I came across this homeschooling post by Heather Sanders over on The Pioneer Woman this morning, about measuring success.
The timing of coming across this post was interesting, because I’d just been discussing success and how to define and measure it when homeschooling with a friend that doesn’t homeschool.
Her confusion comes from the fact that her kids bring home reports at regular intervals from school that show progress in the form of a letter grade, and that’s how she knows whether her child is making progress. If the grade goes up or stays the same, the child is making progress; if the grade goes down, she’s not.
That is one way to define and measure success. But I have several problems with that method. One is that since I don’t work in the public school system, I don’t really know what standards they’ve set. There are sites that profess to show you what your child is learning, what’s considered to be progress, proficiency, and so forth, but there’s no real way to know exactly what is or isn’t being taught.
Another is not knowing how the teacher chooses to grade. Is the grade my child brings home the grade he actually deserved? Or is that the grade he got after the teacher held his hand and worked through each problem with him? Did she grade on a curve because the whole class didn’t do so well? I know none of these things.
Another objection I have is a bit less clear cut. It boils down to the idea that the majority of what is being taught in public schools is about memorization and regurgitating said memorized material for a test to prove learning. This does not prove learning – this proves an ability to memorize and retain information long enough to pass a test. That’s not acceptable to me.
“So,” my friend wanted to know, “if you don’t do any of that, then how do you define and measure success in your homeschooling environment?”
I had been defining and measuring success since we started homeschooling, but I hadn’t really thought about how I would explain it to someone. It was kind of like breathing – I was doing it, but it wasn’t something I thought about doing. So now, presented with this question, I had to think about it.
First, my definition of success. In our unique environment, I do not define success as a letter grade, or a test passed, or a chart of facts memorized indefinitely. I define success as actually learning. When my child goes from being unable to perform a skill and then being able to perform it – that’s success. When my child is engaged, is learning, listening, doing, thinking, getting excited or at least interested – that’s success. I don’t need a letter grade or a piece of paper of any kind to indicate it to me – I can see it happening before my eyes.
How do I measure success? There doesn’t have to be a yardstick by which I determine whether we’ve made “enough” progress. I don’t need a checklist of points to check off to decide that our school year is complete and my child is now ready to be called a ___ grader.
I measure success by comparing my child to himself. I look at where he was at this time last week, last month, or last year. When I see that at that point, he was there and now he’s here, and there’s this amount of knowledge in his head know that wasn’t here at that time I’m measuring against, that is the measure of success. That tells me he’s learning, he’s growing, and he’s making progress. Defining him as a student in a specific grade simply shows that he’s the same age as all the other kids in that grade – it doesn’t show he’s learned anything. Kids get passed from grade to grade all too easily these days, so stating that he’s a 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, or 12th grader doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than he’s been passed through all the grades before that.
But when I can sit my child down and carry on a discussion about a book we’ve both read, a history topic we’ve covered, or have him help me complete a math problem using a skill I’ve taught him – that shows me success. That shows me he’s learning, and that shows me that what he’s learning will stick with him long beyond this moment in time when we’re having this conversation.
That’s not to say that children in public school don’t learn. They certainly do. But I think many of them are done a disservice when their parents rely too heavily on that report card that comes home every few weeks as the definition and measure of the child’s success.
Teachers have it rough now. They’ve got limited budgets, limited supplies, students who are frustrated or behind or just plain don’t care, administrations who are frustrated or just plain don’t care, and parents who don’t support them. They can only do so much. Parents have to step in and help the teachers out. Helping with homework is a start, but go beyond that.
Encourage your child to read and learn outside of school. Teach them that learning can be fun and exciting. One excellent way to do this is by showing that you still learn. Take a class yourself, look things up online, check out books from the library on topics that interest you.
When your child comes to you with questions, encourage them to go online and look up the answers for themselves. Encourage them to learn how their favorite video game works, how the concept was designed, what went into creating the game. Have them read a biography on the developer, if there’s one available.
In the post I mentioned at the beginning, Heather asks the question “Does reaching a goal equate success?” I would challenge everyone to consider that success doesn’t always have to be defined by a goal being reached. Sometimes, success can be considered to have been reached without a definite goal in mind. Sometimes it can simply be a matter of finding yourself in a different place than you were before: with more knowledge, more skills, a better understanding of knowledge and skills already possessed. You don’t necessarily have to have created a specific goal of exactly what skills or knowledge you intended to gain – success can simply be the ability to say that you have gained more skills or knowledge.