No Tests

Poster of things tests can’t measure - white with colored pencilsA common question homeschool parents are asked is, “Do your children do tests or exams?”

And my answer is always, “No.”   Well, not until their graduation year, when exam results are a requirement for acceptance into most tertiary institutions.

Testing is NOT needed in homeschooling because parents are almost always one-on-one with their child and can quickly see what their child knows and understands.  Especially when using a Charlotte Mason approach, narrations are an excellent method of listening to or reading what a child remembers and understands on a specific chapter or topic.  And for most seat work subjects like Maths, Spelling and Reading, you are right there with your child and can go back to re-establish a concept or correct a mistake.

Standardized tests are for public school parents, or for teachers of large classes, to measure each child’s basic knowledge or skills, or worse still, for schools to brag about their institutions’ achievements!  With this kind of pressure, many teachers actually “teach the exam” rather than aim to educate the child.

Information and facts can always be learnt, at any time.   Google helps all of us find information in a jiffy, so why waste precious time forcing a child to memorize facts?  Narrations are personal, which is the aim of our homeschooling, isn’t it?

In an article 30+ Important Things That Tests Can’t Measure says,

“Tests can’t predict who will “succeed” in life, regardless of your definition of success. Tests can’t tell a child how or even what he needs to improve.’

She lists some of these things tests can’t measure ~

  • compassion or generosity
  • imagination or creativity 
  • a child’s logic skills
  • faith, trust, hope, reliability, or depth of character
  • friendship or self-worth
  • curiosity, effort, determination or resilience
  • a child’s potential and diligence

In an article , “Kids Don’t Fail, Schools Fail Kids: Sir Ken Robinson on the ‘Learning Revolution’ she quotes Ken Robinson, (famous for his TED talk on the topic of whether schools kill students’ creativity),

“The government has essentially pushed for more and more nationwide testing in order to 1) standardize everything, and 2) try and improve education “through an intense process of competition.”   He believes that the problem with standardized testing is that it “does not prepare kids to achieve.” 

Ken Robinson’s own definition of education’s purpose ~ “To enable students to understand the world around them and the talents within them so that they can become.”

He encourages “personalized learning” without relying heavily on technology.

“But what’s most important,” he concluded, “is that every student deserves to be treated like the miracle that they are—with personalized, individualized education that addresses that “world within.””

Parents know their children.  Homeschooling should be individual, tailor-made, delight-directed.  Its pace and focus should be based on the individual’s ability and interest, not focused on tests, scores and exam results.

So, please hear me …  especially parents of kindergarten, junior, middle and even junior high school, please do not buy curriculums that require regimented testing.  You will kill your child’s creativity and natural love to learn.  You will instil fear and anxiety into your homeschooling, both for you and your child.

Your child can learn how to learn for exams, how to write exams and how to succeed in exams in a relatively short time; within 6 months to a year.  At the most, you may need to move towards tests and exams for their final 3 years of senior high school.  And that is stress enough!  With my 17-year old writing her final high school exams, I see her fear and anxiety.  I feel dread’s icy grip in my stomach.

As Marie says, “Children everywhere deserve to know this:  YOU ARE NOT YOUR TEST SCORE.  You are so much more.”

Blessings, Nadene

Prepare for High School exams

What Works! 

I often say to new homeschool parents,

It doesn’t take 12 years to prepare for Matric/ final exams.”

https://practicalpages.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/4955e-310882_285912091448900_996350184_n.jpgMany new homeschoolers worry about homeschooling through high school and how their children will cope with formal exams.  As a result, and very sadly, many new homeschool parents opt for strict curriculums that require regular tests and exams to ensure that they cover their bases.  It is really a shame to waste early homeschool years of a love to learn by following a strict, rigid, formal, school-at-home approach.

Tests and exams are used to evaluate what the child has learnt and remembered.  It is often the means to prove that the teacher is good at her job and so that parents can see specific results to show how their child is progressing.  With large classes, it is often the only way a school teacher has a good idea how each child is learning.  Homeschooling is a one-on-one approach and, especially with daily narrations, parents can immediately assess their child’s knowledge and skill set.

Over the past 20+ years of homeschooling I have used a Charlotte Mason approach for https://i1.wp.com/kibabiiuniversity.ac.ke/library/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/kibabii-exam-papers.jpgall my children until they decided how and what they wanted to do to graduate/ matriculate.  In 2013 my eldest daughter opted for a NSC Matric (National Senior Certificate = South African nation-wide public school matriculation) and she used a curriculum that required regular portfolio assignments and quarterly exams at done under strict exam conditions at home.  She only wrote her first external, formal external exam for her Prelims exams (the exact version of the final exams in the same exam venue) and these prelims helped her prepare for formal her formal exams more than anything else!

