Friday, August 23, 2013


Every Student A Home Schooler

Every Student is a homeschooler. You say but my child goes to public school. Do they do homework? My grandson is in kindergarten. He has homework. Homework is school at home. Especially in the early grades, parents are expected to participate in homework. Sounds like homeschooling to me. Then, of course, there are those who do school at home instead of public school. This section looks at the strategies and examples of homeschoolers. Even though your child attends public school many of these principles can apply to your situation.

How much can be learned when learning is very focused? The Swann family is an example of what can be accomplished with a family focuses on education. Alexandra Swann tells her family's story and journey with home schooling in her book No Regrets How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen [Kindle Edition .99ยข]. This family's journey was often motivated by their religious convictions about education. Other homeschool families I personally know have many reasons for choosing homeschool. I know none of them who regretted the experience. I followed the story of the Swann family over 20 years ago. I have use their example in my working with my step-daughter Stephanie. I was fond of saying we sent Stephanie to public school during the day for socialization. At night we did home school together. I the teacher and her my sole student.

The Swann family wanted a Christian education for their children. In 1976 when they started to home school such a movement did not exist. They were told that children could only learn from real teachers who were certified like those in public schools. So Mrs Swann decided to start teaching Alexandra who just turned 5. Mrs Swann figured if she could teach Alexandra to read then she could do home school. Alexandra quickly learned to read and was flourishing. The Swanns enrolled Alexandra in the Calvert private school. Calvert is located in Baltimore, Maryland. Calvert has a highly structured distance education program. The program was frequently used by missionary families from around the world.
The school day at the Swann's home lasted for about 3 hours per day. During the 3 hours, there was total concentration on school work. In education this is called 'time on task'. At the Swann's school time on task was 100% on task. In the best of traditional school situations time on task is 50%. Also unlike traditional school Alexandra and her brothers and sisters received a lot of personal attention from their mother who was the teacher. Mrs Swann did not have a college degree but she figured that she could easily comprehend and teach the daily lessons. Most homeschool mother-teachers I know do not have college degrees, but are successful teachers at home.

There was no homework at the Swann school. Homework in a traditional setting is to help provide one-on-one attention with parents at home. Individual attention is hard to obtain in the traditional classroom. A teacher often has 20 or more students in the room. With this many students to take care of teachers try their best to work with all the students. But time is just limited. My experience knowing homeschool families is that all school work is done during school time and help is immediate. 
The Swann school went Monday through Friday, twelve months a year with time off for holidays. There were no summer vacations, Christmas or spring breaks. My 6 year old grandson is experiencing his first summer vacation after kindergarten. He is quite upset. He keeps asking for school and wants to know if today is the day he will start 1st grade.

Although I will be mentioning how Alexandra did in school, it turns out her 9 bothers and sisters followed the same courses and pace of education. Calvert allows students to move at their own pace. As Alexandra completed a required unit, the tests were mailed to Calvert for grading. Alexandra completed 1st grade in 2 1/2 months and started 2nd grade. In fact after 6 months Alexandra finished 3rd grade. By 7 years of age Alexandra started 5th grade. The family moved to New Mexico where homeschool was a legal option. 

By 10 years Alexandra started high school. Alexandra eventually had 9 brothers and sisters. . Mother was continually there as the master teacher. Children sat around a large dining room table working on their lessons as mother tutored one of the children. Alexandra finished high school in 18 months of study. Most of the homeschoolers I know often choose to go to school year round. Most are anxious to complete high school in 2 years if possible. There is no skipping any required courses or examinations. Most middle and high school students go to school and watch teachers perform all day lecturing. Homeschoolers, on the other hand, spend their days reading books, completing questions and writing papers instead of  listening to lectures. 

At eleven and a half Alexandra was ready to start college and did so with the Brigham Young University External Degree Program. This program allow 95% of the work to be complete at home. BYU still offers correspondence courses for the completion of middle school, high school and college. The course work at BYU is expected to take four years. The courses are college level courses and very  demanding. At just 15 years old Alexandra was the youngest person to completed her bachelor's degree from BYU. 

Mrs Swann was amazing. For all ten of her children, she read every book and every assignment to help her children. This meant reading every book, worksheet and written paper from 1st grade through a master's degree. No child was left out or left behind. All 10 children completed college at an age when most students are thinking about starting high school. My step-daughter, Stephanie needed help in school. I personally read every book, assignment and paper which was required from 7th grade through 12th grade. Although she attended regular public school, I worked continuously with her at night to ensure her success at school. 

Alexandra at 16 years of age finished a master's degree from California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH). CSUDH runs an external master's degree program in humanities. Again all work for this master's degree can be completed from home. After graduating Alexandra was hired by the local community college to teach history. Alexandra went all the way from 1st grade to a master's degree all at home. So at 17, she was teaching students who had just graduated from the local pubic high school. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Comments on Note Taking

Taking notes has a long history in education. At medieval universities students took notes while professors lectured or read from books. There was a good reason for this note taking practice. Books were exorbitantly expensive and rare. Books were hand copied by monks and only the monasteries, universities and the very rich had books. Note taking was a way of securing your own book. You were literally copying your own book to keep. What about note taking today. We are not hurting for books. Google estimates there are 130 million books in the world today. In the US there are over 3 million books in print. That is 3 million individual titles with each title being printed numerous times. So no one needs to write down a lecture to get a book. 

