Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reading instruction instruction

According to the National Reading Panel, there are five primary components of reading instruction:
1) Phonemic awareness,
2) Phonics,
3) Fluency,
4) Vocabulary, and
5) Comprehension.

A good discussion of these components is found here on the National Institute of Child Health and Development website. Another website that I've learned from is; unfortunately, the website's author inexplicably disses synthetic phonics, but he has useful information on other elements of reading instruction.

I've already given dd5 a good start on reading, and she now reads books to herself on a daily basis. Looking back on what we have done, I see how I have been addressing all five components above with her even while I thought I was just "doing phonics"--
1) For phonemic awareness, I sing her an "ABC Song" nightly, a unique version each time, e.g., "A is for anteater, B is for bear, C is for calculator, D is for diaper, E is for eclectic, F is for Frank, etc."; her phonemic awareness has also been promoted by the games and activities on the Starfall website and a "lift-the-flap" Phonics book.
2) For explicit phonics instruction, we have been slowly working our way through Reading with Phonics (my mother, a former schoolteacher, gave it to me). The Starfall website has also been helpful in teaching dd5 phonics.
3) Fluency is gained through "practice, practice, practice", and that's what we do by reading and rereading favorite books--something we have done since she was a baby--and repeated reading of sentences and paragraphs in our phonics book that she didn't read fluently the first time around. I don't teach "sight words"; in fact, I consider the memorization thereof to be a waste of time (nearly all "sight words" can be sounded out mostly or completely) and potentially confusing. As she practices reading, she naturally memorizes words she sees repeatedly, and she learns the words in varied contexts, which contributes to development of her vocabulary.
4) I build her vocabulary by exposing her to a wide range of subjects via books, videos, and conversation. When we come across a word she doesn't know in any book she's reading (including the phonics textbook), I tell her what the word means. Sometimes I get carried away and start talking about vowel shifts in words borrowed long ago from old French or German, but she's tolerant of my linguistic meanderings.
5) I work on comprehension by talking with her about what she has read or watched. This is an area where a homeschooling parent has a huge advantage over a schoolteacher. One-on-one instruction means we can tell when our child doesn't really comprehend something and can immediately respond with activities targeted to help her understand a written or spoken text. In a group setting, it's easy to get away with not understanding something. I sat through many lectures in college that I didn't understand, and usually the professors had no clue that I was wallowing.

According to this report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, only 15% of the college/university education schools surveyed actually teach future elementary teachers about all five components of reading instruction. That is discouraging since these five components do not seem like they should be overly controversial or difficult to discuss, and it only fuels distrust of education schools generally. On the bright side for homeschooling parents who are sometimes questioned about their "credentials" to teach their children, by perusing my blog post and the linked material, you have likely learned more about teaching reading than over 80% of recent education school graduates. Isn't that reassuring?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

La ironía

Hugo Chavez, the hombre who gives expansive meaning to the word "windbag", was holding a press conference when the power went out at the Palacio de Miraflores (official workplace of the president of Venezuela). Apparently he was talking about George W. Bush when the power went out. Um, Hugo, GWB has been out of office and living quietly in Texas for the last year or so. Perhaps you should address more pressing domestic infrastructure maintenance and upgrades?

Music notation aid

Yesterday I combined two songs from my church's hymnbook in a voice/violin arrangement. It took me about two hours using a great website I just discovered--Noteflight. It is a user-friendly online music notation tool that will store versions of your piece, play the different staves in a selection of music instruments, and insert text wherever you need it. Oh, and it's free! I highly recommend this if you have any composing needs.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Someone recently stole our bike trailer from our mostly enclosed porch, and we just noticed it today. It's depressing to think that people would steal a used bike trailer from a family that clearly is raising little children in modest circumstances. Of all ten commandments, I think "Do not steal" is one of the clearest and one of the most violated. And I really wish we'd thought more defensively (i.e., chains and padlocks for things we didn't want to lose) a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Oldest temple yet found

Here's a fascinating look at the excavation of the oldest temple yet--"Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?". It predates Stonehenge by millenia, and there's more time between it's construction and the Sumerians than there is between the Sumerians and us! Because archeological evidence found thus far indicates it was built by a hunter-gatherer society instead of an agricultural one, it's changing views on how civilizations come into being:
To Schmidt and others, these new findings suggest a novel theory of civilization. Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies.

