Monday, July 24, 2017

What we're up to: July

Ok, so maybe back in March, "monthly" updates were ambitious.  How about on a trimester basis? Good enough, yes? Good.

Much of our school time since April has been finishing one program and starting another.    It seems like every time we turn around, I hear, "Mom, I'm almost done this!"  We did take a couple weeks off in mid-April for Easter break, including a trip to Florida, but that didn't really seem to slow down the sprint to summer.

Planning Ahead

I've also been planning for the upcoming school year.   You can read about what we're tentatively doing here.  Jude's will need updating soon, as much of what was planned then was to get us to fall, and we're rapidly approaching that.

We have an extra kid at home for the moment. Celia finished up her school year with the school play (she had a Swing role in The Little Mermaid Jr.) and several recitals.  The Youth String Orchestra she plays with had their spring concert in early May, followed by her school violin and piano recitals in June.  She also took the Jury tests for both instruments and passed several sections of those tests.  (She'll finish the levels during the fall semester.)

She has been out of school since mid-June but has had plenty to keep her busy.  She has both summer Reading and Math assignments for next year and is currently working on No-Nonsense Algebra for an upcoming Crew review.  Her plan is to work on it for practice and the review, and then possibly continue with it over the winter.  She's considering homeschooling for high school, so if she completes the program (even only a lesson or two a week between now and June), she'd start 9th grade in Geometry.  She likes that idea.

She's pretty much taken Luke's place at home because he's been working with Neal almost every day. He has definitely learned the meaning of hard work and comes home every day filthy and exhausted.  It hasn't killed him yet and has actually indeed made him stronger. Stacking crates and unloading trailers by hand is a very physical job, and he has gone up a t-shirt size and down two pants sizes.  Last week, he had a day off and went up to RCGC and got his books for the fall semester.  When he graduated last year, he cleared out his cubby, and it got handed down to his brother. When came home with his textbooks and a few bags of back-to-school gear from Target, he asked, "Can I have my school shelf back?" I guess we'll be re-re-arranging for the boomerang child.

Summer Fun

We've opted not to take a big summer break - we've been working in the mornings/early afternoons and going swimming later in the day.  (Neal's parents have a pool and have given the kids a standing invitation to invade visit whenever they would like.)  Matthew and Celia are both working on their diving skills, while Damien is content to just fly off the end of the board.  Jude is content just paddling down at the shallow end.  Rather than taking a big break now, we're going to keep working and take some longer breaks when the weather is cooler.  We don't have a big trip planned for this summer, so maybe we'll do a few road-tripping days here and there once the fall comes.

Updates from March

We're still doing read-alouds, but the boys have done more reading on their own. Books from the Geronimo Stilton series have become favorites.  Damien has also just finished Because of Winn-Dixie, while Jude is working through Beverly Cleary's Ralph series. We finished Little House in the Big Woods, as a read-aloud and will start Farmer Boy soon.  

I had mentioned that Matthew was nearly done Algebra II with a perfect score; I am very proud to say that indeed finished the course with a 100 average.    Damien is one final test short of being done Math U See Beta and is eagerly anticipating the next book, Gamma.  Jude is on lesson 23 of 30 for Epsilon -- MUS Zeta is another new book to order soon!

Matthew continues to fill his list of electives. He's added Aviation History and Marine Biology to his wish list.  He's technically going into 11th grade, but his course load spans grades -- he had taken a break from American History II (a 10th-grade class) to study US Government (usually a 12th-grade course) at the same time as he began with the Constitution in history.  He's also a full year ahead in math (Trigonometry is usually a senior level class), and his rocket-speed in that is giving him room to add extra sciences.  As long as it's all done by graduation, I'm not worrying too much about what year things should be.

Matthew is still working on the lab portion of his Chemistry course.  He's been enjoying working with MEL Science kits and doing some really engaging experiments.

Recent Reviews

Just because it's summer doesn't mean we get a break from trying new things!  We've had a lot of new things to do.  Some have been really exciting, and others weren't such a great fit, but it's been great to try lots of new things.  Click through to see all the things we've been testing out! Some of our favorites were:

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Checkers (Almost Wordless Wednesday)

Damien had a doctor's appointment today, and we stopped for lunch on our way home.  He and Jude asked to play checkers while we waited for our food.  They were like two little old men, giving each other advice (that helped advance their own strategies).  Luke pinned Damien's last checker just as our lunch arrived.  They asked when was our next appointment, so they could have a rematch!

