June 18, 2013

Story in a Bag: Creative Writing

We're pushing through our last few weeks of school here at Linwood Academy.  I'm trying to make it as interesting as possible for the boys, because we are all soooo ready for a break.  But we have a few more things to finish up before we clear our kitchen table of all the books, papers, markers, erasers, pencils, and random crumbs and scraps.

This week, a creative writing project.  

I can't take full credit for this idea.  Creative Pinterest users inspired it.  (If you don't know what Pinterest is, you should absolutely go check it out.  You will thank me.)

I merged a story prompts idea with a blank book report form to create this project, which I'm dubbing Story in a Bag.

To begin, I foraged through the jungle that is my boys' bedroom and collected ten small objects (five for each boy), which I then placed into plastic gallon zipper bags labeled "Story Bag".  I didn't get fancy with the bags, but you could definitely take the time to decorate them, or, make an art project out of it and have the kids decorate them.

Tiger, tree, crayon, man, doctor (or nurse).

Tree, knight, giraffe, bowling pin, police woman.

The boys each chose a bag and opened it to discover which objects would make their stories.  They immediately began shouting out ideas popping into their heads.  They've never been so excited for a writing project in all our time home schooling!  (Note to self:  do this again.)

Next,  I gave each boy a modified book report form.  I found this form on Pinterest and thought, with some slight changes, it would be perfect for this project.  Where it originally asked the student to fill in the plot of whichever book they read, I changed it to have the boys fill in what the plot of their own as yet unwritten stories would be.  Where it asked the student what their favorite part of the book they read was, I changed it to have the boys tell about the setting and genre of their as yet unwritten stories.

Below are images of the book report forms - first, the original, then, my modified version.  You can click on my modified version to download it yourself, if you'd like to give this project a try.

The original.  A great form for regular book reports.
Modified version for use in this project.
Filling out these forms spawned even more creative ideas in my boys.  They couldn't stop talking over each other about what they wanted to write.  I managed to shush them enough so they could begin filling out their story forms and flesh out their new stories.  Here are their completed story forms:

Brandt's story form: The Missing Mr. Tree. He ended up changing his genre from comedy/mystery to fantasy/action.

Noah's story form: The Man, the Nurse, and the Talking Tiger.  He decided to write his story in the form of a play.

With their stories now outlined on the book report forms, they began writing their stories out, which is my favorite part of this project, because it employs lessons in grammar, spelling, penmanship, and dictionary skills all at once.  I love lessons that kill multiple birds with one stone!  Here they are, hard at work:

Both boys begged to keep their stories and report forms FOREVER!  They were so proud of their work.  I envision this project becoming perhaps a bi-monthly project next school year.

What sort of writing projects spur your kids on in creative writing?  What did you think of this project?

June 7, 2013

Five Home Schooling Myths Dispelled

1.  Home schooled kids aren't properly "socialized".  They lack social skills and aren't learning how to deal with life in the "real world".

Hanging out with friends at the lake.
Water fight at a birthday party.

Donut eating contest at a Halloween party.
Chatting with friends at Basketball Camp.

2.  Home schooled kids don't learn the important things they would in a public school.  They just read books and enter spelling bees.





3.  Home schooled kids sit at home all day.  It's just an excuse for families to be lazy!

Teasing the bear at Rock City park.

Learning about parabolic arches at a kid's science museum.

Taking a spin on the new go-cart.

Posing in front of a space capsule at a NASA museum.

4.  Home schooled kids are deprived of extracurricular activities.

Brandt's Little League team.

Noah's Little League team.

Noah receiving a certificate at Basketball Camp.

Brandt receiving a certificate at Basketball Camp.

5.  Home school families are all weird.

Okay, maybe that last one is true.  But we're okay with that.

What other myths of home schooling have you heard?

June 6, 2013

Annual Assessments: New York State

The school year is coming to an end already?  So much to do!  Don't worry; it's not as daunting as you may think, but there are several choices to make along the way.

This post is limited to annual assessments for grades 1 through 8, since that is the range in which my own children fall, and I have not yet had any experience with assessments for higher grades.

To begin, you have two options from which to choose:  A) written narrative assessment, or B) a commercially published norm referenced achievement test.

In grades 1 - 3, you need only submit a written narrative assessment. 

In grades 4 - 8, you may choose between the written narrative and the achievement test, but you have to alternate between the two each year.  Many home schoolers choose to use the written narrative in 4th grade, followed by the achievement test in 5th grade, etc., because that means fewer tests for the child, but it's entirely up to you.

In all instances, you're faced with making another choice.  Who will administer the assessment to your child?

New York regulations give you some leeway.  You can choose to use a certified teacher, a peer group review panel, or "other person".  The easiest choice is to use the "other person", because that person can be YOU!  Yes!  New York State recognizes you, the parent, as qualified to teach your children, so who better to assess whether or not your child "has made adequate academic progress"?  You can write the narrative assessment, and you can administer the achievement test.

But, wait!  There is a catch.  Your choice of who will administer the assessment to your child has to be approved by your school district.  See, they can't tell you who to use for the assessments, but they can say no to whomever you choose to use.  Bummer!

So, here comes another choice for you to make.  Do you want to risk hassling with the school district over who will or won't administer your child's assessments?  Or do you want to make it as easy on yourself as possible? 

Our first home schooling year, we decided to use a certified teacher, just to avoid any hassle (that backfired, by the way, but I'll talk more about that in a later post).  But I really wanted to just administer the assessments myself, because nobody knows my boys and the progress they've made over the years better than me!

