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MonTAGe: An Eclectic E-Journal

MonTAGe is the Electronic Journal of the TAGFAM Mailing list. MonTAGe is written by and for the families of gifted and talented individuals.

Editor: Valorie J. King (vjking@erols.com)

Permission is hereby given for noncommercial electronic or print format redistribution of intact articles from MonTAGe. Please cite "MonTAGe: The TAGFAM E-Journal (c) 1996 Valorie J. King."

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the individual authors.

In This Issue:

  1. From The Editor's Desk
  2. Resources For Beginning Homeschoolers
  3. Forever Changed
  4. Taking Charge Of Your Child's Education
  5. A Typical Day ...
  6. A Homeschooler's Guide To The Library
  7. Problem Solving 101: Planning Your Curriculum
  8. Problem Solving 102: Planning Theme Units
  9. Problem Solving 103: Starting In The Middle

From The Editor's Desk
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

Rather than compete with the hundreds of authors who have written books and magazine articles about the basics of homeschooling, this issue of MonTAGe is devoted to my own peculiar opinions about the education of intellectually gifted children. I hope you enjoy reading it. I'd like to encourage you to comment on the articles both to the TAGFAM mailing list and to me personally.

Starting with this issue, July 1996, we're going to move to a monthly publication schedule. This change will give others in the TAGFAM community time to polish their prose and contribute to our E-Journal. Please consider writing an article or book review for an upcoming issue:

Issue Date    Copy Due    Topics

8/5/96        7/22/96     Back To School: Understanding Public Education

9/9/96        8/29/96     Back-to-school: tips for helping your child
                          settle in with a new teacher.

10/7/96       9/30/96     Distance Education: Options for the gifted
                          (under-challenged) learner.
-- Valorie --

Resources for Beginning Homeschoolers
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

When you're ready to seriously think about homeschooling -- visit your public library or local bookseller. If they don't stock books on homeschooling you can order books via the Internet (http://www.books.com or http://www.amazon.com) At the library, the books you want are shelved in the 300's (How & what to teach) and the 600's (parenting which includes homeschooling as a subtopic). You'll find useful books in both the children's department and the general collection. Summer time is a good time to go looking for many of these books since, around here, the shelves empty in late August as the teachers prepare to go back to school.

The increasing numbers of families choosing to educate their children at home have created a large market for books and magazine articles about homeschooling. Booksellers and librarians, following this trend are stocking their shelves with newly issued titles and the old stand-bys. The magazine racks are loaded with magazines that offer both content (e.g. Odyssey or Cobblestone) and how-to (The Teaching Home, Instructor). A quick check of the shelves at a local bookseller's shows four or five "getting started" titles and another handful that cover the spectrum: record keeping, where to buy books and materials, what to teach, philosophy of homeschooling, successful support groups, cooperative learning groups.

At the bookstore, books on homeschooling tend to be shelved under "education" or "parenting/special-needs-children." Books on "how and what to teach" tend to be with the children's books. If you haven't spent a couple of hours in a good children's bookstore lately -- take the time to do so. Even if you have to drive an hour or two to find one, it's worth the drive. Some communities are fortunate to have a teacher's supply store or an upscale toy store (e.g. Zany Brainy) that stocks such titles as "Teaching Gifted Kids In The Regular Classroom" and "The Gifted Kids' Survival Guide." You'll also find curriculum materials, workbooks, and study guides based upon themes such as inventions, creepy crawlies (insects), and classic children's literature.

My personal favorite homeschool resource book for beginning homeschoolers is Borg Hendrickson's "Homeschool: Taking The First Steps." It covers the bases whether you're starting at Kindergarten or high school. Her other book, "How To Write Your Own Low-Cost/No-Cost Curriculum," is another of my favorite how-to handbooks for homeschoolers. Since this book is for grades K-6 I use the course descriptions from the University of Nebraska's Independent Study High School catalog to plan high school curriculums. (I also use the undergraduate catalog from the University of Maryland and cruise the textbook aisles at the university's bookstore.)

The "dean" of homeschool authors is probably Mary Pride. Her homeschool classics, "The Big Book Of Home Learning" volumes I-IV, are a fairly comprehensive set of resource guides which include ordering information for a large number of homeschool supply houses.

