

 At the end of the semester, I'll be able to quickly run a report (provided all my grading is done!) that will calculate their grade by percentage and letter, assign a GPA, and how many credits they've received for each class.  I'm really hopeful that the moderate amount of time it took to set all this up will pay off well through the year when I have something telling me: Catch up on grading!!!

On a related by completely different topic...

At the Great Homeschool Convention this year, Andrea Lipinski shared that in her Lost Tools classes, there are two "grades" possible:

A: Accepted. You did what was asked. Well done.
I: Incomplete. You've not yet done what was asked. Keep trying.

That's it.  I LOVE the simplicity and encouragement in those two responses.  The I will come with feedback, as will the A.  I wanted to adopt this for my assessment going forward with my kids as we are right in the throes of middle school and accountability is really needed.  But I also knew my kids needed just a bit more.

I want to keep it simple, but two other factors that I really want to assess them on are:

-Punctual vs. Late assignments
-Excellence vs. Mediocrity

I have one child for whom it is possible to do what was asked and yet turn in mediocre work. I can't very well give that an A. :)

So I've arranged these in several ways to have a three-letter score on each assignment I give them:

APE: Accepted, Punctual, Excellent. Two points for each top mark. This is 6 points.
ALE: Accepted, Late, Excellent. Top marks two points each, bottom mark 1. This is 5 points.
IPM: Incomplete, Punctual, Mediocre. 4 points.

Et cetera. Scores of 5-6 don't have to be re-worked.  3's and 4's will be given back with feedback on how to get a 5 as a final score.

We'll see how this works. :) I'm only using this for those not-so-objective subjects: writing assignments, history narrations, literature discussions and Bible-As-Literature written work.  Latin, Science, Math will all be given number and letter grades based on objectively correct or incorrect answers.

I'm not really looking forward to all this record keeping, but it was inevitable that it would need to be done. I'm hoping I've made it as easy on myself as possible. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Putting on Your Own Oxygen Mask First

For the greater part of my adult life, I always knew when my next flight was.  The summer before my senior year of college I took my first trip overseas to Izmir, Turkey.  From the anticipation of that trip in 2000 until the summer of 2014, I was in a state of perpetual anticipating of the next flight. Those years of jet-setting every few months saw my life morph from a single college girl to a married working woman to a seasoned missionary and homeschooling mother of four.

As a mother, I always thought the announcement at the beginning of every airplane ride was pretty unrealistic. What mother really puts the oxygen mask on herself first while her kid is sitting there struggling for breath? I always tried to picture myself doing that, and it always seemed wrong. I really do understand how badly things could go if mom passes out, but I never could wrap my head around that mental picture of just taking care of myself first.


When it comes to educating our kids, I think this picture of putting on my own oxygen mask first looks a little more valid. Education is so not just academics. Education is learning to live. It's not about getting the test answers right. It's about the expansion of self in community. It's about the pursuit of wisdom and virtue. It's about the perception of truth and the growth of the soul as we behold the glory of God, the Logos,  Jesus Christ, radiating through all we study.  Certainly we want that for our kids. How can we not want that for ourselves?

How often have I heard the phrase, "We become what we behold"?

What are my children beholding as they gaze at my life everyday?

Irritation. Frustration. Short-termperedness. Franticness. Distraction and escapism. Disengaged. To-do lists. Get it done.

Is this really what I want for them? What do I want them to remember?

I want them to remember me reading to them. Studying my Bible. Smiling at them. Doing chores with a smile. A soft encouraging voice.

I also want them to remember me being a student. Digging into things they're learning to understand it myself. To pick something that I want to study and grow in, maybe even master, that's a part of their education as a way of sharing something with them. To see me working at something hard for me, like a piece of music on the piano, a crochet project that's a challenge, getting a garden to grow. To see me regularly bringing harmony out of chaos, creating beauty as an act of worship and adoration of Jesus, the master harmonizer.

I want to model being a zealous student and living fully. I want to inspire them to wonder and inquiry, not because I handed them a book said so, but because I showed them how by reading with curiosity alongside them.

We genuinely cannot give our kids something we don't have and don't want for ourselves.

We need to put our own oxygen mask on first. 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

End of Year 2018-19 Review

This year has been so full, so busy, and I'm really ready for it to be wrapped up. :) I taught four classes. I took a class. I started a part-time job in January from home. My autoimmune health has been all over the place.

