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Category Archives: Homeschooling Thoughts

Why Christians Should Read Shakespeare

Some people might wonder why we, as Christians, share Shakespeare’s plays with our children, when lots of other Christian homeschoolers avoid his plays like the plague.

First, let me start with a quote from Reverend Ralph Allan Smith (who has a much better article about why to read Shakespeare!).  “Next to the Bible, he [Shakespeare] is perhaps the most important textbook for Christian young people who are seeking wisdom to live for the glory of God.”  I agree with these words.

Reading Shakespeare gives us the opportunity to live lives that are not our own and to experience and ponder the consequences of different choices – the good, the bad and the ugly.  This experience is available in a lot of quality, older literature, but never so much as in Shakespeare’s stories.  Children need this experience of examining the sinful choices of others in light of God’s truth and wisdom, as much as they need to be familiar with good choices.

Shakespeare’s writing also presents us with a realistic image of fallen humanity and it’s not often a pretty picture.  Each character struggles with sin in the same way that we do and, at the end of most plays, the characters are judged accordingly.   Too often the characters I’ve found in Christian children’s literature are simply too ‘good’ to be relatable and able to teach.  Near perfect characters suggest to children that, in comparison, they are failures in their walk with Christ.

Shakespeare sets a high standard of literature for his readers, a standard not seen in modern books and rarely in books marketed for teens and young adults.  The vocabulary is impressive.  Shakespeare created numerous words and expressions that we still use today.  The written expression is beautiful.  The language is lofty, much like the language of the King James Bible which was written around the same time.  (There’s even a pondering among scholars that Shakespeare may have been involved in its writing).  Certainly, Shakespeare was a favoured writer in the court of King James at that time.

Finally, God’s truth, beauty and wisdom can be found in books other than the Bible and Christian literature.  Even pagan literature can contain God’s truth; the pagans just didn’t realise the value of what they held.  It’s not unlike when a baby gets hold of a book and mistakes it for a chew thing or a place to draw.  Their use of it doesn’t depreciate the value of the book in the right hands.  We just have to take it back from them.  Augustine referred to this as ‘plundering the Egyptians’.  Christians can find things of value in books that are written by non-Christians.  Shakespeare, however, was a practising Christian who knew his Bible better than most people.   Did you know that Shakespeare’s plays contain at least 1200 Biblical references and that many people believe it’s more than double that number?

Sadly, most people have only experienced Shakespeare’s plays in the classroom where they are too often torn apart and analysed piece by painful piece.  Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be experienced at the theatre.  If you’ve avoided his plays because you didn’t enjoy them at school, then you need to attend a family oriented performance of one of his plays.  Shakespeare’s plots are brilliant.

Winston Churchill said “The Bible and Shakespeare stand alone on the highest platform”.  I agree with Winston, as I agree with a number of America’s founding fathers.   “Jefferson was more struck by the moral truths he found in Shakespeare’s plays than by their linguistic skill. These plays, he was convinced, like all the great works of fiction, help “fix us in the principles and practices of virtue” and in “an abhorrence” of vice”.  Many a great Christian man read and loved Shakespeare.

If I was only permitted to own two books (heaven forbid!!), then I would definitely choose the Bible and a complete volume of Shakespeare’s writings.

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2017 in Homeschooling Thoughts, Language, My Library

 

Myth 7

Final summary……

 

Myth 7:  Teaching Knowledge is Indoctrination

Theoretical Evidence that this myth exists:

People fear that, in the wrong hands, facts taught to children can lead to indoctrination.

It has also been suggested that some facts may not be facts at all but rather social constructs, bought into existence because we believed in them.  In which case, how can we create a curriculum on social constructs.  If facts are social constructs, maintained by and maintaining institutions, then facts will change according to the authority at that time.  Facts can then be used as social control.

It has also been argued that our curriculums favour the middle class with little regard to the working class and disadvantaged children.  People desire a more egalitarian curriculum.

So the whole idea of knowledge is problematic.  We can’t agree on what is knowledge, the right knowledge, and fear that people will misuse it in the classroom.

