Sunday, September 7, 2008

Questions From a Teacher

Another day, another blog with questions about homeschooling. This time the blogger, Jennie of The Perrys of West Seattle, is a teacher and over the course of two posts she explains that she's a little worried about us:

What bothers me is homeschooling 'teachers' think that ordering up some curriculum or taking their kid on a field trip and creating a diorama is equivalent to a great education. I wonder if they know about Blooms Taxonomy of learning behaviors? I wonder if they know about the backward design process called Understanding by Design and how to plan their lessons so true understanding occurs and standards are met. I wonder if they truly know if their child has come to understanding. Because I still struggle with that one.

Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning Behaviour and Understanding by Design are both conceptual frameworks. While they're very useful, they're formal framings of knowledge that most observant parents tend to develop. Reading up on both (I even found a page on Bloom's by a homeschooling parent!) I found little that was unfamiliar or earthshaking. The simple fact is that the knowledge those ideas contain is not sealed away from discovery by amateurs. It took study and observation to come up with the ideas and that's something most homeschooling parents (most parents period) do every day.

The idea that true understanding can only be divined by those with knowledge of Bloom's Taxonomy is a little strange as well and really demands some support. It would seem to be contradicted by the fact that learning and teaching have been going on for quite a long stretch of time before Bloom's contribution. Jenny does address this in a comment:

People have been learning for a long time, but we are in such a different world now. The jobs of today and tomorrow require so much more than teaching the 'old school' way. This is the crux of my viewpoint.

But that's wrong. She isn't talking about training for modern jobs (whatever that entails) when she brings up understanding; she's talking about deeply wried processes of learning that have been a part of the human experience for thousands of years. Evolution doesn't work in a generation or two or happen because micro-processors were invented. How we learn and how we understand haven't undergone a radical change in the last half-century and many of the 'old school' ways will be just as valid as they were a century ago or two millenia ago precisely because of that.

There's no question that some of the jobs of today require different skills but where's the support for the idea that in order to learn those modern skills we need a radical departure from learning and teaching styles of the past?

Jenny does ask this question:

My point was, how do homeschooling parents obtain the specialized information about what constitutes real learning?

The same way parents have always done, by observation. Also, by the experience of learning ourselves. Throw in bookstores, Google, and libraries and I'm a bit confuzzled as to why someone thinks homeschooling parents could avoid such information. Teaching degrees don't come with a secret passcard to knowledge that the general public can never access. At least non of the teachers I've known have admitted to that.

Another point from Jennie:

What about reading for understanding and writing with competency AND loving every minute of it. That takes specialized information that I have gather, created and tweaked (and still am) over my years of teaching.

You mean, just like many homeschooling parents have done? I've been homeschooling for 5 years now. She really can't be saying that she imagines that in that time I put no work or research into what I'm doing.

My last beef with Jennie has to do with selection bias. Her primary experience with homeschoolers and the experience from which she's forming her judgement that our children may lack deeper understanding comes from the, "4 homeschooled students come into my class in the last 6 years."

Where, I ask, do kids end up when homeschooling hasn't been successful for them? In school. Where do the kids for whom homeschooling has been a whopping success for generally not end up? In school. Deciding what homeschooling must be like based on those 4 children is like an emergency room doctor deciding that walking is inherently dangerous because all he ever sees are slip-and-fall injuries. There's an inherent bias at work and Jenny hasn't recognized it.

If you go over, go easy on her. She's written politely and graciously and would probably benifit more from a thoughtful refutation then a take-down. Besides, from the picture in her sidebar it looks like she has an absolutely gorgeous little boy (seriously cute, baby-crave-inducing cute. Be warned!) and so I'm betting that with a few more years of parenting under her belt she'll start to get how a parent can assess real understanding without an education degree.


Jacqueline said...

Excellent points, yet again!

Not June Cleaver said...

I went to her blog. I considered responding, particularly the part about whether homeschooled kids can meet state standards and be prepared for the workforce. She's blissfully unaware that there are homeschooled adults around her, and that thousands of homeschooled kids are happily and successfully working their way through college right now. It's an old issue that I'm just too busy (and tired) to deal with right now. We're not going to change her "masters in education" mind about this, so why bother?

BTW, if she reads this and clicks over to my blog, she'll LOVE my recent post about unschooling angst. That will be great blog fodder for her. Imagine a parent NOT forcing her kids to learn math! The horror.

The other thing she is not considering are the myriad of ways homeschoolers "teach" kids. It is not all mom at the kitchen table. We take classes, join co-ops, share resources, etc.

I'm sure she is a wonderful teacher. Probably the best. But the fact is, teaching credentials are for classrooms. School models don't really fit homeschooling. They are two completely separate ways of educating. BOTH generally result in successful adults (and I say generally because we all know that schooled kids aren't always prepared for life either).

Jennie said...

Jennie here. Didn't realize there were so many bad feeling here.

I have to say, I am relieved and impressed with this blog.

I hope you all realized that "I" realize that my assumptions about homeschoolers are skewed. That's one reason why I made my post about this. I am not naive. My blog is a personal blog not a professional one, hence the tone.

I don't think that "teaching knowledge comes with a secret password that homeschoolers or the general public couldn't access". My thought was, how MANY of the homeschoolers take the time to read up on this type of information. Thankfully, it sounds like some might.