Oh, brother!

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Doctor Aviation (Homeschool Review Crew)

Matthew is just about finished his core requirements, so homeschooling is quickly becoming more engaging for him now that it's all about electives!  I may say "You need to pick a science, so you have a fourth course in that field," but because he's a school district of one, he can pretty much choose any science he pleases (or at least that I can pull a program together for).  Matthew was intrigued when  Doctor Aviation, a new video-based learning Aviation History course became available to review. It's recommended for ages 16+, so that fits right into Junior or Senior year of high school and elective time! (PS. Adults who want to just learn more about the history of flight will enjoy this as well.) We received a six-month membership to the program (the standard program length) for our review.

The founder of Doctor Aviation is Daryl Smith.  In the beginning of the first session, he introduces himself and his credentials.  He's a United States Air Force Academy graduate (undergraduate and masters degrees) and instructor, with a 24 years career as aviator and instructor.  Doctor Aviation is a well-qualified tutor!

His lecture style is very low-key, preferring to let the information shine.  In addition to the spoken lecture (which is filmed in an airplane hangar), there are high-quality graphics that help identify and explain information. I felt that there was enough to keep Matthew's interest, but not so much cutting back and forth that it became difficult to follow and keep up with the provided guided notes.

The entire 15-lesson course is divided into six sections:

  • Course Introduction
  • The Aircraft
  • Air Traffic Control
  • Aircraft Maintenance
  • Aircraft Operations
  • The Aircraft II

Each section is further divided into relevant lessons.  By breaking down the topics into smaller session, it allows the program to explore an area without becoming too overwhelming.  Could you imagine trying to cover all the parts of various planes and their capabilities in just one lecture?

Each video-based lesson is about an hour long (most are in the 45-55 minute range).  The lessons are divided into three segments: Technical Trivia, Notable Innovators, and Legendary Aircraft/Events.  They are individual, self-contained lessons that are tied together by a common theme.  For example, the first lesson is about the basics of how a plane works, the innovators were the Wright brothers, and the legendary event was the first flight at Kitty Hawk.  Lesson five ties together maneuvering a plane, Daniel Bernoulli and his work on speed and pressure, and the catastrophic UAL 232 crash in Sioux City, Iowa.  Though the program presents all three sections within one video lesson, each is clearly defined. A student could watch one part per viewing if pressed for time. (Matthew found the short sections helpful waiting for doctors' visits, knowing that he wouldn't be just getting into the middle of something and his name be called.)

Doctor Aviation also provides some of his own props.  Well...jets, I suppose.  Here he is demonstrating flight principles using a replica of one of the planes he flew during his years as an Air Force pilot.

Downloadable PDF guided notes are supplied for each lesson.  There is a LOT of information presented in the videos, and these guided notes are useful for helping the student follow along.

Matthew found these helpful because while he needed to pay attention to complete them, he wasn't trying to figure out on his own what was important and what was detail.  Doctor Aviation also provides (optional) tests that are based on the videos and notes are also available.  (Prepared tests are definitely helpful since those pesky transcripts need actual grades!)

In addition to just the presentation part of the course, there is an extensive "For more information" section in each lesson.  There are links to follow, suggested books for further reading, and prompts for further study.  With so much added activity, we found each lesson took about two weeks to complete!

Matthew has read a wide variety of resources so far, from biographies and autobiographies to technical books.  They're certainly not required to complete the course, but he's become so interested in the suggested titles that he's found himself wanting to read multiple books from each lesson.  (I said to him, "You need to choose one of these," and read the list for Session 2 aloud. Matthew responded, "Can't I have both?"  Ok, then!!)   Among the books he's read are both Wright brothers' biographies The Bishop's Boys (Tom Crouch) and The Wright Brothers (David McCullough) and multiple books about the Chuck Yeager's career  -- Yeager: An Autobiography (Yeager),  The Quest for Mach One: A First-Person Account of Breaking the Sound Barrier (Yeager et. al.)  and The Right Stuff (Tom Wolfe).   With so much reading, we've actually decided to count at least some of it towards credit in Literature. (Read about how we're planning that.)