Hence “the theory tells us that we should not impose external content on pupils but instead work with the knowledge and experiences they [the students] already have to develop their abilities, preferably through projects that are not as middle-class as traditional subjects” p111.

 

Evidence that the belief persists in Modern Practices:

Revisions to the UK curriculum removed content from the curriculum and focused on skills so that students could figure out their ‘own’ knowledge.

“On the rare occasion when they do encounter new knowledge that they have not created, the emphasis is always on making such content relevant to pupils”.  p. 114

 

Why is this a myth?

Firstly, to ensure equality for all, children must learn knowledge.

“No one can be fully at home in the world unless, through some acquaintance with literature and art, the history of society and the revelations of science, he has seen enough of the triumphs and tragedies of mankind to realise the heights to which human nature can rise and the depths to which it can sink”  p115 (quote by RH Tawney)

Further inequality is created when teachers, in teaching skills, require students to use the knowledge they come to the classroom with.

“Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens” p115 (quote by William Beveridge)

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be”.  p115 (quote by Thomas Jefferson)

Knowledge is fundamental for higher order thinking.  It is easy to mislead those who lack knowledge. Prejudice also stems from ignorance.  Therefore we need to teach external knowledge (that is, knowledge beyond what the children come to school with).

How do we select which knowledge to teach?  Dan Willingham says to teach the knowledge which yields the greatest cognitive benefit.  “For the specific but very important case of reading, we have seen that the knowledge that yields the greatest cognitive benefit is the type of knowledge that is taken for granted by writers.  This is the kind of knowledge that pupils have to have to make inferences.” p116  Students who do not have this cultural background knowledge can not fully understand the world around them.

‘Cognitive science leads to the rather obvious conclusion that students must learn the concepts that come up again and again – the unifying ideas of each discipline.’ p117

Diverse countries and cultures all seem to come up with the same or similar subjects and content to teach.  Michael Young says, “…certain forms of knowledge which I find useful to refer to as powerful knowledge and are often equated with ‘knowledge itself’, have properties that are emergent from and not wholly dependent on their social and historical origins”.  p118

The idea that there is knowledge that belongs to any one class is ridiculous.  Knowledge is the rightful inheritance of all children.

“It is sometimes said that those who want to teach knowledge want to take us back to the nineteenth century.  In fact the reverse is true.  It is those who do not want to teach knowledge who want to take us back to the nineteenth century.  For when we consider the nineteenth century, we see that many of the elites and bureaucrats at the time were extremely reluctant to teach knowledge to the masses, on the grounds that it would make them ‘refractory’ and ‘seditious’.  p120

“Hirsch put these theories [of teaching powerful knowledge] into practice by designing a curriculum that would aim to teach pupils this important knowledge.  known as the Core Knowledge curriculum, it contains detailed and carefully sequenced guidelines explaining what pupils need to learn in each year from kindergarten to grade 8.”  p121

“Knowledge doesn’t indoctrinate; knowledge liberates.”  p 123

 

Conclusion:

The methods schools are using to teach ‘critical thinking’ do not work.  Students fail to learn without knowledge.  Scientific evidence proves that modern education is outdated and flawed, however this evidence is actively suppressed.

“Whilst some institutional and structural reform may be valuable, what needs to change most of all is our reliance on defunct ideas.  At stake is the education of all our pupils, and particularly the education of our least advantaged pupils.  Unless we place the powerful and liberating force of knowledge at the heart of our education system, it will continue to fail our pupils and to deepen inequality.”  p 130

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2017 in Homeschooling Thoughts

 

Myth 6

Another chapter summary from “Seven Myths of Education”.

 

Myth :  Projects and Activities are the Best Way to Learn

 

Theoretical Evidence that this myth exists:

Projects and activities, which focus on real world problems, are the, currently, glorified methods of instruction.

An holistic approach, rather than a subject based focus, is currently desirable.  Making links, across subject areas, is a priority.

Teacher-directed instruction is labelled ‘spoon feeding’ and accused of churning out children who are unable to learn independently.  One study states that 1 in 3 uni students can’t learn independently.  It is believed that this is because teacher are treating students as empty vessels waiting to be filled and hence the uni students are expecting to be filled too.

