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Notes from the Changing World of Home Education & Basic Skills (Archives)


Homeschooling Articles

Tip of the Week: Give Up Your Big Ambitions? Pause and Reflect.

Tip of the Week: Will My Student Be Testing Over Common Core Standards? That Depends...

Tip of the Week: Cultivate a Productive Attitude Toward Testing

Tip of the Week: Limit Two Things

Tip of the Week: Three Keys to Learning Almost Anything

Tip of the Week: Why We Must Teach Our Children to Question Authority

Tip of the Week: Consider Laying Your Badges Down

Testing Tip of the Week: Choosing the Wrong Answer May Be the Right Approach

Tip of the Week: Focus, Pay Attention, and Be Present

Four Resolutions I'm Making

Tip of the Week: A Simple Way to Celebrate Advent

Tip of the Week: Use Your Words

Give Your Children an Eternal Perspective

Online Charter Schools vs. Home Schooling
Slow Down and "Fall Behind"

Tip of the Week: Building Watches vs. Telling Time

Tip of the Week: Know the Difference Between Soft Skills and Hard Skills

Tip of the Week: "The Lessons We Remember Are the Lessons We Learn..."

Tip of the Week: False Economy

10 Tips to Help You Make Smart Curriculum Choices

The Father's Voice

Technology, Social Media, and Relationships

Update on Proposed Negative Change to Oregon Home School Rules

Proposed Negative Change to Oregon Home School Rules

Common Core: Command and Control

Understanding Dyslexia Part 10: Socialization

The Issue That Just Won't Go Away

The Role of "Choices" in Parenting

Understanding Dyslexia Part 9

Understanding Dyslexia Part 8

Understanding Dyslexia Part 7

Morning Activities: The Final Two

Achieving and Maintaining Fitness Levels

The Book Tim Keller Has Read Once a Month for 20 Years

If You Win the Morning You...

Understanding Dyslexia Part 6

Understanding Dyslexia Part 5

Understanding Dyslexia Part 4

Time to Slow Down

Understanding Dyslexia Part 3

Understanding Dyslexia Part 2

Understanding Dyslexia Part 1

Thinking About Abandoning Cursive?

Insights on Raising Sons

Is the Sky Falling? Common Core and Testing

Confusing and Erroneous Information from the Department of Education

Your New Year's Resolution: Give up Your Ambitions?

Advent: It's Not about You, or Is It?

Black Friday and Home Schooling

Those Who Can do, Those Who Can't...

The Necessity of Stressful Learning

Why Not Accreditation?

The Right Tools for Every Occasion

Beware of Accreditation

Slow Down and Read the Question!

When Should I Test My Child?

When Being Good Isn't Good Enough

Clue to Why Home Schoolers Leave the Faith

New Year's Resolutions for Home Schoolers

The Seduction of "Be The Change You Wish To See"

Two-Tier Home Schooling

The Day After

Remembering Pastor Chuck Smith

Why Home School a Dyslexic Child? - Revisited

Common Core, Vocation, and Freedom

Common Core Vs. Vocation

When Abnormal Is Normal

Disconnecting the Home School Pressure Cooker

Second Thoughts About Raising "World Changers"

Misinformation Continues from Oregon Department of Education

Can "Free" Still Be Worthwhile?

Home School Perfectionism

The Final Achievement Test Taking Strategy

How to Choose the Right Answer on an Achievement Test

Four Time Management Tips to Increase Test Performance

Six Tips for Getting Good Achievement Test Results

Five Reasons why Homeschoolers Reluctantly use Published Tests (and What to do About it)

Are You Really Homeschooling this Year?

The Science of Homeschool

Practice Does not make Perfect

Tip of the Week: Give Up Your Big Ambitions? Pause and Reflect.

My wife and I are native Californians. As young adults and new Christians, we grew up in Orange County, a densely-populated part of the state filled with mega churches and a continuous stream of end-time teachings and rapture frenzy. We wanted to re-locate. We wanted to find a simpler and slower pace of life.

We chose Oregon.

Our first home in Oregon, situated in a town of 5,000, was bordered by a creek. I subscribed to Mother Earth News, bought books on hydroponic gardening, bee keeping, edible wild plants. We got raw milk from a neighbor and dried fresh fruits we picked from local farms. We ground our own flour and purified our well water with a filtration system. We cut, split and heated our home with own wood. We eventually added goats, chickens, ducks and an assortment of dogs and cats. We were living our dream. But, slowly and after time, it seemed to slip away.

Some of this for me was pure romanticism. I’m not a builder, and I don’t have the patience to weed and keep pests out of a garden.  I’m also afraid of bees, so I’m content to buy my honey at the local market. I no longer drink raw milk after an episode of salmonella poisoning.  Sierra Springs has replaced our water filtration system, and the wood we use to heat our home is dropped off each spring, split and ready to go. The animals are all gone except for one aging, disobedient dog.

Recently I came across a video, The Wooden House Project, that was posted on a website, northman.com (clickable link: http://northmen.com/en/about-us/who-where-and-why).  This short video documenting the building of home from start to finish in forested Latvia is stunning to watch. While it could ignite or reignite a desire to “get ourselves back to the garden” as the classic Crosby Stills and Nash Woodstock tune puts it, it could also make a parent wonder if maybe they’ve missed something along the way of raising children.

Is the pursuit of our goals driving us too fast? Have we lost control? Can we/should we slow it down? Are the big things in our life crowding out the little things?  Do our children, when they think about home schooling, think of a never-ending assignment checklist that’s “new every morning?”

Once this school year is over and you can relax, find some time to think things over. What do you want your home school to look like next year? Or, maybe you won’t home school next year. Maybe you want to go a different direction with your family. Maybe it’s time to change things up.

Pause and reflect. That’s the tip of the week!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Tip of the Week: Will My Student Be Testing Over Common Core Standards? That Depends…

Will my student be required to take a test that is Common Core aligned? The short answer, at least here in the Northwest, is… that depends. Students enrolled in any of the online public school programs such as K-12, Clackamas Web Academy, or Connections Academy will definitely face tests that are Common-Core specific. For privately home-schooled students, the answer is no.  Your student will not face a test that is Common-Core specific. Nor are they likely to for several years so long as the admin rules are left substantively alone.

The achievement testing industry is market driven. And while the government bureaucrats would love to create a single file line for all students, public and private alike, remember that seven states have not adapted the Common Core Initiative. And, with the current president and Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, I highly doubt they’ll be advocating for increased educational conformity via the standards.

In other words, you can take a deep breath and relax for the time being.

Like I said, the achievement test industry is market driven. CTB/Data Recognition Corporation, the publisher of the Terra Nova series of national achievement tests, offers a variety of assessment possibilities:    

  • The Multiple Assessments Test
  • The Complete Battery
  • The Survey Battery
  • The Plus Tests
  • The TerraNova College-and Career-Ready Edition and Assessments

We use the Survey Battery and the Plus tests here at Basic Skills. The Survey Battery happens to be one of the most popular choices. The last option, the TerraNova College-and Career-Ready Edition and Assessments, is Common Core aligned. And from what I’ve been told by a publisher representative, it is the least popular in terms of sales, and it also doesn’t appear on the list of national achievement tests for homeschoolers here in Oregon.

So you don’t have to worry about your student being forced to take a test that is Common Core aligned.

Unless, of course, your student is enrolled in an online public school program. In that case, you might want to reconsider your involvement and chose to home school privately next year.

Privately home-schooled students: Don’t worry about your child being forced to take an achievement test that is aligned with Common Core standards.