There are also opportunities for hands-on learning.  Matthew explored ailerons, rudders, and yaws using paper and foam airplanes that he built himself.   These are among several NASA-produced lessons and pages provided in the "To Learn More" downloads.

However, as much as I loved having the extra information to help "bulk up" the course to make it worthy of a full credit, I found chasing things down to be frustrating.  Some of the suggested books were easily available, but many were out of print and only available secondhand.  (If you don't have a very extensive public library, they may also be harder to find.)  The PDFs say that the links were retrieved in mid-to-late 2015, and unfortunately, by mid-2017, many of the links were broken.  You certainly don't need to follow every link or read every book,  but it was frustrating that so many resources became unavailable over the past two years or so.  My concern would be that while the information in the videos would remain current,  the "For more study" resources may become undependable.  While it's understandable that Doctor Aviation may not be able to keep every book in current publish, I would recommend sporadic link refreshing (at least annually) to make sure the information is still available to viewers.

Finding hidden gems like this is what makes being part of the Homeschool Review Crew so invaluable for our homeschool.  Aviation is not something I would have thought of looking for a course for, and yet it's become a real hit for Matthew!   Who knows what else he'll decide to study, but thanks to Doctor Aviation,  we know the sky is really the limit for elective choices.

Learn about how other Crew Members are taking to the skies for learning by clicking the banner below!

Aviation Course {Doctor Aviation Reviews}

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Monday, July 17, 2017

11th Grade Curriculum Choices

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As I was planning Matthew's 11th grade year, I sat with his transcript and wrote in the edges what I felt he needed to graduate.  Our state has no formal rules, but if he chooses to apply to college, I feel he needs a competitive-to-local-students transcript.  It certainly doesn't need to match the ones the public district students will have, but I think it should have a similar composition.  To our delight, we're approaching the "electives" phase of our journey - most of the core requirement classes are complete, so we can really start exploring within his interests or specific needs.

You can see from this screenshot of his transcript that he's planning on some extra sciences.  He seems to be gravitating toward earth sciences, and my theory is if it's something he's interested in, that's half the battle.  Since he has completed four credits in Language, he has a space "open" in his schedule for extra sciences. Thanks to the Homeschool Review Crew, we've got the opportunity to do Aviation and Marine Biology.  Matthew is enthralled with Doctor Aviation, so we're going to take the time far beyond the review period and finish this one out, in addition to Physics, his official "Junior Science" course.  We'll probably work Marine Biology in "part time" and spread it into Senior year, and see what else life throws at him.

Our current plan for Matthew's Junior year is carved in play might dry into the original, or we might squish it back up and re-mold.  We'll see how it goes.  The current plan is:

Language Arts

We're creating our own interest-based literature program, based on the books suggested for his other subjects.  You can read more about it in this blog post.  The one formal program that we will be continuing with is Memoria Press' program for The Iliad and The Odyssey. It began as a review and is definitely a challenge for Matthew, but he finds the books interesting so we'll continue on.


Matthew just began Thinkwell's Trigonometry program.  That will probably take him into very early spring when he'll start their Calculus program (continuing into 12th grade).


One goal is to finish Chemistry! He has completed the "book" part, but we need to finish up the lab section.  We're working with MEL Science kits, and he'll continue through the school year doing just labs to finish Chemistry once and for all!

Physics is coming from The Great Courses.  We're adding in the recommended textbook & problems as well.  I'm looking into lab options.  I remember my own physics labs and they were pretty simple in terms of activity -- the hard part was using all the formulas and math calculations.  I'm leaning towards the Lab Manual section of BJU's program.

Doctor Aviation is our resource for Aviation. Matthew is really enjoying this - and since "good" electives are the reward for finishing core requirements well, I'm all for it!

Update for Doctor Aviation! Read our review for that by clicking here.

Social Studies

This is another two-course year.  Matthew's continuing with American History, using History of the United States, 2nd Ed. from  The Great Courses.  We'll add in some of the suggested reading, as well as using U.S. History Detective from the Critical Thinking Co.  (In our state, American History is a two-year course.) I'm hopeful we'll get to do a little more traveling and add more National Park site visits to our agenda, too.

His other social studies course, Critical Thinking,  also comes from these two resources.  The Great Courses is our choice for video-based instruction.  His first video course is "Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills", to be followed with "Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning".   He's working on two workbook sets from The Critical Thinking Co.: Basics of Critical Thinking and Practical Critical Thinking.

