Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Does the secret lie with Charlotte??

(OK, who wants to tell me the movie reference in the title of this post? I don't have anything to give you as a prize, except the satisfaction in being as goofy as me, and my husband who inspired the title)

As promised, I am going to blog about Reece's test results. She was given the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement last Friday. I was able to observe the testing and I had been pleased to see that she handled everything quite well. Not only was I glad that she felt competent (which was the purpose for doing this test instead of just having me administer the ITBS at home) but I could be assured that the results would be more accurate. I noticed, and the tester noticed, that she gave up easily with more difficult tasks. However, this was not accompanied by a meltdown, which I see as a very positive indication.

The results were very encouraging! I knew there would be some "below grade level" areas. Math would be one, as would spelling and writing. We simply haven't focused on spelling and original writing that much following the Charlotte Mason approach. And math had been a real struggle for Reece until we found RightStart Mathematics. These things considered, Reece scored a 2.5 GE in writing, and a 2.9 GE in spelling, and anywhere from 2.9 to 3.5 GE on various math tests.

Let me take a moment just in case anyone doesn't understand what is meant by a GE. GE stands for "Grade Equivalent". It means that Reece performed on this test the way you would expect someone in that grade/month to perform on the same test. So Reece is considered to currently be at 3.9 - third grade, 9th month. Her writing score of 2.5 GE indicates that she performed on this test the way you would expect someone in the 2nd grade, 5th month to perform. So the child who completed the "first grade" math book for Right Start (which is the grade level B is designed to be used for) tested in the late 2nd grade to mid third grade range in math. Her overall math score was 3.4. Not too shabby at all, if you ask me.

One funny note about the math before I move on: she would not attempt anything that "looked" hard on the written math test. I had tried to explain simply multiplication to her the week before the test because she has been skip-counting, which is multiplication in it's most rote form. But she was just frustrated and overwhelmed by it. No biggie. But during the oral portion of the math test where she was having to solve problems, she had a problem which required the use of division. She solved this problem easily. I told her after her test that she used division without even knowing it and she was quite pleased with herself. So RightStart is helping with mathematical thinking! Ok, moving on.

Her reading scores were even more surprising. Her overall reading score was 4.8 (4th grade, 8th month). That doesn't mean she's reading on nearly a 5th grade level, remember. It simply means she performed above average... how a nearly 5th grader would be expected to perform. This was surprising to me because she does not like to read and she gets easily frustrated by it. Letter-word identification and reading fluency were both 4.7, so this shows me that she just needs to gain confidence in her reading. She seems to be right on target!

By far the biggest surprise came in the category of "Story Recall" and "Story Recall - Delayed". In the first test, the tester read a story and Reece was asked to retell the story with as many details as she could remember. This was done fairly early in the process, maybe the 2nd or 3rd section. Then after the rest of the tests were over, the tester part of the first sentence of each story again, and Reece had to retell as many details as she could remember. Sound familiar? OK, you ready for those scores? Story recall: >13.3 and Story Recall - Delayed: >17.8.

Um, that would be COLLEGE level equivalents. From my autistic rising 4th grader. Narration works. And not only does it work, it ROCKS!! Can you see it in the scores?? It's right there in black and white!

So as my husband said after reading these results... "Maybe the secret lies with Charlotte?" ;)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Testing, testing...

No, this is not a test! The tests have actually all been completed this year! ;)

The state of Georgia mandates that we administer a standardized test at the end of 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th grades. That means that Riley and Reece were due for some testing. Austin had comprehensive testing done back in the winter, which wasn't required by law, but I did to give me a fresh look at his current abilities before we begin high school. I blogged about his results here.

Reece was tested privately by the same lady who tested Austin in the winter, however, we only did the achievement tests (Woodcock-Johnson) and not the comprehensive testing. I will be able to blog about her results when I receive them in a few days, but the testing experience itself went much better than I had anticipated. Reece didn't have a single meltdown while we were there. She worked very, very hard! From just what I was able to observe, her results will be a pleasant surprise.

Riley's ITBS results came in the mail on Friday. She had tested with a group for the first time this year, mostly due to the struggles we've been having recently. I did not feel like I had to patience to administer the test with her one-on-one, and I felt like she could use a group testing experience. I was anticipating a slight dip in her test scores, just because the last year or two (mostly the last year) she has been very difficult to teach. She argues, cries, refuses to do her work - her energy has been spent trying to get out of doing work, rather than buckling down and learning. I have alluded to our struggles, but have only really scratched the surface. The onset of puberty has not been pleasant at the Black Pearl Academy, to say the least.