That’s the tip of the week!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Tip of the Week: Cultivate a Productive Attitude Toward Testing

Spring testing is here! Perhaps you’re in a state that requires achievement testing.  Or, you test regardless of state requirements in order to gain the valuable information it yields.  Either way, your student’s attitude toward and during this important activity is a vital key to doing well and showing what he or she knows and has learned this year.    

Consider the following pairs of attitudes below. They are adapted from Pathway 2 Success. The first, what teachers would call “closed,” or “unproductive” is unlikely to lead to a strong test performance. The second is what we would call an “open,” “productive,” or “growth” attitude.

Unproductive: “Testing is stressful.”

Productive: “While testing may be stressful or challenging, stress and challenges help me grow

                      academically.”

Unproductive: “I’m not good at testing.”

Productive: “By practicing, I can improve.”

Unproductive: “I can’t do this so I won’t try.”

Productive: “I realize there will be problems on the test that I know how to do and some I won’t. I’ll try

                      to do them all.”

Unproductive: “Making mistakes and getting things wrong make me feel bad.”

Productive: “While making mistakes might make me feel bad, I can learn from them and make fewer

                      mistakes next time.”

Unproductive: “Others do better at testing than I do.”

Productive: “While I realize that others may do better at testing than me, I’ll still do my best knowing

                      that each person has different gifts and abilities.”

Cultivate a productive attitude toward testing.

That’s the tip of the week!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Tip of the Week: Limit Two Things

Twice in the last four months I’ve gotten text messages from my carrier that I’m about to exceed my data limit. Twice I paid overage fees. The warning didn’t work. Maybe I should have listened to that Sprint commercial that told me “I have the right to be unlimited” and changed plans.

Our culture is obsessed with unlimited consumption, having and doing. Two areas many of us struggle with are productivity and entertainment. I know it’s an issue for me. And what suffers? Sleep and rest.  We might get away with it for a short time, but it’s something our children can’t afford to indulge.

I like to be productive, to work and accomplish things. I like entertainment, movies in particular. Sometimes I’ll take in two in one night. For some of us, it’s easy for our lives to begin to orbit these activities. I believe this is particularly true for our children, especially teens.

Tish Warren, one of my new favorite authors, writes in Liturgy of the Ordinary:

But my willingness to sacrifice sleep also reveals less noble loves. I stay up later than I should, drowsy, collapsed on the couch, vaguely surfing the Internet, watching cute puppy videos. Or I stay up trying to squeeze more activity into the day, to pack it with as much productivity as possible. My disordered sleep reveals a disordered love, idols of entertainment or productivity.

My willingness to sacrifice much-needed rest and my prioritizing amusement or work over the basic needs of my body and the people around me (with whom I am far more likely to be short tempered after a night of little sleep) reveal that these good things – entertainment and work – have taken a place of ascendancy in my life. In the nitty-gritty of my daily life repentance for idolatry may look as pedestrian as shutting off my email an hour earlier and resisting that alluring click bank to go to bed.

Limit work and entertainment. 

That’s the tip of the week!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Tip of the Week: Three Keys to Learning Almost Anything

Here’s something to try at home with your elementary age children. Ask them this question:

“If you could receive one million dollars right now or a penny doubled every day for 30 days, which one would you choose?”

Some will take the “million dollars right now.” Others may sense this is a trick question. Regardless of what they answer, have them do the math of doubling the penny for 30 days to prove the answer.   Here’s what they’ll see:

Day 1: $.01

Day 2: $.02

Day 3: $.04

Day 4: $.08

Day 5: $.16

Day 6: $.32

Day 7: $.64

Day 8: $1.28

Day 9: $2.56

Day 10: $5.12

Day 11: $10.24

Day 12: $20.48

Day 13: $40.96

Day 14: $81.92

Day 15: $163.84

Day 16: $327.68

Day 17: $655.36

Day 18: $1,310.72

Day 19: $2,621.44

Day 20: $5,242.88

Day 21: $10,485.76

Day 22: $20,971.52

Day 23: $41,943.04

Day 24: $83,886.08

Day 25: $167,772.16

Day 26: $335,544.32

Day 27: $671,088.64

Day 28: $1,342,177.28

Day 29: $2,684,354.56

Day 30: $5,368,709.12

I’ll bet you didn’t expect this outcome. I didn’t.  Even by day 15, the penny had only grown to $163.84, a far cry from one million dollars.

Here are three lessons you can teach your children from this “doubling the penny” activity:

  • Learning takes time and is often “slow going.”
  • You have to be patient with yourself and the learning process.
  • Mastery of the skill or subject content rarely happens without perseverance.  

Teach your children that learning takes time, involves patience, and requires persistence.

That’s the tip of the week!

 Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Tip of the Week: Why We Must Teach Our Children to Question Authority

I don’t know about you, but by Sunday night I’d had my fill of media coverage of the last three days of “events.” And you, like me, probably have some strong feelings one way or another over what’s taken place. The thoughts below are not an invite to debate; they’re simply my reflection and serve as the thinking which led to this week’s tip of the week and the free resource I’m recommending.


Our children are growing up in the middle of a perfect storm. Here’s why I think so.

  • We just installed a new president who feels the need to constantly tweet responses to critics. Will he eventually rise above this?
  • Here in Portland, we witnessed the burning of the American flag as an expression of “free speech” in opposition to his inauguration. Will the hate continue?
  • The president’s press secretary misrepresented facts related to how many attended the inauguration. Will sorting through falsehoods be the new normal?
  • We witnessed a nation-wide “Women’s March” advocating rights for all. Will the rights of unborn-women be included?

You may see things differently and have come to different conclusions. That’s idea behind the first amendment.


But, not all expressions are of equal value. Not all arguments make sense. Some are only partially true. Some are completely false.  Some are emotionally charged.  Some defy logic. Some resort to fear to make their point.


And, just because someone “in authority” made the statement doesn’t mean we can trust it.


Our children need to be trained to think critically, to question authority- especially in light of social media, fake news, and what passes as journalism today no matter what form it takes.


I came across a book that will help you. An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments is a free resource you can use at home. Simple and to the point. You can use it to help your children evaluate what’s being said, as well as help them think through the merit of their own arguments and the positions they hold.


The free version is here. It can also be purchased on Amazon as well.


Teach Your Children to Question Authority. 


That’s the tip of the week.


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Tip of the Week: Consider Laying Your Badges Down

I’ve been thinking about what it was like when we were home schooling our children back in the 90’s.   Back then, distinctions beyond simply being part of a group that had decided to teach their children at home began to emerge.  In other words, sub-groups began forming. Members or advocates of these groups would say things like,

“We don’t have a TV.”

“We don’t have a youth group in our church.”

“ We only do homebirths.”

“We grow our own food.”

“We let God choose the number of children we have.”

“Our kids don’t date, they ‘court.’”

Part of me, when I heard these things (even though I tried some of them), felt like moving in the opposite direction and responding with,

“Really, I binge watch TV (or in today’s world that would be Netflix or Amazon).”

“The adults are so busy in our church that the youth started their own youth group and they like it that way.”

“I love the way the hospital helps with the birth process and uses the latest technology.”

You get the picture.  And, maybe you’re a little bit like me.

The issues, while likely different, that many of us wrestle with is the tendency to make things like the above, whichever side you find yourself on (if there is such a thing as only two sides), badges of distinction. Distinctions which if carried to extremes, breed attitudes of superiority. And attitudes of superiority often lead to separation.

So what do I suggest? Lay your badges down. Resist the draw to be defined by them. This might need to be a daily activity- it is for me. But once it’s done, you won’t have to live up to the badge’s lofty demands. With the pressure off, you’ll have more time to truly notice who God has put into your life, and be able to look to their interests and needs.  Just a thought.

