Creative Learning Connection

Educational Resources from a Veteran Homeschool Mom

Helping Students Enjoy Shakespeare

Where to Begin?

The neat thing about sharing Shakespeare with students is that there are so many ways to do it.  My favorite method is still to read an entire play aloud as a group, and as often as possible to combine that with watching a live performance of the play. Which is why I’ve finally decided to start this school year with The Taming of the Shrew: American Shakespeare Center’s traveling troupe will be performing it in our area in early February, so reading it this fall will make for a fuller experience for all of us. (By the way, the feature image for this post, as well as all of the other images except the last, are different scenes from The Taming of the Shrew.)

More Exciting Ideas

But after attending two different teacher/adult events in Staunton, Virginia (home of the American Shakespeare Center) I’m working on how to add a little variety to our readings.  Here are some of the ideas from their recent teachers seminar that I am considering adding to this fall’s lesson plans:

Walk Throughs

Read-Around

  • I’ve traditionally passed out specific parts to students, so that they can “own” a character throughout the play, but this year I’ll probably be trying the “read-around” method for at least some portions of the play. With that, one student just starts reading the first line in a scene and reads until they get to a stopping point – a period, semi-colon, colon, or question mark. Then the next student reads a line, and so forth. We tried it at the teachers seminar I was just at and I could see advantages to reading that way for some portions of a play – for example, when a character has a particularly long set of lines to read. I still plan to have characters assigned for much of our reading, but we can vary it this fall and see how it goes.

Embedded Stage Directions/Props

  • Embedded stage directions/props are interesting to pay attention to: Shakespeare gave very few actual stage directions in his plays. (“They fight” being one of his most popular.) But oftentimes directions are embedded into the lines of other characters – for instance, when one character tells another character to stand up. Or a prop might be mentioned when one character discusses the letter they are holding. Shakespeare didn’t need to write separate directions for those, he just included them within the lines of his characters. And often a single word tells us much: we can deduce that “this fellow” is closer to the speaker than “that fellow.”
  • At other times actors have decisions to make: When, in the first scene of Taming of the Shrew, does the Hostess leave, when her line is “I must go fetch the head-borough.”? Does she leave as she’s saying the line, or directly after saying it? And right after that, when the directions say that the Beggar “Falls asleep” – did he sit or lay down at some point before the next line is spoken? Again, interesting questions for students to consider.

Different Ways to Read a Line

  • It could also be helpful to have students slow down while reading certain portions and try various ways to say the same line. For instance, what different ways could Katherine say “Then God be blessed, it is the blessed sun.” in Act 4, Scene 6 of The Taming of the Shrew?

Who Are Lines Directed at?

  • And in other places students can consider who the actor would be addressing with his lines. Lines weren’t always directed at another actor; sometimes they were directed at various audience members. That is something that American Shakespeare Center actors do particularly well. If you have the privilege of seeing them with students, it could be fun to have the students watch for that. (As I mentioned, I look forward to watching them perform in Huntsville, Alabama in early February 2018, as they do each year.)

Prose versus Verse

  • Another exercise would be to have students determine whether a particular portion of a play is written in prose or verse. When each line starts with a capital letter, it is generally verse. Prose is written like you would expect to see regular sentences. With prose it can be helpful for students to see whether a character speaks in short sentences or run on sentences, and whether there are unfinished thoughts or questions are being asked. (If so, did anyone else complete the thought or answer the question?).
  • There was another exciting lesson on iambic pentameter at the seminar – but I’m going to have to see if I can explain it well enough to my students before I try explaining it here! Suffice it to say for now, that Shakespeare wrote his lines in a variety of different ways. 

What Would You Cut?

  • I also saw an interesting concept in the study guide about having students determine how they would make choices about cutting out some of Shakespeare’s lines in order to make the play fit into a set amount of time. (Something directors have to do regularly.) For instance, if they were all tasked with removing 10% of the lines from a scene, which ones would they individually want to remove, and what might they agree on as a group?

Choose Somewhere to Start

And those are just some of the exciting ways we learned to make experiencing Shakespeare with students even more exciting than I’ve already found it to be. The wonderful thing about these ideas and the ones I’ve shared in previous posts is that sharing Shakespeare doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

And while I still have a personal preference of having students experience plays all the way through from beginning to end, I know that doesn’t work into everyone’s schedules. My plan for the fall is to work many of these different ideas in as we read through our next play, but I can also see how some of them would be useful even if you just had the time to do a scene or two with students.  With Shakespeare, I may believe that more is generally better, but sometimes you just need a good place to start.

The Play’s the Thing

For more details on these and many other great activities, I can highly recommend the American Shakespeare Center’s Study Guides.

I plan to report back later this fall after we’ve tried out some of these activities in class. Regardless of what we think of each one, I’m confident we’ll still agree with Hamlet that “The play’s the thing.” (Even if he was talking about catching the conscience of a king with it and we’re “merely” trying to immerse students in the wonderful world of Shakespeare!)

Hamlet

Happy learning!

Cathy

Never Stop Learning!

Beginning Another School Year

Depending on what part of the country you’re in, school has either just started or will likely start sometime in the next several weeks. (Having gone to school mostly in the North, the start of a school year belongs after Labor Day in my mind, and that’s generally how I structured my classes. But I know that not everyone has that amount of flexibility.)

