Selecting Curricula – Criteria – Part One

(The following is excerpted from Steps sixth course for Parents, Teachers and Tutors.  This is part of a lesson plan dealing with preparation to homeschool, and deals specifically with how to select curricula.)

Next comes the selection of study materials.  You will first need to determine which subjects your student will study.  There is a very strong likelihood that your student, pretty much regardless of their age, where you live, or any other factor, is going to need curricula in at least these five areas:

  • Reading/Writing/Grammar/Language
  • History
  • Science
  • P.E.
  • Math

It should be stated that an emphasis on reading and writing may well be needed if the student is near the start of their education, or if they are remedial (requiring repair in some manner regarding their education).

These five areas of study do not make up a complete curriculum.  Additional to these, the student probably should be studying an elective or two, ideally of their own choosing and based upon their interests.

Let’s put together a brief “questionnaire” that may help you in selecting appropriate curricula.  This curricula is likely to include reading materials such as text books, and may include fully authored courses with lesson plans, tests and answer guides, as well as films, hands-on activities, etc.  There are questions which should be asked, and details to be ascertained, to determine what curricula may work best.  First, let’s just understand

1) The student’s own literacy.

What the student can read and understand may well determine the complexity of the curricula you’ll be able to use.  You may require curricula that develops literacy, if the student needs help in that area.  In this case, you’d be looking for curricula that improves reading skills at the same time that it teaches the subject  matter.  If the student is literate for his age, there are fewer limits in what you can use, but there will still be a “ceiling” as it were, above which the literacy of the materials might serve as a barrier for the student.

As to literacy, there is also the question of grammar, and of willingness to write.

Grammar is often a weak point in education.  The student often never really is taught about the correct construction of sentences, or about the correct use of words.  Sometimes, the student does not understand how to correctly pronounce words that they commonly read, and no one knows because the student never read aloud or uses those words in everyday speech.  There are a lot of curricula available for homeschool use, in the area of grammar.  It is best for a student to confront this subject early in their education, and while they’re still fairly young if possible.  A student learning how to read is not too young to be learning about grammar, so long as the materials are scaled to their ability to understand.

The willingness to read or write is an entirely separate issue.  There are some students who simply hate to write.  There could be many reasons for this, but I can suggest a few key reasons that I’ve encountered:

– The student is not confident in their ability to write.

This can easily occur if the student has been repeatedly corrected and their writing continuously evaluated, as is the case in most school situations.  Writing is a personal expression.  It is a way to place into words, and to organize and present, one’s own ideas and thoughts.  When a student (or anyone’s) written work is critiqued, even to a modest degree, it is possible to not only lose faith in one’s ability to write, but one’s ability to think and the value that one places on their ideas, as well.  The solution to this: Allow the student to write, a little bit at first, perhaps, without any correction at all, no critique, no comments.  This includes keeping the teacher’s hands entirely off of typos, handwriting, and grammar.  NO corrections means NO corrections.  The teacher’s job at this point would  simply be to truly admire the student’s writings, period, and to do so for as long as it takes for the student to resurrect an interest and belief in their ability to write.  How long will this take?  It will take as long as it takes.  It may even take years.  But without the student’s willingness, an education is simply not going to happen.

By the way, the same exact situation can stop a student from reading!  Enough critique of how the student reads (especially when reading aloud), the speed at which they read, the materials they choose to read, can all add up to a student unwilling to read.  The same solution we applied above to writing – a non-critical, admiration-based approach, would again be called for, one taking as long as it takes.

– The student may have a physical problem with writing.

Poor eyesight, weak hands, pain in the hands…there are several physical  factors that may lead a student to want to not write.  These should be looked into and, as far as they may be, remedied, if the student seems willing to write, but not physically able. Eyesight is a tricky one to catch sometimes, without a real eye exam.  IF YOU SUSPECT THIS, you absolutely MUST handle it professionally and right away.

– The student may simply not know how, and be embarrassed.