But first, you’ll need to lay your badges down. That’s the tip of the week!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE  

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Testing Tip of the Week: Choosing the Wrong Answer May Be the Right Approach

Spring achievement testing officially begins March 1. Normally I would wait until then to tell this story, but since I just heard it, I want to share it with you before I forget it and let it slip away. Here it is:

A tutor was working with a student helping her prepare for the SAT. She was scoring well on easy to medium type problems, but doing poorly on problems identified as difficult. He asked her what her strategy was for solving the difficult problems.  Here’s what she said.

 She told him she first eliminated the answers she knew were wrong, usually two of the four answer choices. Then, she considered the remaining two possibilities and went with the one that seemed the most likely correct. In other words, she went with her instinct. The problem was, her instinct was wrong most of the time, and she missed virtually all of the difficult level problems.

That’s the two-step approach I’ve recommended to parents and students. That is, first eliminate the answer choices you know are wrong, and then go with your instinct, your sense of what’s right. But, this strategy wasn’t working for her. Here’s what he suggested.

He told her that after eliminating the answer choices she knew were wrong, to then choose from the remaining answers the one she thought was likely wrong. Her scores improved the next time she took the SAT.  

What do I make of this? What I’ve seen is that test publishers construct difficult problems that require complex thinking strategies in order to solve them.  If a student feels clueless after eliminating the answers he/she knows can’t be correct, then the strategy is worth a try. However, first try it on a practice test to see if it works.  Experiment.

Try Choosing the Wrong Answer.  That’s the testing tip of the week!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE  

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Tip of the Week: Focus, Pay Attention, and Be Present

When you think about it, the time just after Christmas and the start of the new year naturally lends itself to re-thinking our values, goals, and commitments- in other words, the whole New Year’s resolutions thing. The buzz, which has largely died down, was all about “what are you going to start doing or what are you going to stop doing.” Here’s a tip that you and your children can use to help get started on something new or recommit to something you have already been doing, but let slide.

Focus. Not observe, view, or read passively, but focus. Pay attention. Be truly present.

The book, The Games Do Count by Brian Kilmead, presents a series of short one to two page stories of people who have reached the top of their professions. They all credit a large part of their achievement to a coach, a sport, or even a single moment of competition. They were focused. They paid attention. They were truly present. As a result, the direction of their lives and ultimate achievement was affected.

Our children’s decision to pursue a particular career or vocation will likely be the result of who or what they focus on.  If your student finds the books you are using to be boring, they’ll likely not engage or focus. Consider changing things up.

If the learning method you’re using is monotonous and too repetitious, consider changing the delivery system for one or two courses.

Include YouTube clips, games, partner learning, and any hands-on activities you can think of that will tip the scales toward greater commitment by your student to your chosen course of study.  

Help your student focus, pay attention, and be present. Doing so will ignite learning.

That’s the tip of the week!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE       

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Four Resolutions I'm Making

We all know this is the time of year for making resolutions. I’m not against them completely- I’ve been to the gym two days in a row which is not my normal pattern. But, tomorrow is a work day for me as it is for many of you, and our commitments to do this or that, or not to do this or that will be tested. I’m guessing some of my resolutions may be wearing a little thin as early as next week. I know some would call that a “negative confession” but I don’t care, it’s the truth.

Still, I’ve made some resolutions and wanted to tell you about four of them. Maybe seeing what I’m doing will help you with yours if you’re into this sort of thing.  The first resolution was easy, the second a little harder, and the third and fourth more difficult. They all fall in the category of letting go of things.

First, the easy one, kind of a warm up for me. I’ve decided to let go of the political party I’ve been affiliated with my entire voting life. Only took a few clicks and some key strokes. Done! And no, my Democrat friends, you haven’t persuaded me to cross over…

Second is one that’s a going to be a little harder for me. I’ve decided to let go of my compulsion to act on the upsell offers that are presented to me. Music, books, technology, and a myriad of products related to stuff I either own or have clicked on is constantly showing up when I go online. Not that the “specials” being offered aren’t legitimate and do often represent a great value, the question is, “Do I need this, and do I need this right now?”

Third, I’m letting go of a few more expectations that others in my community have for me. For my readers who identify with the home school community, we all know there are various codes or standards- codes of conduct, codes of theology, codes of educational choices, codes of dress, codes of whatever. And while these “codes” are often simply implied, you can count on someone showing up pretty quick to let you know when you’re coloring outside the lines.

Fourth, I’m letting go of a few more expectations I had for my children. When our kids were young, they needed our control and direction. We had certain dreams and hopes for them.  As they entered their teen and early adult years, some and even many were fulfilled. Now that they are adults, they make their own decisions. Their trajectories are changing and while still their parent, I need to respect that and be selective when I offer them my opinion.

So, these are four of my resolutions.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Tip of the Week: A Simple Way to Celebrate Advent

I’ve been thinking about how some friends and relatives complain about the commercialization of Christmas. No argument there. But, in their attempt to keep “Christ in Christmas,” some go so far as to not exchange gifts.  They think that by avoiding gift giving, the focus will be on Christ and Christ alone on the “big day,” December 25. I guess that’s one way to do it. Well, I think there’s a better way, a way that puts the focus on Christ for more than just one day.

One way to keep the focus on Christ is to celebrate Advent, the church season leading up to Christmas.  During this season, Christians look forward to the coming of Christ.  You can celebrate Advent with your children by starting each day with a Scripture reading that points to the coming of Christ, maybe singing or listening to an Advent song or hymn, and ending with a prayer. The key is to make it simple.

Here are some possible Scriptures to read:

Advent Week One Scriptures

Isaiah 11:1-10

Luke: 1:26-38

Isaiah 7:10-14

Matthew 1:18-24

Advent Week Two Scriptures

Micah 5:2

Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11

Isaiah 2:1-5

Matthew 3:1-6

Advent Week Three Scriptures

Isaiah 9:6-7

John 1:19-34

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Philippians 2:1-11

Advent Week Four Scriptures

Malachi 3:1-5

Romans 8:18-25

Isaiah 52:7-10

Revelation 21:1-4

For a more complete plan on how to celebrate Advent, go here. Again, keep it simple.

Celebrate Advent. That’s the tip of the week!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Tip of the Week: Use Your Words

When children are frustrated, they often throw tantrums, at least that’s the way it was when my children were growing up. Sometimes to bring order and calm, we’d say, “Use your words!” Sometimes it worked, and sometimes other means like “time out” were necessary.

So the election didn’t work out the way you wanted? It didn’t for me.  My second worst nightmare came true (second only to Hillary becoming our next president).

How to respond? Definitely not the way some in the Northwest did- by throwing tantrums and doing property damage.

When I read the list of names and ages of those who were arrested during the protests, there seemed to be a pattern. Most were in their teens and twenties. So what? I have to wonder if this particular age segment wasn’t primed for not knowing how to handle disappointment.

Over the years there’s been an attempt to soften or do away with distinctions. More than a decade ago when my youngest daughter played basketball, new rules were mandated which eliminated score keeping.  That way, there would be no winners and no losers. Just participants and lots of participation trophies.  This kind of thinking has been spreading throughout our culture for a long time.    

But in this election someone did lose and someone did win, and it was hard to take.

Here are three ideas on how to use the election results and the aftermath with your children.

First, appreciate and affirm what President Obama said about the election. He emphasized that The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. Thankfully, our country is unlike other nations where machetes come out to permanently silence the opposition. We’re a constitutional republic.

Second, take some time to read and explain the Bill of Rights to your children, especially the first amendment.

Finally, emphasize the need and privilege to “use your words.”