That brings him up to six "heavy" courses.  That's probably all I'm going to plan on, for now.  Being part of the Review Crew means we'll likely get some new stuff to work with, so I'd rather leave him a little breathing room to try new things.  If he's making really good progress, I'll start planning senior year, or we'll add an arts or music course - something "different" that is challenging but not stressful.

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Home School in the Woods: Composers Activity Pak (A Homeschool Crew Review)

Home School in the Woods is a familiar curriculum provider for us. We've used them for multiple students in the past, including Celia.  My young musician was happy to work on this review of their HISTORY Through the Ages Hands-On History Activity-Paks: Composers, one of five Activity Paks that the company offers.  These programs are multisensory curricula that provide hands-on learning.

The Composers Activity-Pak studies 42 composers across seven musical eras.  By the time she's finished, Celia will have an extensive background in music history.  Studies begin with the Middle Ages and end with 20th Century/modern composition.  It's a "Who's Who" of musical history, starting with Guido of Arezzo, the father of Benedictine chant and continuing to the great American composer Leonard Bernstein.  There is also a section on music vocabulary, teaching students about various types of compositions.

This vocabulary section is the only place where the "answers" are supplied.  Rather than being a complete program with biographies of the composers, it is more of an "explore and fill in the blank yourself" program, where the student needs to research each of the composers.  There is also a section on orchestral instruments, which is also a cut-and-paste situation.

There are also 28 pieces of music to listen to for the "Music Appreciation" section. The pieces average two to three minutes in length.  Some composers, like Wagner and Mendelssohn, have one iconic passage each to listen to (Wagners "Bridal March" and Mendelssohn's "Wedding Recessional") while others have two; there are even three for Vivaldi and four for Bach.  Celia and I agreed that she would do one written report per composer; for the composers that had multiples, she could choose one piece to listen to.  (The exception was Bach, because included was his Concerto in C minor for violin and oboe; as she is a violinist, I wanted her to definitely study a piece that was specifically written for that instrument.)

This is a program that requires significant amounts of patience, paper, and printer ink.  Unlike most lap book style programs that are "open the file and click print," Home School in the Woods programs need to be printed one page at a time.  You'll need to regularly change paper weights and colors for each page.  We received the download version, and while it is saved on my computer's hard drive, launching the program used the Firefox browser.  Some pages we were able to open from the files and print directly, while others we had to re-download as PDF files so that the fonts maintained their integrity.  With limited hard drive space, this was annoying -- and we didn't figure it out until pages printed, so it meant either having funky printing OR using more paper and ink.

All told, I think it took me about two hours to print everything out.   Having used these in the past, I knew what I was going into and how much work it would be to get started.  However, if you're a lapbooking family and are used to "print and go," you're going to be in for a big surprise.  This is one that I think could be printed on just white copy paper, but it is more impressive if you use the different papers.  We had some leftover from our last review, so that helped keep the cost down a little.

The Timeline project was something that really made things click for Celia. She plays both piano and violin and has had juried exams for both.  She was confused when choosing her repertoire pieces for her upcoming piano jury.  She needed to pick pieces that contrasted mood and tempo but struggled to understand where different composers fit into the general timeline of music.   The Activity Pak has helped her understand that while composers like Dvorak and Debussy have very different styles of composition, they are still both Impressionists, based on the time they lived and worked. Now seeing composers laid out on a timeline based on when they wrote, rather than all jumbled together in her lesson book based on the difficulty of the piece, she can more easily choose where she needs to fill in repertoire gaps.

The entire project is meant to be assembled into a lap book, but that doesn't happen until you're done.  Celia was frustrated because it meant she had a lot of papers to keep track of. We did put them in a zip-top bag, but she would have preferred to have assembled as she went along. If nothing else, it would have given her a folder to keep her composer papers tidy.  Of course, it is possible to do it as you go if you're not following the directions precisely, but that doesn't work when the directions say to make it at the end.  (I finally shrugged and told her she had to decide which way she wanted to do things -- the "right" way or the "way that worked for her."  She's waiting for the completed program to build the lap book.) Secretly, I agree that "along the way" would have made more sense, but literal kids...

I'm going to sound like Goldilocks searching for a good music station here, but bear with me.

