Thursday, March 12, 2020

Part 1: How to educate students outside of the classroom

As countries around the world grapple with the coronavirus outbreak, the closings of schools, colleges and universities are leaving students everywhere needing to continue their studies in some new format.

But educational interruptions can happen to any family for any reason. What I share here, is for those times too. Our family uses a free online curriculum called Ambleside Online that also has an emergency help page at Ambleside Online -AO Help designed to help families cope with providing ongoing learning in the midst of irregular life events. Much of the reading content is available for free in the public domain.

If you're a big picture person, here's the big idea I'm proposing for your family or school.

If schools need to close, take the offered tablet, but read the books.

As school administrators, teachers and parents look to creating work packets, buying workbooks, selecting online learning sites and purchasing apps on devices, I would encourage parents and tutors of elementary and high school students to put their time and resources into one main effort:

The reading of good books and the retelling of what has been read.

It's called narrating.
It does not need an app or a login to a website.
It needs attention given to the material by the student and a quiet, patient moment for the reteller to speak without being interrupted or corrected.
The books can be topics or genres of all sorts, but they must be well written by one author (not an editor) and convey living ideas without overloading the student on facts.

How it works:

Students can read the assigned portion on their own or listen to it read to them by another person or by an audio recording.
Once the reading has been completed, the narration can be given. It can be simply given orally to whoever is available to listen quietly without interruption.
Or it can be spoken into the tablet or phone and recorded for later listening.
The narration can be written or typed. A diagram or age-appropriate drawing can be completed. The narrator can act out the material with props or toys.
There are many, many different ways in which a student can retell what they just read or listened to. Mix it up and try different ideas.
Assign two or three readings in whatever books you pick, no need to complete whole chapters in one day.
In twelve weeks, you can have read and narrated through one biography, one science story, one novel, and one history book.

In twelve weeks, you could also have started longer books that need more time to be read carefully and attentively.

The main point is that well-written, living books provide ideas that the mind needs as nourishment to grow and be curious about.

I have consistently used the phrase well-written and living to describe the books to give to your students. More on what I mean by that in Part 2: How to Find Living Books.

If you are unsure of how to do this with your students, try it yourself. (At the end of this post, I will include a book excerpt for you to read and try this for yourself.)

1) Pick up a book on any topic or genre (biography, history, science, literature, etc).
2) Read a small portion carefully and attentively.
3) Put the book down.
4) Retell in your own words what you just read. Say it out loud or grab some paper and start writing.

See what you can remember as you organize the information and ideas in your mind. 

It is a serious and engaging effort for your mind. You will either despair or delight over what you can recall.

This is the task that you are asking your students to do:

Read or listen to the material with attention and then organize the material in a version of retelling. 

You do not need worksheets. You do not need an app. You do not need prior knowledge of the material. As a parent, grandparent, or tutor, your work is to assign the reading and then listen carefully without interrupting or correcting to the narration.

I suspect your task will be as difficult for you as the student may find theirs because most adults like to talk and have those infernal 'teachable moments'.

Focus on your part of quiet listening and let the student do their part of retelling to an interested and listening person.

When the student has given their retelling, say thank you and offer a sincere compliment on their retelling if you must.

Task completed, you can rest assure that their mind has been given much to think about. 

Go on to whatever is next. Perhaps some math work or copying an intriguing quote or sentence from a reading in their best handwriting.
Even better, have them go outside and have a look at what is growing, moving or chirping in their  own neighborhood space. Request them to just look and listen closely and start wondering about what they observe. Suggest they draw what they see, find samples and use guide books to look up unfamiliar things. Students can also enjoy good books just for pleasure with no need to narrate at all. That's called a free read.

For students just starting to learn this way, give them time to adjust. 
Days and even weeks may be needed to practice this way of reading and retelling. New habits will need to be formed, these take time and diligence by everyone. Your students may be just finding their stride as summer vacation begins. Good.

Let them enjoy their summer break with all those newly discovered ideas swirling in their heads. 

I have more to say in Part 2 about finding well-written, living books, but for now, here is the written portion I promised for you to read and retell as an experiment for yourself.
For Gutenberg the most important part in printing was the type, or the little movable letters. Therefore, he needed to find the right kind of type material and an easy way of making the type. Knowing that block books were printed from carved blocks, Gutenberg first tried to make type from wood. It seemed easy to do this. Yet it proved difficult to carve a good letter upon the end of a small wooden stick. It proved equally hard to cut the sticks of such width that there would be equal spaces between the letters. Even when Gutenberg succeeded in doing this, for he was an expert carver, the ink so softened the wooden type that, after a few impressions, the printed letters became blurred. As the printed letters must be clear and distinct, Gutenberg was forced, much against his will, to give up trying to make movable type from wood.
It now occurred to him that lead would serve. From his work in making mirrors, he knew how easy it was to mold it. With a simple mold, he cast a number of small lead sticks of uniform width and height. Then with no great difficulty, he carved a letter on the end of each stick. He seemed to be on the direct road to success, but when he came to print from lead type, he found that it took more pressure than with wooden blocks. However, when enough pressure was applied to transfer the impression to the paper, it flattened out the lead letters.
~ Excerpt from The Story of Inventions by Frank P. Bachman, (Second Edition, pages 157-158)
*One final note: This act of reading and retelling is not new, but it has fallen out of practice. Through the work and writings of British educator, Charlotte Mason, schools, tutors, and families are bringing this method of reading and narrating back into use.
If you would like to know more, search online for 'Charlotte Mason education'. Her writings are still in print or can be read online for free at Charlotte Mason Series.

If you're interested to read on, here's Part 2: How to Find 'Living' Books

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