That’s the tip of the week.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Give Your Children an Eternal Perspective

Eight years ago during the presidential contest between Obama and McCain, I taught a government class to a small group of home school seniors. While things were volatile then, they pale in comparison to this election cycle. At that time there was at least a measure of civility between the candidates and their followers.  Now, eight years later, today’s public discourse is laced with acidic vitriol on both sides.  The fear mongering is unending, and maybe like me, you’ve found yourself caught up in it. 

If so, the following perspective by Dietrich Bonhoeffer might help you as it did me.  If so, read and discuss it with your children.

Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and Nazi dissident living in Germany, wrote the following:

It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.  We must confess-he builds. We must proclaim-he builds.  We must pray to him-that he may build.

We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.

It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is in my province. Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions. Don’t ask for judgements. Don’t always be calculating what will happen. Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge. Church, stay a church! But church, confess, confess, confess.  Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.

Cultivate an eternal perspective and pass it on to your children.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Online Charter Schools vs. Home Schooling

Yes, there is a difference. An article presenting the results of a national study on the effectiveness of online charter schools is, in the words of the article, “nothing short of damning,” and that the average student might as well not enroll. The study, conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, known as CREDO, and located at Stanford University concluded the following: 

  • Students in online charters lost an average of about 72 days of learning in reading.
  • Students in online charters lost 180 days of learning in math during the course of a 180-day school year. Yes, you read that right. As my colleague Lyndsey Layton wrote in this story about the study, it’s as if the students did not attend school at all when it comes to math.
  • The average student in an online charter had lower reading scores than students in traditional schools everywhere except Wisconsin and Georgia, and had lower math scores everywhere except in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.  

To read the entire article, go here.

Being part of an online charter school is not the same thing as home schooling. What are the key differences? Parental involvement, academic freedom and accountability.

  • Parental Involvement: Deuteronomy 6 is worth a re-read to get a picture of what education looks like for a faith-based family and community.  Successful home schooling requires parental involvement. If you can’t be present and involved, you shouldn’t be home schooling.
  • Academic Freedom: Families enrolled in online charter schools are restricted in the textbooks they may use. To deviate from the list of approved text books is taboo. If the books you’re assigned aren’t working, too bad.  
  • Accountability: Regular assessments are necessary to gauge how well your child is doing and if the curriculum is working.

What to do?

  • Know your limits. If you can’t be home enough to be involved in your child’s education, outsource their education.  Tutors, co-ops, and schools are options to consider.
  • Start, or resume, private home schooling. Choose the books you want to use, produced by Christian publishing houses or other sources. It’s your choice. A great textbook resource is Exodus Books. Use our code basicskills2016 to get a discount on what you buy.   
  • Assess your child’s progress regularly. Use the tests and quizzes that accompany the textbooks you’ve chosen to help do this. For skill-based assessments, use one or more of our ELO Quick Assessments to help you verify academic improvement. Test your child annually with an achievement test for a national comparison.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE 

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Slow Down and "Fall Behind"

Do you ever find yourself thinking “We have a lot to do so let’s pick up the pace and get it done. We don’t want to fall behind.” I know I think this way a lot of the time.  When it comes to home schooling, falling behind might be the very best thing that could happen to you and your student. Why?
Scott Keith, Adjunct Professor of Theology at Concordia University Irvine, recently commented:

We have allowed, and even embraced, the idea that fast means “good” and slow means “bad.” The result is that anything which takes time––learning a language, wrestling with difficult concepts, or reading difficult books––is viewed negatively and with a certain amount of disdain. In fact, “hurry up and get it done,” seems to be one of few universal American ethics.

In the past, training in the classical Trivium––grammar, logic, and rhetoric––attempted to subdue our perceived need to hurry up. Training in grammar entailed not only learning the rules of a language but also a learning how to learn the basics. Once a student had mastered grammar, they moved on to logic, wherein they were educated in the process of learning the meaning, reasons, and motives behind the concept the grammar conveyed. Finally, once the student had made their way through the rigorous process of learning both grammar and logic, they were then taught how to express their ideas via rhetoric.

The key is to remember that rhetorical training entailed bringing to the fore all things previously learned through much time and perseverance in the processes of grammar and logic. Only once a student had fully taken in what it meant to know a concept well––including understanding the logic behind any particular position––was that student invited to “give their opinion.” Opinions are then only expressed once real knowledge has been gained.

Contrast that with the modern educational system, which focuses more on process rather than content. In other words, if your education was like mine, and I suspect it was, you were taught the basics of how to read and then immediately asked what you thought about the text—mechanics and opinion. For years, what has been left out is first wrestling with the text to allow it to speak
and inform or unveil and enlighten.


I think Dr. Keith’s insight is right on the mark.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

You can read the full text of Dr. Keith’s post here.  Additionally, I encourage you to check out his new book, Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace.


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Tip of the Week: Building Watches vs. Telling Time

Ever find yourself thinking there’s got to be an easier, quicker way to learn/teach/say/do something? More likely you’ve wished that about someone you were having a conversation with, hoping they would “bring it to a boil” and get to their point. Maybe when we’re the ones doing the talking, we over explain because we think it’s necessary in order to make our point stick. I tend to do this myself.


In a diploma program meeting I had with a high school student and her parent, she put it well when she said to her mother, “Mom, when I say ‘I’ve got it,' that means I’ve got it.  You don’t have to continue."  She wasn’t being rude, just direct.


Avoid “building a watch” when your student is simply asking for the time. Do less explaining and more doing.


That’s the tip of the week!


Curt Bumcrot, MRE    

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Tip of the Week: Know the Difference Between Soft Skills and Hard Skills

Daniel Coyle, in his book, The Little Book of Talent, says that all skills fall into one of two categories: hard or soft.  He goes on to say that before building a skill, you need to know what you’re building. As home schoolers, knowing the difference and applying this knowledge will increase the effectiveness of your lessons.  

Hard Skills. Coyle says that “hard skills are actions that are performed as correctly and consistently as possible, every time. Hard skills are about repeatable precision.”

The following “hard skills” are all learned best primarily by memorizing:

Math facts 

Reading (decoding through the use of phonics)

Spelling words

The periodic table

Soft Skills. Coyle says that “soft skills are those that have many paths to a good result, not just one. These skills aren’t about doing the same thing perfectly every time, but rather about being agile and interactive; about instantly recognizing patterns as they unfold and making smart, timely choices.”

The following “soft skills” are being taught when the following is taking place:

Evaluating

Analyzing

Paraphrasing

Creating

We’ve written an e-book, How to Ask Questions That Matter, that explains this in detail.

Ideally, your home school curriculum will include a mix of both hard skill learning objectives and soft skill learning objectives. Usually, it’s the soft skill learning objectives in some home school curricula that are not taught or emphasized. How can you tell? Look at the test content.  Text books that utilize tests that require students to memorize masses of information to score well are heavy into the hard skill learning.  And, maybe that’s OK, depending on the subject.

For now, try your hand at distinguishing between hard skills and soft skills. Knowing the difference is the key to how you teach what you teach.

That’s the tip of the week!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE    

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Tip of the Week: "The Lessons We Remember Are the Lessons We Learn..."

“The lessons we remember are the lessons we learn the hard way.” – Seth Godin


I like the above quote by Seth. I think his notion of “lessons learned the hard way” can be used to your advantage in schooling your children this coming year. Before I explain how, I want to say a few things about the way your children will likely experience the curriculum you’ve chosen.


Unconsciously, your children will put the curriculum and learning activities into three categories: recreational, instructional, and possibility frustrating.  Before considering recreational and instructional levels, I want to say something about frustration.


Frustration is about tears, crying, yelling, tantrums, and maybe even breaking things.  We know it when we see it. Frustration is what you don’t want. It occurs when a text book is way too difficult. Students who repeat a pattern of try-fail-try-fail-try-fail become exhausted. So are the mothers doing the teaching. If this is happening, put the book away and save it for later in the year, even next year.