I've loved our studies, but I way over-planned. (What's new?!?) We ended up totally dropping both Memoria Press programs, as well as the Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe.  My older two kids started doing two hours a day at the local middle school which left them with less time at home each day. We had to pull back and focus on the main things. And I learned a lot from this. Like:

-orchestra, drama, choir are REALLY worth our time and not getting in the way of the curriculum, they are a majorly important part of the curriculum
-more books and academics is not necessary for a quality education or a happy life
-it's okay to do some of a program and not all of it, to scale things to what we need
-it's ok to leave plenty of white space for the kids to just have time, even if that means not doing everything I feel like is important as far as books go. More is not always better.

That said, here is what our year *actually* looked like.

Meryn: (2nd grade)
-Veritas Press readers and other leveled readers
-All About Spelling 2 with copy work and dictation
-Grammar Island as a read aloud
-Song School Latin 1
-Math-U-See Beta
-20th Century History: Landmark History of the American People, selected biographies
-Literature: My Bookhouse vol. 4-5, Andersen's and Grimm's Fairy Tales, read-alouds below
-Science: Burgess Book of Nature Lore, The Tree Book, Physics: A World of Marvels, Childcraft vol. 4: The Green Kingdom

Levi: (3rd grade)
-McGuffey Second Reader
-All About Spelling Level 3
-Grammar Island with notebook, Practice Island
-Song School Latin 2
-Cottage Press Primer 2, Fall book only
-Math-U-see Gamma
History, Literature and Science with Meryn

Read Aloud list:
Peter Pan
The Railway Children
Where Poppies Grow
Home Run
A History of US: Age of Extremes
Understood Betsy
Bridge to Terabithia
The Hundred Dresses
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Homer Price
Pippi Longstocking
100 Cupboards
A History of US: All the People

Kiryn and Luke (12 and 13 years old)
-Math-U-See Algebra 1/PreAglebra
-Novare Earth Science
-Latin for Children Primer C, second half
-French for Children B
-A World of Poetry
-Writing & Rhetoric books 7-8, Encomium & Vituperation, Comparison
-The Art of Argument: informal fallacies
-Intro to Close Reads: 20th Century literature (with Teaching the Classics and CiRCE Reading Guide)
-20th Century History: U.S. History Detective book 2 and The Century videos and discussion guide with Peter Jennings

I don't have any negative reviews to give here. We have loved every single thing we've done. I think it's been a really rich and vigorous year.

I loved the Novare Earth Science book. The text is readable, not overwhelming, but also challenging. The pictures are beautiful. I love that it requires the students to write out answers to questions at the end of every section.  This was our first year with a real science curriculum, and the resource CD that Novare sells as an accompaniment to the text is wonderful. It is also totally necessary to teach this course well. It provided a lesson schedule for the whole year with the book broken down into daily segments, review days and experiment days scheduled in, quizzes scheduled, everything. I pretty much just followed that schedule as written this year.  We do plan to stay with Novare and do Physical science next year, and I've learned that it's really okay to back off from that suggested schedule. It was really more geared toward a school setting, and it wasn't quite necessary for us to do as much as it was suggesting.  We did make it through the book, though! (My daughter does not understand why she had to read so much about the composition of soil). :) If you've got a science minded kid or just want a challenging, deep, God-glorifying curriculum that also deals really responsibly with the science, Novare is something to consider.

One helpful tidbit I learned at GHC this spring is that Novare has ebooks they license for a month or for a year.  You can license one of their books for one month for $5 to try it out, and for only $30 for 12 months. This can potentially make it a lot more affordable. The ebook also has a "read-aloud" function for kids that need to listen to learn. It is a very electronic, unnatural voice, but the function is there.  You can find the licensing option on their website under each book on the purchase page.

The Art of Argument may have been one of the highlights of the year.  This was just a really fun path to walk.  I taught this in a class setting with ten kids, and hearing them debate back and forth whether a fallacy was being committed in an argument and trying to figure out which one was just a lot of fun for us all. I say it every year, but each new resource we try from Classical Academic Press just gets better and brings real delight to the subject it's presenting. This book is written to the student and is really accessible to them on their own, but is definitely best if studied at least alongside mom or a friend to foster conversation and debate on the fallacies presented. We spread it out over the whole school year, doing one fallacy a week and I'm glad we did.  We finished the year last week with a Fallacy Escape Room that was tons of fun. Kids loved the challenge and I as a teacher loved seeing the depth of knowledge they'd gained and how able they were to apply it under pressure!