Magazines are another source of useful information for beginning and experienced homeschoolers:

  • The Teaching Home (strong Christian basis)
  • Home Education
  • Growing Without Schooling
  • Instructor (targeted towards K-6 classroom teachers)
  • Learning '96 (K-6 classroom teachers)

Beginning homeschoolers tend to buy "too much." It's easy to get lost in the bookstore or catalog and order more than you really need to get started. Start with a curriculum handbook and a teacher's planbook. Borrow everything else from the library or a friend until you're sure that you absolutely must have a copy of your own.

Homeschooling Information on the World Wide Web

A Webcrawler search (http://www.webcrawler.com) of Internet sites listing "homeschooling" as a keyword produced hundreds of listings. If you don't have the ability to use Lynx or Netscape (or a similar program) to browse the web, you really should consider getting an Internet account that will allow you to do so. The cost for our household's PPP dial-up account is about the same as what we pay for cable television. In my opinion, full Internet access is worth far more than cable TV. Who needs TV when you've got the world to explore? The explosion in information available via Internet astounds me. Reference books, library catalogs, full texts of articles, and an enormous variety of educational sites are just a mouse-click away. It really is an information junkie's paradise. Ooops, I meant to say a "homeschooler's paradise."

Some links to start with:

Finding What Works For You

Homeschool supply houses and correspondence schools offer complete packages, from pencils to textbooks. This might sound like an easy way to get started but, for the intellectually gifted child, it could be "more of the same thing." More of the same, boring, lock-step, worksheet-driven curriculum which didn't work in school -- why should it work at home? Fortunately, there are options and, since you're in charge now, you and your children can choose what works for you both. Next stop -- the public library and/or your local bookseller with a side trip to the World Wide Web. You'll have your answers in no time at all!

Forever Changed
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

Teaching gifted children at home is a life changing experience.

It is the rare person who is not caught up in the excitement of the child's discoveries and the pleasures of learning through experimentation. Sharing in the gifted child's burning desire for knowledge, the search for competency, and the bursts of creativity that so characterize these children awakens our own giftedness. Seeing the world through the wide eyed innocence of a child changes how we think, process information, and experience the world around us. Rain and puddles become venues for impromptu science lessons. Museums become playgrounds and playgrounds become learning labs. The world is our classroom.

We become renaissance people. Our lifestyles and opinions change in ways that friends, family, and acquaintences find curious and disconcerting. Our time is our own. We have choices and options that are not available to those who are under the tyranny of bus schedules and school year calendars.

Taking on the roles of teacher and mentor to the gifted child stretches us beyond our limits at times. And, in that stretching we find our own growth. We are forever changed.

Taking Charge of Your Child's Education
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

1) You don't have to homeschool in order to take charge of your child's education -- but it helps.

2) Changing the power balance is a difficult endeavor.

Parents are "expected" to be subordinate to the authority of the education profession and to its practitioners. Teachers are trained to be "in charge" of their classrooms. Principals are "given charge" over their schools: classrooms, teachers, supplies, resources, and children.

Changing the way the system works requires changing the laws which authorize and fund public schools in your state. Momentum and bureaucratic gravity are in their favor.

The power equation has many variables. Sometimes the only way to favorably change the balance of power is to negate the influence of competing variables -- by electing to homeschool.

3) The "party-line" is "we know what is best for your child." What they mean is "we know what we've been told is best for children the same age as your child." Child development courses, taught in schools of education, rarely even mention the intellectually gifted child. Your child isn't like the children those courses are based upon -- if he was, he wouldn't be intellectually gifted, would he? Teacher training, below the master's degree level, rarely includes more than a passing mention of the differential educational needs of the intellectually gifted child.

4) Recognize the "party line" and don't let it derail your efforts to achieve a good classroom or educational environment for your child.

5) Teachers, principals, and other "professionals" are trained in methods for "encouraging" parents to accept the decisions and judgements of the "professionals." Don't let this "encouragement" get you down. Take their opinions under advisement and then do your own research and investigating. Reality may be far different from the picture which is painted for you by those intimately involved in the situation.

6) If your child is in school, then the burden of proof is upon you. You have to prove that what they are doing is not effective, that it is their fault, and that they have the ability and resources to make changes that will be effective. If your child is taught at home, the tables are reversed. Rarely is it worth the school district's time and money to "prove" that your homeschooling is not in accordance with state law.