But either way, starting a school year, like ending one, is a good time to reflect on the purpose of school.  Why do we do what we’re doing? What are we trying to accomplish? It might be better to ask and answer those types of questions before plunging into the “which curriculum will we be using this year?” questions.

Home Schooling vs. Home Educating

In my thirty-five years of educating my own children, I often used the term “home schooling” out of simplicity (since it’s the term most often used by the others involved in a similar journey), but in actuality, my focus was seldom on schooling my children. So why, you might ask, was I home schooling my children? Because I cared about the education my children received.  Even before our first child was born, my husband and I were researching what our educational options for each of them would be.

It’s not that students can’t receive a good education in a private or public school situation – many of them do. It’s not that there aren’t good teachers in those settings – many of them are. (Both my Mom and Dad were teachers at different times in their careers.  I respect the hard work done by them and the many other dedicated teachers out there.) And it’s not that every parent is cut out to be responsible for supervising the education of their own children – but I find that many of them are!

Defining “Education” and “School”

The Dictionary.com definition for education is “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge; developing the powers of reasoning and judgement, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.”

Especially when we get to the “developing the powers of reasoning and judgement” portion of that definition, isn’t that a better description of what we’re trying to accomplish than their definition of school: “an institution where instruction is given.”

What’s the “Best Education”?

I never wanted my home to feel like an institution, and after I got started on my journey of educating my own children, I also didn’t want it to feel like a school. This wasn’t just about giving instruction! Helping my children receive their best education became my goal. Not someone else’s definition of “the best education” either – but what was best for each of them.

Love of Learning and Tools to Learn

Did I always accomplish my goals with them? Of course not. But my primary goals were to help give them a love of learning and the tools to learn. Now that they are all adults, I think it’s safe to say I was fairly successful in those goals.

Recently, independent of each other, two other adults made comments to me about learning. One said something to the effect of “she was tired of learning new things.” The second one was complaining about something he had never learned, as if he was now somehow too old to learn it.

Never Stop Learning

My response to the first person was that when we stop learning we stop living. May God always give us the desire to continue learning! And to the second person I pointed out that it would be better to say that he hadn’t had a chance to learn that particular thing yet.  He’s still alive, with a sound mind, and should certainly continue to learn new things!

My Retirement Goals

At sixty, I’m now semi-retired, with full retirement likely right around the corner. What retirement means to me is that I get to spend my time learning what I want to learn – which is an amazing freedom that I hope to fully take advantage of.  Of course, I spend much of my learning time on the history that goes with my current writing project (Leonardo da Vinci, at the moment). And this summer, as discussed in several recent posts, I’ve had the privilege of attending two Shakespeare events that have been lots of fun learning as well. (I do have much more to share about Shakespeare, but first I have to organize my notes. So those of you who don’t want to hear more about Shakespeare get another week off, and those that do, will have to wait another week, or go back and read the first, second, or third posts about that exciting subject.)

Learning to Draw

But of all the things I’m currently making time to learn, the drawing lessons I’ve been doing have to be the most fun.  I’ve wanted to learn to draw for a long time, but like anything else, it’s a task that takes time. This summer I’ve finally decided to make that time. I’ve been working out of several “learn to draw” books for about a month now. And I can actually see progress in my drawings. It’s very exciting.

The Time to Learn

So, please, take the time to learn. You won’t regret it. (And if you’re a homeschooling parent or classroom teacher, it’s a great thing to model for your kids/students!)

Happy learning!

Cathy

Photo Journals and Photo Pages

As much as I love Shakespeare (the topic of my last several blog posts), it’s time to change themes, at least for today. (Since I’m currently at the American Shakespeare Center‘s Summer Teacher Seminar, you would be right in guessing that next week’s topic will likely be back to Shakespeare.)  Travel is another big part of my life, and has been for my entire life – before, during and after homeschooling. In fact, one of the great things about homeschooling was that we could travel pretty much anytime we wanted, especially in the early years. (As my kids got older, school year travel did become a little more difficult, between co-op classes and the college schedules of my older children.)

Big Family Trips

But we still managed to take some amazing trips along the way – many of them with very educational themes. (Visiting Jamestown during its 400 year anniversary, following the Lewis and Clark Trail during its 200 year anniversary, and many trips to Washington D.C., to name just a few.)

Photo Journals

And then, when the younger children were getting older, we made several trips to Europe. (Those, I have to admit, were both educational and fun.) By then I was publishing books through CreateSpace with a fair amount of regularity. It didn’t take me long to decide that making photo journals would be a great way to remember our trips. (My version of scrapbooking these days.)

        

I made the first journals the way I’ve done all my paperbacks thus far – using Microsoft Word and then saving my final project as a pdf. I have found the results of doing that to be satisfactory, especially when I wanted to do just one or two pictures/page.  Below are samples of pages from a couple of my first photo journals.

Turkey with Dan and Eli

Italy with Dan and Sonia

Using PowerPoint for Photo Pages

Since then I’ve figured out that PowerPoint is easier to do picture pages in. After our recent cruise in Europe, I made my mom several collage pages through PowerPoint, enabling her to print several pages through Walmart’s photo shop.  One option now is to add the jpegs of those pages directly to a Word document for our next travel journal. One nice thing about using PowerPoint to make collages is that an 8 x 10 inch PowerPoint slide converts to a jpeg that will make a good quality 8 x 10 photo. (More on size concerns below.)