Here are some tips to prepare your children to write formal exams ~

  • Complete the work~  It seems obvious, but it is vital that you ensure that your child completes their course material and portfolio projects.  Marks given during the year are a very important part of the final mark, adding to the exam marks.
  • https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/38/0b/84/380b845b4f227133d16ca6795d3eabcf.jpgSummaries~ Teach your child to make good, clear summary notes for each subject.  Show them how to simplify summaries with mind maps/ drawings/ labels or numbers or first letters of each main point in the margins.  Use colored markers and highlighters.
  • Use past papers ~ We downloaded past papers for each subject and printed them at a printers.  It cost a bit, took up an entire box file, but it was an excellent investment.
  • Exam memorandums ~ Ensure that you include the answers to all these past exam papers. This is a vital component!  Allow your child to work through an exam under exam conditions (timer and no books or notes) and then they need to work through the results. Check the mark allocations and ensure they do not miss steps that would cost marks.
  • https://emergencypedia.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/90-0019-2.jpgUse a timer~  This is a vital skill = to first check through the whole exam and look at the mark allocation and then work out how many minutes per section.  (You can find an example here.) Do this will all past papers!  It is vital to prepare your child to keep on track in exam situations.  Many exam centres have a clock on the wall, but if your child sits far from the front, they may struggle to keep their eye on the time. Many exam centres allow the entrant to use a small clock on their desk.
  • Prelims~ Prelims taught my daughter how to write matric exams!  Read the post here. Everything was learnt in this experience = from a good night’s sleep the night before, eating a good breakfast, time needed to travel to the exam centre, comfy clothes, the necessary identity and other documents, her stationary, meeting other exam candidates, to the exam room protocol and the actual exams.
  • Manage stress ~ Exams are stressful. While studying, eat well, take breaks, exercise, stretch, meditate, write motivational notes and messages to yourself, take extra nutritional supplements and herbal nerve support.  Teach your child slow, abdominal breathing.  Pray together.  Write out faith-building scriptures and promises.
  • Join the group~ Learning with others in a study group is important, especially for isolated homeschoolers.  It may help to join some other exam candidates for an early coffee and chat to discuss issues, fears, and share important tips.  It somehow helps to know that others fear and feel the same as you!

In the end, I believe that these exams are NOT about information my highschooler may have learnt. Exams are simply a life skill = learn how to complete the course work in the prescribed format.

Dear moms with young children, enjoy a simple, relaxed homeschooling journey.  Take your time.  Enjoy your child and their unique learning styles.  Focus on these delicious years of freedom.

Wishing you and your child writing the 2016 matric exams the very best!

Blessings, Nadene

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Getting Real ~ Cheating!

Thanks to all my readers for your wonderful comments on my “Getting Real” posts.  (If you missed my previous posts, you can read about Giving Up, Chaos, Flops and Attitudes in the series.)

Today I would like to talk about a sinister reality that crept in our high school phase ~ Cheating

Imagine my shock to find my high schooler cheating!  Not just copying the maths answers from the back of the book, but serious exam-type cheating!

I suppose it was to be expected for several reasons:

  1. My high schooler worked much more independently, and I didn’t watch her carefully.
  2. The work was difficult and my child was anxious and stressed.
  3. The exam results were sent to an external curriculum provider who would compile an official report. There was no chance of any mother-leniency.
  4. Most cheaters cheat because they are ~
    • afraid
    • unprepared
    • lazy
    • fear of failure
    • hate test situations
    • or because they have had bad results before

At the very start of the exam session I caught sight of some papers and realized she had made plans … and my blood ran cold.  I knew that this was serious.  Not because cheating is bad, which it is, but because I was faced with dealing with a child’s character, choices, ethics and morals, and I wanted to handle this situation with firmness and yet with dignity.

By God’s grace I didn’t blowup and make a mountain out of a molehill.  We went for a walk.  We talked.  I listened and tried not to formulate a huge lecture in my mind.  I deliberately told my ego that this situation was not a reflection of me, but of my child.  Importantly, I did not label my child a “cheater”.  I gave her the grace to confess and really apologize, to face her fears, and sit the exam afresh and try her best.