7) When you homeschool it becomes possible to empower your children by adapting the learning environment to each child's needs and interests. Or, better yet, children can be given real responsibility and decision making authority for many aspects of their education and learning environment.

8) Taking charge of your child's education requires that you now take on the leadership role and that school officials and education professionals become advisors to you. They may feel uncomfortable in their new roles. They may even decline to participate. If so, find your own outside sources of professional advice.

9) Education is a constitutionally guaranteed right for every citizen. If you choose to educate your children outside publicly supervised institutions then you should expect to be held accountable for providing an education which meets the standards set by your state of residence.

This does not mean that the state has the right to invade your privacy or otherwise violate your rights as parents and citizens. It does mean that recordkeeping and accountability are part of your homeschooling responsibilities. Your state's home education laws will detail your responsibilities and the methods which have been established to provide the legally required oversight for homeschoolers in your state.

10) The schools are now used to deliver a wide variety of governmental services to children and families. In most states, when you choose to homeschool you are no longer automatically included in these services. If you wish to participate in hearing and vision screenings or other public health services normally delivered via the schools then it is your responsibility to contact the public health department and make the appropriate arrangements. Participation in other programs, services, and activities may also be open to homeschoolers. You'll never know unless you ask.

A Typical Day ...
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

Is there any such thing as a typical homeschool day? We have friends who homeschool ... by the clock. Their school day starts at 9:00AM with everyone at the kitchen table, textbooks at hand. Lunch is at Noon. If there's school in the afternoon it's phys. ed. or a group outing. Three pages of math, spelling words neatly written, a paragraph copied out of a manuscript book. Science worksheets and reading aloud from the next section of the history book. I think we had a day like that in our household -- once.

A typical homeschool day for us is marked by its quiet chaos. Math is from a textbook. We've learned through experience that minimum standards for progress are necessary. Otherwise, everyone plays computer games instead of doing their problem sets. The rest of our studies tend to be thematic. Last spring, we spent a month or two learning how to write nonfiction magazine articles. Along with learning the critical analysis of other people's writing and writing some articles ourselves, we learned science, social studies, and English grammar. Our six year old's Cub Scout outing turned into an impromptu lesson for his siblings; as we toured the printing plant everyone learned how magazines are created from text and artwork through binding and packaging.

Our oldest son, age 14, is beginning to think about college. For the coming year, his studies are from textbooks purchased at the university bookstore. Out of necessity, his studies are becoming more structured. Deadlines and due dates are becoming as important as the quality of his work. This is a radical change from our easy going style over the past two years. Time management and study skills, frequent lecture topics in the past, are now his responsibility. It's time for this fledgling to try his wings while the costs of failure are still manageable.

Our middle child, a daughter age 11, is a sponge. There are times when I think she's going to be ready for college before her older brother. She reads anything and everything in sight. We use the checklists from both Boy Scout and Girl Scout merit badges to "officially" keep track of her learning activities. Her learning activities are project based and geared towards her holistic learning style. She and I share a preference for processing information in a whole-to-parts fashion. She spends part of her school day engaging her younger brother in dramatic play and artistic endeavors. He responds well to her encouragement and tries to "keep up" with her.

Our youngest son, age 6, is a challenge. Fortunately, he likes to be challenged in return, especially by his older sister. Computer games and educational software are his "school" activities of choice. Worksheets and rote memorization are met with a stone-wall of opposition. But, the same material, in the form of a computer game keeps his attention for hours. His learning activities are fun, hands-on, and full of activity. Games, puzzles, and "find-my-mistakes" are strategies that work well for him. He also uses Cub Scout activities for his schoolwork.

So, there you have it -- a typical day, past and present. Sounds confusing? We've been at this for four years now. It works for us. Each child's schoolwork is customized to his or her interests and needs. Our teaching and learning strategies automatically include compaction (more stuff in less time), testing-out (you take the chapter test in math anytime you're ready), acceleration (as soon as you can read it, you can study it), and all those other "strategies" that parents of gifted children wish educators would implement in the regular classrooms.

Is it hard? Sometimes. But, it's a whole lot easier than spending my days in meetings at school trying to get the teachers to change what they're doing. My evenings belong to me -- I may do windows but I DON'T do homework. Not anymore.

