Friday, October 10, 2008

Finding the school groove

Officially Erin's been in school for six weeks now. Practically speaking it's been more like two and a half weeks, though. Here's how it's shaped up.

Week 1: A short week due to Labour Day and shortened school hours. Only one very brief introductory writing class, no science course available yet. She started in on Math.

Week 2: A regular week. A photocopy of the first chapter of the Science course book arrives towards the end of the week.

Week 3: Erin takes the week off because this week regular classes are replaced with arts electives. The school doesn't offer any arts courses, because it's too small, so instead they offer a week of arts electives each spring and fall. Pickings are very slim (free-form drama, or a particular textile collage project). To participate, Erin would need to skip her music lessons and choir in Nelson. The whole point of the flexible program she's doing is to allow her to continue her heavy-duty arts-related schedule. To skip her own stuff to do arts electives makes no sense, so she stays home.

Week 4: We take off for family holidays.

Week 5: Completion of family holidays.

Week 6: A regular week. The Science textbook has finally arrived. She misses class time on Tuesday as usual to go to Nelson for piano and choir, but other than that is in school on a regular schedule. Except that Tuesday morning is replaced by Liaison Day (post-secondary expo) which she skips.

Next week will be Week 7. She'll miss two an a half days -- the regular half-day skip for Nelson lessons, and then two days heading out to Calgary and Banff for a "school trip" to the Banff Writers' Festival. There's really only one full day at the Writers' Festival, which is Saturday, plus a couple of evenings, but Thursday and Sunday are travel days (8-9 hours drive) and Friday is a bonus day for the teens to spend on a Shopping Adventure at a Mall in Calgary! Erin and I and her helpful and accommodating writing class and violin teachers have managed to replace her Mall Day with a day of violin lessons, hurrah! She will be picked up at the hotel by her violin teacher, and picked up later that day at her violin teacher's place by her writing class teacher. Brilliant!

So anyway, there hasn't really been a whole lot of time to find a groove. What is clear is that she intends to be in school all day when it suits her schedule. In other words, rather than spending two or three hours in the morning, as her part-time courseload might suggest, she's spending the full six hours there on days she can, working studiously away at her three courses. [I should say that neither of us is really sure what a full-time courseload is. The school seems to sort of be on the semester system, which I think implies that a full courseload is 4 courses each term. But there doesn't seem to be enough per-course classroom time on the schedule to fill a week with only four courses for students doing classroom-based coursework. Since Erin is working independently for the most part the schedule doesn't really apply to her and we're pretty much in the dark about these details. So she may be taking a 3/4-time courseload, or a half-time courseload ... we're not really sure.]

We'll see how she does with course progress, but so far when she's in class she's moving fairly quickly through the material. She's a quarter of the way through the math course in just the scant time she's had, and is talking about picking up Math 11 as soon as she completes Math 10. Oy, who'd have thought? This girl whose math interest has been middling to negligible since age 9...

She seems to be achieving just fine. Her math test average is well in the 90's. Science has only just begun, and Writing doesn't seem to have had any evaluations yet, but her writing teacher pulled me aside at a community event to tell me that I have 'one very talented girl,' so it seems she must be showing her stuff okay there. I'd wondered if she'd manage to write to task and share her writing -- she's never done the former and always refused to do the latter, but I guess she's managing.

She seems to be really enjoying the clear sequential structure of the math course especially. She's not terribly enamoured of the content and open-ended project-oriented basis of her Science course. She's procrastinating on an ecology project and looking forward to the more didactic chemistry section of the course. I have a feeling that she's going to need some pretty strong parent facilitation of the ecology project. It would be a fairly trivial assignment to someone who's been in the school system, but to someone who is highly creative but resists evaluated-creativity-to-task and who has no concept of what a "design an informational poster" school project typically entails, it's a little overwhelmingly open-ended. I think she needs someone to explain to her what these projects are typically like. Right down to the basics -- like, "you get a big piece of bristol board, and you put a title on it, and then glue on visual and textual content in some sort of organized fashion." These are the sorts of 'gaps' my unschooler has ... cultural gaps in knowledge about what constitutes a School Project. I think they can be fairly easily filled, though there's no doubt she'll still dislike open-ended project work. I bought bristol board the other day. We'll see.

She has an intense dislike for what she sees as the 'fluff' at school. Liaison Day, School-Wide Fitness blocks, Pyjama Day, The Great Calgary Mall Adventure, the arts electives ... she has no interest in any of these offerings. She'd rather just be working on her coursework, and without any fuss or silliness. What other students see as a welcome break from the routine, she sees as an intrusion on her focus and goals.

Motivation is not an issue. She is working hard, and even though she's procrastinating on the science project, she is totally determined that she'll do it (there's no deadline). She goes to school and stays there and works hard, solely of her own volition. And I don't think we're just experiencing a novelty effect. She seems quite committed to this over the longer term. She's beginning, I think, to lean towards working for a graduation diploma, and perhaps fast-tracking the process so that she can complete her graduation a year early. She's started diploma credits a year early, albeit part-time, so I think that's do-able, depending on how her musical priorities pan out over the next year or two. Time will tell.


  1. Very interesting! I love hearing how she's making out and I'm glad she's keeping her focus inspite of the fluff

  2. Very cool. She sounds ready for university. But I never expected anything different.


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