As far as I can see there are only three reasons for taking notes. 1) Notes tell you what the teacher thinks is important to know. 2) Notes tell you what you should read in order to learn more. 3) Notes save you the time of looking up and reading lots of material. The teacher has done the reading for you. However, some students have problems with taking notes. I have two suggestions. 1) Read the section or the chapter of the textbook before the lecture. The lecture will then cement the concepts in your mind. Lectures will seem more like a review than something strange and new. 2) You can read an outside book. You can especially read one of those "For Dummies" or "Compete Idiot's Guide To" books. These books are easy to read and again will make lectures seem like a review.

You should develop a system of note taking that makes sense to you. Here are a few of my tips. It is best to use a separate notebook for each class. I also ditched the lettering or numbering of ideas while taking notes. I used an indenting system. Major ideas stayed to the left margin. Less important concepts progressed to the right. New ideas are identified by placing a dash (-) in front of them. A star is placed in front of a concept reserved for the "this will be on the test" remarks. If there is a long word which repeates itself, I make up an abbreviation for the word. Be sure to note what the abbreviation stands for, so you can decipher your notes later. Today there are also lots of additional resources on the internet. If your lecture covers a new topic go to Wikipedia and read an article on the topic. I often read Wikipedia when running into new topics. If you are really lost, see if the topic is covered on  YouTube.

Friday, August 09, 2013


Exceptional Readers

In this section I want to tell you about some exceptional readers I have known. Let me begin with L. W. Nuttall M.D., he was the first outstanding reader that I knew. He was my father. His mother was a one room school teacher in Utah. She frequently read to him as a preschooler. At four he had figured out how to read. By first grade he was reading at a fourth grade level. All through school his reading excelled. During medical school he routinely had to read medical books of 1,000 to 2,000 pages. Like most medical students he careful studied his books. However, he had an advantage. He could read 1,200 words per minute. The night before a class final he would read the entire 1,000 page textbook from cover to cover. Believe me these textbooks are printed with small print. He made straight A's in all his courses. Unfortunately, for me I did not inherit his extraordinary ability. Instead dyslexia rans also in our family. I inherited those set of genes. So my reading is exceptionally slow. 

Reading and planning a canoe trip. As a dyslexic college student, I needed other students to read my textbooks to me. So each semester about 6 of my fellow students read my books to me. One of these students was Richard. He was exceptional in languages. Besides English Richard could read fluently in Greek, Latin, German and Hebrew. He could read over 200 words per minute aloud to me. One day we were reading a chapter on Russian history for my world history class. He was reading very quickly and very accurately. When the hour was up, I asked him if he got anything out of the reading since he was going so fast. He told me that in fact he was not paying any attention to what he was reading. Instead while reading to me, he was planning a summer canoe trip. In his mind he was thinking about where he and his friends would spend each night on the river. He thought about where they would buy their food and what camping gear to take with them. He was without a doubt one of the most exceptional readers I ever met.

Reading in true silence. I had a friend Bill. He wanted to read faster in order to complete his college work. So he signed up for a course at college which focused on increasing his reading speed. In this course there were machines that flashed words to him quickly to increase his word perception. There were projectors that scrolled the lines of stories quicker and quicker. Students practiced keeping up with the scrolling lines of print. Slowly this pushed Bill to read faster. Like Bill the other students in the class would hit a plateau at about 300 words per minute (wpm). At that speed Bill would still hear himself pronounce each word in his head. A number of students stayed at this plateau. But after awhile some students would breakthrough this plateau. All of a sudden Bill was no longer saying each word in his head. Words would be recognized totally in silence. When this happened Bill's reading speeds jumped to 400 wpm then to 500 wpm. The words now floated by in silence. Bill became only aware of the ideas in a book. He no longer focusing on individual words. Research shows that Bill's brain was still processing individual words but extremely quickly and silently.

Reading and seeing a movie. I meet Abigiel who was from Holland. She could speak four languages: Dutch, German, French and English. She was a very proficient reader. Like other proficient readers she could read with true silent reading. In fact, she said she loved to read fiction. While reading novels she would become oblivious to holding a book, turning the pages or seeing words on the pages. She said the novel would turn into a full technicolor movie in her mind. She would be totally absorbed in seeing her mental movie. All else disappeared.

Reading in more than one language. Mazin, one of my good friends,  reads fluently in both English and Arabic. These two languages use very different alphabetic scripts, different ways to write words and different grammars. But yet he reads fluently and with true silent reading in both languages. He goes weekly to the library and brings home a large stack of books. His reading is extensive and covers education, philosophy, anthology, engineering, and botany. While spending several years in the Middle East as a professor, he followed his weekly practice of bringing a large stack of books home from the library. In this setting he read the same topics but exclusively in Arabic. Today he reads both languages fluently and effortlessly.

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