The immensity of the undertaking at Gobekli Tepe reinforces that view. Schmidt says the monuments could not have been built by ragged bands of hunter-gatherers. To carve, erect and bury rings of seven-ton stone pillars would have required hundreds of workers, all needing to be fed and housed. Hence the eventual emergence of settled communities in the area around 10,000 years ago. "This shows sociocultural changes come first, agriculture comes later," says Stanford University archaeologist Ian Hodder, who excavated Catalhoyuk, a prehistoric settlement 300 miles from Gobekli Tepe. "You can make a good case this area is the real origin of complex Neolithic societies."

I would love to tour these ruins someday!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Surprise - Adults are role models.

According to this article, Children Don't Trust Each Other When It Comes To Learning The Rules, children believe and follow adults more readily than other children. Given our concepts of authority figures and role models, the outcome of their study is what I would expect.
Dr Rakoczy said: "The results from our study suggest that children prefer to learn from adults rather than other children when it comes to rule-governed activities like learning a new game. They also expect other people to learn and perform actions in the way that the adults do, demonstrated by the expectation that the puppet would also follow the adult actor's actions and not the boy's."
"These findings tell us that young children will accept adult's behaviour as being right, and that adults behaviour should be followed. This could have implications for wider social learning of both good and bad behaviour."

As the primary adults in our children's lives, my husband and I have the greatest responsibility of all in teaching and modeling good behavior for our children. Not to sound like a broken record, but I am very glad that I can stay home and be the primary caretaker of my own children.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The power of exponential growth

A Jewish woman recently passed away who had 2000 living descendants! The story is here. I like how the story points out that her numerous progeny is a thumb in the eye of the Nazi regime, which tried to kill her off at Bergen-Belsen. Next time either of my parents speaks with pride of their 30+ grandchildren, I'll tell them about Yitta to keep them humble. :)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I LOVE this ad.

This commercial has had me and dh in stitches!

Enjoy. :)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Addressing the real issue

Here is a Forbes article addressing the low percentage of women in corporate leadership positions. Instead of mistakenly blaming the small number of women CEO's on current sexism, it focuses on the real cause of women not making it to the top: motherhood.
Our survey results reveal that women tend to make many more compromises to their career paths than do their male partners. They are nearly twice as likely to take a flexible career path or a leave of absence and three times as likely to work part-time. The majority of promotion processes and career paths thus have a built-in biological bias, linked to the time women take off for having and rearing children. Some estimates show that more than 90% of women want to return but only 40% can find full-time jobs.

As a State Department employee for nearly five years, I ran into problems with its internal employee ranking system because of my first pregnancy. After my nine-week maternity leave, I was forced to go back to work full-time. The fact that the government was footing the bill to have me posted overseas meant that I couldn't work part-time. I understood that and was OK with it. But then, because employee evaluations are not allowed to include information about health issues, I was hurt professionally later by having one lackluster employee evaluation from the time when I was pregnant and on leave. It's difficult to do impressive things in your job when you're about to give birth or at home with a newborn, but no explanation of my health "problems" was allowed in my evaluation. Despite being "neutral", the system actually worked against me as I think it works against all mothers by not taking into account a temporary change in workplace productivity typical of females only.
I am curious to see the efficacy of some of the authors' ideas--not penalizing employees for taking more time to reach professional milestones after having children, encouraging stop-and-start career paths to the top--to facilitate women in progressing in their careers following the disruption of having children. Will those ideas help me at all a decade or two down the road or will I never have a full-time professional job again because of my decision to stay home now with little ones? I don't want credit for time I didn't work, but I don't want it to count against me that I'm much older than similarly-experienced and similarly-capable people who didn't take more time off to be with their own offspring. (I don't want to get into the "mommy wars"; it's simply that daycare during most of my children's waking hours is an unacceptable option for me.) I'm just one person, but given how many highly educated women we have now in our country, it seems a colossal waste of resources to perpetuate career structures that prevent women from returning to leadership-track employment once they are ready to return full-time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

No wonder Finnish kids do so well in school...