So her scores came in, and while they are still quite high and in the "above average" range (for all but math... more on that in a bit), they are still below what I know she is capable of. I've been assured that this could be related to puberty, or the fact that it was the first time testing in a group and she was being VERY social, or other factors, but it still frustrates me. I know she's capable of so much. I wish she would apply herself and focus. She is so smart.

Math is one area that is going to have to be fixed, however. Her scores in math went way down. Down to right in the middle of the average range. I'm simply not comfortable with that, especially with Algebra right around the corner. I think I'm going to need to switch to different math curriculum. She didn't used to need lots of practice and review, but apparently that has changed. I want to make sure she is completely confident with arithmetic, even if that means that we end up pushing Algebra back to 9th grade. :(

I have been battling with negative thoughts all weekend. I am blaming myself. I used to joke that I had Riley's excellent test scores to remind me that I wasn't a complete failure as a homeschooler. Well, guess what? Yeah.

I wish I could go back to the days when homeschooling was just fun and there wasn't so much pressure.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

We have lists!

In a feat that is nothing short of a miracle, the book lists are done and the shopping lists are prepared. I am ready to begin purchasing our materials for school year 2011-2012, aka 9th grade, 7th grade, and 4th grade! I'm going to wait to order until after the 4th of July to avoid all the holiday craziness.

Also, I did decide to enroll Austin in the science class. We are both excited!

More details on the plans will come this week! :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Do we need a little class?

I'm truly making headway with our book lists for the fall. I am trying to keep a balance for Austin between reading the classic great books and reading adaptations or historical fiction. Ancient works of literature can be challenging, and I want him to be able to understand what he's reading so he can make connections with the story. So far, I want him to read and/or listen to a translation of Gilgamesh, the Iliad/Odyssey, and the Last Days of Socrates. Those classics, along with the historical fiction and mythology, will be quite sufficient.

I am considering having us use the Windows to the World program from IEW, as an introduction to literary analysis. I say "us" because I would buy a student book and complete the curriculum alongside Austin. Lit analysis is one of my weakest areas, and one that I never really understood in school, so I could take this opportunity to work through it with Austin! I'm just not sure how true to CM's principles it would be. I need to research that.

Now, about the 'class' that I mention in the title. A few days ago, a post came across our local homeschooling yahoogroup about a lady offering high school level science classes in the home of a lady who lives 10 minutes from my house. Her name had been recommended to me by a long-time homeschooler, so I took the time to email her and ask her a few questions about the appropriateness of her class for Austin.

She answered all of my questions favorably, basically telling me that any child who works hard and gives their best effort (whatever that might be) will pass her class. They will have homework, but the once per week 90 minute class time will be discussion and lab oriented. Tests will be sent home and administered by the parent "in the way the parent deems most appropriate." I did ask if she would be comfortable with him not participating a lot, especially at the beginning. Austin is very quiet while he assesses a new situation, and I wouldn't want him to be penalized for this. She said if he was asked a question, and he wasn't comfortable speaking, he could simply shake his head and she would move on. (When I told Austin this, he said, "Well, that would appear rude, so I think I would just try to answer the question in the best way I can." You know I loved that response!!!)

I've been securing Austin's input during this entire process, forwarding him the emails from the teacher. He is concerned that the work will be too hard. I assured him that I would be able to help him in any way that he needs with his homework, and we would prepare for the weekly class as best we can. I truly think this could be a good experience for Austin. If he wants to go to college, he will need to be able to work in a classroom situation, and the way this class is set up seems to resemble a college class setup somewhat (preparing the material outside of class and using class time for discussion and hands-on work). The price is reasonable and the teacher is experienced and knowledgeable.

I will be praying over this decision and discussing it with Austin and my husband.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Worldly Expections

Well, this has been an interesting morning. I blogged the post below right before I left for church. Literally. I clicked "Publish Post" and we walked out the door.

The sermon series this month is on the book of Hebrews. Today's sermon was on Hebrews 2: 1-4 specifically:

(A Warning against Drifting Away)
1 So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. 2 For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. 3 So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4 And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.

Towards the end of the sermon, our pastor started speaking about Peter and how we always talk about how he sank in the water when he took his eyes off Jesus, which is true - but why don't we focus on the fact that Peter WALKED ON WATER. He was listening to Jesus and following the truth. It wasn't until he was distracted by the world around him - by the expectations of the world - that he panicked.

Pause for a minute and think on that.

