"Intellectual distinction is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for election to a Rhodes Scholarship. Selection committees are charged to seek excellence in qualities of mind and in qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead. The Rhodes Scholarships, in short, are investments in individuals rather than in project proposals..."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A fork in the road...

The last month and a half have been fraught with worry and much self reflection.  I've kept my posts to reviews of late because I needed to reassess where I wanted to go with this blog.  For the most part, this blog is about me and my journey of self-education and the homeschool education I am helping my children attain.  But I've reached a fork in the road.

I learned early on in my career as homeschool teacher is that I can't teach my kids anything they don't want to learn.  My talk on motivation covers that in spades and I've got the research to back it up...they will learn something they don't want to learn to earn a grade or pass a test, but will most likely forget it if it is not of interest or not made of interest to them.  We, as a race, are pretty selfish in that respect, but it is all part of God's plan, I think.  He gives us all different interests for a reason.  We all can't be interested in the same thing or we wouldn't survive.  We can't all be doctors or engineers.

One thing I was not prepared for, in this homeschooling journey, was hurdles.  BC (Before children) I taught adults and developed curriculum.  I figured I had this "teaching thing" down pat.  Kids must be easier.  I faced difficulties that I assumed were much greater teaching adults, like being a very young diminutive female teaching men in a positions that were predominantly occupied by older male know-it-alls.  I taught UNIX system and network administrators at the upper level of their professions.  Remember the SNL skits done by Jimmy Fallon as the system guy, Nick Burns?

That's the type I'm talking about.  To be fair, not all my students were like that, but many were.
Who knew that teaching kids would be/could be harder than THAT?  Certainly not me!
But, that's good.  I love a challenge.  I just wasn't prepared for so many.

So, you may ask what those challenges were?  For many homeschoolers, they were just normal things like morning sickness that lasted all day and pregnancy fatigue that made me not want to do school - at all! Or, a parent who was terminally ill and had no one but me in town to care for them.  Or unemployment which made schooling the way I wanted to not easy, requiring creative curriculum methods, and illness and health issues on my part that knocked me on my backside.  But those were my challenges...more difficult were things that affected my kids learning like learning disabilities, mindset issues and boredom.

Why am I writing ALL this?  Because I've reached a fork in the road and the tone of this blog will be changing.  Up until now, I've purposely not explained my interest in special needs, though I've gotten lots of experience with it over the last ten years.  My son, who is 14 1/2, has had vision problems since he was one.  He's had surgeries, glasses, vision therapy, occupational therapy, and neurological therapy to work through issues he's had that have affected his vision and fine motor skills.  I've done a lot of accommodating, correcting, adjusting curriculum and environment to make learning easier for him.  It's paid off.  He's a smart kid who loves to learn and is a hard worker, but I can't take too much credit for that because he's the one who has chosen to learn.  I had chalked up his need for lots of different learning accommodations to his vision issues.  When your eyes don't work, other senses try to make up for that difficulty.  My son is an auditory/tactile-kinesthetic right-brained learner for whom adjustments have been made to meet his distinctly different and individual needs.

I knew that as college testing loomed ahead of us he would need some accommodations for testing.  I knew, even after all the work we've done, he might need more time to finish his tests and the written essay portion would be next to impossible for him.  A good friend of mine who is an Orton-Gillingham professional, recommended that I have him tested for learning disabilities before he started taking ACTs or SATs.  They will not give accommodations without a clinical diagnosis.

So last month he endured twelve long hours of neuro-cognitive testing as well as filling out several questionnaires outside that in-office testing time.  I spent time filling out forms, finding copies of previous years' standardize test results, and pouring through all his medical records and therapy records to provide the psychologist with a complete picture of his academic and neuro-cognitive development.  Then we waited three long weeks for all the tests to be scored and a diagnosis to be made, if necessary.  And in that time, I worried and questioned my methods and made myself and my husband crazy, wondering - did I do enough, could I have done more, what would the psychologist say, how would my son score?  During that time of self-reflection, I also worried how my son would handle any news he received.

Two weeks ago my husband and I met with the psychologist to receive the results.  We purposely chose to take some time to reflect on how to share the news with our son and to decide how best to adjust things as we continue with the challenge of high school before sharing that news with him.
So, if you have read this far, God bless you for your patience. 

Here's what we found.  While my son is gifted in some areas, he was diagnosed with AD/HD, a diagnosis I, up until now have despised.  I'll get to that in a minute.  The other diagnosis was dysgraphia.  That was no surprise.  When he works at it, his penmanship is legible, but large.  With lots of work and concentration, he can do copywork well.  However, he just can't write extemporaneously.  But, he can type.

The funny thing was that my husband, who has had to deal with my anxiety over all this, realized that as he listened to the psychologist's recommendations, that I was doing almost all those things he recommended.  On the way out, he said that if we didn't need that "clinical diagnosis" for our son's benefit during ACTs and SATs, he would have wondered why we were there.  I needed to hear that.
Yesterday, I had the conversation with my son.  We talked about what will change in his schooling to make things better for him and allow him to better reach his potential.  We will also be making different accommodations and I will learn to embrace AD/HD.  I asked his permission to write about it here.  He said that if it helped other people, he was okay with it.  He's my hero.  This kid will do great things.  I know it.

