One of the best parts of homeschooling is the opportunity to be intimately involved in my children’s learning. I know when they’re ‘getting’ a subject and when they are not and I do not need to rely on tests to know it. While we do have math tests we have no traditional history or science tests, not even for my sixth grader. By traditional tests I mean one that uses true/false, multiple choice, fill in the blank, and short answer questions. A test like this asks a child to regurgitate information that someone else decided was important. It does not give the child opportunity to share all that they know about a topic, which may be extensive.
Homeschooling gives us time. With that time I can listen to my children share what they learn. They are not limited to basic facts, or to facts someone else decided were the most important to know. In younger children (3rd grade and below) this is done through oral narration. Joseph and Emma are in this stage. They talk and talk and talk, I listen. Then they talk some more. As they grow older children move to written narrations. Makayla does a mix of oral and written narrations in 6th grade. She may share about a her current literature selection orally but use written narration for her history studies.
Regular narration keeps me aware of the information my children have welcomed into their minds to stay. (Read Past the Outer Court by Sonya of Simply Charlotte Mason for a wonderful explanation of information and our children’s minds. Go ahead. I’ll wait. It is that good.) I hear not only bare facts but their ideas and opinions related to those facts. Very often they surprise me by the relationship they formed to a topic and the insights they have.
As Charlotte Mason homeschoolers we do have end of term exams. What is the difference between a test as described earlier and an exam? An exam uses open ended narration questions that allow a child to share the breadth or depth of their relationship to the material. Exams may be oral or written depending on the child’s age and ability. Because of this if you ask my children about exams they probably won’t have any clue what you’re talking about, theirs have generally been oral. Some examples of exam questions from Charlotte’s third volume:
- “Tell the story of . . .”
- “What have you noticed about . . .?”
- “Tell all you know about . . .”
- “Describe your favourite scene in . . .”
The parent/teacher completes the question with pertinent material. From our homeschool this year for example I could edit the questions as follows:
- “Tell the story of Joseph Smith.”
- “What have you noticed about squirrels?”
- “Tell all you know about the Sumerians.”
- “Describe your favourite scene in Swiss Family Robinson.”
Each of those questions takes the subject matter and leaves the field wide open for the child to share all that they know, learned, understood, or thought about it. Each child’s answer will differ because each child’s experience and relationship to the material will differ. Makayla, for example, has studied squirrels and their behavior in depth because she is fascinated by them. Most likely she knows more about them than I do.
Each child’s description of a favourite scene from Swiss Family Robinson would differ despite the fact that we read the book together. The depth of detail, opinions related to the material, even the favourite scene would vary because each has formed a unique relationship to the book.
Does the idea of no history and science tests make sense to you or does it make you shudder? Are there any other homeschooling questions you have for me? I don’t have all the answers but I certainly have lots of opinions to share!