Recreational learning is the easy stuff. In most schools, subjects like art, shop, sports, and band are seen as electives that don’t require the same mental rigor as core subjects like math, science, English, or history.  Core subjects are typically taught in the morning when students are fresher and more alert, while elective subjects are held in the afternoon where mental concentration isn’t as crucial.  Overall, I think this is a good pattern to follow in the home.  Keep in mind that each subject in your student’s course of study this year need not be taught and covered with the same level of intensity anyway.  


Learning which takes place at the instructional level will fall somewhere within the student’s reach, yet just outside their current grasp. It’s learning that’s “not so far away” that the student gives up and quits, but rather is seen as attainable if enough time and effort is put into the task.


Learning things “the hard way” requires effort and dedication. It’s necessary for your student to expend energy, to feel tired but not exhausted.  Lessons learned the hard way are not handed to us.  When it comes to learning skills that lend themselves to memorization, learning should involve drill. Examples of this would be math facts and parts of speech. When it comes to learning skills that require critical thinking, students need to be invested in the process and not be allowed instant access to a solution manual to bail them out.


In our Supplemental Home School Program, our intent each school day is to teach at each student’s instructional level and then partner with parents as they implement lessons at home. There is a science and method behind this.

Like Seth Godin says, “The lessons we remember are the lessons we learn the hard way.”


That’s the tip at the end of the week.


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Tip of the Week: False Economy

There’s something about the first week of August. When it rolls around, we know that the start of home schooling will be here soon and that we’ve got to make some final curriculum decisions or risk not starting on time.


Textbooks are expensive, and maybe you’re close to or already over your budget. You’re feeling the need to economize. One place I’d avoid economizing is on answer keys.  While it’s obvious that you need an answer key for pre-algebra and beyond, you might think you can get away without one for the third or fourth grade math or language texts you plan to buy.  Sure, while solving the problems yourself is relatively easy and doable, there are two reasons I still advise purchasing answer keys even if it puts you over your budget: your time and the effect not having a key may have on your student’s motivation.


Your Time
Using answer keys will save you time, even if it’s just twenty minutes to a half an hour a day. Think about what you could do if you had an extra two to three hours at the end of the week. You could use this time to plan for the next week, interact more with the kids, spend time with your husband, read a book you’ve been wanting to, or maybe just take a nap without feeling guilty. Using answer keys helps contribute to a less frenetic home school schedule, especially if you tend to find yourself getting behind in scoring your children’s work. And getting behind here can decrease your student’s motivation, my second reason for purchasing answer keys.


Your Student’s Motivation  
Even with answer keys, there is a tendency to procrastinate and put off scoring your student’s work. At least that was true for me when I was home schooling. This is especially true if your student decides to speed up their work production in order to finish a book early.


The desire for “knowledge of results,” the student’s interest for an answer to the question, “How am I doing,” usually doesn’t want to wait long.  An answer key is the tool you need to deliver this information in a timely and accurate manner. Work not corrected in a timely manner can lead to a student practicing and learning a skill or procedure incorrectly which is harder to “undue” later.  Work not corrected in a timely manner may send an unconscious message to the student that maybe doing “it” (whatever “it” was) wasn’t all that important in the first place. Motivation and skill acquisition will likely slow down.


Get those answer keys. It’s false economy not to.  That’s the tip of the week!


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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10 Tips to Help You Make Smart Curriculum Choices

Many state home schooling conventions, complete with curriculum exhibits, are being held this summer. Oregon is no exception with our state convention. To keep you from going into overwhelm mode, here are 10 tips, not in any particular order, to help you make good purchasing decisions.

1. Take Notes

Bring a notebook to take notes about what you see and what you learn. If you don’t want use a physical notebook, use your smart phone’s notes feature. Use the voice option to record your thoughts, impressions, and questions so you can do additional research when things feel less hectic later.In today’s rapid order fulfillment market place, purchasing decisions don’t have to be made on the spot as the risk of a late school start in the fall is minimal.

2. Read Reviews

If you can resist purchasing on the spot and have time to do a little more research, go to sites like Amazon to read reviews of actual users.

3. Use Your Camera

Don’t be afraid to use the camera function on your phone.If shopping for literature, take a picture of the table of contents of an anthology literature text to help you remember the authors a particular publisher thinks are important to read. (Maybe doing this is rude, maybe you should ask the booth host’s permission before clicking, I don’t know. It just seems like an easy and efficient use of time to me.Use your discretion here.)

4. Browse New Vendors

Take time to browse new vendors or vendors you’re not familiar with.Startup curriculum producers often have some very creative, niche-driven products, their creation the result of the same frustrations you’ve experienced.

5. Browse Established Vendors

Take time to visit the more established vendors, those who’ve been in business for twenty plus years. The fact that they’ve been in business that long suggests they’ve worked out the “bugs” in their product line so you don’t have to.

6. Ask a lot of Questions 

Ask vendors what makes their product superior or sets it apart from the completion. Ask about the worldview and the religious tradition behind the product’s development. Ask a lot of “why” questions- why it’s designed the way it is, why the chapters are sequenced the way they are, why and what’s behind the instructional method behind the textbook, etc.

7. Consider Secular Publishers

All products do not have to be Christian-based.I’m thinking math and grammar text books here.What you’re looking for are sound, educationally appropriate, sequence-based textbooks.Choosing textbooks in the areas of science, history, and literature are another story.

8. If You’re New to Home Schooling, Stick with One Publisher

Parents new to home schooling will benefit by choosing one publisher their first year. Established publishing houses have done the work of organizing and coordinating the different courses that will make up your student’s course of study.

9. If You’re an Experienced Home Schooler, Consider Using Different Publishers

All textbooks are not the same- some are easier, others more demanding.By middle school, students typically display strengths and weaknesses depending on the subject, i.e. excelling in writing and literature, pretty average or even struggling in math. Choosing the right textbook to match your student’s interest and ability level can make the home schooling experience smoother. This means using different publishers.

10. Take Advantage of Online Mentoring/Transcription Services

As one of my mentors said, “Even the best athletes need coaches." What’s true in the world of sports is also true in education. Diploma Programs can help you stay organized, made good curriculum and instructional decisions, and stay accountable to the course of study you’ve chosen.

Hopefully one or more of the above tips will help. Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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The Father's Voice

This last week my son and daughter-in-law celebrated their wedding anniversary. We had the pleasure of having our precocious five-year-old granddaughter stay with us for a week while they were away. Every day followed a pattern- phone calls mid-afternoon by mom and dad and FaceTime in the evening just before bed. Still, the first four nights I found myself getting up in the early a.m. to comfort her due to a bad dream or a little anxiety. After speaking a few words of comfort and reassurance, re-positioning her in her bed, straightening the covers, we were good until morning. All parents know this drill.

I think the tonal qualities of my voice, not so much the actual words, were what did the trick. My granddaughter’s response reminded me of a video clip posted by Michael Jr. in which the “hook” to get you to watch it is “A father’s voice has power.” In my case, I’d like to think a grandfather’s voice has power too.

The take-away for me, and all of us as fathers, is not to underestimate the power of our words and vocation as “Dad” to our children.

You can watch the video clip here.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Technology, Social Media, and Relationships

At one time long ago we decided to make the Basic Skills campus a “technology-free zone” during school hours for students. Back then, technology was basically limited to IPods and cell phones. Our clients (parents) were supportive and understood our intent to protect the educational atmosphere from distractions. This policy, as well-intentioned as it was, nevertheless gave way to what we see today- multiple devices used everywhere by students and parents alike. It was a nice thought at the time, though .


