Tag Archives: online learning

Faster isn’t better

“Need a high school diploma fast?” asked a post linked on a homeschool group.

“How can my son graduate at 16?” asked another.

“My kid is going through his online lessons so quickly that he’ll probably do three whole grades this year!” bragged another.

Y’all. Faster is not better. It’s just not. If your kid is getting their work done at triple speed, they’re probably not a genius (though, hey, there are geniuses out there, so assess appropriately). It’s way more likely the work is far too easy.

What happens when kids meet work that is far too easy? That doesn’t challenge them? Well, they usually don’t develop academic resilience. They don’t develop deeper problem solving skills. They probably miss out on lots of content, and we know that long term, content is good for shoring up learning in general. We know this is one of the reasons that gifted learners struggle in a regular classroom and often struggle long term as well. When we give neurotypical learners too easy content, they’ll struggle as well.

Faster just means faster. Sure, it’s nice to ace a timed test or beat the clock sometimes. It’s nice to get to content that you’re ready for, when you’re ready for it. No need to hold back a 5th grader ready for Algebra I or a 10th grader ready for a college research class. That’s not what I mean.

What I mean is that lots of the best learning experiences aren’t fast. Watching a science project come to fruition, doing long term observations of something, writing your own stories, learning to draw figures, coding a full game, prepping for a debate, making and editing a movie, tackling a math problem that’s really difficult, reading a thick classic novel… these things aren’t fast. They take time. When all we do is fast, our kids miss out on the richer experiences. They miss out on the experiences where you have to tinker to get it right, where there’s not one path or one right answer. They miss out on the deeper, complex thinking.

As for meeting milestones and moving forward, early graduation is right for some kids. But there’s not a rush. Most kids can take community college classes as a high school student and most 4 year colleges aren’t going to accept your 15 year old with a cheap, online diploma, so it’s not like college credit options are out of reach. Starting college as a freshman can mean much better aid packages in many cases. And what is the hurry exactly?

Again, early graduation can be right for some, but many homeschoolers seem to want to be finished with their kids when they become teenagers. It’s especially jarring to me to see so many go from thoughtful approaches in the early grades to writing their kids’ educations off as teens. “Get a diploma fast!” is not a thoughtful, purpose-driven education. If a student has other goals that they’re truly ready for, then maybe it’s the right call. But much of the time, families seem to be shortchanging their teens in favor of moving them along quickly, rather than making sure they get the education they deserve.

In the end, education is slow. Slow down. No one is falling behind during the pandemic… because education is not a race. There’s no rush. The more you rush, the more you miss. Planes have circumnavigated the globe in less than two days, but would you really call that a round the world trip in anything but name? Education is the destination. The diploma is not.

Are Textbooks Irrelevant?

When I taught school, I often didn’t use textbooks much at all.  The books I was given to use in public school were poorly written and organized.  The private school where I worked didn’t use textbooks for most subjects.  I relied on literature, as well as things I photocopied from various sources or worksheets and handouts I created myself.  I also made pretty heavy use of the internet and worked some with the middle school students I taught on screening and understanding information from the internet.

Through one of the blogs I look at, I happened to come across this challenge.  The blogger asserts that, “there’s not much in your children’s textbooks that isn’t available in at least a dozen places online for free.”

As a homeschooling parent, I have a deep familiarity with the textbook resources we use.  I chose them and I use them.  I think it all depends on how you define the question.  Is the basic information contained in all our workbooks, curricula and texts available for free on the internet?  Of course.  It’s first grade.  Of course you can find it on the internet for free.  Our math curriculum is already free online.  We could also find free handwriting pages online easily.  The National Right to Read Foundation provides a pretty good free phonics primers with good word lists, not to mention that Starfall is doing its part for early phonics.  Wikipedia has, I’m sure, every ounce of information from our science and history books.  However, we use these books because I like the way the information is organized and presented.  I like the way Handwriting Without Tears organizes the letters by their shape.  I like the way Miquon, which we use as a supplement, encourages the kids to think about numbers in a new way.  I like the way Explode the Code has already organized the words for us into activities.

Furthermore, I can’t imagine sitting on the sofa reading sections of Wikipedia to my kids instead of Story of the World.  How absurd!  The information is out there, but it’s not written with children as the intended audience yet.  And even if there are enough suggested activities on the internet, it can take me hours of searching to find the right ones.  Textbooks gather those activities together in one place so I can pick and choose them quickly.  I can easily imagine that this will change in the near future.  However, for now, textbooks still have a place at our house.  They package information and activities for children in a way the internet does not.  At least not yet.