This is a question I started asking myself when my oldest kids were in middle school. People would find out that I homeschooled, and then say something like, “Well, your kids are older, so that probably frees you up,” as if to say, “You must have plenty of free time on your hands. I bet your house is clean and you fix delicious meals and work out regularly.”
Well, no, I didn’t! At first I was a little embarrassed. I put a lot of time into working with my kids, especially on writing, and on math, my personal albatross. Why didn’t I have more of this free time that I supposedly had coming to me?
And then that wonderful skill that we hear so much about, “critical thinking,” kicked in. Some people send their kids five days a week, for eight hours a day, to a special facility equipped with trained professional staff to teach them. Were those kids sitting all day long studying by themselves?
Of course, the answer is, “No!” It takes an entire team of people 40 hours a week to teach those students. But mine apparently were…so brilliant, so weird, so something, that I shouldn’t have to break a sweat teaching them…because they were homeschooled.
Learning Is a Team Sport
So why do people, even homeschool parents themselves, assume that homeschool students ought to be self-learners, self-starters, lovers of academics? Homeschoolers are just ordinary people with all the different personalities and quirks and talents and shortcomings that ordinary people have.
Now, to be sure, some kids love nothing better than reading, writing novels, doing advanced math, and teaching themselves Russian. I actually had one student who had written novels before she even started Level 1 and was also teaching herself Russian, so I know they exist, and I love that they exist. Most students, however, even totally grown adults, need help and external motivation.
The best kind of instruction, and the most natural, utilizes the pedagogy of imitation, in which the teacher directs the student, by instruction and demonstration, in the correct use of the skills, followed by repeated practice by and correction of the student.
How I Would Do It If…
On that note, here is what I would do if I was teaching my Writing to Learn courses in a brick-and-mortar, 5-day-a-week school. (I wouldn’t be allowed to, of course, because I would have to do things according to the state school board’s standards, which would not produce the results that I get with my method.)
I would do exactly what I do in my classes. The difference would be that instead of the students doing the writing assignment at home over each two week period, they would be doing it in my classroom: one day for the lesson, nine days for the writing.
A Small Daily Task
On Lesson Day, I would teach the lesson for the assignment that the students would be working on over the next two weeks. This is what we do on class days in Writing to Learn.
The next day, Day 1 of the 9-Day To-Do List (assignment sheet), they would begin their Key Word Outline for the first paragraph. I would walk around the room, checking on everyone’s progress, keeping people on task, correcting those who needed correcting and helping those who were struggling. For the students staring blankly into space, I would ask questions and give them choices about what to write, and have them pick one of the choices. Even choosing helps to put down chemical pathways in the brain so the next time becomes easier.
Most of the day’s assignment would be finished during that class time. Anything left to be finished would be completed as “homework” that night, but ideally the student would finish it during class. No homework would be assigned on school days or weekends unless the student had work that was not finished in class.
On Days 2-9, they would be writing paragraphs or working on other Key Word Outlines. I would follow the same procedure each of the nine days, using the 9-Day To-Do Lists (assignment sheets) as I actually have them laid out in my curriculum.
Helping Is NOT Cheating
This is the same procedure my students should experience at home under the guidance of the Parent Editor. Some students need more help than others. Some students must be guided with almost every word for a while. Other students need to be directed to stay on task, and others need only minimal editing. It is not “cheating” to help a student to the extent necessary.
So do not feel guilty if your student needs help. School is not a do-it-yourself thing for students.
Some of my best memories are from our homeschool days, and the bad days — yes, we had plenty of those, too — have faded. Try to enjoy the process of teaching and working with your students, because it will be over sooner than it feels like now.