Using Canva for Photo Pages

Recently I was going to help a good friend make some photo collage pages. She liked the idea of being able to print them as 8 x 10s, like we had done for my mom. But, much to my dismay, I discovered that she didn’t have PowerPoint. I was stumped. I knew it was one way to make collages easily, but surely there were others as well. So I was off to find her another option. That’s when I remembered all the fun I was having using Canva’s website to make my cover images for my blog posts. Maybe it would work for collages too. Sure enough, there are some great templates on Canva with which to make collages. She was soon on her way to making several pages.

Fortunately we tried uploading her first 8 x 10 collage from Canva to Walmart before making additional ones. We discovered that for some reason those jpegs were not high enough quality to print as 8 x 10 photos. We increased the size of her Canva collages to 16 x 20 and those worked fine. Below are some examples of photo pages I made recently with Canva. Of all the picture pages I’ve made, these have definitely been the easiest!

  

Monday, on my other blog, I hope to go into details about the travel journals that I’ve been writing on and off since a trip from Panama to Massachusetts when I was nine-years-old. Those are a great way to have students involved in family travels. (And to expand on the educational value of such trips!)

Happy traveling and creating!

Cathy

Even More Shakespeare Fun

Okay, so this wasn’t quite the type of camp we had.

In last week’s posts (here and on CatherineJaime.com) I mentioned two of the many ways we experienced Shakespeare at the No Kidding Shakespeare camp I recently attended. A camp for adults, who knew?

My Methods for Sharing

Today I will share several others. But first, I want to reiterate a couple of things from my first post on Sharing Shakespeare: in the twenty years that I’ve taught Shakespeare I’ve settled into a fairly simple way of sharing Shakespeare with my students – passing out characters in order to read the plays aloud together, and watching the plays (live and on video). There are distinct advantages to both the reading and the watching, and over the years I’ve done both, sometimes starting with one and sometimes starting with the other. (Though last year I had an unusual group of students – they didn’t want to spend any of our class time watching plays – they were enjoying the reading too much! Since this group included a couple of young men with no prior experience reading Shakespeare, I was not going to argue!)

To Read Them All or Not To Read Them All

Enough Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories to last a LONG time!

Overall, I have found that method to be very successful – I have introduced countless students to the wonderful words of the Bard that way. And I certainly won’t be making any major changes this year. (The one year I tried a major shift got off to a really bad start, until I went back to the tried and true.) But what I do plan to do is work in a few of the activities we did at camp around our reading – starting or ending several class periods with an activity that relates to that week’s class. That will mean spending more time on one play, but I have no problem with that. Years ago we had a three and a half year push to read every one of Shakespeare’s plays aloud in class, but since then we’ve settled for making our way slowly through some of the best. (Reading each play was a great accomplishment, but it is certainly not for the faint of heart!)

Dramatic Activities with Shakespeare

But, with no further ado, here are some of the other neat activities we did at camp that I’m hoping to incorporate this fall:

Speaking Sculptures

For this activity we each received a line from a play and then had to walk around the stage reciting the line as we followed different instructions we were being given – walk faster, walk slower, speak the line faster, speak louder, those types of things. I think the idea there was for us to become comfortable with our line, and to experience it in different ways.

A scene from Much Ado

Then we paired off with the person closest to us. We were to instruct our partner to stand in a pose that somehow went with our line. The challenge was that we were not supposed to talk to our partners, nor touch them – we were supposed to get them into position with merely the suggestion of our hands. And I’m sure my students will give me the same blank looks that you’re trying to give me right about now. (It’s definitely something that’s easier to explain through showing than through words, so you’ll just have to take my word for this portion.) Once each partner was in position they were given the other’s line to speak. As half of the group stood as” speaking sculptures,” the other half wandered around and looked and listened. Then we swapped places and repeated the process.

“Forming” the sculpture was indeed a challenge. But it was interesting to wander around and listen to the different lines. I hadn’t recognized my own line or my partner’s line, but as I moved from sculpture to sculpture I did recognize some of the others as being from Much Ado About Nothing. It turned out all of them were from Much Ado. 

Introducing a Play?

A rendition of Taming of the Shrew

I’m thinking that might be a fun way to introduce whatever play we’re starting with this fall. (Sadly, I’m still deciding which one we’re going to do first – so many good ones to choose from – so I can’t start getting lines prepared for this quite yet.) One of the plays the American Shakespeare Center folks will be bringing to Huntsville in February is Taming of the Shrew, so it’s at least in the running for our first play of the semester, depending on how long ago we last read it.

Once I have our first play chosen, I can pick lines for the students to practice speaking and sculpting. I wonder if they’ll be able to figure out which play it is any faster than I did.  Time will tell!

Snapshots of a Scene

For another one of our activities we were broken into small groups, each with a portion of a different scene. Each group had the same number of people as their scene had characters.  As a group we had to choose five places from our scene that we could take “snapshots” of  – where we could  quickly “act” them out (more of a posed three-dimensional picture for each place.) The idea was to visually represent the highlights of our little scene.