A Homeschooler's Guide To The Library
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

When was the last time you got "lost" in the library? It has been a favorite pasttime of mine since elementary school when the librarian would set me to "reading" the shelves (putting books in order by call number) to keep me out of my third grade teacher's hair. These days you don't even have to physically go to the library. You can browse the shelves via Internet. Be careful! Or, you may end up as I did last night ... lost in the "virtual" stacks. Here are some pointers to get you started: http://class.unl.edu/final_web/courses/course.htm

The Dewey Decimal System

000-099   General Works -- 
            Computer Stuff like the Internet, MS-DOS, Windows-95 ...
            Books about books: which ones are good to read at what ages.
            History of Knowledge, Lifelong reading/learning plans
            Artificial Intelligence, Robots, Computers as machines
            Codes & Ciphers
            Listening Skills
            Guides to music, videos, films
            Museums, Libraries
            Journalism, Newspapers, Magazines

100-199   Philosophy -- 
            Motivational Writing (7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
            Inspirational books
            Stress management
            Ethics and Morality
            Zen, Yoga, I Ching, Plato, Aristotle, Confucious
            Existentialism & Humanism
            Parapsychology, the paranormal, the supernatural
            History of philosophy
            Psychology -- (answers to frequent questions on TAGFAM)
              Cognitive -- how people think
              Perceptual -- how our senses work
              Intelligence -- what it is and how it's measured
              Creativity -- what it is, how to be _more_ creative
              Memory -- how it works, how to improve yours
              Testing & Measurement
              Child Development
              Character & Temperament

200-299   Religion --
            Mythology -- Greek & Roman Mythology
            Religious Writings & Texts (Holy Books)
            Comparative religions & world religions
            History of religious groups
            Cults, Sects, "Pagan" religions
            Monotheistic and Polytheistic religions
300-399   Social Sciences --
            Sociology and Anthropology
            Interpersonal relationships including friends, family, work
            Communities and cultures
            Parenting and child rearing
            "Teen" topics
            Folklore, Holidays, Festivals
            Government, Politics, Law, Military, Criminal Justice
            Economics, Business, Real Estate, Commerce
            Etiquette and customs
            Careers & Vocations

            Education: (more answers to frequent TAGFAM questions)
            371.95 -- Books about TAG
            Books on how to teach!!!
            Curriculum Guidebooks, Lesson Plans & Classroom Activities
            "Homework Helper" books (quick references)
            Collections of worksheets for math, science, English, ...
            Psychology of learning
            Teaching tips for various content areas
            Montessori (also found under 150's)

400-499   Language
            Dictionaries, grammar
            Fun books about word origins
            Books about different ways of writing (runes, cuniform)
            Latin, Greek, and other foreign languages
            Sign Language
            Pronuciation Guides for TV and Radio

500-599   Pure Science
            Mathematics including textbooks
            Physics, biology, chemistry, astronomy, nature study

600-699   Technology (Applied Science)

            649.xxx Homeschooling!!!
              "The Big Book of Home Learning" and other "how-to" books
              Curriculum Books for Homeschoolers
              Family Matters and other "why we homeschool" books

            Parenting and raising children including special needs and
              gifted children.
            Cooking, building, home repairs, sewing & crafts
            Books about specific computer programs e.g. word processing
            Books about business including typing, accounting, marketing
            Gardening & Pets

700-799   Arts
            How-to books and "appreciation" books
            Photography, painting, drawing, music
            Recreational Activities & Games

800-899   Literature
            How to write:
               Magazine Articles
               Children's Books
               General fiction and Genre fiction (science fiction, 
                  mystery, westerns, romance)
            Anthologies & Collections
            Essays & Poetry

900-999   History
            Ancient & Modern History
            Geography by state and country

920-929   Collections of biographies
92        Individual biographies

Problem Solving 101: Planning Your Curriculum
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

Over the course of twelve or thirteen years of study, children spend an inordinate amount of time rehashing the same old stuff in science, history, social studies, and mathematics. Each year of study adds only a small amount of new material. Gifted students are able to handle much greater depth, breadth, and complexity/difficulty at earlier ages/grades than their age mates. Curriculums for homeschooled gifted students can and should be adapted to reflect both their penchant for "trying to drink the ocean" (breadth of subject matter) and the tendency to pin-point focus on minutia and detail.