When we have used Home School in the Woods programs in the past, I've felt there is more cutting and pasting than learning.  It becomes less about absorbing the contents of the definitions and more "match them up and glue them down." In assembling the timeline and composition study pages, Celia spent much of her time cutting and pasting. She even had reprint some pages because they required some complicated cutting.  As she put it, a few got severe haircuts and "Mozart got a nose job!" as she was trimming to fit.  It would have been simpler if there had been more space around the composers and where they needed to go; she could have left more white space with a less detailed cut.  It was "too much busywork."  I could justify some of it as she veered off into art-land as she created her "music stand" and worked on what she told me was her "never-ending quest to actually do a good ombre."

On the other hand, I'm thinking an 8th grader shouldn't be spending six hours coloring and cutting out pieces to glue together.

Despite this, Composers is probably the program I have liked best because while the definitions were pre-printed when studying the pieces (and the composers themselves in another section), it was up to the student to find information about them. Celia is entering 8th grade, so she was able to surf the internet and research on her own, so these parts were an independent project for her.  (This program is meant for students in grades 3 through 8, so I probably would have felt differently if it was Jude working on it and I needed to do more guiding.)

She's spent a lot of time working on one composer and the accompanying musical pieces, and then hunting through my iTunes playlists looking for the full-length pieces to listen to, or for more selections by a given composer.  Sometimes I've had to say, "It's time to move on."

 Hint - we found these two albums to have the widest variety of composers from the timeline, along with a few others that are not included in the Activity Pak.   They do include longer pieces from the excerpts included in the program.

Did we find a "just right" with this program? I guess so, in the sense that Celia isn't ready to abandon this mid-way.   We've used Home School in the Woods in the past, with mixed results.  Celia enjoyed the 20th Century In America Hands-On Lap Pak,while the little boys were less enthusiastic about the Ancient Greece World History study.  I wouldn't have called this round a "tiebreaker" so much as me thinking "They're different kids, so different perspectives."  Having used the Time Traveler and the World History studies, I'm wondering if it's that they have different perspective.  The two histories seem to be facts fast-and-furious, while the two Celia has worked on (both Activity-Paks) have much more leeway for student-led study.  Composers is working for her, providing a framework for independent learning.

I would be more inclined to use this for not just upper middle school but also for high school as an art history course because of all the research and writing involved with the music passages and the composers; to use with a younger student I'd be hunting down books about the composers rather than letting a third or fourth grader loose on the internet.  I think if I had an older student and a younger student working together, it would be doable, but not for a younger child solo.  I'm going to say that because of all the "busywork", it is not my favorite program, but I can see us continuing with it as a summer project.

Crew Members have been working with a broad range of Homeschool in the Woods programs.  Click the banner below to read their reviews about:

Time Traveler American History
New World Explorers
Colonial Life
The American Revolution
The Early 19th Century
The Civil War
Industrial Revolution through Great Depression
World War II

The Old Testament
The New Testament

U.S. Elections
20th Century in America
Wonders of the World
Benjamin Franklin

Timeline Trio

Hands-on History {Home School in the Woods Reviews}

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

A Well-Read Interest-Led Literature Program

When it comes to Matthew and Literature, I'm finding success constantly eluding us.  We've been trying to find a literature study program that works for him, and despite multiple approaches and curriculum companies, we just can't seem to make things click.  I'm not sure why.  He is intelligent and insightful, but I'm leaning toward the idea that "studying literature" just isn't his thing. Getting him to read, and then complete the activities is always a chore, and while he can intelligently (although reluctantly) discuss what he's read, he struggles to find the "right" answers to be able to get a decent grade.

On the flip side, when there is a topic he's interested in, he seems to devour the books.  For example, we recently started a new course about the history of aviation.  The program, Doctor Aviation,  helpfully provides suggestions for further reading.  Matthew has completed only three lessons in as many weeks, but he has read two biographies of the Wright Brothers, Chuck Yeager's autobiography, The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, and when given the choice between two books about Yeager's reach for the sound barrier, asked why he couldn't have both. He discusses them eagerly, sharing more information than I ever thought I needed to know about early planes and pilots.

I'm beginning to think I need to stop searching for a traditional literature program and start thinking outside the box.  I still want to make sure he's exposed to all genres of literature.  However, I'm realizing that it might be better for him to be "well-read in general" than fighting with him to read what curriculum writers deem "worth reading." To that end, we're going stop copying others' ideas and make our own (mostly) interest-led program.