I’ve never considered myself much of a drama person (I know, I know, I teach Shakespeare, but that’s different!). But I really enjoyed the various activities we did like this one.

Varying the Tempo

Another time we were in similar small groups with a different short passage. We were instructed to start by reading aloud our passage (adding limited movements if we wanted). Then  we had to read it again several times, varying the tempo and emphasis of individual portions as we read. We could see (or actually, hear) what the small changes we made to our reading did for the overall feeling of our section.

Using These in Class

I don’t want to turn my Shakespeare classes into acting classes – plenty of others already offer those. I want to keep my emphasis on reading and enjoying Shakespeare. But I can see how these types of activities, sprinkled sporadically amongst our readings could add a new dimension to our Shakespeare understanding and enjoyment.

More to Come

I’m not sure if I’ve shared about all of the great activities we did at camp yet. (I still haven’t gotten home, unpacked from that trip, and relocated my notes!) But either way I should have more to share within a week or two. I’m planning to go back to Staunton to attend their Teacher Seminar. in early August. Hey, we’re on a roll here! Maybe by then I can nail down which play(s) we’ll be tackling this fall and start figuring out where to work in these various, fun activities.

Actors before Hamlet

In the meantime, if you are already planning to share Shakespeare with your (older) students next year, I hope these different ideas are helpful. And if you’re aren’t, maybe you could reconsider. Overall, I’m a big fan of middle school and high school students spending lots of time with Shakespeare, but not so keen on younger students being exposed to his work. Adult themes permeate these plays, and I don’t see the benefit of sharing those with our youngsters quite yet, but maybe that’s just me. Some of my students have enjoyed Shakespeare with me for as many as four or five years. (What can I say, I don’t think they can get too much Shakespeare!)

Remember, as Hamlet said so many years ago, “The play’s the thing.”

Happy reading!

Cathy

More Fun with Shakespeare

Learning to Love Shakespeare

How many characters do you recognize from Sir John Gilbert’s painting, “The Plays of Shakespeare”?

As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, I have grown to love Shakespeare over the last two decades. Teaching it, reading it, watching it, or even just listening to it, can all make me extremely happy. And as a teacher who started teaching Shakespeare with a very sad amount of prior experience, I have spent much time researching the subject as well.  I’ve listened to lectures from the Great Courses on Shakespeare and collected and read a fair amount of books as well.

Shakespeare Experience for Adults

But until last week there was something I had never done connected to Shakespeare – I had never been to any type of teachers’ workshop or other such event with a Shakespeare theme.  It’s kind of sad to think that for more than a decade I’ve been attending teachers’ workshops on other topics of interest to me (the U.S. Constitution, Civil Rights, and Economics to name just a few), but had never managed to attend one on Shakespeare.

Okay, so even adults can have fun!

And now that I’ve attended my first, I hope there will be many more to come! My first in-person event  wasn’t technically a teachers’ workshop, and didn’t include only teachers – it was a camp for adults – the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp put on by the American Shakespeare Center, to be exact. But much of what we did there will be very useful for those of us who do teach Shakespeare.

Fun with Shakespeare

Earlier in the week I mentioned some of the fun things we did at camp in a post entitled Creativity Comes in Many Forms (on www.CatherineJaime.com). But in that post I didn’t go into most of the actual Shakespeare-related activities we did – several of which I’m hoping to incorporate into this year’s Shakespeare classes. (Yes, I know, I’ve officially retired from homeschooling after 35 years and from running a homeschool center after almost 14 years. But that doesn’t mean I’m quite ready to give up teaching Shakespeare. We’re returning to where we started – classes in my living room.)

Boydell Shakespeare Prints

Our first activity of the week involved pictures – black and white engravings of paintings from different Shakespeare plays. Several years ago I had put together one of my art appreciation books on Shakespeare – and had actually used a few of these prints, but I hadn’t realized how many of them there were in this magnificent collection, painted for the Boydell Shakespare Gallery in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Pictures/Scenes from Shakespeare

A Boydell print – do you recognize this play? Answers at the bottom of the post.

It was a fun activity, if a bit overwhelming at first. We had 27 prints on the walls and tables of the room, numbered, 1 -27 (of course). And then we had 27 short passages from different plays printed on several sheets. They were lettered A to Z, plus an AA. We were tasked with identifying which scenes went with which pictures. Extra points if we could identify which plays they were from. Some members of our group even managed Act and Scene numbers – way beyond my Shakespeare knowledge there! But I did go in on the scene sheets and identify almost every play the scenes were from. (I think I was missing 3 names out of the 27.) And I could probably have told you on most of them whether they were from the first half of the play or the second half – but beyond that, not a chance.

My first mistake was not transferring the names of the plays right to our answer sheet. Instead I started trying to identify the pictures, and only wrote the names down as I was putting the letters with the right numbers. Consequently, I only got 32 of the total 54 points possible. (Putting me about 4th in a group of almost 20. Not too shabby for someone with no formal training in the subject.) Had I written in all the play names I knew (and not mixed up As You Like It with All’s Well that Ends Well – something I’m forever doing for some odd reason – though probably not after this!) I would have ended up with more like 40 or more points. Oh well, it was still fun to do.