Students should be able to use and apply a number of skills, within context, across a variety of subject areas.  Teachers want students to “think like a scientist”, and “think like an historian”.  They don’t want them to ‘just’ have knowledge.  The idea being that ‘scientific thinking’ will lead to ‘scientific content’ so the teacher doesn’t need to directly teach it.  It is believed that students are disempowered if given another person’s thinking.

The current view is that students need to be prepared for the real world and hence they need real world problems so they can ‘practice’ thinking like what they might be in the real world ie. scientists, historians etc.

 

Evidence that the belief persists in Modern Practices:

In the classroom, teachers are removing subject barriers and integrating real world problems across the curriculum.  Some keep subjects, merely as an organising structure, and teach projects within subject areas.

The goal is to make students more independent and less reliant on teachers.

Good practise is to have students asking their own questions, planning their own work, determining how they will find answers, exploring their own best way of learning, organising their time, and assessing themselves.

As well as learning, students nowadays are taking the role of teacher and assessor too.  Peer assessment is common practise.

Modern teachers are focused on students’ learning rather than teaching the students.  They plan realistic activities.  For example, a group of students was asked to help make the school library more eco-friendly.  The students had to design ideas, write emails, locate costs, give a persuasive pitch and presentation.

REAL – Realistic Experience for Active Learners.  These are fictional scenarios where the students act like experts in order to practice the skills they will need in the real world.  REAL activities provide opportunities to learn teamwork, communication, independent learning, and problem solving.  The activities are also enjoyable and motivating for the students.  The students solve complex realistic real world problems.  Little guidance is given to the students.

This approach is also used for teaching literature.  One example was given of a lesson on Romeo and Juliet.  The students were required to present a scene from Romeo and Juliet using puppets and props they made themselves.

In History, a class learned about the British empire through designing an Empire commemorative plate.

Website called Active History is full of REAL resources.  A very popular activity for learning about medieval history is designing a coat of arms.

Modern educators, rather than imposing knowledge on students, aim to have students construct their own knowledge.

 

Why is “Projects and Activities are the Best Way to Learn” a myth?

The problem with having novices ‘act’ as experts, aside from the fact that it takes years to become an expert, is that experts have a huge body of knowledge and process in their long term memory that novices don’t have.  This body of knowledge and processes changes how experts think.  It’s not just extra stuff that they know.  Experts actually solve problems differently to novices.

There is simply no short cut from novice to expert and it’s unrealistic to think that children or even high schoolers can ‘act’ like an expert.

Copying expert behaviours won’t make a novice an expert.  Experts and novices used different tactics when approaching problems.  Experts use ‘self-talk’ to help retrieve the knowledge and processes stored in their long term memory.  Novices have little to no access to such knowledge and processes so practicing ‘self-talk’, an expert behaviour, will not help a novice.

Modern educators are confusing causation with correlation.  Here’s an example of what this means.  There is an islander group called the cargo cult that remembers a time in WW2 when planes landed on their island.  The people want this time to return so they have built a makeshift runaway, and various parts of an airport, as best they could recall.  Their belief is that if they build it, the planes will come.  They believe that the visible environment (the correlations) would cause the planes to return.  Returning to our education example, educators teach children ‘self-talk’ because it is a known expert behaviour and they want their students to become experts so they practice expert beaviours.  However, self-talk is not what ’causes’ people to become experts.

Having novices copy the behaviours of experts (ie think like a scientist, think like an historian) doesn’t acknowledge the body of knowledge and processes that experts have stored in their long term memory.

In lessons, educators shouldn’t aim to have students act and think like experts.  Instead, they should aim to equip students so one day they can solve problems independently, like experts.

In the example of designing an eco-friendly library, experts have a lot of knowledge and process they can deploy to solve the problem.  Novices don’t have this and hence they aren’t going to be able to successfully solve the problem.  At best, their efforts will be hit and miss.  All the new information and skills they need, will totally overload their working memory.