I still want Matthew to focus on reading and understanding what he's read, but rather than looking for obscure quotes or metaphoric meaning, the plan will be for Matthew to read books that tie into his other classes, summarize the book as he goes along, and be able to discuss it.  If it's a non-fiction book, a general summary will suffice, but if it's a work of fiction, I'm going to have him focus on outlining the plot and main character development.

I've decided that most books he would read will fall in "catch all" genres: (Auto)Biography, History/Era, and Science/Tech.  He will have to read a set number of books and discuss them competently to receive a specific grade.  If he does a satisfactory job, the book can be checked off from the title list and counted toward the quota. If not, then it doesn't count and he has to pick another title and start over.  (I'm also open to entertaining plus/minus letter grades if he has read seven of two genres but only five of the third.) I want his grades to reflect not just how many books he's flipped through, but how many books he's able to competently discuss.  The discussion part is going to be key to completion.

I also have been thinking that studying literature without anything to anchor the choices to what he already knows hasn't been helping.  He really enjoyed a course on the history of Greek engineering, including how they made their war boats and planned their battle strategies based on the vessels' strengths and weaknesses. It makes sense that he's reading The Iliad and likes it.  I can't help but at least try to sneak classics in there, so my plan is to list is to pick literature that ties to an era or topic that we are studying. Having visited the Mark Twain house in Hannibal Missouri, he has a connection to the author, reading anything by Twain may make more sense to him. In a similar manner,  The Jungle (Upton Sinclair) or The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) may not precisely "interest-led" but I'm hopeful that they'll appeal as ways to extend what he's learning about (early labor laws, the Depression and Dust Bowl).  There certainly are fictional science books, but I have a feeling that he'll easily reach the quota of those, so I'm leaving fiction out of that category.

Almost all of his other courses have "recommended reading" selections, so I'll start with those as a base to find books.  He's using The Great Courses to study the geology of the National Parks, and we've already added in using the textbook Geology of National Parks (Harris, Tuttle, and Tuttle) to round out the course's credit-worthiness.  Looking through the course's bibliography,  An American Idea: The Making of the National Parks (Kim Wilcox & Jimmy Carter) looks to be a good candidate for inclusion on his reading list as a science/tech option.  I can also take key players in the history of the parks - for example, John Muir or Theodore Roosevelt - and find books to put under (Auto)Biography.  Even though many of them do require a few of the recommended reading books to complete the course, when you're given a choice of four and want them all, then I think it's safe to say "Two for the original course, and two for lit," is a reasonable division of labor.

"Same author, different book," will also be a likely resource. David McCullough is the author of the biography of Theodore Roosevelt,  Mornings on Horseback, that Matthew read for his government course. He liked that enough to say, "I want to read the Wright Brothers one he wrote." (Thankfully, McCullough has a whole shelf full of history books!)  I can't say too much if he finds a favorite author and wants to explore him more; I certainly have my favorites that I binge read, and then stalk their Amazon pages for new titles!

If we hit a period where we don't have anything to work on, I'll pull out my copy of IEW's Timeline of Classics: Historical Context for the Good and Great Books.  We reviewed  this a while back, and it's really helpful for finding books that go with specific eras.

I initially had thought about giving Matthew a curated list of books, like the IEW Timeline,  but I think he'd wind up choosing a stack of books from one topic and binging.  That defeats the purpose of "well-read." My new plan is to scan ahead in his coursework and the Timeline, see what books are listed within a topic, and then give him a choice of "this or that."

Fingers crossed that this approach works for Matthew.  As a literature lover, I would be thrilled if he learned to love the classics, but ultimately, I'd rather him learn to love reading.  I'm hoping that if he can read a wide variety of books and find what he loves, he will see reading as something enjoyable and not a chore.  That lesson is far more important than the letter that actually goes on his transcript.

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Why I'm Using Lexile Measures to Help Choose Books

After spending the last few months searching for a literature curriculum for the younger boys, I've come to prefer using Lexile Measures to find books, rather than searching by grade level.  Why?Lexile is a standardized measurement, while what "grade level" a book is slotted at seems much more variable.