I think many of my students would recognize the play this picture represents.

Our Variation of the Activity

In fact, the activity was so much fun, I think I’ll start this fall’s Shakespeare classes with a variation of it. I think trying to match scenes, names, and paintings all at the same time would be too much for most of my students, and I find, at least with the students I’ve had in recent years, that they do better with group activities than individual ones.

Identifying Scenes

For my students I plan to divide them into groups (probably of 4 or 5 students in each group, depending on this year’s class size). I will try to make sure my groups contain a mixture of Shakespeare newbies and Shakespeare veterans.

I like to give each group a small white board and a dry erase marker to put their answers on. I’ll have the small scenes typed up and distributed in a package to each group. I’m going to have them take turns reading the scenes aloud. After a scene has been read, they can decide as a group if they know which play it’s from.

After each group has had sufficient time to consider and write their answer down, I’ll have each group read the answers out loud. I’ll keep score of team points on a separate white board. (I’ve used this format often in my classes, and find it works well. We’ve made it into a game of sorts, with just a slight edge of competitiveness. And this way, no one feels singled out if they don’t know many of the answers.) As each scene is identified, the groups will have a place to record the play name, to assist them with the next step.

Identifying Pictures

I considered using this print – most of my students would  definitely recognize the thumb biting insult.

After we go through all the scenes I’ll pull out the different paintings/engravings for them to look at. Each picture will match up with a different scene; basically like we did in our activity here in Staunton – the big difference being that the scenes will already have been identified.

I had planned to print copies of each of the pictures, but I’ve been putting them into PowerPoint, and I think it will be easier to just show the slides one at a time from the laptop. So we’ll probably do this like the first portion – with their small white boards for writing answers on.

My class periods are an hour and a half, and I can see this activity and related discussions spreading into most of that first period. But I think it will be a great way to start the semester – reviewing plays that many of them will already be familiar with, and introducing many others.

And if that sounds fun, but too much work to put together, have no fear – I’ve done all the pre-work for you. You can see the set, Shakespeare Activity: Matching Scenes and Pictures,  here on CurrClick.

More Activities to Come

I had planned to share about some of the other fun activities that we did last week at camp, but I can see that I will need to spread this over more than one blog post.

Happy learning! And remember, as Hamlet said, “The play’s the thing.”

Cathy

*Prints here are from the Tempest,  Othello, and Romeo and Juliet. (Too many characters to identify in the color painting at the top, sorry. )

Beginning to Homeschool by Breaking Down the Tasks

I decided to do something different this week – I’m writing my posts for both blogs (here and on www.CatherineJaime.com) on the same topic. But if you happen to read both, no worries, the posts are similar but still different.

The topic came to me last week when I was preparing for a trip with my oldest daughter. We got through the massive preparation list we had by breaking down the large list into smaller lists that we could tackle each day.

A Talk for New Homeschoolers

In the midst of those last hectic days before our trip I also gave a small talk for new homeschoolers. That was when the idea of writing two versions of this topic came to me. The homeschool mom I was primarily counseling seemed very overwhelmed by what lay ahead of her as she looked into homeschooling for the first time in the upcoming school year.

Breaking Down the Tasks of Homeschooling

While beginning to homeschool can be a daunting task, it helps to break it down into smaller pieces. Because we live in Alabama I will approach this from the perspective of an Alabama homeschooler, but the overall tasks would be similar for homeschoolers in any state.

 Philosophy of Education?

If you are beginning to homeschool, my suggestion for where you should begin may differ a bit from what others tell you.  I base my advice on 35 of years of homeschooling and more than 30 years of assisting other homeschoolers (20 of those here in Alabama). My thought is that new homeschoolers should first consider what their philosophy of education is. As you continue to homeschool your philosophy may change. But at the beginning, consider what you think is important. Are you looking for a cookie cutter education, what I would call “school at home”? Or are you wanting to focus more on a diversity of education? Do you think textbooks are critical or are you willing to look for other educational materials?  I speak in more depth about different philosophies in my short booklet on CurrClick – Philosophy of Education, and in a chapter of my homeschool book, Organized Ramblings.

Your Homeschool Package/Homeschool Covers

Once you have an idea of your philosophy, you can start thinking about what your homeschool package should look like – will you be focusing on textbooks or non-textbook alternatives? Hand in hand with that, as a new homeschooler in Alabama you will have to decide whether to join a cover or choose one of the other options. If I was still homeschooling I would still be in a cover group. Of all the options, it is the one that makes the most sense to me. But each homeschooler has to make that decision. Choosing a cover should go hand in hand with the decision of what your homeschool package will contain.

Decisions are not Irreversible

One of the things to keep in mind throughout all these decisions is that they are not irreversible. Homechool packages can be changed. Even homeschool groups can be changed. We were fortunate to have chosen a cover when we moved to Alabama that we were quite happy with. But many homeschoolers I knew during those two decades were not as fortunate the first (or sometimes second) time around. But changing covers was always an option for them.

First Tasks for Homeschoolers

So, all of a sudden that overwhelming task of starting to homeschool can be broken down to these three major  tasks: Figuring out your philosophy of education; choosing your homeschool package; and choosing your homeschool cover.