Am I the only one making the connection between this message and my blog post?

My stress about high school is all about the world's expectations. I think that's natural, though. For the first time, our home school is held up to a standard - in an area where those standards have been plastered all over the news for the last 6 months or so. Austin has special needs and would certainly have an IEP in school, I suspect. But I'm really not familiar enough with 'the system' to understand how that would apply to our situation. And now that he has tested "in the normal range" I feel like I am really at a loss.

But maybe this morning's sermon is a reminder not to FOCUS on the world's expectations. Teach Austin. Teach Riley. Teach Reece. God gave them to me (us) for this purpose. Going by the world's expectations I brought a child from the low range to the average range in 5 school years, so I must be doing something right. But that isn't my true purpose - to look good on tests and get good SAT scores and get into colleges. That isn't the entire meaning for our home school.

My purpose is to raise a young man and two young women to fulfill their God-given purpose in life. They need to have an academic education, to be sure, but they also need to have a deep, strong relationship with their Heavenly Father. They need to know that there is a purpose for their lives, and that they can trust and depend on God to take care of them. Worldly things will come and go. Standards will change with the whims of the generations. But a person who has a strong character and work ethic, who cares about other people and the world around him, and who has a strong applied faith - that's the sort of person that I want to be able to raise.

Ugh, there is that "I" part again. It's so easy to make it about me. If my kids are successful, it sure would make me look good, wouldn't it? I shudder to think that this is where my true problem lies - in my own vanity. I do truly in my heart want my children to have whatever future they want to have. And I do not want it to be that they cannot do something they want to do because I did not properly prepare them. But this really should not be about me "looking good" to others. And I pray that my apprehension when it comes to high school is NOT related to that. It IS a huge responsibility - but to God and to my children. It's not about me.

Maybe if I fix my eyes on Jesus, I can walk on water, too?

One day I will look back on all of this and laugh, right?

I wish I could convey how completed freaked out I am about homeschooling high school. It's gone completely beyond the "Oh, here goes Niffercoo flipping out about education plans again - must be June" to "I think Niffercoo might seriously be having a break down about high school."

I think it all came to a climax yesterday when I threw myself face-down onto the bed and started to sob. My poor husband just patted me on the back.

The "plan" that I came up with last week (and proudly announced on Facebook) is simply not doable with the the number of children I have who need individual instruction. Austin is actually going to need MORE of my attention this year, especially at the beginning of the year. I'm sad to say that I have really not required as much from him as I should have in the last few years. This past year was better, but my expectations for output (oral or written) have been lax. I'm seeing the results of this poor execution now. So we have some back-tracking to do to make sure some skills are in place. He despises oral narration because his expressive language delays make it hard to get OUT what is inside his head, and it's frustrating for him. Because I don't like to see him frustrated, I haven't worked enough in the ZPD (getting him to the edge of his competency where LEARNING takes place) - and this has been a mistake. I can see myself doing this same thing with Reece already, so as usual, she will benefit from my mistakes with her brother! ;) I will be requiring much more in the way of narration from ALL of the kids this coming school year.

I'm going to regroup this week and think in terms of the practical - what can I manage to do, and do it well. I do think we'll be returning to the Ancients for our history and literature, even though I really don't want to. I feel like we've "been there, done that" because we started and stopped ancients so much, but I don't think the kids will feel that way. In fact, Reece was only 6 when we did ancients last (and we flew through it, only spending half a year on all of ancient history), so I'm not sure she remembers much at all (aside from the stuff she's picked up from Percy Jackson and the Kane Chronicles! LOL).

I'll really be glad when I have a plan I can live with!

Monday, June 06, 2011

I'm baaack!

My two week mental break has come and gone. Actually, it ended up being more like a three week mental break, because last week my mental energy went to preparing for my first triathlon. But that is behind me now, and today I begin to refocus on our education plans for 2011-2012.

This will be our 10th year of home education, and I will find myself with a 9th grader with special needs; a 7th grader in the midst of puberty; and a 4th grader with special needs. The mere fact that I can type out that previous sentence proves that I have made at least one education decision already - we ARE going to homeschool in 2011-2012. For the first time since 2002, I found myself seriously considering placing everyone into public school (we cannot afford private school). So, since that foundational decision is made, it's time to move on to the next step.

What are we going to study next year?

I. don't. know!! ;)

I wish that were an acceptable answer! LOL Unfortunately, it isn't.

My goal for this week is to come up with an acceptable answer to that question! Of course, I'll keep you posted!