By the way, the reason I hate the AD/HD label is because it's used as a derogatory term,  not as a clinical term, by people not qualified to make that diagnosis.  I have one acquaintance that I remember saying ALL boys have AD/HD...like it was the plague.  She has only girls.  I have kids with AD/HD besides this kid, boy(s) and girl(s) and some that do not...it's not the plague.  I also hate it because I know I have ADD and, while no one ever told me, I knew something was different about me and how I went about things.  Reading the book You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! made the world of difference to me because I've gone through life feeling out of sync and constantly trying to adjust my organization skills to fit in with the normal people.  I used to beat myself up over not being able to organize my kitchen like my sister or keep my house clean the way my friends do.  I have other gifts.  I still struggle with it, though.

So, I will be changing the tone of this blog.   You will find plenty of blogs about homeschooling normal kids.  I will be embracing my smart 2e kids (Twice Exceptional is the clinical term, 2e the short hand).   And, I will be writing more about adjusting things in the homeschool to better accommodate those kids who don't learn the same way other kids do, but are just as smart, and just as important as the rest. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Review of Macbeth - A Video Enhanced iBook from Providence eLearning

This was the fourth book I reviewed for Providence eLearning as a consulting project, and the fourth I will review here.

My daughter just finished a student review of this book for Providence eLearning.  I didn't want to review it before she finished because I didn't want my review to influence her opinion of the book.

I love Shakespeare.  However, I've read Shakespeare for pleasure and not because I was required read it in school.  One disappointing aspect of my education was that I really read very little GOOD classical literature in high school.  I had more good literature in Catholic middle school I attended (thank you, Mrs. Schlub!)  I grew up in the age of Judy Bloom.  Instead of reading Shakespeare, we read Rumblefish.  I don't despise Youth Literature.  However, I think it should be pleasure reading, not required reading.  Shakespeare should be required reading.  The reason Shakespeare isn't required is because people fear it and because there are not many good literature teachers out there that can bring Macbeth to kids in the way Mr. William Lasseter does in the iBooks available from Providence eLearning. 

Providence eLearning's Macbeth utilizes many of the great features of iBooks.  All iBooks have auto define, highlighting, note taking, etc.  However, added features of Providence's iBooks include narration by Mr. Lasseter as well as video interpretation of the text. His voice and teaching skills are truly showcased by this book. There is also a hypertext glossary of many of the more difficult or archaic terminology as well as character descriptions and relationships.  Also, the video production values are great. There are also questions to "Check Your Understanding" after each video interpretation.

And, don't think that technology spoils the beauty of a Shakespeare tale.  Besides being able to listen to Macbeth as if it were a play (because Mr. Lasseter changes his voice for different characters), it features some old illustrations that I really enjoyed. 

This month, I was struck by how much my kids really need iBooks like this.  I am a big fan of Socratic discussions.  However, I can't always get other homeschooling kids the same as my kids on board to read the same books we are reading at the same time.  And running four different book clubs while leading a group of high school students through the Iliad and the Odyssey, I just didn't have the bandwidth to cover these titles with my kids.   So we don't have discussion groups for the extra books.  The kids appreciate Mr. Lasseter's reflections and interpretations of the text.

I highly recommend this iBook for high school students because of the level of vocabulary and dark themes.   

Monday, December 3, 2012

Classically Catholic Memory - Memory work worth doing


A friend recently emailed me asking what I thought of doing CCM (Classically Catholic Memory) in terms of Anthony Esolen's most excellent book Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child that I reviewed a few years ago.  I love Esolen's work for many reasons, but mostly because he was able to articulate many things I thought and felt, but could not properly put down on paper.  That's why I read books like his.  I knew I would agree.  His book gave me the words and arguments to support my opinions.

Now, one must remember that Esolen's book is ironic, like Screwtape writing letters to his nephew, Wormwood, in the Screwtape letters.  So, it requires you to look at his advice as contrary to your desired goal.  In the first chapter, he talks about Mr. Gradgrind in Hard Times.  Mr. Gradgrind asks Cissy (who is a horse breaker's daughter) what a horse is.  She is unable to answer him.  Mr. Gradgrind declares she knows no facts about horses.  Esolen warns about the danger of facts :-).  In fact on page 8 he asks,"of what use to us now are Facts? Surely in the case of homeschooled boys, we have seen Facts run amok."  He spends the entire chapter bemoaning anyone learning facts, because once you learn a fact you might actually learn more about the subject!  Oh no!  So the danger he is really pointing out is memorizing the facts only.
If you have a right brain kid, memorizing is hard work.  The way you get it to work is to explain the big picture and drill down to the fact they are memorizing, which not only helps them (whole->parts learning) but also give them the context about why they are memorizing this information.
CCM is not focused on just memorizing the facts.  It's learning the why's and what's about the facts. So, our CCM classes are not simply rote memorization.  They are not just about reciting the facts.  Our class time each week is spent explaining why we are memorizing these things and in what context the facts exist.  We are not just chanting and reciting...
This week, in fact, WEEK 7, if you are wondering, we were able to make many connections about things the kids have learn within the context of Religion, Timeline, Geography and History.  The Science class, the most interesting so far, keeps building on fact they have already learned, broadening their horizons in areas I've never approached with my kids on my own.  How many homeschoolers do you know have dissected an earthworm and lived to tell about it?  We have.  And, really looking at the earthworm hearts wasn't nearly as interesting as the looks on all the kids' faces.  The kids really will remember that forever.
So, is CCM just about facts?  No.  It could be, but with the right teachers and kids with the right attitude, it is not.
"A fact may not be much, by itself, but it points toward what is true, and even the humblest truth may in time lead a mind to contemplate the beautiful and the good..."