Sunday, April 24, 2016

State of the Academy Address ~ 2016 [Looking Back]

The Reading Life @ Mt. Hope Chronicles


I haven’t talked much about the details of our homeschool this past year (2015-2016), have I? I didn’t even keep a book list for the boys!

It has been a lazy, relaxing year. Probably our laziest yet. I purposefully stepped back and took a rather significant break.

Lola [4/5, K4]

Lola started Classical Conversations Foundations in the fall (she turned five in October). Her tutor, my good friend Jessye, was wonderful, but Lola was not exactly invested in the experience. She basically attended just to learn the routine, get used to following directions, and all that. She memorized nothing. In fact, she hardly even said the words. She’s not much of a science project, map-tracing, fine arts kid, either. She was in her own little world. A very talkative, wiggly, opinionated world.

She has been learning to read slowly and casually, but has little interest in any other learning. This is a completely different experience compared to her brothers, especially Leif, who entered CC at barely four and could read all the memory work and add double digits (though he, too, could not sit still or be quiet or participate cheerfully). Because there is such a large age difference between the boys and her as well as a lack of interest and ability to listen or cooperate, she rarely joined our group learning time at home. She either did her own thing or interrupted us (mostly interrupted us if she wasn’t on a screen, because she does not play independently). She is an expert at Minecraft, however. I’m being really honest here. This is reality, folks.

Leif [9, 4th Grade]

As a 4th grader, Leif enjoyed his sixth year of Foundations, tutored by my “little sister” Lindsay. She had her hands full, but she also was a fantastic tutor. Leif has always struggled with maintaining control of his body and mouth, and he knows all the things and how they should be done and he must say everything out loud the moment it pops into his head. He also takes up the space of two kids because he has no concept of personal space. He was diagnosed with Tourette’s, impulsivity, and ADHD at the beginning of the school year—all things I already knew, but it was nice to be affirmed in my mother’s intuition and know that he wasn’t trying to be a difficult kid. In fact, he is one of the biggest, most affectionate teddy bears you will ever meet. He is also a very smart kid who looks much older than he is because he’s huge. He has most of the memory work down cold, but I dropped the ball in geography so we’ll have to work a bit over the summer to complete Memory Master at home.

This was his first year in Essentials. Class was a struggle for Leif because he had already expended all his energy on being “well-behaved” for the whole morning and had nothing left in the afternoon. He is a whiz at grammar, but writing is a struggle. We did only a few of the writing assignments together. He has plenty of time (at least 2 more years of Essentials), and he was the youngest kid in class. There were days when I just let him read a book in the back of class.

Leif did very little formal work at home this year, but he reads voraciously and is working above “grade level” with Khan Academy math. He also swims four afternoons a week with the swim team.

Luke [11, 6th Grade]

Luke also completed his sixth year of Foundations, but as a 6th grader. He was tutored by Char, my best friend of 28 years, and it was a joy for me to sit in their class often. She did an excellent job, and I’m glad she and Luke had that time to bond. Luke has matured so much over the past couple years, so morning class was much easier for him. He completed Memory Master for the 3rd time (his 2nd time for cycle 1; he missed cycle 3 last year) without much effort, but he did little else at home for CC.

This was Luke’s third year in Essentials. He was often in his own little world during class, as he’s not all that fond of grammar and certainly not at all fond of writing. We worked on many of the papers together at home. [I don’t know if I could have tutored without him, though, because he was my right-hand man when it came to loading up in the morning, setting up class, tearing down class, cleaning up, and unloading at home.]

Luke did very little formal work at home this year, but he reads voraciously and is working above “grade level” with Khan Academy math. He also swims four afternoons a week with the swim team.

Luke did spend quite a bit of time this year baking. He is my most focused kid when it comes to something he is interested in! And he’s a tremendous help to me when I need assistance in any way.

Levi [13/14, 8th Grade]

After a rough year of CC Challenge A last year and for various other reasons, I decided not to enroll Levi in Challenge B for his 8th grade year this past year. He spent most of our community days home with Russ, working on independent tasks and reading. He spent another day each week working with his friend McKinnon and McKinnon’s mom (my best friend, Char) on Challenge B Latin and Logic. One other day each week, McKinnon, Levi, and I worked together on Challenge B literature discussions and The Lost Tools of Writing. Levi didn’t do much formal independent work in these subjects other than reading the literature selections. [Levi did nothing for Ch. B debate and did no science research other than reading through a few books.]

Levi read several pieces of more challenging literature [To Kill a Mockingbird, The Chosen, The Book Thief, The Silmarillion, The Boys in the Boat, The Count of Monte Cristo (unabridged), and others]. [I intended to work through Roman Roads Western Culture Greeks with him this year and I totally fell through on that, but he read quite a bit of The Iliad.] He worked through some of Life of Fred Pre-Algebra and is almost finished with Pre-Algebra on Khan Academy. He spent a bunch of time doing his own story writing and drawing. He loves Skyping with friends and planning projects (mainly fiction writing, Minecraft videos, and such). He also swims five afternoons a week with the swim team. Levi has joined three other boys from CC (they were all in the same class six years ago) and one of the moms (my good friend Heather) for a monthly Bible study.

He grew a bunch and is now a few inches taller than me, and he spent the year in orthodontics. He’s hairy (and he is partial to the mop of hair on his head). He now loves to stay up late and sleep late in the mornings.




Despite all the challenges, Classical Conversations was one of the main threads holding us all together. This was our 6th year in community. I tutored an Essentials class (English grammar, writing, and math games) in the afternoon with Leif and Luke and 13 other students (plus parents). The experience was overwhelmingly positive, and I look forward to tutoring again next year. As always, the friendships within our community are priceless to me. Our community days give structure to our week, and I know that we have learned something and challenged ourselves even if we do little else all week long.