We come from two different camps, plain and simple. I'm not here to change anyone's mind. My post was more a self reflection of how hard I work, how much I care (even though it doesn't seem like homeschool parents feel that we do) about my students and how much work has gone into developing my craft.

On the topic of 'people have been learning for a long time', I can't really comment to this audience. I know what I know about brain research and how it relates to 'better' ways of teaching. I feel that these is some close-mindedness in this audience on this topic so just as the previous ommenter said, I'm just too busy and too tired to deal with it right now.

I sort of feel like I'm in the middle of the democratic party during primary season. We ARE both on the same side, we just have different ways of getting there.

I wish you all good luck in your homeschooling endeavors and appreciate the conversation.

molytail said...

My post was more a self reflection of how hard I work, how much I care (even though it doesn't seem like homeschool parents feel that we do) about my students and how much work has gone into developing my craft.

Jenny, that's a broad brush you're using there. Sure, there are *some* home educating parents who have very little respect for public school teachers as a whole, but they certainly don't represent all of us. I've had my kids in the public school system (in fact, I have one in and one out currently) and I can attest to there being some excellent teachers out there - I know many other homeschoolers who would agree. Unfortunately, those fantastic teachers are trying to work within a flawed system - it's a bit like putting a fabulous gardener in the midst of the sahara and expecting her to grow beautiful rose bushes. ;-)

molytail said...

JennIE -- sorry about the Y! :-)

Dawn said...

Jennie - Apologies for spelling your noame wrong. I will edit my post.

And thanks for reading my reply! I think you'll find that most committed homeschoolers read up on issues surrounding learning. I have no doubt there's a certain population that doesn't but then I have no doubt that without such interest and research, they probably don't last too long in the homeschooling sphere. I keep thinking that your experience with former homeschoolers in your classroom may be a reflection of that.

Anyhow, feel free to hang out here and explore some of the blog on the sidebar if you're curious about homeschooling!

Sunniemom said...

First, Jennie doesn't realize what an anomaly she is. Sorry, but for as many teachers that are as dedicated and conscientious as she is, there are dozens that hate teaching, can't stand kids, and just totally suck. I had a few of them myself, and meet them on a regular basis. School is not a guarantee that a child's teacher will be using the methods and continuing their own education in the ways that Jennie has outlined. I know if I mentioned Bloom's Taxonomy to some teachers, they ask me if I was planning on having an animal stuffed or something.

Second, I have a teaching degree and use almost nothing I learned in college in our home education program. What I have learned about education that has benefited me most has been from seeking advice from experienced educators (who were not necessarily licensed teachers), by reading literature from a variety of sources about child psychology and development, the learning process, etc...and by doing.

Fourth- home education self-selects for involved parents. Parents who realize HSing ain't their cup o' tea send their kids back to school. Go figure.

Third, she's right- you can't know what you don't know. She doesn't know what it's like to home educate, so she can only speak of her doubts based on her assumptions and lack of knowledge of the subject. That's ok- we all do that to some extent about things we don't understand or have no experience with.

'Not agreeing with' is not the same as 'being closed-minded' however. People *have* been learning all through history, and I'd stack Franklin's and Jefferson's and Edison's educations up against the current fads in schools any day.

Jennie said...

Again, thanks for the conversation everyone. I'm now looking at homeschooling with new eyes. Keep up the great work!

concernedCTparent said...

Jennie, I'm wondering if you're familiar with Dan Willingham. I think you might just find his research quite riveting.

Thank you for keeping an open mind. Homeschoolers really are nothing like the stereotypes floating around out there, and it's nice to see one more person is on the road to understanding that.

Not June Cleaver said...

concernedctparent, that is a great way of putting it "on the road to understanding." We can't change minds on either side, but we can become more informed and give up the stereotypes.

Dawn said...

Last chance...I think there should be a blog or site where teacher-turned-homeschoolers can share their experiences and how their trained and classroom experience helped or harmed their homeschooling. I think someone who is a teacher-homeschooler should do this but if no one wants to then I am!

Not June Cleaver said...

I have met several former teachers in our homeschool group. The one that I asked this question to said there is really nothing she does at home that resembles her classroom.

I would love to read other teachers' experiences.

lorraine m said...

The teachers-turned-homeschoolers I know have told me that it was mostly all about group management and applying those masters degree "educating methods" in order to try to get the info retained when really there was no interest, no desire for retention and too many learning styles that required a certain skill at blending several methods in one lesson. Now that they homeschool all classroom methods are unnecessary. Two of them even unschool.

Dana said...

Hey, I'm a teacher turned homeschooler! Can I contribute? I am even a teacher who thought homeschoolers were completely whacked turned homeschooler.

Teaching is hard. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Coming from that standpoint, I can definitely empathize with teachers who wonder how or if parents really have what they need to do it.

It is hard to step outside your experience. And to realize that as much as you love your students and sacrifice your time, energy and money for them, parents have yet a deeper bond with their kids. Teachers see a lot of parents who don't seem to care one way or another, but they don't typically choose homeschooling.

And my education degree didn't help me much at home. My teaching experience really didn't either, except for helping to know what to expect and the confidence to attempt it in the first place.