For example, Memoria Press puts Little House in the Big Woods as part of their 3rd-grade literature program.  Veritas Press says it's for 2nd graders, and Moving Beyond the Page puts it in their 4th-grade equivalent (ages 8-10) program.  That's three high-quality curriculum programs, but they all suggest it for different ages. And it's not just this book in particular - I've noticed literature curricula all seem to have their own ideas of what book is right for what age.

Even Lexile alone is slightly confusing.   The book scores at 930L, which by "grade level" would be readable by a high-average 5th grader.

So just what reading or grade level IS this book for?

Now, I'm not saying it's this or other hard-to-discern-who-should-study-them books aren't good literature for younger (or older) children to hear! The stories of the Ingalls family, or of a spider named Charlotte and a refrigerator full of Poppers Performing Penguins, are perfect for nearly every age! My concern is  trying to determine how to decide what age/grade level is a book going to be most appropriate for use as a lit study, or even as a "here, turn the TV off and read this instead" book, especially when your child isn't average-for-his-chronological-grade.

Now, of course, Lexile has its limits, and the company even stresses that just because one book is at a certain level doesn't mean a child can (or should) read every book in that range.  After all, Charlotte's Web and The Grapes of Wrath are both classic books and at the same Lexile level, but they're definitely not written for the same audience!

So...where do Lexile Measures come in? If they don't tell you how appropriate a book may be, what's the point?  The answer to that is this: a Lexile measurement can be used to identify the appropriate difficulty level of a book.  Using Lexile means I can look at any book the boys or Celia are interested in *individually* and say "This should be easy," "It's a good stretch," or "Um...let's hold off on this for a bit."

Jude's personal comfort zone is the Magic Tree House series, which measures generally in the low 300s. He has also been reading Damien's Geronimo Stilton series books, which are a lofty 600ish. Jude's always been a "Why crawl six feet when I can move four and then stretch my fingertips to reel it in?" kind of kid, so "comfy with 300-level books when definitely capable of 900s" seems about right for his personality.  If I use Lexile's Book Finder feature as my calculator, I can find out what Jude's "ability comfort zone" is.
To encourage him to move all six feet, I've been trying to find high-interest, age-appropriate books for Jude in the low 800 range.  Some of our recent home library additions are books by Roald Dahl (high 700s/low 800s), and Beverly Cleary's Ralph S. Mouse series (860L).  These are quality stories that are great for a 10-year-old boy and are purposely at the low end of the range.  I want him to find books in a "stretch your comfort zone but not be overwhelmed" place, so he discovers the beauty of recreational reading. I'll reserve books that are at the higher end for "school" books. This way, I can help him work through the stories if he runs into problems.  If I look at those for grade level, they're generally labeled for grades 3 to 7.  That's a pretty wide range of age.  However, knowing the content is appropriate for middle-to-late elementary kids, I can be comfortable using Lexile for the ability level and know he's not going to be overwhelmed and give up on reading.

I'm also using Lexile Measures to help Damien find new books. Like most little brothers, he is perpetually trying to keep up with the bigs.   While Jude did really well studying Little House in the Big Woods, Damien struggled a little.  He enjoyed the story, but when it came time to work on the study that went with it, he had a difficult time recalling some of the finer details of the story.  This says to me that 930L is a good zone for a read-aloud that will expose to excellent storytelling, but it's probably too high a mark for him to work with on his own.  This past spring, we read A Bear Called Paddington (750L) and Winnie the Pooh (790L) and he did well with comprehending those. Plugging those into the calculator, that puts his suggested range between 690 and 840.  We'll do the same thing, sticking to books at the lower end for independent reading, and higher for literature studies.  I have a feeling he'll be stealing his brother's Ralph books soon enough!

I can also use Lexile measuring to put some books in the "not right now" pile.  One of the stories Jude would like to read is The Call of the Wild.  It's a high-interest book for him (he's obsessed with sled dogs and Alaska), but at 1120L, the writing would probably overwhelm him.  Knowing that, it's a book that either will become a "later on" book; we'll probably save it for a read-aloud for when after he's comfortable in the high 1000s.   It definitely helps him understand and not feel like it's Mom saying know if I can show him, "This is your range, but this book is much higher, let's save it for later."

I love that homeschooling allows us to tailor the boys' studies to what they are capable of, rather than just picking something and hoping they do well.  Using Lexile measures really helps me find books that both instill confidence and push them to grow without overwhelming them.

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