It can be difficult for the teaching parent to anticipate which learning mode the gifted child will be in at any given point in time. Thus, purchasing a canned curriculum or even graded-textbooks can be a waste of money. The best approach is to get a curriculum handbook and work from the scope and sequence lists in it. "Scope" is the educator's term for the breadth of the subject matter (detail level). "Sequence" is the term for the order in which skills and content are taught arranged by grade. The curriculum handbook (scope and sequence) lists, by subject area, the "skills" which are commonly taught at each grade level. Most skills are listed for a range of grades since they are taught multiple times in greater depth/detail (spiral curriculum).

Many textbook suppliers for homeschoolers will send you an abbreviated scope and sequence chart for their curriculum so that you can see what subject areas they cover at each grade level. Or, your state department of education or local school district may provide (sell) you a copy of their "required" curriculum. Using these scope and sequence listings you can choose books from the public library, bookstore, or curriculum supplier that meet your goals for your child's education. Ask the children's librarians or children's department specialist at the bookstore to help you find books that fit into the scope and sequence you've chosen to use.

Curriculum Strategies

Preschool and Kindergarten

The best curriculums are oriented towards hands-on activities at this age. It is not necessary to start teaching reading or mathematics at this age. Take your lead from the child's interests and desires. The public library usually has one or two curriculum and activity books for this age group, shelved in the 300's. Look for:

  • "The Instant Curriculum"
  • "Mudpies to Magnets"
  • "The NEW Kindergarten"

Montessori activities are a big favorite with this age group. There are several books which detail the teaching methods, the activities, and give good "how to make your own" instructions for the hands-on materials. Look for:

  • "Teaching Montessori In The Home: The Preschool Years"
  • "Teaching Montessori In The Home: The School Years"

Both books are by Elizabeth G. Hainstock and are available in paperback.

Spend your money on arts and crafts materials rather than textbooks. Cutting paper and coloring are important at this age since both activities encourage muscular development in the forearm and improve hand-eye coordination.

Field trips are good ways to put science and social studies into your day. The grocery store, the gas station, the park ... everywhere you go becomes a learning opportunity. Use your errands as school time.

Lower Elementary (Grades 1-3)

These grades are the foundation of education. Children learn the basic skills of literacy: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Hands on activities are still important; books and "seated" work are introduced. How you teach at this age really depends upon the child -- what type of learner is he or she? Until you've got that figured out, use a variety of styles and approaches. Engage all the senses including movement and touch.

If you decide to purchase a formal curriculum for your intellectually gifted child, consider purchasing only grade 2 or 3. Supplement with materials from the library as needed. Peggy Kaye's books are excellent for use with this age group:

  • "Games for Learning"
  • "Games for Reading"
  • "Games for Math"

Upper Elementary (Grades 4-6)

During these grades, children are typically at the stage where they are searching for competency. Their interests are wide and varied. Thematic units are a good choice. If you plan on purchasing a formal curriculum for these grades, consider purchasing only grade 6. The standard curriculum is designed in a spiral which repeats at least three months worth of the previous year's content in each succeeding year. Gifted children do not need the extensive review that is built into the standard curriculum. For mathematics, move directly to algebra as soon as the child has mastered basic arithmetic operations and can solve word problems with help.

Notes on elementary school curricula:

Children need to learn the basics -- reading, writing, and arithmetic. They also need to learn how to use a library and how to find information on their own. Study skills and time management should be introduced as soon as the child seems ready. Friendships are important but the child should not be forced to socialize with age-mates. Peers are those with whom we share common interests. For the gifted child, peers may be older, younger, or a mixture of the two.

Middle School (grades 6-9)

At this level, the child can become a self-directed learner if he or she isn't already. Thematic units are favorites at this age. (See the following article on planning theme units.) For mathematics, continue in the standard sequence: pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, advanced algebra & trigonometry, functions & equations (analysis), probability & statistics, calculus. For science, consider getting a group together for lab courses. Foreign language study should be introduced at this point (if you haven't started already). Concentrate on projects and other "output" which shows mastery and accomplishment.