The Close Reads class was a part of the live class I taught. We met for two hours every other week and spent an hour on logic and an hour on literature discussions.  I used Teaching the Classics to discuss the books, and I taught the kids the tools in the CiRCE Reading Guide to help them begin to do some close reading and common placing. This was a beautiful pairing, and I saw such growth in their reading skills as well as their understanding of literary themes. We read:

The Call of the Wild
Wind in the Willows
The Phantom Tollbooth
The Lion, the Witch, and the Windows
Farmer Giles of Ham
Number the Stars
Homeless Bird
100 Cupboards
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

I think Farmer Giles was my favorite discussion all year. The students came in all grumbling about how much they disliked this story! I was so surprised. I thought they'd all love it.  I started asking them questions from the TTC list, and the discussion got really rolling. It was the first time I'd seen them so animated and engaged, everyone had an opinion, things they didn't understand, things they liked or made them laugh.  An hour and a half later, I said, "So you guys really didn't like this story then, did you?" And the all laughed and admitted it was pretty great after all.

This year I also treated myself to the pleasure to being a real student again. I enrolled in an online class through the CiRCE Institute called The Atrium. The topic this year was the seven liberal arts. (For those of you not familiar with these, they are grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and harmonics/music). We took a close look at the development of these seven as the chosen arts as the liberating arts, and then at the major thinkers and writings on each one individually and what they mean today.  This class was so formative for me, and has really helped me understand these arts and the integral role they still ought to be playing in our education today. I'll be writing more about this over the summer as I process what I've learned and hopefully sharing it here. :)

Next year looks much like this year, just taking the next steps in the paths we're on. I have gotten some wonderful ideas from my class in how to teach the liberal arts here at home to my kids in fun and creative ways. More on that in my Plans for Next Year post!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Trivium: Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric

Last spring,  I went to the Great Homeschool Convention in Fort Worth, TX with a big question. For a couple of years, I had been studying the liberal arts on my own. I'd read pretty widely and thought I understood the first three arts, the trivium.  As I began to try to understand the quadrivium, I had read The Liberal Arts Tradition by Clark and Jain, as well as Beauty for Truth's Sake by Stratford Caldecott. I still didn't even begin to understand what the quadrivium was about. I went to the conference ready to ask people for their thoughts on how to teach the quadrivium.

I left pretty unsatisfied. I got varying answers from "teach sol-fa for music" to "let them take a drafting class" to "teach them what home means."  I knew I would not make any progress at this point without a guide.  

A few weeks later, I heard that a new class was being offered by the CiRCE Institute. It would be The Atrium with Andrew Kern on the seven liberal arts. It took me about two minutes to decide to register. 

We spent the fall studying the trivium. I realized I didn't know near as much about them as I thought I did. At the end of the semester, Andrew asked us to answer this question: 

What is the Trivium and why does it matter? 

Here's my answer!

What is the Trivium and Why Does it Matter?

The Trivium is a word referring to the first three arts in a series known as The Seven Liberal Arts. It consists of Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric.  These liberal arts have been the foundation of education for the majority of human history, were cultivated in early Greece and Rome and practiced into the Middle Ages , were refined and trusted as a path to free persons by the early Church and beyond until very recent times.  

The liberal arts became the foundation of education because the goal of education was to humanize a person, to enable them to perceive truth, to grow in wisdom and virtue, to order their loves toward Truth, Goodness and Beauty.  The liberal arts were a means to this end.  To become a more humane person was to become what we were created to be, which is a nourished, healthy, robust soul living in the example of Jesus Christ, whose words and actions are blessings to their community.  This is an education not only that all human beings deserve, but all are capable of receiving by virtue of being a human. 

An art has many different definitions and connotes a variety of ideas. In the past, different kinds of arts were recognized. There were service arts which were handicraft and craftsman skills and today would be things like electricians, carpenters, or any other job-skill set that qualifies a person to perform services as an expert.  There were also fine arts, which were arts that were an end in themselves. Their name “fine” comes from Latin, finis, the end. These arts are practiced to bring beauty into the world and to entertain as an end in themselves; their enjoyment is their purpose and meaning.  A third category of arts were the liberal arts, which might be better termed the liberating arts. An art is that which joins imitation of other masters and one’s own reason to create something new.  The liberal arts are ideas that once learned, give a person the tools of learning. When those tools and abilities are joined with our human reason, it creates a human being that is capable of learning anything else they want to learn. By making us independent learners, the liberal arts release us from dependency on others and make free human beings. 