I like and use technology all the time. It’s here to stay. Even as we search for new employees, one of the characteristics we’re looking for in potential office staff is that they enjoy and are able to use technology effectively. Still, there’s something about technology and the perceived “connectedness” associated with social media that’s addictive and corrosive to the soul.


Like many of you, I have several Facebook friends I’ve never met in person. I have to ask myself, are they really friends? Do I really know them? Social media is redefining the nature of relationships and the way we connect with each other, and there’s a dark side to this.


As we and our children immerse ourselves more and more in technology, are we expecting less and less from each other relationally? Are we finding ourselves wanting to text rather than have phone conversations? Are we preferring our Facebook groups over the company of people we know?  


Sherry Turkle discusses these and related issues in a Ted Talk you can watch here. Worth your time to watch since this is the world in which all children, regardless of educational platform chosen, are growing up in.


Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Update on Proposed Negative Change to Oregon Home School Rules

Dear Readers,

On Thursday we alerted you to potential negative changes in the administrative rules regulating home schooling here in Oregon. Due to your response to our call for action, the Oregon State Board of Education has edited its proposed draft.

Tj Schmidt, HSLDA contact attorney for Oregon, emailed the following to us on Monday, May 23, 2016.

Dear Oregon Members and Friends,

Thanks to the response of Oregon homeschoolers, and the hard work of OCEANetwork, the OSBE has edited its proposed draft to include this sentence: “A six-year-old is assumed to be a kindergartner, unless the parent wishes to place the child in a higher grade.”

The OSBE has also decided to leave the section pertaining to testing unchanged: “Testing for grade levels, 3, 5, 8, and 10 shall occur in the third, fifth, eighth, and tenth year ending August 15. The first year is defined as when the child is seven on September 1, or earlier at the parent’s discretion.”

The end result is that while the compulsory school attendance age has been lowered to 6 years old, homeschooling families will still be able to designate their 6-year-old as a kindergartner, and will not be required to test that child until he or she is 9 years old.

Thank you for your participation, as well as OCEANetwork's efforts, in protecting our home school liberties.

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Proposed Negative Change to Oregon Home School Rules

Dear Readers,


Please take a moment to read the following legislative alert brought to my attention by Rodger Williams and Dorothy Karman on Monday of this week.  As an update to what they wrote, just yesterday, Wednesday, May 18, the Department of Education scheduled a public hearing to take place on Monday, May 23, at 10:00 a.m. You can visit the OCEANetwork website for more information: http://www.oceanetwork.org/ 


In 2015 the Oregon Legislature lowered the compulsory attendance age in Oregon from 7 to 6 years old by passing Senate Bill 321. When a law is passed, Oregon Administrative Rules (OARs) are written to define procedures for enforcement of that law, and those OARs need to reflect the legislative intent of the law. At its May 19th meeting, the Oregon State Board of Education will be updating OAR 581-021-0026 for homeschooling to reflect the lower compulsory attendance age. Several times during hearings on SB 321, homeschoolers were assured that the bill would not impact homeschooling (other than lowering the age our students notify to 6 years old).


Rodger Williams, part of the OCEANetwork Legislative Team, has been in communication with the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) for a couple of months as they have been crafting the Oregon Administrative Rules (OARs) for consideration by the State Board of Education. The ODE understands that the intent of the legislators was to have zero impact on homeschooling in Oregon.


In the current OARs, 7 year-olds were assumed to be in first grade unless the child's parents notified the ESD differently. If the new OARs are truly to have no impact, they need to say that the ESDs should assume that a 6 year-old is in kindergarten which would then make him or her 7 in first grade.


Unfortunately, the ODE wants to remove that portion of the OARs and place it in a guidance memo. They understand that SB 321 was not intended to have impact on homeschoolers, which of course means that homeschool students should be considered kindergarteners when they are 6.


But the ODE wants to put important mandates like that in a memo instead of the actual OARs. OARs are required to be available for public comment before they are changed. Memos do not have to be. We don't want important decisions about our homeschools made in memo without an opportunity for public input!


As OCEANetwork and many of you testified and wrote in legislative hearings, not every child is ready for formal education at the age of six. We know many, if not most, are ready, but it is important that parents have the flexibility to decide what is appropriate for their children.


If the age at which a child is considered first grade is changed by unilateral decision in a memo, it will impact the age at which homeschool students take the standardized tests in grades 3, 5, 8, and 10. For example, if Johnny is assumed to be in first grade when he is 6, the 3rd grade test would be administered when he is 8. If, however, he is assumed to be in kindergarten when he is 6, he would be taking the 3rd grade test when he is 9 (which has been the assumption under the current OARs). It is important that parents of late-bloomers have this leeway.


Most parents will assign their 6 year-olds to first grade, but the default assumption needs to be 6 year-olds in kindergarten to be the same as the current rules. It's a distinction that is too important to leave to a memo which can be changed at a whim. The definition of grade level for a 6 year-old must be defined in rule, and it must be kindergarten (unless the parent specifies otherwise) in order for SB 321 to have no impact on homeschoolers.

OCEANetwork is asking the State Board of Education to reject the OARs as submitted to them. We don't think important decisions for homeschoolers should be made by fiat by the Department of Education without public input. Secondly, when the Legislature says there will be no impact on homeschoolers, we expect that there will be no impact. In order for SB 321 to have no impact on homeschoolers, OCEANetwork's position is that the OARs must be clear that 6 year-olds are assumed to be in kindergarten unless the ESD is otherwise notified by the parent.


The decision on Thursday by the State Board of Education will have a substantial effect on homeschoolers going forward. Our children will be at risk if the Department of Education can create legal mandates on homeschoolers with the stroke of a pen -- Executive Numbered Memoranda in this case. And if legislative intent does not matter to the ODE and that is allowed to stand, then homeschoolers can expect that anything we accomplish at the

Legislature can be twisted to our disadvantage by the ODE.

You can view the proposed OARs at http://www.ode.state.or.us/superintendent/priorities/3.e--compulsory-school-age-5-10-16.pdf


CALL TO ACTION:

  • Pray that the Lord will protect homeschoolers so that we will be able to live peaceful and quiet lives, with the freedom to do what is best for our children.
  • Politely ask the Oregon State Board of Education to reject the proposed OAR 581-021-0026 on May 19. The definition of grade level for a 6 year-old must be kindergarten (unless the parent specifies otherwise) in order for SB 321 to have no impact on homeschoolers, as was promised in the Senate Committee on Education. The rules need to be clear so that parents and ESDs can follow the rules without confusion and conflict. The rules should not be in a memo, but in the actual OARs. (Use your own words and examples.) The Board members can be contacted at stateboard.members@state.or.us.

Thank you for standing with OCEANetwork as we defend homeschooling freedoms in Oregon.


Rodger Williams and Dorothy Karman
for the OCEANetwork Legislative Team and the OCEANetwork Board of Directors

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Common Core: Command and Control

When I read Ed Trice’s article about Common Core which follows below, I thought to myself, “what this really is about is Command and Control.” Common Core standards represent the source of authority, the command aspect. The Common Core aligned textbooks and tests are the means by which the control is exercised. For the present time here in the Northwest, home schoolers are still able to satisfy the state testing requirement by using an achievement test, the CAT/TerraNova 2, that is not Common Core aligned.

The Common Core standards foster a one size fits all mentality, and God help you if you deviate or exercise a contrary thought. I’ve written about how to cultivate critical thinking in your child in the booklet, How to Ask Questions that Matter.

So what happens when you or your child steps out of line and exercises some freedom of thought? The following post by Ed Trice, the Executive Director at Lightning Cloud Computing, provides an insight that is both humorous and disturbing.

What's the largest number you can represent with 3 digits? Nope. It's not 999.

