Sunday, March 21, 2010

Help! How do I teach what I don't know?

This week's Blog Cruise question is, "How do you teach advanced subjects?"

Most homeschooling parents are rather comfortable teaching the younger years. When I was first exploring homeschooling for our family, part of my logic was, "Can I really mess up kindergarten?" Since that first year, I've tried to take each year as it comes.

At 5th and 7th grade, my kids are already starting to hit material that I either never covered or don't remember. I handle such material in three ways: learn, relearn, or outsource.

Learn Along with your Children

Homeschooling parents should be life-long learners. There is no reason why you can't learn right along with your child if they are covering material unfamiliar to you. In fact, what a wonderful example you can be to your child by modeling that there is always more to learn. There is never a time that you "arrive" and know it all.

Depending on the subject and personality of your child, you can either work along side your child or work a few lessons in advance and stay just a step ahead. When questions come up, explore the answers together by going to the library or browsing the internet.

Give Yourself a Refresher

Even though it may have been a long time, you'd be surprised at what you've likely retained from your school years. One subject that I often need a refresher in is math, even though I have an engineering degree and took advanced math in college. Though I haven't used higher levels of math in years, a quick look at the lesson usually brings it back.

How you handle this again depends on the personality of your child. Make sure that your child has the maturity to understand that you as a teacher needing to refresh material already learned is not only ok, but often a necessary process when subject matter is not used on a regular basis. Once this is established, your student observing this process can be a valuable lesson in itself for your students. I don't want my children to expect that once they know a topic, it will forever come to them immediately or else they never really knew the material. However, you don't want your child losing confidence in you as a teacher and if they do not yet have the maturity to understand needing to refer back to the text for a refresher, make sure you do this in advance and are prepared to answers before they cover the material.

For advanced subjects that you've taken in the past, either review lessons before your child gets to them (to present to dependent learners or be prepared for questions), looking up needed information, or tackle it as questions arise (for independent learners). Relearning is no different than learning the material, the process is just quicker because the foundation is already laid.

Outsource: Online, barter, co-op!

For me, there have been times that I either,

a) Had the ability and background to teach a subject, but knew my child would be better having someone else teach it, or
b) I had no knowledge of the subject and wasn't willing to learn it in order to teach it.

While I personally haven't felt there isn't a subject I can't learn, I have heard other parents say they "can't" teach a subject. I often think it is a confidence issue, but there may be a subject that is just too difficult for you personally to effectively teach or guide the learning of your child.

In all of the above, the answer is outsource, outsource, outsource. Many, many resources are available to teach your child subject matter without actually mastering it yourself.

There are many outsourcing options, including:
  • curriculum geared toward the student and meant for self-learning (often DVD or CD-Rom based)
  • subscription services on the internet
  • co-op classes
  • bartering with a friend
  • community college classes
  • local high school (in some states)
  • private schools
  • online classes
With my independent learner, I often use curriculum that is DVD-based and student-directed for subjects that I feel confident in but don't necessarily want to cover the material again myself. I've also used subscription services when a change of pace or break was needed from the normal curriculum. This also frees up some of my teaching time to work one-on-one with my younger child.

If your child really needs someone teaching him directly, many classroom and tutoring options are available. I've typically used in-person classes with co-ops or homeschooling groups for extracurriculars, but I know families that are using them for core subjects. If cost is an issue, consider bartering with another friend (she teaches your kids her specialty and you teach her kids yours) or forming a learning group with other families where you'll have support from other homeschooling parents. Though an expensive option, there are always private tutors available.
In most areas, students at least 16 years of age will have no problem gaining admittance to the local community college. Depending on the college and student, younger students may also enroll. It might be a good option for some of the more difficult subjects and will also give the student a taste of college. Also, in some states, homeschooling students are able to take AP (Advanced Placement) courses at the local high school. For example, in Michigan, homeschooling students are allowed to participate in non-core classes at the public school. AP courses are considered electives and a fall under this category. While it may not provide flexible scheduling options and require a bit of hoop jumping depending on how well your district works with homeschoolers, it may be the most economical option (free use of your tax dollars) available. Check your state laws to see if this is an option. Also, in our area many private schools are now targeting the homeschooling community and offering part time options and individual classes for homeschooling students.
However, my favorite outsourcing option is online classes. For my family, online classes provide the rigor, accountability, schedule flexibility, and teacher support needed for the most difficult subjects. I've used online classes for subjects that I had the ability to teach, but wanted to focus on teaching other subjects and also for those subjects that I had no desire to learn and no background to draw from (e.g. Latin). Many consider online courses too expensive, but I've found them to be very affordable considering my time and other options.
Teaching advanced subjects seems to be one of the biggest obstacles to homeschooling through the high school years. I believe it to be one of the largest contributors to the drop in numbers of homeschooling high schoolers. I consider homeschooling parents learning facilitators. They don't have to know it all. They can't know it all. What is important is that you are willing to help your child learn, whether you do the teaching yourself or find other resources for the job. With the variety of options now available to homeschoolers, teaching advanced subjects should not be a deterrent to continue homeschooling through high school if it is otherwise the right choice for your family.

1 comment:

Luke said...

Totally. You can teach your students things that you may not know at this moment. And learning and discovering together can be a great experience!