October 9, 2018

Guided Self-Directed High School: Learning Logs

I'm definitely an "eclectic" home educator. When I began "formal academics" with my kids, I did use an all-in-one package program for a few years. But after just a short time, I found myself modifying so many of the suggested plans and finding substitutes for so many of the recommended resources that it soon made more sense to simply pick and choose from a variety of providers.

As the girls approached their high school years, we also moved gradually and deliberately to a self-directed approach to learning. In that process, I decided to create Learning Logs for them, both to help them monitor their own daily progress and as a way for me to keep track of their activities as I build their high school transcripts.

I devised the Logs using LibreOffice, though Microsoft Word would work just as well. What I've designed is very specific to our approach - not something another family could necessarily adopt wholesale as its own. But I'm nevertheless asked on a regular basis to share how I've developed and used our Logs, and I'm happy to oblige.

Over the years and through some trial-and-error, we've figured out that a rough 6/1, 7/1, or 8/1 schedule works well for us - i.e., we divide up the year into "units" of approximately six, seven, or eight weeks each (give or take, depending on our overall family calendar) and then take about a week off in between each "unit." We also take a "long" summer break (roughly four weeks) in July and a "long" winter break (three to four weeks) in December, so our schedule allows for 190 to 200 formal "academic" days per year. Of course, we consider ourselves to be learning on weekends and "days off," too - in fact, I explained my real position on "required hours" here - and we actively "count" activities we do during our days and weeks "off." But in regards to the girls' Logs, each one is set up to cover one 30- to 40-day "unit" during our times of formal bookwork.

Each Log has four main sections: Goals, Action PlanRecord of Daily Learning, and Journaling. And a Log for each unit is individualized to each of the girls, keeping in mind each one's learning needs and her progress from the previous unit. I simply print out the pages I want from among those I've designed ahead of time, along with a colored cover sheet for each section; collate them; and take them to my local FedEx Office for binding, which costs about $6.00 per book. I prefer a coil binding with a colored plastic back cover and a clear plastic front cover. Just for fun, the girls custom illustrate the card stock cover at the start of each unit.

Goals section is usually about two pages long. It's where I delineate what I've determined each girl should work on during that unit. Importantly, I don't make arbitrary, top-down decisions about content. Instead, I work hard to avoid irrelevant "busywork" (i.e., following by default a "standard" high school program typical in institutional schools), aiming instead to mandate only that which will truly benefit each of the girls long-term, and customizing as much as possible. Thus, one child might eventually study Algebra 2 and Calculus while the other will have no need for either and might, instead, spend time digging more deeply into world history or child psychology. I also regularly collaborate with the girls to determine what they'll be studying at any given time and give them a great deal of input about the resources they'll use. For example, I determined they both need to study civics. But I didn't pick a textbook. Instead, I offered the girls several options I had researched, then allowed each to choose what she wanted to use to accomplish the goal. In all of this - setting goals and finding relevant material - my guiding principle is that there is no "standard" plan because the focus is on developing each child according to how God has individually wired her. [Click HERE to view a sample Goals document.]

With this in mind, the Goals section of a Log is simply my way of helping my kids to break down each content area on which they're working into manageable "chunks" for each unit. Of course, not every goal is completed as suggested - but as long as the girls work diligently during our learning times (and they both do), we simply adjust any unfinished goals when we start a new unit.

An Action Plan is two or three pages long. It consists of a series of check-off boxes for each area included in the Goals section; it's a place where the girls can quickly mark off what they accomplish each day and visualize their progress. Some tasks - Reader's Workshop and music practice - are daily assignments, and a couple - math, for example - are assigned four days a week. But for other areas, each of the girls has the freedom to determine for herself what to do each day. Because they are diligent and can clearly see the goals before them, I trust them to determine their own daily plans. [Click HERE to view a sample Action Plan.]

The bulk of a Log - 30 to 40 pages - is made up of the Record of Daily Learning sheets, one page for each day of the unit. Each page is a table that the girls fill in listing details of what they accomplish in the various areas each day - i.e., which math lesson is completed, what literature chapter is read, etc. When they don't work on a subject, they leave the space for it blank. [Click HERE to view sample Record of Daily Learning sheets.]

The last section is Journaling, where I include pages of blank lines for summarizing and/or personal reflection in particular content areas. Obviously, journaling isn't necessary in every subject; in our case, I generally ask the girls to journal for history, civics, science, and (sometimes) Bible study, but not in areas like math, foreign language, and literature. They aim to fill most of the lines (roughly half a page) any time they write, and the amount of pages varies, depending on each child's goals for the unit. For example, one daughter's recent Log had enough pages to journal for 32 world history lessons while the other only had enough pages for 18. [Click HERE to view a sample Journaling page.]

As an aside, I embrace journaling as an authentic means of documenting and monitoring a child's learning - and I reject school-style assessments ("comprehension" questions, tests) even when a resource we use offers them. I know from my time as a classroom teacher that school-style methods of evaluation serve the record-keeping needs of teachers - i.e., so they can document everything in numerical form in order to rank and categorize students against each other. But real learning - as opposed to performance for the benefit of teachers - comes from reflecting upon, talking, and writing about what a person has read and/or watched or listened to. I saw that when I secretly but happily played the rebel in my classroom teaching days by utilizing journals instead of school-style evaluations - so, of course, I promote such real learning now at home.

For some subjects now - history in particular - the girls actually use their journal entries as rough-draft summaries which they revise and edit to create history scrapbooks; thus, their journaling kills two birds with one stone by becoming meaningful composition practice, too.

But rough-draft journaling is enough in other areas - I simply have the girls summarize and evaluate what they've learned, knowing that taking the time to write will cause the important information to "stick" - without requiring any sort of final project. And in still other areas - especially literature - they don't journal at all because doing so would be too much of a distraction from the main task; instead, they get to enjoy reading for its own sake and then write reviews for their own book review blog.

The point is that journaling - which could be accomplished using Dragon software for a child who struggles with written composition - is the main method I use to document my children's learning. And organizing our year into "units," each with its own Learning Log customized to each child, has been a great way for my girls to enjoy and benefit from their years of guided self-directed high school.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...