To successfully complete a project (or some complex real life problem) students require a body of knowledge to draw from.  If schools are no longer explicitly teaching this knowledge, then students have to draw on what little knowledge they already have available to them.  Hence, projects are particularly inappropriate for young students who have the least amount of knowledge and processes stored in long term memory.  They also disadvantage children from lower socioeconomic families as they many not have exposure to the same amount of knowledge as children living in wealthier families with more highly educated parents.

Teachers are already realising that students are not going to be successful at these projects unless the teachers simplify the tasks for them.  So, instead of having a student write a report about the British Empire, the students might be required to design a new Emblem for the British Empire.  Or, when assigning reports, students are given help sheets that tell what each paragraph must contain.  (Of course, giving an explicit lesson on the structure of a report would be unthinkable).

The real reason uni students are not independent learners is because they were always taught as though they were independent already and they weren’t;  that they were experts already, but they weren’t.

An educator’s aim should be to positively alter long term memory.

To remember something you need to think about that something.  They means that the things you are thinking about should be worthy of remembering.

Educators needs to consider what their students will be thinking about in the lessons they plan.  For example, one educator planned a lesson on the Underground Railroad and had their students bake cookies like the runaway slaves might have eaten.  The students in this lesson would predominantly have been thinking about the baking and eating experience with the cookies and NOT the underground railroad or the runaway slaves.

This project approach is also very time consuming meaning that children ultimately learn less than generations before them.  Consider if a history class spends two hours of their twenty hours that term designing, making and presenting their medieval coat of arms.  That’s one tenth of their history instruction time used on one small area of history (although those students weren’t even thinking about history but drawing and colouring).

Artificial drill based teaching is best.   Consider football for example.  You don’t teach football by having students simply play a lot of competitive games (the experts know this; many schools and children’s clubs haven’t figured it out yet though).  You break down the task to its smallest parts and you practice them until they are automatic.  It is the same with things like Math and English.  Students need a lot of practice at the smaller elements that make up the bigger more complex tasks.

Sadly, it is common practice to simply ask a child to write, without giving them explicit instruction or practice on how to spell, how to write quality sentences with accurate grammar, how to form paragraphs or even how to correctly structure the specific genre.

Grammar went out of favour in the 60s and several generations didn’t receive grammar instruction.  Then bits and pieces of grammar came back into vogue, but since the current teachers never received grammar instruction in schools, they don’t have the skills to teach grammar to this generation.

Equipping students to solve real world problems is a noble aim, but the current method of having students act like experts and pretend to solve real world problems is dreadful.  Rather than having their students copy expert behaviours, educators must start teaching students the fundamental knowledge and processes that experts have.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2017 in Homeschooling Thoughts

 

Myth 5

Ready for another Myth summary?

 

Myth 5:  We Should Teach Transferable Skills

Theoretical Evidence that this myth exists:

Time that teachers once used to teach knowledge is now used to teach transferable skills.

Educators are focusing on the ‘how’ of learning, not the ‘what’ of learning.   Skills such as problem solving, analysing, thinking critically, and evaluating are applied to any content.

In preparation for a fast changing future, learning ‘how to learn’  is a key focus.  It is said that educators must strengthen their students’ ‘learning power’ by teaching generic skills, since ‘learning power’ has no use by date, unlike knowledge and content.

Students, who can’t learn new things by themselves are termed “illearnerate’.  Learning how to learn (learnacy) is said to be more important than literacy and numeracy.

We apparently must develop nimble minds by exercising students’ ‘mental muscles’ by practicing skills.  The focus is not on history muscles or the math muscles but on the generic muscles that can be used for all different things.  These ‘generic muscles’ are the ones that educators are told to exercise in students.

It is these skills that can be used, later, to acquire subject knowledge in any area of life.  These skills apparently give a student the ability to know anything they need to know.  Hence negating the need to ‘teach’ knowledge/content at school, or so we are told.

Evidence that the belief persists in Modern Practices:

Educators are reducing the amount of time spent teaching subject content and increasing the amount of time spent on ‘projects’ (whose goals/aims are skill-focused).  Curriculums are deliberately reducing the amount of content taught to students.  Some curriculum providers even organise their curriculum by skills and not subject.  When a curriculum is skill-focused, you can use any content you wish.  Themes and ‘projects’, touching on lots of subject areas, are also common in classrooms.