The seven liberal arts liberate a person by helping them to perceive truth, which is also to see the one central unifying idea in everything. In a liberal arts education, truth is real, and Jesus Christ is the unifying idea, the Logos in Greek, of everything that we can possibly learn. It all reveals Him to us as students. 

The seven arts are divided into two categories: the trivium (three-fold path) and the quadrivium (four-fold path).  Our world is made and governed by two things: language and mathematics, words and numbers. Our world was spoken into existence through the Word of God, and it is held together by mathematical rules God designed to govern everything in creation. The liberal arts are focused on these two things: understanding language and mathematical arts. The Trivium arts in particular can be understood as arts of language.

The Trivium is compromised of the arts of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric, which are all foundational to mastering the use of and understanding of language. Language is unique to human beings, and it came to us as part of being an image bearer of God. 

In beginning with grammar, we help our students get to know their world and giving names to everything they encounter. Grammar is about naming things, about remembering that which is worth remembering, and beginning to form a relationship with the world.  In grammar, we also go beyond naming and help our students find the meaning of things and interpret the symbols they encounter every day. The meaning is found in the relationship between the thing and other things. 

A basic example of this is the progression of letters to words to sentences to whole texts.  Each letter is a symbol for a sound; letters form a relationship to make a word that is a symbol for a thing; words form a relationship to make a sentence that is a symbol for an idea or action; sentences form a relationship in a text that is a symbol of a larger idea or a symbol of many things. Grammar involves naming, relating, attention, contemplation, story, participation in community, and grounding in traditions. The content that is studied in grammar can literally be anything! It does involve lessons in language syntax and etymology and especially in literary tradition and culture, but it can and ought to be a general introduction to anything and everything that could tell a student who and why they are. The universe has meaning on large and small scales, and grammar is the beginning of uncovering that meaning. Teaching our kids to discover the meaning of symbols is the beginning, and the interpretation of that meaning can be a great challenge and delight! Interpretation leads us into Dialectic. 

Dialectic is the second art in the Trivium.  The simple definition of dialectic is the art of reasoning. Dialectic is learning to think. But we can’t just learn to think; we must learn to think about something. The something worth thinking about is the truth. Thinking is the mental process of separating truth from falsehood. All seven of the liberal arts are arts of truth perception, and dialectic is an integral tool to this end. The search for truth is fundamental to our humanity. Dialectic is mainly taught in two ways: by teaching logic, which is comprised of skill and ideas, and by Socratic teaching, which is a teaching method, or pedagogy. 

The skills gained in logic have to do with being able to reason well. Reasoning means the power of mind to think, understand, and form judgments. Making sound judgments and interpreting things well is a vital part of an education. Logic teaches how to analyze arguments by learning informal fallacies and syllogisms of thought. 

Socratic teaching is the art of asking good questions. The goal of asking good questions is to harmonize our minds with reality. “The search for truth keeps us sane because it always brings us back to reality.” (Kern)  Learning to ask the right questions also helps us keep faith and reason in harmony with each other. They depend on each other. Faith opens reason to a transcendent horizon; it encourages reason to aspire to greater truth than that which we can simply observe with our five senses. On the other hand, our faith needs reason in order to penetrate ever more deeply into the mystery that has been revealed, to unfold its implications and explore the world in its light. “The quality of one’s life depends on the quality of questions being asked.” (Kern)

Dialectic is an aid to the main goal of education: the expansion of the self. “It has to be understood that learning, which is the expansion of the self, takes place in community. The expansion of the self, we might say, requires the development of empathy and courtesy - empathy in order to be able to see another’s point of view, and courtesy to act as though one were not the center of the world.” (Caldecott p. 81)  Recognizing where all we have and all we know comes from leads us to humility, repentance, and ultimately gratitude. Gratitude could be considered the highest form of thought, and therefore, the the ultimate of dialectic. 

The art of rhetoric is traced back beyond Aristotle to Homer and even to the prophets of Israel.  Rhetoric is often though of as the art of persuasion, but it is more about becoming a good communicator of truth. Teaching rhetoric can be a dangerous endeavor if the central unifying truth is forgotten or ignored. and the ability to persuade is focused on without being grounded in the truth of Christ.  Without Jesus, all the liberal arts are learned in vain. Rhetoric especially has a temptation to lead people to thirst for power through their ability to persuade others with words, not caring whether or not they speak the truth.  In Christ, however, rhetoric is the work of being a person fit to speak and act in a way that displays truth and blesses others.  When truth enters our soul, it immediately starts trying to find a way out; to radiate out. (Hebrews 1:3) The truth enlarges the soul and love is the outward expression of it. If dialectic is the pursuit of truth, rhetoric is the love of apprehended truth spilling over and expressed in words and actions that bless. If the highest form of dialectic is gratitude, the highest form of rhetoric is worship. 