Khan Academy was another huge success this year. I posted about it at length here. In short, it is a brilliant FREE online math program. It is interactive and gives students excellent video instruction, step-by-step help, and instant feedback. It requires students to master concepts. It is rigorous and comprehensive, but attractive and motivating. Math has never been my favorite subject to teach, but it is extremely important to me that my boys have a consistent program to work through. After using Teaching Textbooks for several years and Saxon for one, I’m thrilled that the boys can complete their math education with Khan.

The boys and I also finished reading A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens this year (probably my favorite read-aloud accomplishment) and we also read Heidi together (the boys’ favorite read-aloud novel).

I led a Book Detectives parent-child literary analysis group monthly during the school year, and the boys participated in those discussions.

For my own scholarship, I joined a group of CC moms who met at my house each month to discuss the works of Flannery O’Connor, led by my brilliant friend Mindy. This was an incredible experience for all of us, and we have one or two more meetings ahead. (This was in addition to meeting with a slightly different group of women several times to discuss The Question, a book about Aristotle’s 5 Common Topics for the logic-stage student by Leigh Bortins, as well as meeting monthly with my long-time book club, ChocLit Guild.)


Coming up: Looking Forward

Summer Plans [May-July] and 2016-2017 Plans.


The Vosslers said...

I always love reading your updates. With some commonalities (plus also living in Oregon), it's like a little mirror in some ways.

I, too, loved tutoring Essentials this year (my 3rd year of it).

We also had a son not enroll in Challenge B. He ended up doing a two day a week school that a local friend began with eight students. She's graduated several of her own children and totally knows what she is doing. She knew the rough year several of these kids had had in Challenge A for various reasons. And it has just been a tremendous blessing for us to have him in a really terrific environment with so many outside issues we have to deal with. They did do a couple things the same as Challenge B (Logic, but starting with Volume II of The Fallacy Detective before doing Traditional Logic and some Latin, which we allowed him to opt out of). But they jumped ahead and did full high school chemistry and went a lot deeper in literature with Thelma's English (Ancients). The discussions were terrific. Her ability to tie things together, allow breaks, teach with kids on couches, inspire, skill with math, understanding of what these kids needed ... it was all so necessary.

My little girl (6) is kind of the opposite of Lola. She adores her class and learning. I actually hold her back because I'm afraid she'll be such a bore in CC as the years go on. :) It's my two youngest who are the academic ones. They don't struggle and they enjoy it. After all we've been through with my olders and family crisis stuff, it's been something to be hugely thankful for.

Melissa said...

Thanks for sharing your honest update Heidi. With all the beautiful photos in blog land, real life can be deceiving. Sharing your struggles shows reality in a human sort of way that many of us can relate to.

I look forward to reading your future plans. May you continue to persevere...

Anne said...

It's funny that you posted this because a few weeks ago I scrolled back through your blog to see if you had mentioned anything about Challenge B this year. For a variety of reasons, I pulled my son out of B in December, after his first semester. It was the right move for us.

Next year, I think, will look very different for us. My youngest just finished her final year of Foundations/Essentials. I love the CC community so, and it's hard for me to imagine not being a part of it, but we've had a fantastic winter/spring as we returned to a one-room-schoolhouse concept. I believe that is the direction I need to move in ....

I look forward to reading about your future plans.

Heidi said...

Brooke~ That sounds like an amazing class for your son! What a great opportunity! The different needs of our kids sure keep us on our toes, don't they?

Melissa~ Thanks for the encouragement. :)

Anne~ It takes so much discernment to figure out what is right for each kid and each family. Different personalities and needs and family dynamics make such a difference. We pulled Levi out this past year partly to regain that one-room-schoolhouse experience. It was so tough with his personality (all relationship and dialogue) and having a houseful of younger kids who were working together(ish) while he worked in what he felt was isolation. After a year of pulling back and spending more time together, it feels right (for us, at this point) to switch back to a more Challenge-oriented set-up next year. I'll talk more about it in the next post, but we're going to try Challenge I with him and Challenge A with my next son. It worked really well for him to learn with his friend during the week so that his days were not all independent and repetitive. All that to say, though, that I get what you are saying. :) By the way, I hopped over to your blog and loved the post on multiplication circle patterns. I just did it with my youngest son and he loved it. I've printed off two more copies to do with my older boys. :)

The Vosslers said...

Yes, they sure do. He's super driven on his own and works very well those three other days of the week. But he has dyslexia. That makes some of the work extra difficult (or impossible: learning foreign language for a dyslexic is extremely difficult + if I'm going to have him do one it won't be one he can't use in another country as opposed to Latin).

He needed a recovery year. He had a fabulous group of kids (we were so sad to break the group up) but had lost his love of learning entirely that year of Challenge A. This was so sad for me, because Challenge A is an amazing, wonderful year!

So, having the classroom setting two days a week, a teacher who treats it as a teaching setting (rather than tutoring - we needed the teaching aspect), someone experienced (and amazingly comfortable with math and science), someone who is truly gifted at actual teaching ... it's all really a tremendous blessing.

But I'm sending my third child into Challenge A (third child and third Ch A student) next year. He is also dyslexic and has a ton of medical challenges. I'm hoping it can be a successful year for him, but if we can't get some medical stuff under control I'll be working pretty hard myself with him. :( Hoping and praying.

Man, having these last two kids be academically easy ... I sure hope that keeps going. Dear Lord, I promise to never think it was me. I know it's the kids! :)