My kids are accountable and they need to ask for help. If they are unsure and afraid of tests and exams, they are simply not ready. Homeschooling allows for extra time, and there is often time to do more reviews.  Using past papers is an excellent tool for exam preparation.

High schoolers must work authentically and take more responsibility for their learning and studying.  School is their ‘work’ and they must do their best.  They should understand that cheating denies them the real learning experiences.

My high school graduate and myself believe that her matric exams were not about the information she learnt, but the exam preparation, learning skills and actual exam writing skills.  It does not take 12 years to prepare your child for their graduate/ matric exams!  Your child can master exams in 1 year, even if they have never sat for formal, external exams.  Please, please, please don’t chose an exam-type education for your child’s high school years just so that they can write their final exams!

May I suggest that young children do not need to write tests at all.  Working one-on-one, your daily work is proof enough of your child’s understanding and recall.  When there are real difficulties, then, by all means, have your child evaluated, but on the whole, allow your child to learn and progress at their own pace.  When they are ready, they will master the work!

I really encourage moms to carefully consider the stresses and tensions and fears children face when they write tests and exams.  We, as moms and teachers, are also measured by their failures and successes, and we also suffer through this process.  If your child does not cope well under test situations, please consider other options, and where possible, choose curriculums which do not require exams throughout the year.  I understand that your country or state may have regulations that insist on test results, but I would encourage you to find a 3rd party tester who can assist your frightened child in a personal way.

It is so important to build relationships of trust, honor and dignity with your children.  If they feel that we understand their fears and anxiety, they will not feel the need to cheat.  Give them more time to master the work.  I seem to repeat this often ~ TAKE YOUR TIME and enjoy the journey!

Blessings,

 

Prelim Exams

It is time for preliminary exams, and my eldest daughter recently attended a preparation talk at her exam center.

They discussed all the rules and requirements for sitting for her preliminary exams, otherwise known as “Prelims” or “Mock Exams”. Her final exams in November will be conducted in the exact manner and in the same venue as these prelims. Apart from these exams counting towards her year marks, they form an important part of her final exam’s preparation.

For the first time in our homeschool journey, we are in a highly regulated system and must follow every rule and requirement.

This is quite a contrast to most of our homeschooling approach.

Our homeschooling is sometimes very flexible, gentle, accommodating, that these external exams can be very stressful.

At the moment, my daughter is most concerned about TIME.

Will she have enough time to complete all her questions?

During the last few months I have stressed this a lot.

I have shown her how to first calculate her time into minutes and divide the mark allocation into the time to estimate her marks per minute.

Say for example she has a 2-hour paper which is worth 100 marks ~

  1. Multiply the hours by 60 to calculate the minutes: 2 X 60 = 120 minutes
  2. Divide these minutes by the total marks: 120/ 100 = 1.2 marks per minute
  3. Now, she must look through the exam paper and calculate more-or-less 1 minute for each mark. She must look at each section and calculate how long she may work on those questions. For example, if her first section is worth 25 marks, she has 25 minutes for those questions. The extra minutes are absorbed into reading the questions, making choices or selections or paging through any addendum.

These are specific exam skills she needs right now. It is good to practice these calculations at home with past exam papers.

Having used this calculation method, we can already tell that she will not have enough time to complete her CAT (Computer Applied Technologies) Practical exam this coming Wednesday.  She has 3 hours for 200 marks!  This means there is less than 1 minute per mark, and she will need to read the question, find the data files, open them, find the relevant information, complete the question, then save the work … impossible.  We have therefore decided that if she doesn’t know where or what to do on any aspect of the questions, to simply move on.

In our computer studies this year, we have slogged through all the examples, all the questions, tried this way and that until we figure it out.  This all takes time. In this exam, there is no time for this process.  Either do it and move on or leave it and move on.

Tough stuff!

Emotionally this is not easy.  Her first exam … and she will not be able to complete all the questions.  Oh, well …

In the end, I believe that these exams are NOT about all my child may have learnt. They are a life skill = learn how to complete the exams in the prescribed format.

Once again I am deeply grateful for the wonderful early years of a gentle, rich and delightful Charlotte Mason inspired approach.

So please, dear moms with young children, enjoy a simple, relaxed homeschooling journey.  Put away the whip.  Don’t fret and stress through your child’s schedules. Take your time.  Enjoy your child and their unique learning styles.  Focus on these delicious years of freedom.

May I wish all the 2013 matriculants the very best for these exams.

Blessings,