Each of these Trivium arts, grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric, are learned not in succession, but on a gradual continuum that may vary from student to student.  For example, a student is doing rhetoric level phonics when they read their first book independently and understand it and can tell the story. They are using all their knowledge of individual letters, sounds, and the meaning behind each word and sentence to understand a whole story.  Young children can be performing at a rhetoric level in some subjects, and older students will need to begin challenging high school subjects with the grammar of the subject: learning the symbols and terms unique to an area of study so they can begin to ask questions and then communicate the truths they discover. We are always using the art of grammar to learn something new, while also using the art of rhetoric to communicate other truths we already know. 

The Trivium, the first three of the seven liberal arts, matter for every human being. By learning these arts, students begin to have the ability to know reality and the truth, to think deeply and well about the reality and the truth, to ask good questions about reality and the truth, and communicate to others what they have discovered.  In this way, our children become more like what they were meant to be. They become more human, their soul is enlarged, their mind harmonized with reality, and their loves fixed on the truths that so delight and satisfy  them.  

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Best Laid Plans

It seems no matter how much time I spend preparing, once we get started on a school year there will inevitably be some tweaks that are needed.

This year, it was in the area of language arts for my younger kids. I'm not entirely surprised by this. I have a plan that I veered from this year.  Typically, I use Cottage Press Primer for 2nd grade, then begin Writing & Rhetoric in 3rd grade. Levi is in a co-op class and the majority of his class was not ready to begin Writing & Rhetoric, and I felt it would be a stretch for him.  So I had to figure out something else for this year to stretch him toward readiness for it next year.  Meryn also just did not seem quite ready to take on Cottage Press Primer 1. Her handwriting needs work. She's just starting All About Spelling Level 2. Her reading is right on beginner 2nd grade level and we need work on that.  So I had to find something to stretch her as well that was not part of my original plan.

Since I've been hearing a lot of buzz about Good & Beautiful curriculum, and they offer their language arts as a free download, I thought I'd try it.  We got four lessons in and abandoned it. It assumed enough skills that my kids hadn't been taught (like it directed Levi to write a five paragraph essay with no other instruction... what?!?).   It also was all over the place without a lot of repetition or continuity between the lessons.  Lastly, it was overly moralistic to the point that it was really annoying for me as a teacher.

So I was back to the drawing board.  Upon reflection, I decided that they both need a lot of practice on their printing/handwriting.  Meryn needs intense spelling/phonics lesson to progress her reading. She needs LOTS of repetition, not lots of bells and whistles and spiral.  Levi could stand a bit of challenging reading and some introduction to basic grammar before he starts Writing & Rhetoric next year.  So I decided I'd focus on these things with resources I already have.  We're doing the following things with them together:

-Spelling: All About Spelling levels 2 and 3. I'm focusing hard on this and being really diligent with them on their phonics and spelling.
-Handwriting: copywork from spelling, dictation from spelling, copywork from poetry, Scripture in pages that I put together for them.
-Grammar: Grammar Island, Sentence Island, Music of the Hemispheres by Michael Clay Thompson

I found some fonts that worked to make up copywork based on their spelling words and phrases/sentences for dictation for each level of All About Spelling.  They're getting multiple opportunities to practice their spelling concepts while they work on their handwriting. This is what they both really need.  It only took me about an hour to type out six weeks worth of worksheets for both of them, print them, and put them in their notebooks.

For Michael Clay Thompson, we are reading Grammar Island first. When we finish it, we'll read Sentence Island, and then Music of the Hemispheres. I'm really drawing out the lessons in Grammar Island. We spent two weeks on the first three parts of speech and took the lessons off the page. I had them make notebook pages for each of the parts of speech and color them to match the colors used in Grammar Island (nouns=blue, pronouns=green, adjectives=purple).  We're adding words to these pages as we go through the book.  And as a first step at "sentence analysis," I had them copy sentences from the book onto their own white boards, and then use colored dry erase markers to circle the words with their corresponding color. I thought this might be a bit beyond Meryn, but that she would just be along for the ride. But I've been pleasantly surprised by how she's kept up so far!  This seems to be really helping them grasp the ideas of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives!  I'm really pleased with their progress with these things so far!

