Tuesday, March 08, 2011

DL program thoughts

We had our mid-year meeting a couple of weeks ago at the local public school to discuss how the new Distributed Learning program they created for homeschoolers is working out. If you're new to the blog, or an occasional reader, and want some background on the creation of the DL program, you can read this post.

The local DL program hasn't fit us as smoothly and comfortably as a well-worn glove. The SelfDesign program was like that; we slipped right in and we felt at home. Their staff shares a common philosophy, very much aligned with ours. If we bristled at the Ministry of Education's expectations, the SelfDesign staff would bristle right alongside us. They seemed to have a lot of latitude in how they satisfied the Ministry requirements and administered the program. They were very skilled at figuring out ways to turn natural learning into the kind of documentation that would keep the government happy.

With our local DL program we've got good, open-minded people on our side here. That's a huge bonus: real people whom we get to know very well, who interact regularly, face-to-face and personally with the kids, rather than some internet-mediated substitute. But they're totally new to this sort of learning, and to being the interface between homeschoolers and the government. They want to make us homeschoolers happy, and they see the value in what we're doing, but they're not necessarily going to go out on a limb for our philosophical beliefs, especially when the Ministry of Education is doing its tough-guy posturing with this new program. They feel a need to play by the rules. And they're also sensitive to appearances within the local community. For instance, we are requested to spend our learning allowance money discretely, to avoid provoking ire or jealousy in parents of schoolchildren.

For Fiona things are working quite well. She enjoys academic work even when it's challenging, and tends to accomplish it in ways that provide ample documentation and evidence of learning. She loves making things, and filling in worksheets, writing and doing projects. Our liaison teacher finds it a breeze to document her learning in all areas, so there is no tension between her natural learning and the government's expectation that specific subject areas and content be covered. Fiona actually really enjoys having seeing the liaison teacher face-to-face a couple of times a month. She likes saving stuff to show him, enjoys blogging knowing that he reads her blog and is interested to know what she is doing and learning. She's liked having access to the BC Science 6 curriculum materials and website-based quizzes through the school and I can see her really enjoying the independent study courses that will become available to her at the Grade 8 level and beyond. She has also been really pleased with some of the opportunities she's had to be involved in the bricks-and-mortar school. She will likely attend the Arts & Writing Festival in April. She loved the month of downhill ski instruction and Wednesday ski days. She's enjoyed field trips, being part of the Reader's Club and participating in the Science Fair. For Fiona the DL program is entirely unintrusive, and offers her a few extra-curricular perks.

Sophie is fitting the program pretty well too. She is young enough to be part of the ski program, which she has loved, but old enough to be able to take advantage of independent study courses which she also enjoys in moderation. She has benefitted from using the animation facilities at the school. She recently wrote the Grade 7 Foundation Skills Assessments with the Grade 7 class at the school (she'd done this type of testing in Grade 4 as well) and I think in a lot of ways it was easier and more enjoyable doing so with a crowd of kids. She is neither here nor there about the interface with our liaison teacher; she likes him, and is willing to jump through occasional small hoops to make his job of documenting her learning a bit easier. But she's not one to produce a lot of written output, nor is she so much the eager pleaser. I find myself having to nudge her into doing an occasional bit of writing (a book review or an explanation of a mechanical project on her blog), to keep clearer records of her math learning, to persist and document the Rosetta Stone work she's doing. The reporting requirements of the DL program are minimally or mildly intrusive with her, and the advantages feel like they're worth it. I can see Sophie enjoying more independent study academic courses in the next year or two, and benefitting from being able to easily accrue high school credits by completing those courses, as well as being awarded credits for her learning in other areas: foods, music, PE, etc..

Noah is considered a Grade 9 student which means that he is sort of a high school student, but the diploma credits for high school don't start to accrue until the Grade 10 level. He's got a few Grade 10 courses on his roster, including a couple of structured academic ones, and because they're diploma credits the expectations are higher. We're running into a little difficulty with respect to his reluctance to write. He types well, but the structured courses (math: mostly algebra and geometry so far, and science) are pretty much paper-based, using written exercises, workbooks, quizzes and tests for documentation and evaluation. That's proving to be a consistent hurdle. It's awkward or impossible to use the computer for most of this written work. As a result he procrastinates and resists. He's done very well on the math tests, and is halfway through the course. But really, it was all review ... he should have been able to fly through the material in a few short weeks. The writing resistance has slowed everything right down. Science has been even more problematic: again, the content is easy, but the first unit on ecology was full of tests with short-answer questions and that got put off and put off. By both of us. I share the blame, certainly: I find I dread nagging and coddling him through the writing. He is not at all motivated to do it. It honestly feels to me like high school academic course work is not right for him at this point in time, not unless we find ways to deal with the expectation of written work. We are considering having him undergo an assessment to formally identify his areas of challenge and elucidate any additional tools and/or accommodations that might be helpful.

Noah is also not interested in taking advantage of extra-curricular offerings at the school. He is too old for the ski program, not interested in the high school electives or field trips. He is definitely not a pleaser who enjoys generating and then showing off output to our liaison teacher. They have a nice relationship, but it is not compelling Noah to produce school-like output to make Scott's job easier. Noah likes the fact that his string ensemble work and his computer capabilities are being validated through advanced credit in Orchestra and InfoTech. But there are few other advantages to him for being involved in the DL program. I hope that he ends up feeling successful in Math and Science. His grades are very good: I just hope that the struggle over the written work doesn't leave him with a bad taste in his mouth.

Next fall he'll probably have to make at decision to work towards a Ministry of Education Graduation Diploma, in which case the DL program will be very helpful, and has already enabled him to have advanced standing, or else to dispense with the DL program. I'm fine with either option. At this point I expect he'll choose the latter. But a lot can change in six months, so I'm not making any predictions.

So there we are. It's a mixed bag. Not a great big headache, some clear advantages, but a few things that aren't necessarily a perfect fit. Overall I think we're all glad to be affiliated with the local school rather than an out-of-district program.

1 comment:

  1. When you get a solution to the writing aversion, please let me know! My 8 year old son has this in spades, and obviously being in the formal school system means that we bump heads with it more often than you do. He is starting to learn to type, but even that isn't a good option yet. I have always just worked with him verbally, but obviously this situation can't last forever: it is already not working too well at school. Do you know why Noah doesn't like writing things down? My DS has been advised to have an OT evaluation, but I think it's all based on him agreeing that writing sometimes hurt. Afterwards he told me he meant "when I press really, REALLY, REALLY hard to get it really black". So actually the refusal is something else. At the moment spelling perfectionism seems to be the main issue, but there may be other things at work like trying to keep all his ideas in his mind to write. Dictating works fairly okay. I'm interested in what makes someone who physically can write and spell not want to write.

    My 5 year old daughter, like Fiona, would be a dream to evaluate. If I don't provide her worksheets, she starts writing her own. In school, however, she is a bit of a people-pleaser, which means she can sit with too-easy work without moaning. I'm so relieved at the lack of moaning compared to her brother, that I'm inclined to forget to advocate.


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