If the student’s understanding of writing or reading is limited (so far as the student is concerned), he may not wish to share that fact with anyone. Taken to its extreme, this can lead to adult illiteracy that no one has discovered.  This is not as uncommon a phenomenon as you might wish to believe.  The solution is not dissimilar to the non-critical approach suggested above, along with some materials that are scaled to the student’s actual abilities, rather than those materials “assumed” to be correct because of the student’s age or grade.  There are adults who need to start their literacy training with a lot of drawings, pictures, and simple phonics or word identification.  What works, works.  Criticism will not, however, be helpful at all for such students.

Literacy is the absolute cornerstone of education.  A student with limited or no literacy is going to be very hard to educate, indeed!  Until a student develops literacy to a level where study materials make sense to them, you as a teacher will be fighting a never-ending uphill battle that you and your student are doomed to lose.  With this in mind, it is very important that you START with literacy, both reading and writing.
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As you probably know, I am an advocate for homeschooling. It’s my belief that homeschooling potentially provides a student with a vastly superior education than schooling in any form. This is backed up by a lot of numbers and research. I’ve taught for public and private schools, at the University level, as a private instructor in thousands of workshops, and as a homeschool dad running a homeschool group. Homeschooling by far works best for most students- and most families.

But I understand that many parents do not believe they can effectively homeschool. They’ve been told that they “don’t have degrees,” and that they “aren’t qualified.” This is all nonsense, of course. You’re legally not required to have any kind of a degree to homeschool your kids anywhere in the U.S. A lot of people who have degrees and who call themselves “professional teachers” are simply awful, and even destructive at what they do. A lot of parents…hundreds that I know of…have homeschooled their kids right into universities and careers.

In a serious effort to make homeschooling easier to do, and more commonly successful in terms of education received, I’ve authored my own curriculum. It took some 15,000 hours to write, over more than a decade of work, and is intended to replace the need for schooling a student from age 5-Adult Continuing Education. The curriculum is called Steps (or “CTT”). It has been used by over 20,000 students worldwide over the past 10 years. Hundreds of “success stories” attest to how well CTT works.

CTT courses are written in a way that gradually allows the student to take over his own education. Each course itself largely does the teaching, relieving mom and dad of that duty unless they wish to use our daily lesson plans in various subjects as springboards for family discussion and discovery – as many families do, every day. The parent has the job of making certain the student is working and has what they need to study. (And you’ll need to find a good math program for homeschooling as we don’t provide one. There are many.)

Below are links to our site discussing each level of curriculum, and every subject at that level that we offer. (You can start any level at any time. We don’t have “semesters” that start at a certain time, and each course stands alone well.) You’ll find free videos describing how every subject and each level works. You’ll discover free samples of every course we offer. Our site offers many other services and surprises, including numerous free courses you can download and try out.

Starter is for ages 5-6, and for preliterate students of any age. It focuses on starting to develop literacy skills, while teaching about various subjects. Starter includes full two-year programs in Reading, History, Science, Creative Writing, and Living Your Life, courses that develop life and study skills for the youngest students. Every lesson plan at the Starter level works to develop literacy.

Elementary is for ages 7-8, and for students who are developing literacy. It includes two-year programs in Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing (which also teaches the parts of language at this level), and Living Your Life courses which develop life and study skills in preparation for more advanced studies to come.

Lower School (ages 9-10) offers two-year programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, P.E. Electives, and in various arts such as Animation, Music Theory, and Acting. At this level, students must read fairly well, and studies are progressively turned over to the student.

Upper School (ages 11-High School, and Adult Continuing Education) provides programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, Current Events, Literature Guides, P.E. Electives, and in arts such as Animation, Acting, Music Theory, and Music History.

For parents who wish to teach at home, but are intimidated at the thought, and for parents who just wish to improve the homeschool experience, we offer a ten course homeschool program for homeschool teachers, as well as several books about education and homeschooling today.

We want you and your children to win with homeschooling!