This has been a very streamlined, simplified approach using stuff I already had at my disposal, and I love that!  We're just laying really firm foundations for language.  I think this will prepare them both really well for what's up for next year!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Year-Long Term Planning

A few years ago, I started doing year-long planning for one subject over the summer. It started with history. I tried to basically plan out our books and projects for the year so I could have the books ready to go, and the project supplies on hand in hopes these things would actually get done. When my oldest kids were 3rd-4th-5th this was a great way to save some time over the course of the year by doing long-range planning in the summer. But as they've grown, I've started expanding this long-range planning to other subjects.

Last year, I added science because the older kids wanted to study the human body.  Since I haven't ever loved Apologia and it was the only ready-made curriculum for elementary I could find on anatomy, I decided to put together our down study.  I had a few resources chosen, and I laid out which chapters coincided with each other, and what order we'd do them in, how long we'd give to each body system, etc.  This worked out really well for us last year and left me with very few decisions to make during the school year. Decisions make me tired. :)

So this year, I decided to try this for *all* the subjects to eliminate almost all big-picture decisions throughout the course of the year.  I've realized that once I have the science book out to plan six weeks, or even one week, it doesn't take that much longer to keep going and plan the whole year. Actually, it's easier to just go ahead and do the whole year.

I look at the program/book/resource and divide it into six equal  portions (as even as I can make it). Since we homeschool on a sabbath schedule, we do six, six-week terms each year.  So those six portions get divided down further into six chunks. These chunks are what will be assigned each week.  Then I plot them on my spreadsheet. I love spreadsheets. :)

This is the whole year.  I can see exactly what will be assigned in each track for the whole year. This process really allows me to see if I've over-planned (almost always) or under-planned (almost never!).  From here, I can make decisions about subjects that are top priority, or subjects that are more elective and good for looping or only for half the year. This allows us to get a lot more done!  The top few subjects or courses are year-long things.  The further down you go, the more flexible I am with these subjects.  I have them on loops for certain days, and what's on here is what will be assigned for the term its listed under.  These are goals, and are held loosely. :) 

From the year overview, I move over to a term spreadsheet. Once I have one term's worth of work listed out in one column, it's pretty simple and straightforward to just break it up into six chunks and plan it over six weeks.  Once I see exactly what a week will consist of for them, I can see clearly if what I'm expecting and planning is reasonable for my kids. This is our first year with official middle school material, and I have been feeling like I've over-shot for them. When I started looking at the books, the amount of reading and work, I realized I had.  But if I reduce some of the less-necessary subjects and put them on a loop, we can still do a lot of what I had hoped to do. I wouldn't have known this if I hadn't taken a week this summer to look at each subject in-depthly. Then I would have been scrambling mid-year to figure out what to cut, where to go, how to make things work.  I know this because it's happened before.  I get totally de-railed. :)

At the same time, I plot out all the books the kids will read for every subject so I can get a feel for their reading load.  Of course, I have a spreadsheet for this as well. Since we kind of follow Tapestry of Grace, I set it up by 9-week Units. Since my older kids are getting most of their history from The Century by Peter Jennings this year, they will have a few biographies to read each unit alongside and that's about it. My younger kids have a longer reading list which will mostly be read aloud. Picking and choosing books ahead of time helps me have a real plan and not be overwhelmed with all the options. I've had years where I was just overwhelmed with all the books to the point that we hardly read any of them. :) Making a list before hand of the ones I really want to make sure we read helps me to work that list and get them read.

Hopefully this year, I won't get totally de-railed when things don't go to plan. I'll hold this plan loosely and be flexible, but it helps me keep my goals in sight.  I take what's on these spread sheets and just copy it onto the weekly assignments sheets in just a few minutes each Sunday afternoon...

How do you plan for the year? If you've never tried year-long or term planning like this, pick one subject and give it a try! See if it helps reduce your decisions and time spent on planning through the year.  It helps me reduce decisions mid-stream, eliminates pulling out all the books every six weeks (or even every weekend!) to decide what to do next.  With these spread sheets and a few hours over the summer, I have a plan for the whole year that allows me to just do the next thing every week. It frees me up to actually read many of the things the kids are reading and have meaningful conversation with them about it.  Less time planning, more time playing!