According to this Medical News Today article, A Crucial Tool In English Language Development: Reading To Our Children, there are other languages that don't require parental support at home in order for the kids to learn to read:
Georgiou notes that students are able to learn to read faster in languages such as Greek and Finnish, because there is one-to-one correspondence between a letter and its sounds. This difference with English, he says, implies that Greek or Finnish parents do not need to read as frequently to their children to give them an edge on learning the language. Simply put, Greek or Finnish children will eventually learn to read regardless of how rich the home literacy environment may be.

That's so unfair. How can we get English to have one-to-one correspondence? Dropping the letter "c" would probably be a good start. Still, having mastered English myself, I don't want to give it up. It's pretty.

Homeschool Carnival

The Carnival of Homeschooling was just posted today at Small World @ Home. There are many worthwhile submissions to peruse.

Monday, February 15, 2010

NurtureShock chapter "The Inverse Power of Praise"

Nurtureshock, the book I mentioned in a previous post, has so much interesting information for those who interact with children and youth. The first chapter discusses how constantly praising a child in an effort to build his self-esteem can backfire. For instance, praising children for being "smart" causes them to be afraid to take risks when confronted with challenging problems; it's far better to praise them for their effort so that they realize they can tackle difficult exercises without having their self-esteem in doubt.
"Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control," [Dr. Carol Dweck] explains. "They naturally come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child's control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure."

Junior high students who were taught how intelligence is not innate (i.e., they spent 50 minutes learning about how the brain grows new neurons when challenged) improved their study habits and grades.
It appears the self-esteem movement has been less effective than anticipated. A former proponent of self-esteem has concluded in light of the studies done on the subject that having high self-esteem did not improve grades or career achievement or reduce violence and alcohol usage. There is evidence for the helpfulness of specific, sincere praise, but general praise by adults is often viewed by youth as a sign that they are lacking in ability and need encouragement. Unfortunately, they have found that overpraised kids become "more competitive and interested in tearing other down" because "[i]mage maintenance becomes their primary concern."
One of the authors notes that he realized he was giving his child nonspecific praise as a way of expressing unconditional love. He changed to giving specific praise after finding out about the negative effects of praise. I learned a while back that telling a child that she is "smart" often leads to perfectionism and failure to achieve in the child, so I've been careful to not say that. Now I will be even more confident in the specific praise I give my daughters and when I want to express my love for them, I will just hug them and say "I love you very much." Might as well say what I mean. :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saturday, February 13, 2010

NurtureShock chapter "Plays Well With Others"

Last night I finished reading a fascinating book, NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It discusses several assumptions and ideas currently in vogue in child rearing and how research disproves them. One chapter, "Plays Well With Others", discusses how we try to instill good social skills in our children. Especially interesting to homeschoolers, who have to field questions about whether their children are missing out on socialization, is the following paragraph (p. 194):
We thought that aggressiveness was the reaction to peer rejection, so we have painstakingly attempted to eliminate peer rejection from the childhood experience. In its place is elaborately orchestrated peer interaction. We've created the play date phenomenon, while ladening older kids' schedules with after-school activities. We've segregated children by age--building separate playgrounds for the youngest children, and stratifying classes and teams. Unwittingly, we've put children into an echo chamber. Today's average middle schooler has a phenomenal 299 peer interactions a day. The average teen spends sixty hours a week surrounded by a peer groups (and only sixteen hours a week surrounded by adults). This has created the perfect atmosphere for a different strain of aggression-virus to breed--one fed not by peer rejection, but fed by the need for peer status and social ranking. The more time peers spend together, the stronger this compulsion is to rank high, resulting in the hostility of one-upmanship. All those lessons about sharing and consideration can hardly compete. We wonder why it takes twenty years to teach a child how to conduct himself in polite society--overlooking the fact that we've essentially left our children to socialize themselves.