6 comments for “Selecting Curricula – Criteria – Part One

  1. Ihilani
    October 13, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Great post. I definitely need to work on this. Im a perfectionist and it seems so counterintuitive not to correct my niece when she reads and writes. I just worry that the wrong thing will be ingrained in her, but I see your point that helping them to love reading and writing will do more to help them learn it than constantiy pounding in correct spelling, grammar and pronunciation. I just wonder though when is it right to intervene and correct a child?

  2. October 13, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Hi Ihilani,

    Thanks for the kind comment. I don’t know that the right question is so much WHEN to intervene, as HOW. We tend to intervene (correct) the student, which makes the student feel inadequate (needing our help). I think it’s often the best policy to allow mistakes to continue until the student catches them himself, if possible. If he does not, then when to interfere depends on the subject being studied. If the student is working on creative writing, there is really no right time to correct spelling or grammar until he’s done. Just make a list of spelling errors without sharing it. Share it with the student when they are NOT working creatively, so that it does not become some sort of critique of their creativity or creative works. Keep spelling (or grammar) separate and apart from all the other studies if possible, isolate them. In this way you’ll help to avoid negating the student’s work in other subjects (even history or science).

    When studying history, science and the like, we’re interested in CONCEPTUAL UNDERSTANDING, not verbatim repetition of materials studied. We want understanding, not memorization – so try to never correct the actual choice of words the student employs to answer questions – just make sure he gets the concept being studied. If he does not, have him re-read materials as needed, even aloud, looking for ideas or words he may not have understood – an old approach going back well over 100 years to the Little Red School House.

    I would say, in general, keep subjects “pure”. Don’t mix disciplines. Don’t correct typing while a student is working on science, or creative writing. Don’t make corrections in grammar as a student works history. You get the idea. This is particularly important in creative subjects (music, acting, writing, dance, painting, you name it). And remember that creativity is a personal expression – in this case, the student’s. His art is HIS, not yours or anyone elses, so opinions are not very welcome in as “correction” in creative areas. Nor is creative “help” – a few “ideas” here and there to help get the student going. If the parent or teacher wishes to create something, they certainly should. But they should allow the student to create his own work. No critique need be applied to a student’s art at almost any time. Their work will improve with exposure to great works, and continued effort of their own part.

    In CTT, we provide tests in History and Science as a rule. But they are structured only to reveal what the student did not fully understand in recent studies. They are not intended to provide a “grade”, or to be used punitively or as an “evaluation” of the student as a whole. I believe in avoiding evaluation and testing entirely as they are currently employed in education.

    I hope this helps!

  3. Nancy J. Bell
    March 1, 2013 at 5:15 am

    In our homeschool program, we have the core courses: English (reading,literature, etc.), and Writing (grammar and expression), Math, Social Studies, and Computer (Internet-based learning), and 2 electives in science (Astronomy, the World’s Water were selected this term). All work is integrated with art and presentation skills whenever possible, focusing on the topics. (In Social Studies we are studying the Constitution). My learner (this time) is 13 and she just started homeschooling recently. She loves to take her interests and turn them into meaningful lessons. All lessons are criterion based using performance objectives to determine “mastery,” and then we move on. There are no bad grades, only lessons learned or still being learned. Much more success is possible, and confidence, and promise!

    • March 1, 2013 at 9:07 am

      Hi Nancy. Do you see science as “elective” study? It’s pretty much a must today. When you say the lessons are “criterion based”, could you define that? What is the criteria being applied? As you know from my articles, I don’t believe in grades, report cards, classroom learning. Anyway, I certainly agree with your premise.

  4. May 14, 2013 at 8:08 am

    Hi, this is an insightful article. Thank you Steven for taking the time to share this with us. I agree that literacy is the cornerstone of education. I also think good communication skills stem from literacy and there is not enough proactive focus given to the former in public education.

    Also, Steven, how would you approach the lack of willingness in a child to be educated?

    • May 14, 2013 at 5:47 pm

      Hi Andries,
      You’re welcome. As to the willingness of a child, I’ve written articles about that, many of them, found here and at Homeschool Under Siege. Take a look, I have many thoughts about it.

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