Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Plan-It School Series: Writing Objectives, Part Two

My best piece of advice for new homeschooling moms is to remember that learning takes time and learning takes effort. No one can be told something once or read it in passing or fill out a worksheet on it and remember it. Though the process may be easier for some than for others, even those we consider most intelligent have to work to learn. Some of the brightest children in America are those who make it to the National Spelling Bee finals. As gifted as these children are, their achievement is the product of hard work. Those who are best prepared, do more than just memorize, too. They dissect words. They analyze them, categorize them, and evaluate them. Their learning moves in two directions, horizontally and vertically.

Since I am the Olive Plants mom, I want you to think of learning as a vine. I am fascinated by vines. In fact, my dream house is an English stone cottage covered in them. What makes the vine so beautiful is how extensively it grows. It is not easily confined. It grows in every direction along a wall, both horizontally and vertically. In my previous post on this topic, I mentioned that when I write objectives, I look to this list of verbs. This list helps me brainstorm and create learning activities that give variety to the work of learning. Planning activities that climb the ladder of thinking has promoted both horizontal and vertical growth in my olive plants.

Horizontal growth involves the progression of skills. For example, first our children need to learn to count, then to add, subtract, multiply, divide… and so on through Algebra, Geometry, and perhaps Calculus. This is the pace of acceleration, and this pace should be set according to the needs of the child and the difficultly of the skills being mastered. Some areas of study need more time and more work. All students will get certain lessons more quickly and other lessons more slowly.

Part of the beauty of homeschooling is that you can tailor your lessons to fit your children's learning needs. If they master addition with regrouping in three lessons, do you really need to complete the ten lessons presented in the text? However, if your child needs more time to master a particular skill, you can take the time needed for him to learn it well. Or you can decide that it is something that needs to be postponed until a later date. Your vine will grow at different rates over the years, and you, as the gardener, manage that growth.

I suggest you give your vine ample room to grow vertically as well. The list of verbs I use is based on Bloom's Taxonomy, which organizes learning activities from lower to higher order thinking. I believe incorporating higher order thinking skills is important because it offers a child the opportunity to put skills into a context and put them to work which increases retention.

Opponents of HOTS argue that it pushes children, especially younger ones, beyond what they are naturally capable of accomplishing. To a small extent that is true. It takes practice to learn to apply, analyze or evaluate. I do not think it happens automatically, even in older children. Starting this process earlier and tailoring HOTS activities to match the skill set of your younger child promotes reasoning that strengthens the ability to learn and builds good judgment. I have also found that young children, when given the opportunity to learn along side older children and adults, will accomplish far more than most would imagine they could.

At first, higher order activities require a lot of help from mom and dad. Just as you would provide a young vine a trellis, a stake or other prop to support its upward growth, teachers must provide the support needed for children to stretch their thinking. If you try to incorporate these types of activities do not be discouraged by blank stares. Instead, ask a lot of guiding questions to prompt the upward growth in your students. Just because they cannot accomplish it on their own at first, does not mean that they will not get there with proper support. What I have experienced with my students in a school setting and with my children at home is that the baby steps of progress soon become giant steps which soon become leaps.

It is my opinion that some who argue against HOTS, however, confuse vertical growth and horizontal growth. To incorporate HOTS, a teacher should not force a child to approach information he is not ready to process. I have heard it said that incorporating HOTS means something akin to asking 1st graders to use complex sentences or gerund phrases in their writing or to be able to identify these more sophisticated writing elements in other's work. This is not my interpretation of HOTS. I have always been taught that incorporating HOTS challenges teachers to take grade appropriate skills and ask their students to put them to use and to learn them thoroughly. It asks teachers to move beyond skill and drill and help their students find a purpose for what they learn.

For example, if a second grade child is learning about nouns, he must first define the term. That is the first level of learning called "knowledge". Then he must demonstrate comprehension. Can he recognize a noun in writing? From there he must analyze and apply… learning differences between common and proper nouns and using these words in his writing. He must synthesize the learning by integrating it with previously mastered skills. How do nouns and verbs work together? What function do they perform? Finally he must evaluate. Daily editing is a great way to work at the evaluation level. Can they find mistakes within their own writing or their siblings or even yours? They should only be held accountable for the skills they have mastered. A second grader should not be asked to find comma splices. That would not be HOTS. That would be a horizontal progression and would fall under acceleration. To incorporate vertical movement through HOTS, he would find misspelled plural nouns, proper nouns that are not capitalized, or perhaps places in his writing that a pronoun could replace a noun to make the reading flow better. After he has worked his way up the ladder of learning, he will have a much better grasp of the material and will be much more likely to retain the learning.

HOTS should also shape the types of questions we ask. For example, after reading The Three Little Pigs, you could ask "Who were the characters?" When your child answers, "The three pigs and the wolf", he has demonstrated knowledge, the first rung on the learning ladder. If he can summarize the story, he has moved up the ladder to comprehension. Next, ask him to prove the wolf's intentions were no good. If he can explain that wolves like to eat pigs and quote the wolf as having said, "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down," he has moved up the ladder once more. Then require him to analyze by asking a series of "why" questions. Why did the pig build his house from bricks? Why did the pigs boil the water in the fire place? These are analysis level questions. Require your children to synthesize knowledge by asking them how the story would have differed if all three pigs had built their houses of bricks or of straw. Finish by evaluating the behavior of the pigs. Who was the wise pig? Perhaps synthesize again by comparing the story to the Biblical principle of building your house upon the rock. All of these questions fall within the realm of what a younger child can answer, however, they require him to chew, savor, and fully digest what he is learning.

Another aspect of incorporating HOTS that I like is the variety it offers. If you look at the list of verbs, there are many potential activity ideas there. If you want to spice up your school day, try exchanging some of the rote activities and worksheets for activities like dramatizations, debates, discussions, constructing models, presenting, illustrating, and diagramming. These higher-level activities also promote families working together and learning from each other. Whereas, the lower-level activities of completing worksheets or rote practice tend to isolate children and make learning a chore instead of a joy. There have to be those times. Like I said earlier, learning takes time and work; however, teaching as we go, by doing and enjoying, just makes learning a little kinder and nicer. It builds up the family by getting everyone involved.

Just like you would fill your planter with a variety of foliage for a beautiful landscape, I challenge you to fill your planner with a variety of verbs. When you do, get ready to watch your vine grow!

Blessings and Happy Planning!

Return soon for Plan-It School Series: Setting the Stage for Learning

1 comment:

Heather said...

oh the list of verbs. i once emailed my mom from Russia so i could have that list of verbs.