I describe myself sometimes as a part-time homeschooler because I take my child to a public school enrichment program (art, music, and PE with other homeschooled children) for seven hours each week. From what I read and see around me, most homeschooled children do get out and spend time in group learning environments on a regular basis. It seems then that these homeschooled children are getting socialization. They're just not getting too much socialization. This seems to be another one of those issues where going to extremes is a bad thing--zero hours a week with peers prevents development of peer social skills needed for current happiness and later interaction in the adult world, but 60 hours a week with peers sabotages parental efforts to teach, among other things, consideration and kindness.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Malaysian homeschooler

Taking the Homeschool Leap - - Family. This is a fascinating article because of the similarities between her motivations and those of many in the USA. My favorite quote:
I would not hand my car over to another person five days a week. Thus, leaving my absorbent sponges with teachers who I do not know personally, and who were not going to get to know my children personally — no further than the grade they were going to achieve at the end of the year — is no longer an option. I realize that educating my children is the most precious gift I have received besides my children themselves.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Carcinogens form from third-hand smoke

From Science Daily, Carcinogens form from third-hand smoke. This is seriously disgusting. I remember getting some free clothes and toys from a family through craigslist a couple of years ago. When I arrived at their house to pick up the items, I realized that they were heavy smokers. I washed the clothes repeatedly, and I washed and air-dryed the toys. Even after weeks outside, the doll hair still stunk of old tobacco smell. I finally had to give away all the stinky toys. Good thing I did, as according to this article the smoke residue was dangerous to my children's health.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Good Examples

If you want to do good in this world, then watch uplifting things more often. According to this study, watching others perform a virtuous deed makes someone more likely to exhibit altruistic, pro-social behavior. Not a huge surprise, but good to see confirmed in our modern era of sadly unheroic celebrities.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Australia as Oz

Last night we finished watching Australia with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. Because we watched it over three nights (it takes a while to get our little ones in bed), I had lots of time to mull over the parallels between Australia and The Wizard of Oz. The films are intentionally connected; Australia characters sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", talk about the story of The Wizard of Oz and watch it at a movie theater, and even quote The Wizard of Oz. "Oz" is an established nickname for Australia, and in Strictly Ballroom--another Baz Luhrmann film--one of the actors wears a shirt that says "Oz" in the only scene where he wears something other than a dance costume shirt. Here are some parallels I noted:

1) The first "Dorothy" is Lady Sarah Ashley, arriving by air from a distant land (England) in Oz (Australia) to find the Witch of the East (her philandering husband, hoodwinked by the evil Neil Fletcher) dead and then filling his shoes as the force behind the cattle drove that will save their cattle ranch.
2) The yellow brick road is the path they take on the cattle drove. Part of their journey even takes them across a desert area where the ground is parched and so looks brick-like.
3) Kipling Flynn is the Cowardly Lion, large, good-hearted, and initially scared to tell Lady Ashley some unpleasant information but finally exhibiting great courage just before his death.
4) The Tin Man is the Drover, who lost his heart when his first wife died and realizes eventually that he is in love again.
5) The evening they drink alcohol on the drove is a reference to the deadly poppy field.
6) Darwin is the Emerald City--home of most of the people in Oz and where they need to get to in order to sell the cattle, after which sale Lady Ashley intends to go home.
7) The soapy water used to kill the Wicked Witch of the West is represented by the rain in which a drunken Fletcher stumbles and falls when he gets his first comeuppance, which is brought about by Lady Ashley. The rain also brings life and love to the land, though, as rain is often a symbol for life and passion in movies (hello, Cinema Paradiso?).
8) The Scarecrow is Drover's aborigine brother-in-law, who after being silent or silly for most of the movie, finally finds his voice and tells Drover some insightful home truths.
9) The second "Dorothy" is the half-aborigine boy Nullah, who is forced to go to a Christian mission to have the aborigine taken out of him. He finally returns to his own country (the outback) as he leaves civilization--including his shoes, which he throws off last of all as a reference to the ruby slippers--to join the Wizard (his witch doctor aborigine grandfather) to do his walkabout.