Your Loose Plan

From there I strongly recommend that homeschoolers (new or otherwise) make a very loose plan for the school year. Plans are important – but remember these are not plans that should be written with pen; they should be written in pencil. Changes are inevitable. Don’t fight them; it is better to embrace them as part of the journey.

Daily Plans or Weekly Plans?

Another decision you will want to make in conjunction with that plan is whether you want to make daily plans or weekly plans. Daily plans are likely the most common, but I preferred to make my plans on a weekly basis. I liked the flexibility that weekly plans gave me. Nothing fancy is really needed for keeping said plans – a Word document or a notebook with note paper both work just fine. But for those who prefer a slightly more formal place to put their lesson plans, I put together several easy and inexpensive options that have been very popular with many of the homeschoolers in our area.

          

From there it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other – taking on each day/week as it comes up. Make the changes you need to make, and enjoy the journey!

Next year will be easier, and I really believe you can accomplish this.

Happy educating.
Cathy

Sharing Shakespeare with Students

Almost twenty years ago I started a literary journey of discovery that I may never turn back from. Sad to say, at that point in my middle-aged life, I had never read an entire Shakespeare play. In 7th grade we had studied portions of Macbeth, but I’m fairly sure that was the sum total of my previous Shakespeare (reading)  experience.  I’m not sure how I managed to graduate from high school (as valedictorian, no less) with no other encounters with Shakespeare. But I don’t know which frustrates me more – that fact, or the fact that I actually took a Shakespeare class while I was a student at M.I.T. – and we never read a total play there either!

Enjoying Shakespeare

Yes, there are lots of ways to enjoy Shakespeare – watching his plays on the stage or on a screen certainly aid in that process. I even wrote a guest blog post for Folger about  “Three Ways to Have Fun with Shakespeare,” so I’m clearly not against those types of activities either.

Reading Shakespeare

But playing with or watching Shakespeare should come with reading Shakespeare, not take its place.  And I’m not talking about reading about Shakespeare – I’m talking about reading Shakespeare. Yes, the plot development and characters in Shakespeare are pretty amazing – but It’s his words that rise to the top when I ponder why students need to become better acquainted with the Bard. And there’s no better way to make that acquaintance than by reading his plays – from start to finish.

Another way to read Shakespeare.

My First Classes

When I started this journey it was at the request of one of my older sons. He had been reading Shakespeare on his own (having fairly well exhausted the literature in the family’s extensive library). But he was tired of reading the plays alone. The conversation went something like this: “Mom, you should teach a Shakespeare class. I want to read these plays aloud with others.” Me: “Of course.” (As I’m wondering how I’m going to teach about something I know so little about.)

But as happened so often in the thirty-five years that I homeschooled, not knowing something didn’t get in my way. I was going to make this work – and learn Shakespeare along the way, right alongside my students. The first year I “taught” Shakespeare we invited one other family (so between us we had eight readers). In order to have a good balance of plays, we started with Much Ado about Nothing, Hamlet, and Henry V, giving us a taste of his comedies, tragedies, and histories. Those three plays had the added advantage of being easily available in video format. (Though I found out the hard way that the version of Hamlet we rented needed to be screened.)

Sadly, I can’t remember now whether we watched the video versions and then read the plays, or did it the other way around (and over the years of teaching since then I’ve done it both ways). But either way, when it came to reading the plays, we passed out characters amongst each of our readers, and then read each play, from the first scene to the last one.

Characters and Lines

It didn’t take me long to run across the first problem – trying to determine which characters had the most lines.  With students of a variety of reading levels (from elementary age through high school), it was crucial to have an idea which characters spoke most often and with the greater number of lines. After a great deal of searching I gave up and took care of the problem myself – creating a character-line chart for each play we were preparing to read. (How many lines does Hamlet have? Or Ophelia? Or the King? I could soon answer all of those questions and then some!)

After one year with just one other family I was branching out and inviting other high school students I knew.  Pretty soon I was teaching a bona fide high school Shakespeare class of sixteen students. We mostly read Shakespeare, occasionally watched Shakespeare, and sometimes we even discussed Shakespeare.

Other Resources

While I was teaching, I continued to learn about Shakespeare – reading a number of other books along the way. (A couple of my favorite books included Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare and Shakespeare for Dummies.) As I taught and studied I fell further and further in love with Shakespeare.

Recently I’ve also discovered several Audible books related to Shakespeare that I’ve also enjoyed, including Shakespeare Saved My Life and several Great Courses lecture series – Shakespeare: The Word and the Action; William Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies and How to Read and Understand Shakespeare.

None of the above are absolutely critical for starting to teach or learn about Shakespeare, but any of them will help add to your understanding if you are interested.

Sharing Shakespeare

And I can safely say that I have now shared my love of Shakespeare with dozens of students directly over the last two decades, and through other teachers that I taught, probably hundreds more. Many of them benefited from the guide I wrote during my first three and a half years of teaching every Shakespeare play – Sharing Shakespeare with Students.

Happy learning!

Cathy

Teaching History without Textbooks

If I could only choose one subject to try and convince people to teach without the hindrance/help of textbooks, it would be history. History out of a textbook is generally just about memorizing dates and names long enough to take a test. (The regurgitation method I mentioned in the previous blog post, Teaching Curriculum vs. Learning Curriculum.) But how much of that is actually learned? From my personal experience, I would have to say very little.