This post is about my fight against "Standardized Testing" in math, and what later became "Common Core." It goes back to 2008 when my daughter was in grade school. I got a call to come to the principal's office. I was surprised, as this was a real first. Like all fathers I suppose, we tend to think of our little girls as angelic and saint-like. In my case, this was the absolute truth.

"Your daughter was being disruptive in class."

It was like an arrow through my heart. I looked over at her. There were tear-streaked marks all down her face. She looked down at her shoes when I shot a glance over at her. And she started sobbing again. The principal continued his monotone diatribe, while I walked over to kneel besides my daughter and hug her.

"Really, Mr. Trice, that's not appropriate..."

I continued to ignore him. "Are you OK?" I asked her. She looked up, nodded her head, and sniffled.

"Tell me what happened" was all I said as I tried not to stare through the principal's skull with my X-ray vision superpower.

"Your daughter tried to correct her math teacher. The teacher explained why she was wrong, and she insisted that she was correct."

I laughed.

I knew she was right and the teacher was wrong. I couldn't wait to hear this one.

"What was the question?" I asked as the principal was about to interject a rebuke to my outburst.

The teacher was also present, and he spoke up. "The question was, what was the largest number that can be represented with 3 digits. I said it was 999, your daughter disagreed."

I remember thinking "Uh-oh. What the heck was she thinking?"

That's when she spoke up, anger in her voice, "Oh yeah? Tell me what 9 raised to the 9th power raised to the 9th power is then??"

Holy crap! She was right! Technically, the problem is not asking for the largest 3-digit number, which is exactly where my mind went upon hearing the question. The question is asking you to represent a number using 3 digits, so exponentiation cannot be ruled out.

I looked over at her and smiled and said "Way to go! You're 100% correct!" And I gave her a high-five. She smiled. Then cried some tears of joys as she laughed. She knew I had her back.

"Well? What do you say now?" I asked them both as I rose.

"That is not the correct answer," the principal insisted.

"The hell it isn't!" I said.

"We have not covered exponents yet," explained the teacher.

And so it went. For 30 minutes I gave them hell. I asked for a compromise. My daughter was not to be marked wrong, due to the ambiguous nature of the question, and I won't insist that the rest of the class be marked wrong, because they did not learn exponents yet.

"You don't understand," the principal said, "This is a standardized, nationwide test. We don't have the power to change her grade."

I then asked them to factor into account her "real grade" if it was marked correct when it came time for them to compute her report card grade. Again, they declined. That got me angry.

You see, for 5 years straight, my daughter has had the same grade in math: 100%. She scored 100 on every test she ever took. Seriously. She has a unique mind. It was 4 years later that I was called by a math teacher again. This time it was for geometry. The teacher was going over how triangles added up to 180 degrees, always, no matter what. My daughter thought about this for a few minutes as the lesson went on, and she raised her hand. "I know how to make a triangle add up to 270 degrees."

And she did. All she had to do was stare at the globe in the corner of the classroom. When the teacher said it was "impossible" to have a triangle add up to 270 degrees, she corrected him with an incredible example. If you draw a triangle on globe, each angle being 90 degrees, you can connect the north pole to the equator, the equator line can go 90 degrees around the globe perpendicular to the first one, then then north pole can drop a 90 degree line to meet this line at the equator to complete the triangle. Triangles on curves can have more, or less, than 180 degrees, depending on convexity or concavity of the surfaces.

In the second instance the teacher called to congratulate me on raising such a brilliant little girl. Back to the first instance...

My real fight began when I got home. I looked up the formal procedure to request a third party review for a dispute over a national test question. It was laborious. I met with the superintendent of schools, who called the principal, who brought the math teacher to another meeting, this one at the state capital.

Their faces were no longer smug and arrogant when I walked into the room. In fact, I sensed fear. Real fear. They looked white as ghosts.

The tone was civil. The teacher began with a 2 minute prepared speech about how brilliant my daughter is, and then the inevitable conjunction showed up: "...but..."

The superintendent nodded.

"Mr. Trice, the only way I can give your daughter credit for that one answer," (and he really put emphasis on one) "is to go to the national board of education and have everyone who took this test have their answers marked incorrect."

Amazingly, he thought that would make me want to back down.

"OK. Do it."

The three of them were mid-stance, not yet fully risen from their seats, and they froze.

"Beg pardon?" asked the superintendent.

"I said, do it. As in, make it happen. As in, execute that course of action."

They sat back down. The next hour involved them trying to persuade me against it. Finally, they started the concessions. My daughter would be given a score of 100 instead of 99, but the others would not be penalized. After all, this was two months later, etc. etc. etc.

"No. I gave you that option already and it was declined. I want every exam in the country marked incorrect that has 999 as the correct answer."

It took an attorney and another 3 months, but I got the result. My daughter scored the only 100 on the exam that year for her grade, not just in her class, but in the country.

I didn't care what it cost. I didn't care how much effort it took. I didn't care that an entire federal department was given tens of thousands of hours of work in addition to the demands placed on it.

I cared that an individual who had the ability to shape my daughter's future mind made her cry when she was right and he was wrong and he knew it. This could have been handled so much better by the overlords.

Forget about it being my daughter for a second. The truly sad thing is, look how a unique mind was mistreated for being brilliant. How many times does something parallel to this happen in our once great country? How many teachers squelch out the faint cry of genius from some shy personality sitting in the back of a classroom?

My daughter is now a sophomore in college, carrying a 3.82 in Biology with a leaning towards pre-med. I fought hard for her, and continue to do so. I remind her all of the time about a great quote from Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain.

"I never let schooling interfere with my education."

Don't let common core stand in the way of your own children's education.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Understanding Dyslexia Part 10: Socialization

In a previous article in this series on dyslexia, a mentor of mine, Dr. John Blanchard, took the initialism SLD (specific language disability), and renamed it some learn differently.  Why? Because he recognized the stigma associated with students who are tagged with a learning disability. He knew that parents were reluctant to let a professional assign a label to their child because of their belief that the label would follow them the rest of their time in school, and perhaps beyond.

All of us, professional educators and parents alike, gravitate toward identifying, categorizing, and labeling things as well as people. It’s how we maintain a feeling of control as we go through life. Label it so we can forget it so we can focus on the next thing. With the glut and speed of information coming at us continuously, this is understandable. However, when a label is associated with negative feelings, the natural response is to withdraw socially.  

Diana Labrien, in her article, 20 Things Only Parents of Children with Dyslexia Would Understand, encourages not to do this. She writes,

"When their bad feelings about themselves cause them to withdraw, they may cease to involve themselves in social activities or in making new friends. It is important that parents of young children take a proactive approach to socialization. This may include joining a support group, in which there will be plenty of opportunity for their children to be involved in activities, or enrolling them in clubs, Scouts, or sporting activities. Older children must be encouraged to get involved in activities that will support and reinforce their strengths or talents. For teens, getting a part-time job can be huge!"

Again, for children with learning disabilities, the natural response to withdraw socially is natural and understandable. Yet, the extra time invested in participating in social activities among those who share a common interest and set of values, the return can be positive and beneficial. 

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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The Issue That Just Won't Go Away

Somethings never go away, and the issue of socialization of home schoolers is one of them. It was the number one issue years ago when my wife and I started home schooling our children.  


In conversations with those questioning the decision of parents to home school, the issue of socialization was never far off and surfaced often. The question, “Aren’t you afraid your children will be stunted socially,” was implied if not directly asked. Critics usually weren’t so blunt as to say the ruin we were visiting on our children was likely permanent, but that was the sense that often accompanied their words. Occasionally I returned the critic’s question with a few of my own, such as “What happens to children in a traditional school setting when they leave for three months to enjoy summer vacation?  Do they regress socially?  Do their personalities fade away and the children become shadows of their former selves during this time, unable to respond acceptably to common social cues?” And with a little snark, I might follow up with, “And just how healthy is it to be in classroom of thirty 7th graders, 6 hours a day, over nine months anyway? Just asking.”


