Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Importance of Goals

I have recently become a certified TOG Advisor. Working for Lampstand Press (the parent company of Tapestry of Grace) as a teacher at Lampstand Learning Center has been wonderful, and now I also get to help homeschool parents make curriculum decisions and see if Tapestry of Grace would be the right fit for them.

In this capacity, and also in running homeschool lists and Facebook groups, I am constantly getting questions about TOG from homeschoolers who are trying to choose the right curriculum. There is one thing that always amazes and dismays me in this process; the criteria we generally seem to be using to choose the programs for our children. It generally goes something like this:

"I want something cheap and easy to use."
"I want something that is already planned for me so I can just open it and go."
"I want to use blankety-blank curriculum because everyone I know is using it."
"I want something like blanekty-blank but for free."

Now of course every homeschooler has to consider their budget, their time constraints, and their other needs, but it seems as if we are missing the elephant in the room, the one reason that should be number one, and it is this:

"Does this fit with the goals I have for my children?"

One great quote I remember from many years ago, so long ago I can't remember the source, is this: if you're running away from something instead of towards something, you'll get nowhere. We spend so much time running away from this or that program because of what isn't perfect, or what other people say, and we end up chasing after the "latest thing" because everyone else is doing it, and, gee, it is so shiny and new! My question is, where will we end up? It may work fine, and we may be satisfied with the end result, but what if we aren't?

I would suggest that before choosing any program to use with our children, we must define what our finish line is. What are we running towards? What do we want for our children? What do we hope they will become? if we can clearly define that, now we have something to plan for. Then we can ask the most important question when looking at any program:

"Does this fit with the goals I have for my children?"

I have found that when we use this as our criteria for evaluating the latest and greatest program, we can make a more confident and even more successful choice. We will find something that fits *our* family, not our friend's family, or the family we admire at the conference that looks so perfect, or the family of the leader of our co-op or support group.

Once you decide to pause the endless search for that elusive "perfect" curriculum to create your goals, you'll need a framework for how to organize them and some ideas on what is important. You may find this task easy, but I have to admit, I did not. I found a goal sheet written by a speaker at a local conference way back in 1999, played with and modified it, then modified it again, over several years, until I was happy with the finished product. Jim helped me with some of the wording, and insisted on paring it down to the most succinct, compact document as possible, because, as he rightly noted, simply stated goals are easier to meet.

For our framework, we decided on four categories for our goals - spiritual, academic, social, and physical. Spiritual is our top priority, then academic, but we felt a well-rounded adult needs to meet some specific social and physical goals as well. We began each section with the phrase "we desire to produce adults who are...." and then stated our four to five main goals for our children in each area.

Now, we can go through this process and write out a wonderful, specific set of goals, and then put them in a file drawer and forget they exist. Instead, why don't we post them on our schoolroom wall? Let's read them over again before we go to the next homeschool convention; better yet, take a copy with us! When we are reviewing a new program that looks so great and has all the bells and whistles, let's stop and look at our goal sheet, then look at that program with a more critical eye. When we're doing our lesson plans, let's keep our goals in mind.

The convention season is fast approaching, the aisles of exhibitors with the latest and greatest, alongside the old and true, to entice and excite us with so many choices. This year, let's approach them with a plan and with the right question on our lips:

"Does this fit with the goals I have for my children?"

Monday, January 6, 2014

Tapestry Workbooks

One of the things that makes Tapestry great is its flexibility. However that flexibility means that every homeschool family needs to decide how to organize the assignments they choose to give their students each week.

Workbooks are a great way to organize information for your older, independent students. I begin to teach independent work in the Upper Grammar level, checking work daily, and working up to Rhetoric level, where I have a weekly meeting to go over assignments and grade their work.

There are many, many types of workbooks and everyone has to find what works for them. Also, things change year to year and we all need to be flexible and adaptable. This system I am going to describe is what I use currently; this system has changed and probably will change again. Hopefully this will give you some ideas that will help you develop the system that works for you.

I've kicked around the idea of using a bound workbook, but I prefer the flexibility of a 3-ring binder. I like to work week to week when deciding what components to assign and which not to assign. I do have the assignment sheets already written before a unit begins, but I sometimes modify them so I don't print them until giving that week's assignments.

This is the current assignment sheet I use:

  Please note that I blocked out the assigned reading pages, which are copyrighted to the program.

I have also used the following assignment charts in the past:

My kids design their own binder covers.

We redo the binders every unit, removing the previous unit's work and adding in the next unit as we go.

Here is the list of what I generally give them each week to put in their binders:

  • assignment sheet
  • map
  • timeline entries (to be cut and pasted into their books)
  • history accountability and thinking questions (I create Word documents that include the following info that is copied and pasted from the TOG Workbook pages):
    • General Information for All Grades
    • Accountability Questions, with space to write the answers
    • Thinking Questions, with space to write the answers
    • any charts for that week
  • literature accountability and thinking questions (again, I create a Word document that includes the following from the TOG Workbook pages):
    • Literature Introduction
    • vocabulary terms
    • any Poetics assignments
    • Accountability and Thinking Questions, with spaces to write the answers
  • government questions (R students only, with space to write the answers)
  • government reading (if it is on the Tapestry Government CD)
  • any worksheets pertaining to their other subjects
This system works well for my students since they can take out pages and put them back, and I can look at them any time and grade them at the end of the week.