Dates and Names?

Are the dates and names really that important? Why do we want our students to memorize things that are (a) so quickly forgotten and (b) so easily looked up?

King Richard I

When I think of history and what’s important about it, the first thing I think of is the stories. Isn’t it the stories of people and events that matter? It’s not just those long lists of names, whether they be presidents or kings or explorers. No, it’s what those men and women (and occasionally, children) did that make them worthy of being on a list in the first place. If we stick to the stories of history, much of the remembrance will come. And again, what we don’t remember, we should at least know how to look up.

Flow of History

Civil War Ruins

The other important part of history we shouldn’t neglect is the flow of history. I didn’t necessarily need my students to memorize the dates of the important events – but I did want them to have a sense of what came before what. Many, many years ago I read an insightful book, What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? The statistics in the book were rather startling. The majority of high school juniors and seniors couldn’t place things like the Civil War in the right half century – on a multiple choice test. While I may not think that every student should be able to tell you without hesitation that those dates were 1861 to 1865, I think they should all have an idea that it was fought in the second half of the 19th century and that World Wars I and II were fought in the first half of the 20th century.

History Options

So, when we are choosing our educational packages for our students for the upcoming year(s), what should we take into consideration in our decisions for history? Can we look beyond what the curriculum companies package together for us and consider what might be a better “learning curriculum” instead?

Should We Cover Hundreds or Thousands of Years?

First, I would recommend asking whether it’s really necessary to study such a long period of history in such a short amount of time. It is amazing to me that almost every American History curriculum insists on a study that covers hundreds of years, and of course, World History curriculums are generally worse, covering thousands of years.

At what point did we decide that history should be taught that way? Who can really make sense of that many events in such a short time? Why not choose a portion of American or World History to teach – and go into it in more depth? Many homeschoolers hesitate to stray away from canned curriculum because they might miss something. But, as I’ve always said, covering something is not the same thing as learning it. (Go back to that difference between Teaching Curriculums and Learning Curriculums.) Shouldn’t we be more concerned about what actually gets learned?

Tests?

Another common fear I heard often was “What about tests?” When we’re not using the packaged curriculum, we’re giving up those nice, neat tests they generally provide. But since I don’t see a real value in tests in a homeschool situation, I never really missed them myself. And if you really need a test, you can always write one yourself. Or better yet, have the student(s) write it! What a great way for a student to show they have learned about a particular topic – if they can write the test that shows what the most important things were that they just studied.

Where do I begin?

So, you might be asking, if I’m going to teach something smaller, like say, the Civil War, and I’m not going to use a curriculum, what am I going to use? There is an endless supply of resources for teaching history – from field trips to movies to “real” books – both fiction and non-fiction. My family spent an entire school year studying the Civil War. (I put our favorite resources in my book, Civil War Topical Study.) We visited battlefields in a number of places, including Shiloh, Chattanooga, and Gettysburg. We watched several movies, including the Great Locomotive ChaseGettysburg and Glory. (The first one is a family movie and the other two are great movies – minus the bad language and some typical battle violence – as with all such things – preview before you show!) And we read countless books, from the public library and from our own personal library. For older students and adults, Jeff Shaara is my absolute favorite history author. (And he has written historical novels on a fairly large number of American wars besides the Civil War – including the Mexican War, the Revolutionary War, and both World Wars I and II.)

Using Games

As I’ve said before, games are another great way to learn and reinforce topics like history. Timeline games are one of our favorite tools for increasing history learning. I talked about those more on my other blog in Writing Timeline Games. But if you are unfamiliar with the concept, they are basically what they sound like – a timeline in a game format. In keeping with the priority of learning the flow of history without memorizing specific dates, the games can be played and won without having any of the dates memorized. You don’t have to know exact dates – you just have to know which events came before and after the other events in your timeline.

Options Outside of Textbooks

Hopefully you are getting the idea that there are lots of history options outside of textbooks. Choose a time period or a war and start learning together with your student(s). You don’t have to have it all figured out in advance and you don’t have to have all the answers!

Happy learning!
Cathy

Teaching Curriculum versus Learning Curriculum?

Learning and Teaching

I want to expand on the ideas I presented last week in “How do I Encourage my Children to be Lifelong Learners?” Learning and teaching are two of my favorite topics and have been for a long time – that’s why I have read books like John Holt’s classics, How Children Learn and How Children Fail, for decades now. And I listen to Great Courses lectures like How We Learn and Mind-Body Medicine: The New Science of Optimal Health.

Mind-Body

You can probably see where I’m going with those first titles, but may be scratching your head on that last one.  One moment I was talking about learning and teaching, and the next I was talking about medicine.  Well, not quite. Professor Satterfield teaches about much more than medicine in this lecture series.  He also speaks of how we learn, in the context of how our mind and body work together. In Lecture 7 he said something so simple, but so significant, that I stopped what I was doing at the time, so I could write it down. Professor Satterfield asked: “Do we want a teaching curriculum or a learning curriculum?”

Where is Our Emphasis?

