The halfway point of your homeschool year is a great time to check in with your kids about what's working — and what isn't.
One of the things I love about homeschooling is that we don’t have to slap a grade on everything—it’s empowering to operate outside a system that’s interested only in whether you got the right answer, not in what you’re actually learning or why you got a not-right answer or what’s interesting about questions that don’t come with a right answer. Not having grades opens you up to being wrong in a way that’s really healthy: A lot of learning happens in the spaces where we don’t get the right answer, and not stamping a grade on everything takes the stigma out of being wrong and puts the possibility back in.
But while grades as a sole measure of academic achievement are problematic, most people work harder and feel better about their work when they get a little feedback. Scheduling regular check-in sessions with your student can make a big difference in your student’s motivation and productivity—which, in turn, can help you feel like you’ve got things under control. So if you’re not giving grades, how do you give feedback?
* Set a specific time. (If you can put it on the schedule as regular thing—say, the first Monday of each month—even better.) It’s not that kids can’t respond to feedback any time, it’s just that people absorb feedback better when they know it’s coming. Scheduling a time also gives you and your child a chance to gather your thoughts and think about what you want to say.
- Two positives, one negative. Criticism gets a bad name because people tend to associate it with being negative, but real criticism digs into what’s good, too. My husband jokes about my “sandwich criticism” (one negative sandwiched between two positives), but research backs me up: If you team up negative and positive feedback, your listener is more likely to act on the feedback you are giving.
- Be specific. If you say, “You’re being kind of careless,” your student may not totally get what you’re trying to say. Instead, say, “I notice that you’re missing questions in math that you would probably catch if you went back and checked your work—I think you could really rock those questions if you committed to being more careful.” Another benefit of this is that you’re tying your criticism to a behavior and not to your child’s personality.
- Leave room for a response. Feedback shouldn’t be a one-way street, so leave space for your child to weigh in. Maybe he’s racing through math worksheets because they are so boring, or he may have missed a math concept so that he misses problems even when he goes back and checks them. It’s important to understand how your child feels about the feedback you’re giving—the good and the not-so-good.
- Leave it with something concrete. Try to come up with a specific plan of action to address challenges: Maybe your student will agree to double check five problems per lesson or to set a timer so that he’s spending at least five minutes per problem. It should be something that you can both agree on—if you want your student to change a behavior, it’s much easier when you have his buy-in. Take his opinion into account, too: If he says one reminder to check his work is fine but more feels like nagging, give his way a try.
Your challenge this week: Schedule a one-on-one feedback meeting with your student. Share two examples of great work and one thing she needs to work on—you can tweak this in the future, but in general, try to give more positive than negative feedback and don’t pile on too much information at once. Ask her to do the same for you: What are you doing great? What could you improve?
When I first began to homeschool, I did a small “graduation” for my son’s Kindergarten year because so many other people were doing something similar, but after I did it, that somehow felt wrong. I think a graduation should come at the very end of one’s education. But I still wanted to mark the end of our year so that the boys could see that they were progressing and accomplishing good things. That’s when I decided to do an end-of-the-year review where I’d simply showcase everything we had done that year.
I consider July the end of our school year, but I don’t worry about finishing the curriculum we’re using. While we do finish some items, there are many resources I just put a bookmark in and start where we left off in September. Also, on the official paperwork, I say our school year is from September 1 – August 31. By law, my boys are supposed to have 180 days of school each year during that time. I know I go over that amount, especially when you consider how full of learning our daily lives are.
Most of the work I do to mark the end of the year is quiet work I have to do by myself at my computer. This year, I’ve been hard pressed to work up the motivation to do this, but I am slowly getting it done!
First, I create a progress report for each of my boys. This is required by law in our state of Georgia. Briefly, this is how I do it:
On a piece of paper I list and make each area of study a heading. Under each heading, I create bullet points and list all the applicable curriculum my boys have completed (if we haven’t finished something, I note the pages we’ve completed); apps they’ve used; field trips; library books read on that subject; projects; outside classes, if any; and summer camps that support that area of study.
I also make comments on their progress such as: “The nine-year-old’s reading skills have greatly improved this year.” “The six-year-old is showing a growing interest in math.”
By law, I have to teach reading, language arts, math, science and social studies, so I always list those, but since I don’t have to show this progress report to anybody, I consider it a keepsake, and I list the other things I’m teaching too: art, Spanish, and physical education. I also make a separate heading for my boys’ major projects that year. For example, this year my son has been learning how to play the piano and also studying the composers and listening to a lot of classical music. So I made a heading where I can go in-depth on this topic.
The progress report is usually about two pages long and once I’m finished, I print it out and put it into a 3-ring binder, which I call their portfolios. I make these binders at the beginning of a year, and I put any documentation I have about their school year into it, such as brochures to museums we’ve visited or the programs to the classical concerts we’ve attended. I also keep our daily work charts in the binder as well.
After the progress report is complete, it’s time to start on the fun ritual I do every year, and that is make a slideshow of all our photos from that year. I’m a photographer, so I take lots of photographs of our field trips and the boys’ projects and everything else. (Though, I have to admit, I got lazy this year and mostly used my phone camera!)
Making a slideshow with hundreds of photos and several video clips is quite a chore. That’s why I have not yet completed this year’s slideshow. Last year, my husband helped me by adding music to it. Once we’re done, however, we put it on a DVD and we can send it to the boys’ grandparents. They love it!
We actually love sitting down to watch it too. The boys are delighted to see photos of projects that by now they’ve forgotten about! (Sometimes this review inspires them to go back and work more on something!) If we took a vacation or had relatives visit us during the year, I include those photos too. Although it’s a lot of work, it’s worth the effort to have our photos in an accessible place and not lost somewhere on an external drive!
When it comes time to watch the slideshow (which is usually in late July or – ahem – maybe mid-August this year), I gather our curriculum, portfolios and major projects the boys have been working on that year, and I lay them out on a table. I take a photo of the boys standing in front of their work, and (in lieu of a report card), I give them a certificate of completion for that year and sometimes a small gift (something educational that will help them with a project). Then we watch the slideshow.
And that’s it. That’s our end-of-the-year ritual.
After this, we take some time off in August because it’s time to celebrate both my boys’ birthdays. They are three years apart, but their birthdays are exactly one week apart. (I didn’t plan it that way!) Then in early September, we start our new school year, continuing what we didn’t finish and/or sometimes getting out some shiny new curriculum. I do nothing special to mark the first day of school. I think our end-of-year ritual + birthday celebrations are quite enough!
Writing down my end-year-old work makes it seem like a lot, but I assure you, except for making that @#$%! slideshow, it’s not too time-consuming. ;)
If you’re interested in seeing examples of some of the print-outs I mentioned in this post, they are available as free downloads on my personal blog.