Selecting Curricula – Criteria – Part Two

(The following is excerpted from Steps sixth Parent/Teacher/Tutor course, and continues where our last post left off.)

How will you determine your student’s literacy?  There are many tests and methods out there that might be used for that purpose, but they may not be the best way to work.

Tests, as you have learned, can be daunting, and you very well may not get a real result due to the student’s overall upset with testing.

I suggest the following possible methods:

– Have a student read aloud for you (without help or critique please).  Start with books that you believe may be well below the student’s ability, and I mean very well below.  You may even need to begin with picture books.  Start with a single example of what you think is “beginner literacy” materials, like “See Spot run”. Then, continue to escalate the difficulty level. Take this for not much more than an hour per day, and spread it out.  If the student gets hungry, feed him.  If he’s tired, don’t bother to try this until he gets some rest.  We want true and accurate results, unaffected by anything other than the student’s literacy.

Try to use books the student has little or no previous experience with, as a reader. You might go from a picture book with five one-syllable words per page, to a Dr. Seuss book or something equally simple.  From there, to a reader for young students, say ages 5-6.  You could have them read from some simple story written for that age, but beware classics! Yes, we all love The Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh. But such great books, though written for children, were often written to be read aloud to children by parents, and were written at a time when people were generally more literate.  You may find more contemporary books of use, and even magazines geared for various age groups.  This is NOT an exercise intended to improve the student’s “class” or knowledge, we are simply trying to ascertain his reading level, overall.  If you can provide the student options at each step on what he would like to read, do it.  You may be spending a fair amount of time in a library.

Continue to escalate the difficulty.  And one note – this is much easier to do if you have available TWO copies of each work being read, one for the student and one for you.  You will need to follow along, regardless, watching for:

– Words the student can’t pronounce.

– Words the student does not understand.

– Ideas that seem vague or incomprehensible to the student.

Please note, and this is important, a word or two, a vague thought or two which the the student discovers DOES NOT MEAN that you’ve found the student’s level.  It may mean that the book you’re using hit a few words and ideas he does not get. To be certain, let him read at the level you even suspect may be right for a while. If he CAN read, but it’s a bit of work, that’s his level.  HAVE DICTIONARIES AT HAND!  Make sure they are dictionaries for students at different literacy levels, as well.  Any word that the student does not grasp will need to be looked up, or you will need to provide a definition that he can understand.  But be helpful, not critical, please.  And remember that what you’re doing is diagnostic, and not corrective.

When you believe you may have found roughly the level, confirm it with a second piece of reading materials that fall at roughly the same level.  If the student CAN read it but with some stretching and difficulty (not prohibitive, however), that’s about where you want to be.  If this takes you all the way up to A Tale of Two Cities and Shakespeare, great!

-Another method is to provide the student actual lesson plans from a curricula, at escalating levels of that curricula.  (We’re assuming that the curricula is itself well-written in this regard.)  Start with the most elementary of lesson plans in a subject that the student does not mind reading about.   Have the student either do the lesson plan completely, or read it aloud to you.  Again, we are looking for his level, that which he CAN do, but with some work. Again, escalate as you see that a lesson plan is not difficult for your student.  Do NOT work through hunger or tiredness.  (For what it’s worth, at we offer four “levels” of increasingly difficult materials that escalate as to literacy.  These are Starter (ages 5-6, pre-literate);

Elementary (ages 7-8, developing literacy); Lower School (ages 9-10) and Upper School (ages 11-adult).  Each level past Starter offers a “Reading Test”, which actually consists of sample lesson plans, as described above.  Here are links to those Reading “Tests”:


Lower School:–reading-test.php

Upper School:–reading-test.php

Using these will provide you, in a few days, a fairly decent assessment.

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!

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