Textbooks for these grades can be purchased from one of the correspondence high school programs. "The Independent Study Guide" lists hundreds of programs for both high school and college level study. The University of Nebraska's Independent Study High School's catalog of courses and textbooks can be accessed online at:

High School (grades 7-12)

The typical high school program includes:

  3-4 yrs.   mathematics
    2 yrs.   foreign language
  3-4 yrs.   English: grammar, critical reading, literature, 
                      research skills and writing reports
  3-4 yrs.   Social Studies/History including American History
  3-4 yrs.   Science: Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics
  3-4 yrs.   Physical Education/Recreation/Health
  3-4 yrs.   Fine Arts (Music, Drawing, "Art" Appreciation & History)

For the gifted child, there is no need to languish in high school. As soon as he or she is ready, move into college level textbooks. For one thing, they're easy to find (if you live near a university) and you can look at them before you buy them. College textbooks often cover the same material as advanced or honors level high school courses and the publishers will sell you solutions books or teacher's editions (which cannot be purchased for K-12 books). College catalogs often list the high school course of study they recommend for prospective students. The general study requirements for a bachelor's degree are also excellent guidelines for a high school course of study for gifted students.

Online catalogs are readily available from many institutions. Try the University of Maryland's online catalog. The general requirements are listed under CORE courses.

Problem Solving 102: Planning Theme Units
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

Most of us are familiar with the step-by-step, single subject, one skill at a time, method of teaching. This method of instruction, called programmed learning, was developed to teach specific skills in a way that could be easily monitored to insure student mastery. Intended for use in industry and job training situations, this method of curriculum development has made its way into mainstream general education. Under this method of instruction, K-12 students rarely have the opportunity or the need to use higher-order thinking skills and abstract reasoning to integrate the diverse pieces of information that they're learning. American literature is taught separate from the context of the historical period in which it was written. Foreign language conversation skills are practiced in sterile situations rather than as part of the student's daily life.

Some curriculum approaches attempt to cross subject area boundaries using such strategies as "writing across the curriculum." But, by and large, the current piecemeal setup prevents students from developing the deeper understanding that comes from seeing the "big picture." In Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning, he stresses that students need to move through the following stages in order to "learn" the lesson being taught:

   Knowledge Acquisition (content: regurgitation of facts)
   Comprehension (paraphrase or translate into another form)
   Application (use the new information to solve problems)
   Analysis (see interrelationships between new and prior knowledge)
   Synthesis (form hypotheses or plan projects using new knowledge)
   Evaluation (make judgements and form opinions based on new knowledge)

For gifted students, it is recommended that greater amounts of time be spent on the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation steps since they seem to easily move through the first three stages when presented with new information or knowledge. Analysis, synthesis, and evaluation invoke and help develop the student's creativity and critical thinking skills.

Bloom's taxonomy of learning is a useful strategy to follow when planning thematic units. Learning activities and projects do not require lenthy planning or setup when you allow the gifted student to exercise his or her creative skills. Use the following keywords to encourage students to create their own learning activities and projects which are then evaluated as part of the thematic unit.

Knowledge        Define, identify, list, name, show
Comprehension    Explain, compare/contrast, estimate, in your own words
Application      Build, develop, plan, solve, demonstrate
Analysis         Explain why, how; develop an argument for/against
Synthesis        Think of a way, Put together ..., Make up ..., Propose
                 a solution, What would happen if?
Evaluation       Defend an opinion, Decide between options, Explain why 
                 your solution is the best one.

The best thematic units are "works in progress." The theme develops as the student's learning progresses. In the beginning, choosing a single topic to study may be difficult especially if your gifted student has a wide variety of interests. Or, you may find it difficult to broaden the interests of a student who is pin-point focused in one subject area. Thematic units can be adjusted to accomodate many different types of learners and their learning styles. Theme units allow you to change what you're doing as soon as you discover that "what you're doing isn't working."

History, literature, and the sciences can all be covered in a single unit study. Start by choosing a period of history or a chapter out of a science textbook. Or, select several literary works along the same theme. Read the selected texts with your students. Then, move into the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation phases as you decide how to incorporate each "subject" area into your thematic study. The theme develops as your study progresses.

Plans for unit studies should include coverage of the basic subjects: reading comprehension, critical reading, creative writing, library and study skills development, and extension of the student's basic body of knowledge. Beyond those basics -- almost anything goes. To demonstrate mastery, the student may choose to write and perform a skit (drama), write a report, create a work of art or build an exhibit (project). Video presentations, tape recordings, multimedia presentations, and world wide web pages are appropriate projects to demonstrate learning and provide tangible evidence of "schoolwork."