Some schools are directly teaching ‘learning strategies’, teaching things like learning styles, right and left hemispheres of the brain, brain gym, multiple intelligences, use of brain-friendly music etc.  [The author said that she didn’t even include things like Brain Gym and Learning Styles in her list of myths because they have been so thoroughly debunked many years ago.]

In reading, students are taught ‘comprehension skills’ that apparently can help students comprehend anything they read.  Students are taught strategies such as skimming, looking for main ideas, summarising, predicting etc.

Why is “We Should Teach Transferable Skills” a myth?

The author agrees that these skills are important, however, she states that the method educators are using will not work.  Knowledge and skills are intertwined.  You can not separate them and teach one without the other.

The skills, examined outside of subject domains, seem similar and that’s why it’s falsely believed that generic skills could be extracted and taught in isolation from knowledge/subjects.  However, analysing in Math, for example, is very different to analysing in History.  It is a misconception to think that these skills operate in the same way in different places.  Each skill is intimately tied to its background information.

There is a famous chess experiment whose results showed us that chess is not a game of pure reasoning where masters and novices are set apart by mental muscles.  It turns out that the most important difference between chess masters and chess novices is their memory/knowledge of typical chess positions; that is, their ability to retrieve chess chunks from their long-term memory.  Therefore, chess is highly knowledge bound.

This experiment has been replicated in many other areas and it turns out that past skills are not transferable to dissimilar circumstances; that is, if you can think critically in Math, it doesn’t mean that you will be able to think critically in history.  Therefore you can’t teach the skill of, say, critical thinking, generically across subjects.  The skill must be closely tied to its knowledge.

Some adults do have good general thinking skills.  Research has found that this is because these adults have subject specific knowledge in a wide range of subjects.  High scores on general knowledge correlate closely with having 21st century skills.  Hence 21st century skills are knowledge based.   Knowledge is foundational to having 21st century skills.

In fact, knowledge IS skill (although the way we use language struggles with this idea).

In every subject, considerable knowledge is an essential prerequisite to expert skills.  Experts have extensive knowledge from which to draw on and are well practiced in drawing it out from long term memory.  Experts are not made overnight, with newly acquired information.

Intelligence is the accumulation of lots of knowledge and the user’s ability to draw chunks of knowledge from long term memory and apply it to problems/tasks in working memory.

Skill is enabled by knowledge in long term memory, where there has been plenty of practice at retrieving that knowledge.

Knowledge and skills can not be taught separately in any way.  Time spent teaching transferable skills/21 century skills is time spent learning neither knowledge OR skill.

The author refers to books that teach students how to ‘skim for main points’ in a text and says that these tasks will not teach this skill.  Reading is knowledge specific.  The best way to teach comprehension skills is to read a lot and acquire knowledge in the subject area that you want to comprehend.

To be a good reader, you need to know a little about a lot.  Wide general knowledge (knowing a little about a lot) enables you to read more widely.

Reading is a lot more than knowing what words mean.  Reading also requires context and understanding of concepts in the text.  When we read, we use our long term memory to help us comprehend.  If teachers haven’t taught much knowledge, for a student to move it into long term memory, the student will have great difficulty reading and understanding much at all.

Look at this sentence:  “Jones sacrificed and knocked in a run”.  Do you understand what it means?  Every individual word in it is understandable, but does that help you understand its meaning?  Using all manner of reading strategies, that teachers have taught you, won’t help at all.  You need subject specific knowledge to understand that sentence.

An experiment was described where good and poor readers were given a reading task about baseball.  Some of the students had knowledge about baseball and some didn’t.  The results showed that the good readers were not the best comprehenders of the baseball text.  Those students who had previous knowledge about baseball, even if they were poor readers, had the best comprehension of the text.  Therefore, reading comprehension is based on knowledge, not skill.

Learners/readers/humans are knowledge dependent, yet many teachers deprive their students of knowledge by simply teaching skills or trying to divorce knowledge from skills.  Yes, their aim is admirable, but their method is futile because they don’t understand the role of that knowledge plays in skill acquisition.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2017 in Homeschooling Thoughts