The process is the same, no matter your choice.  At the time you submit either your 2nd or 3rd Quarterly Report, include one or two sentences stating what your plan is for your Annual Assessment.  If the school district disapproves of your choice, they will contact you.  If they do not disapprove, they will either contact you, or, they will do nothing.  Hearing nothing from your district in regards to your Annual Assessment plan can be regarded as the equivalent of approval of your plan.

Here's the statement I slipped in at the end of my 2nd Quarter Report:
Jonnie’s annual assessment will be submitted in the form of a written assessment at the end of this school year.
I never heard anything from my district, so I'm taking that to mean they have no problems with my plan. Since this is my first year writing a narrative assessment, I plan to follow the example given in the Cityschooling blog.  Short, simple, to the point, and meets the State's requirements.

But what if you choose to use an achievement test?

More choices!

New York State accepts quite a few different tests.  Our first year, we chose the CAT (California Achievement Test).  It's a timed test with language arts and mathematics sections.  But our son doesn't do well with timed tests.  In fact, he gets anxious and convinces himself he cannot do any of the problems, then he spends inordinate amounts of time on each problem, trying to make sure he gets it right, and ends up not finishing the test.  Needless to say, he performed rather poorly on the CAT, even though we know that he knows the information on it.

Even though we chose to do a written narrative assessment this year, we decided to also administer a test every year, just so we can gauge what material we still need to cover in the coming years, and what material he's mastered.  This year, we chose to use the PASS (Personalized Achievement Summary System) test from Hewitt Homeschooling.

The PASS test is an assessment test rather than an achievement test, created specifically with home schoolers in mind.  It is not timed.  It contains 3 sections - math, reading, and language [arts].  It also emphasizes that the child is not expected to know all the answers to all the questions.  They're only expected to know between 50% - 90% of the answers.  And before you administer the test, the child takes a short (12 question) placement test that allows his results to be better compared to the results of other kids at his same level.  It's a very relaxed, stress-free approach (you can administer it over the span of several days, if you like), and New York recognizes it as an acceptable assessment tool.  My son will be finishing it up tomorrow, actually, and I've already decided this is the test we will use from now on.

If you choose to use an achievement test for your annual assessment, all you need to do is submit a copy of the test score results with your 4th quarter report.  In New York State, your child needs a composite score above the 33rd percentile on national norms or needs a score that reflects one academic year of growth as compared to a test administered during or subsequent to the prior school year.  A partial list of NY Department of Education approved tests can be found in the regulations, and an extended list can be found here.

You'll want to read the entire NYS Education Department home instruction regulations for complete requirements.  I've covered most of them in this post.  But it's important to be intimately familiar with the regulations... just in case.

If you have any questions about this, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Previous post... Quarterly Reports

June 5, 2013

Why We Home School: Part VI

Why We Home School:  Foundations

What are the most important things for children to learn?

The answer differs from one family to another.  Reading, writing, and arithmetic?  Science?  History?  Maybe the arts?   

Author and Education Correspondent on the PBS NewsHour, John Merrow, suggests in his Huff Post article, "In Education, Back to Basics", four educational "basics":  reading & writing, numeracy (math), creativity (the arts), and health & nutrition (I imagine physical fitness would fall under this category as well).

Merrow says, "We read to gain information, and we write to convey it.... Numeracy is also a basic skill.... Health and nutrition are [also] basic components of a balanced education.  Larger classes with increasing numbers of children who are undernourished or otherwise in poor health are not a prescription for a vibrant future...."

In regards to creativity, Merrow sends us in the direction of Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources in education and in business.  I think Sir Robinson's TED talk of 2006 sums it up quite nicely.


 As parents, what matters most to us for our sons' education is not what grade they earn on a test.  It's not how they perform on standardized state tests.  Those tests are irrelevant to our sons' futures and to who they will become as men.  

As Sir Robinson wrote, "One of the deep problems of the standards and testing movement is that it promotes a very narrow view of ability in schools and a culture of conformity. The fact is that all students are different. Like you and me, they all have different talents, different interests and different ways of learning. Individual achievement is not marked by so much conformity as by diversity. People with ‘learning differences’ may well have other strengths and talents that standardized education completely overlooks. Discovering our real abilities is at the heart of creating our best lives."

If we were to choose measurable building blocks, or foundations, of what we want our sons to learn in life, the four mentioned by John Merrow, especially creativity, as discussed by Sir Robinson, would be at the top of our list.  But none of them are first on the list.

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.  ~Psalm 89:14-15

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  ~1 Corinthians 3:11

...to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.  ~1 Timothy 6:18-19
The most important things we want our boys to learn, the foundations of their education, are not things they will learn in a public school classroom.  In fact, the God of the Christian faith has been all but banned from public education.  But what matters most for our boys is to build their lives on the foundation of Jesus Christ.  

That can't be measured by a standardized, norm-referenced test.  But it can be measured.  We can gauge our sons' spirits by the fruit of THE Spirit they display in their lives.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  ~Galatians 5:22-23
If our boys never learned another math fact or the meaning of one more word or to memorize one more historical fact or play one more note on the piano, but they grew up to be Godly men - men who display the fruit of the Spirit in their daily lives, then I would be one happy momma!

Do I want them to master the foundations of education that public schools recognize?  Yes.  Will I do my best to teach them to be the best readers, writers, mathematicians, historians, scientists, musicians, and artists they can possibly be?  Of course.  Will I spur them on to great heights of creativity?  Definitely!

But what I will teach them first and foremost are the foundations of Godly living.  They will be good men - men of strong moral character who follow Christ and seek to show His love to others through the way they live their own lives - before they ever ace a standardized state test.

Coming up... Why We Home School: Facts

Previous post... Why We Home School: Focus