I'm sure there are even more parallels than the ones above, but I'll leave you to find them should you feel like watching Australia now. I close with these words from Kidman's and Jackman's characters:
"Let's go home."
"There's no plice like it."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Judge Orders Seattle Math Curriculum Review

Ever since I was introduced to discovery math as a tutor at my college's math lab, I've been against it because it is inefficient at teaching basic algorithms and wide application thereof and relies too heavily on unguided group work. Maybe some junior Newtons out there want to "discover" calculus on their own, but most people just want to get what they need for life out of their math classes and can't afford tutors to make up for curriculum shortcomings. Good for the judge in this case!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Science Curriculum Considerations

When looking into science resources, I try to be careful to avoid dogma, be it evolutionary or creationist. Why does every Nature show have to mention the word evolution 500 times? It gets a little ridiculous. On the creationist side, I believe God created the world, but I don't believe he has told us exactly how he did it. I'm not going to buy my children textbooks that beat a steady drumbeat of "This is an apple seed/porpoise/moon/widget, and God created it out of absolutely nothing less than seven thousand years ago." Yes, I'm exaggerating both sides a little. Still, I don't want to instill dogmatic attitudes in my children when it comes to the hard sciences, and I exclude some science texts and shows from our curriculum for that reason.

In my opinion, science is about not having all the answers and being humble enough to realize that while searching for verifiable, physical truths. If along the way, we have theories that seem adequate, then we learn them and apply them, but we must be ready to discard those theories at a moment's notice once. History has shown us how many times scientific theories have been disproven--for example, geocentrism, phlogiston, Newton's laws of motion (they don't hold up when dealing with quantum physics or relativity), ether, and primordial soup. What? You didn't know about that last one. Yes, folks, after 80 years, now they tell us that life didn't begin with fermentation in a primordial soup but rather chemiosmosis. That's a lot of textbooks to update.

My favorite science resources for my young girls at this time are The Magic School Bus, the All About series for K-4th grade by Schlessinger Media, and miscellaneous children's science books from the public library. These resources present interesting, generally-accepted scientific facts but leave out "soapbox"-type commentary. We'll take the facts and shape our own worldviews, thank you!

New Milestone

Dd-3Months just hit a new milestone: she can roll over. Unfortunately for her, we discovered she possessed this skill as she rolled off the bed. So glad we have carpet!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"I can read!"

Words a homeschooling mom loves to hear from her emergent reader. :)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Math Slowdown

Dd5 went from doing 3 or 4 math workbook pages (we're using BJU's Math K5) to needing hand-holding to get through just one page. The stumbling block for her is understanding and using numbers over 20. She had gotten used to counting being very easy because she did several small workbooks that never required her to count past 20. Now when faced with counting 30+ little objects, she gets squirrelly and turns to me saying, "Mommy, let's not do this one." Of course, skipping everything that challenges her is not an option, but it is a sign that we need to slow down a little until she's comfortable with larger numbers.

One thing I did to address the issue is write the numbers 1-100 on a piece of paper on our kitchen wall. In the past, while I brushed her hair, we traded off counting numbers until I got through her snarls. But I recently cut her hair, so it doesn't take much time to brush it now. I will have to find other opportunities to count with her. Also, I need to pull down Chutes and Ladders and play it with her a few times this week. Yes, it's a boring game for me...that's just one of the sacrifices a parent makes. :) In the meantime, the next chapter in her math book is beginning addition, so I expect her confidence and enjoyment of math to spring right back.

I love how flexible I can be in response to my daughter's needs. It must be so hard as a schoolteacher to deal with 20-30 children's different knowledge gaps.