There are many assessment options available for thematic unit studies. Tests of factual knowledge are OK but don't really document the student's learning in terms of growth in abilities and acquisition of higher order thinking and reasoning skills. Portfolios, collections of student work combined with teacher and student evaluations, and either a journal or logbook are the assessment tools of choice when your teaching strategy is thematic units.

Executing The Thematic Study With Older Students

  1. Pick a topic.
  2. Select a few good books or textbook sections.
  3. Have the student look for more resources. Student records information and daily activities in a logbook or journal. Teacher assists and directs the student to materials or sources of materials.
  4. Student plans a project or other activity to demonstrate learning.
  5. The plan and/or project is evaluated by both the teacher and student.
  6. Project and evaluations are entered into student's portfolio along with the logbook or journal entries as appropriate.

Note: for younger students, the teacher plays a greater role in each of the steps and provides examples or suggestions as well as assistance during decision making.

Problem Solving 103: Starting In The Middle
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

Some families make the decision to homeschool, from Kindergarten until college, before their first child ever sets foot in a classroom. Others, like mine, find themselves "starting in the middle." Our oldest, a son, spent five years in traditional classroom settings before beginning his homeschooling career. His sister, three years younger, was more fortunate. Her homeschooling days started at the end of first grade. Beginning in the middle had its advantages. Both children knew how to read, well, and had learned the rudiments of handwriting and arithmetic. They were used to the routine of school. They also knew what they were giving up and leaving behind them ... a few friends, a familiar routine, and an environment that not only did not meet their needs but was actually harmful and destructive.

Starting in the middle means that you will probably have a lot of repair work to do. It starts with getting rid of the built up stress. It starts with restoring basic respect and self esteem. It starts with letting go of the surface anger. Many parents have told me that they could never homeschool because either they don't have the patience to deal with their children or their children's refusal to do the chores or other work assigned by the parent. My experience, both with my own family and with others whom I've helped start homeschooling, has been that both of these problems have the same roots. Children are hellions at home after a day spent in an environment that is detrimental to their emotional well being. The anger and hostility they dare not express at school comes out either openly or as passive-aggressiveness at home. In my experience, it takes at least six months of absence from the poor fit of the classroom before the child "gets it out of his system."

The first six months of homeschooling should not be used as a trial period. It should be used as a time of less stress. It should also be used as a "getting to know you" period. How gifted is your child? In what areas are her skills strong? Relatively weak? What level is she ready for in mathematics? How well does she read? Last year's achievement tests probably didn't even begin to measure her abilities or real achievement. The first six months can also be used to "cut your teeth" on teaching. There's no need to rush into anything. Limit television and computer games to the amount allowed before you started homeschooling. Encourage reading and journal writing. Provide a math textbook at least two grades above the previous grade level in school and offer assistance. (Offering "help" implies that the other person is "helpless.")

Underachievement and lack of motivation are two of the most common problems seen in gifted children who are begin homeschooling after having been in a traditional classroom. Once the pattern has been established it is extremely difficult to turn these children into self-directed learners. Once they've learned to "do the minimum" to get by ... the underachievement habit is ingrained.

Dealing with underachieving gifted children is frustrating and can be a source of anger in the parent. It is important to distance yourself from the situation and recognize that this is "just another problem to be solved." If you can, hook the child's passion. Find out what he is interested in and either use it as the base for thematic unit studies or as a "carrot" to bribe him for acceptable performance. Habits are not broken. They are replaced with other, hopefully more acceptable, behaviors. Pleasure and enjoyment are highly motivating for most human beings. Rising self-esteem, in both parent and child, will aid in your efforts to encourage study habits and the development of a love of learning for learning's sake.

Starting in the middle is difficult but it's better than the alternatives. At least, that's the way I see it. We've been homeschooling for four years now. It took between six and nine months for the kids to stop picking at each other. During that period, everyone in our family changed how we treated each other. We're still changing. Respect for other individuals has grown in each of us. We're still working on responsibility. It's heartening to hear other adults speak of our children in admiring tones. They really are mature for their ages. Part of that comes from being intellectually gifted. But most of it comes from the environment in which they live and learn, an environment which is appropriate and "fits" each one's needs -- to the best of our abilities as parents to make it so.

Editor: Valorie J. King (vjking@erols.com)

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Copyright 1997 by Valorie King, All Rights Reserved
Last updated July 28, 1997 counter

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