In that question lies the crux of what I believe more educators (at home and in schools) need to address – is the emphasis on what is being taught or on what is being learned?  I’ve been asking that for at least the last decade or so, maybe longer, as I’ve counseled other homeschoolers: Just because we’ve taught something, or covered something (i.e. force fed textbooks and tests after textbooks and tests) doesn’t mean it’s been learned! Professor Satterfield mentioned another thing I’ve been saying for a long time – learning something long enough to regurgitate it on the test, and then promptly forgetting it, isn’t true learning at all.

Our Learning Goals

So, when you are trying to decide what your student really needs to be doing in this coming school year, please keep that in mind. Let’s get to a point where we are focused more on helping our students be better learners, rather than just better test takers. I was a straight A student through high school, but that doesn’t mean I had a quality education. It meant I knew how to memorize things for the tests. It wasn’t until after college, when I came face to face with the history around me, that I really started learning for learning’s sake. That (and homeschooling my own kids for the past 35 years) is when my real education began.

What Makes a Great Education Package?

A truly great education package doesn’t teach our students everything they need to know (since that is a goal we will never achieve). But, rather it gives them the tools and the desire to learn. That is the gift that I hope I have given my children and my other students in my 35-year journey of homeschooling. There are certainly things they didn’t learn from me that they could have, but that isn’t the issue. Did I open their eyes, their minds, and their worlds, so that they could get a taste of what it meant to truly learn, and then did I send them off with the tools to learn whatever they needed/wanted to learn? That was my goal and I hope that I have accomplished that to the best of my human ability.

Happy learning!

Cathy

How do I Encourage my Children to be Lifelong Learners?

Questions Homeschoolers Ask Themselves

Along the way to finishing our homeschooling journey, I asked myself the same questions most homeschoolers ask themselves at some point: What are our goals? What do my children/students really need to accomplish before they graduate?

Ultimately, I distilled those questions down to what I consider to be the most critical question: How do I encourage my children to learn? (And as part of that question – to want to learn?)

Encouraging our Students to Learn

Can’t we honestly say that everything we are trying to accomplish in teaching can be boiled down to that question: How do we encourage our students to learn?

We can disagree on what they should learn, maybe even why they should learn certain things, but regardless of how long our children learn at home – our ultimate goal might best be stated as “We want our children to be lifelong learners.”

So, how do we accomplish that? Even if we all agree on that principle, it’s doubtful we will all agree on how to accomplish it. But, let me be so bold, after thirty-five years of home educating, to offer my thoughts on the subject:

The Tools to Learn

First, we have to give them the tools to learn – starting with the basics of reading and writing in most cases (there are exceptions, when students truly can’t learn those, but those are rare – and will likely be the topic of a future post). But for most of us, the ability to read well will open more doors than almost any other skill. (And, I might add, the enjoyment of reading would be a close second.)

A Desire to Learn

But more than just the tools, we need to give them a desire to learn. How many times does it seem like as the homeschool parents/teachers we’re in the business of squashing interests, rather than developing them? Let’s whet their appetite to learn new things, rather than extinguish it.

Introducing them to New and Exciting Things

We need to introduce them to new and exciting things – to expand their horizons beyond themselves. One of my favorite ways to do that has been through travel. A friend sent me Mark Twain’s quote about travel while I was on my most recent trip: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” And aren’t those some of our goals as homeschooling parents?

Every time I travel I am personally motivated to learn more about my destinations – their history and culture, their people and their geography.  I am glad I have been able to take my children on a fairly large number of trips during my decades of parenting/homeschooling. As Mark Twain put it so well, and I have believed for as long as I can remember, travel is a great way to increase our/their horizons,

Opening their Minds

But if travel is not in your budget or desires, choose other ways to open their minds – books of other lands and times are a great way to pique their interests. Introduce them to new and different people. Watch movies about things that introduce them to other cultures. The list of options is endless.

Encourage Creativity

In addition to opening their minds in this manner, encourage creativity. Too much of school is geared towards finding “the right answer.” But how much of life is actually about finding a unique solution to a problem – troubleshooting, figuring out how to use the resources at hand? Most of that type of knowledge comes from experiences – not from the pages of a textbook.

For far too long I didn’t consider myself to be a creative person – because I’m not particularly artistic or musical (particularly compared to other members of my family). But I finally figured out that creativity manifests itself in so many other ways – such as writing. How many of our students are being deprived of creative opportunities – whether musically, artistically, or other – simply because we are too focused on getting through our textbooks?

Logic and Thinking Skills

Similarly, work on developing logical and thinking skills. Our family plays games and puts together puzzles regularly, both of which build thinking skills and logic. (I wrote more on how important games are in a previous post.) We also used materials from Critical Thinking Press frequently – a great treasure trove of materials for “building thinking skills.”

When we have given our students the tools of learning and a taste for learning, and helped develop their creative and logical skills – what in life will they not be able to tackle?

What are others saying about this topic?

I was putting the finishing touches on this post when I saw the email from Mises Institute, with their post, “Four Reasons Why College Degrees are Becoming Useless.” Their first point mentions the importance of “critical thinking skills.” And on the FEE website I found another article specifically about creativity: “How Schooling Crushes Creativity”

So what do you think? What is important as you teach your students? How do you encourage them (and yourselves) to be lifelong learners?

Happy learning and living!
Cathy

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