And now, decades later, the question of socialization is still being raised.


Rachel Francisco, home schooling mother of three children and wife of Dr. Adam Francisco of Concordia University, recently posted a great response.  


Rachel writes:


I homeschool my children. The fact that I homeschool them lends itself to complete strangers telling me how much they worry about my children and their socialization. One of my favorite magnets hanging on our fridge shows a distressed mother holding her head in her hands, and exclaiming, “I forgot to socialize the kids!”


If socializing only means “to mix socially with others,” tell me how my children are not doing that on a daily basis? From the time they wake up until they go to sleep, they are dealing with other people and their varying personalities. They are listening to how adults dialogue, seeing the God-given vocations of father and mother, learning how to treat younger children, compete with and help siblings, and share in the joys and disappointments of others.


They know how to fold their own laundry, empty the dishwasher, clean a bathroom, mop a floor, scrub floorboards, dust the furniture, make their own food, and be somewhat self-sufficient. These are life skills that have been taught while they are homeschooled.
 They know how to handle babies, be respectful to adults, carry on a conversation, ask questions, learn new skills, be independent, do what is asked of them, gain a better understanding of their expectations in the family, and pitch in when needed. Again, skills learned while being at home full-time.


For us, homeschooling doesn’t mean we’re secluded or that we shelter our kids. It means they are learning subjects, necessary for life and the real world, at home. The neighbor children make their daily appearances; we take trips to parks and playgrounds, and the kiddos are involved with outside activities like Art, sports, co-op, and field trips.

Now, I’m going to let you in a little secret.  Homeschooling is not for everyone, and we haven’t always done it. I’ve taught in private and public schools. My favorite teacher, who also happens to be my mom, is a public school teacher. I have nothing against non-homeschoolers, and, here’s why: I don’t have enough time during the day to judge you for not homeschooling. I honestly couldn’t care less. You have to do what works for you and your family.


A quick history as to why this works for us. Six years ago, our little family moved to California. Our oldest, who struggles with change, was adjusting to a new little sister, new home, a new live-in house guest, and a new schedule.


 Sending him to a new school full-time would have crushed his little spirit. The mama bear and slight control freak in me did what had to be done – no matter the cost. We chose to homeschool and reassess after a year. Thankfully, we were in a position to do so. Every year of reassessing has brought us back to homeschooling — despite the chaos, interruptions, and frustration of years past.


I have to be honest. This homeschooling thing is as much for me as it is for them. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and the Lord has given me many opportunities to work on my many flaws and mold me into a better mother. You know those shortcomings that won’t get fixed until you’re in a situation that demands it? Yeah, I receive a daily dose of my failures. But, I also gain daily reminders of important aspects of life. Further, in Christ, He forgives me for my continuing failures. I am, after all, a sinner, and sinners always need God’s forgiveness given only on account of Christ.


Reminders that these messy, sometimes obnoxious, beings have been placed in my care by someone bigger than me. The gifts and talents God has given me can be used to serve and pass on to my children. Even though my munchkins haven’t perfected walking quietly in a straight line, they are learning. They are learning what it means to be a family, imperfections and all. I call that being pretty darn socialized.


I think Rachel’s response nailed it. Unfortunately, this issue will never be put to rest, and need to be revisited again, and again…


Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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The Role of "Choices" in Parenting

Back in the 90’s, a big parenting emphasis was on giving children choices.  In other words, we were told that it was better to let them figure things out than simply “tell them.”  I tried this approach with my children when they were younger, and with one in particular when the “heavy hand of the rod” wasn’t working. I used the “discovery method” at times when they were teenagers when I told them to “use their resources” (their best judgment among other things).  Results varied.

In my education classes, the corollary to this parenting style was a teaching method was called “discovery learning.”  I liked it to a point, but there were times when I, as a college student, just wanted to be told the answer so I could get on with whatever I was doing.  Was it necessary to discover everything? 

Now, two decades later, this parenting method is still going strong.  Scott Keith, Adjunct Professor of Theology at Concordia University Irvine, has written about this at The Jagged Word.

  

He writes:

"Lately, I have been listening to parents as they try to instruct their children. The methods they use are odd to me. It is as if I am watching a Bizzaroworld where things work backwards; a world where up is down and down is up. My question is simple: Is the modern child incapable of learning right from wrong unless concepts are posed as questions?

"For instance, if a child needs to learn to eat their broccoli because it is good for them, instead of telling the child, “Eat your broccoli, it is good for you,” the modern parent ASKS the child, “Don’t you think that you should eat your broccoli, it’s good for you isn’t it?” The assumption seems to be that if the child figures out the answer on their own, then they will be more likely to do the good––eat broccoli––and not the bad––refrain from eating broccoli––simply because having been posed the question of the goodness or badness of broccoli, they now have a vested interest in the outcome.

"Silly me! I raised my children with imperatives like: “Eat your broccoli it’s good for you.” Or even indicatives like: “We’re Keiths, and we always eat our broccoli because it is good for us.” It never occurred to me to ask them if the Keiths are the sort of people that eat broccoli. Why? Because they were little children and little children don’t know shit.

"This odd state of affairs got me thinking: What if God treated His children, you and me, as modern parents treat their children? Then, the Ten Commandments might look like this.

Don’t think it would be good if you only trusted Me as your God?

"Do you think it is nice to make fun of the name of God?

"You don’t want to miss keeping My holy day, do you?

"Don’t you think you should be nice to mommy and daddy?

"Is killing people a kind way to use your hands?

"Do you think your spouse would have nice feelings if you stick your thing in someone else’s thing?

"Is taking what isn’t yours, nice?

"Do you think your friend would have joyful feelings if they heard you say those things about them?

"Where would your neighbor live if you took their house?

"What would your neighbor have to play with if you took all of their things? Don’t you think that would make them sad?

"Come on people, let’s get a grip. It is okay, perhaps even appropriate, to tell your children what is right and wrong. It is okay to tell them, “No.” It is okay to tell them to, “Stop it.” It is okay to tell them that their behavior is bad and that they are sinners. How else will they learn to forgive and learn that they need forgiveness? Our endless pantomime of inane questions will never produce this.

"We need to tell them––not ask “if”––when they are doing something wrong so that they will learn and so that we, their parents, can then proclaim forgiveness. This truth is why the Ten Commandments are not set as questions to us but rather commands for us. We are to do these things, which we do not do, and thus, we know we need Christ, who has done them in our stead.

"Jim Nestingen explains this when he speaks of absolution. Says Jim: “There is a formal way of speaking the Gospel in which the church has historically expressed its confidence: absolution. In the direct and personal declaration of the forgiveness of sin in Christ, the Gospel overlaps the law, both confirming its accusation and bringing the law to its end. Only sinners are forgiven; if you are forgiven, you must be one. Yet it is the very act of the absolution, with the freedom it brings, that allows the conclusion of repentance, ‘l am a sinner,’ to be drawn. Precisely where freedom draws.”

"If I am a forgiven, I am a sinner. But I would have never learned that I am a sinner in need of forgiveness if I was the determiner of my own state. If God asked me: “Don’t you think you are a sinner?” My answer would be a resounding “NO!” Therefore, He does not ask me, He tells me through His Law. Once I have heard the Law condemning me, I then hear the voice of the Gospel telling me that I am forgiven in Christ. The voice of the Gospel in my absolution then frees me before God and actually frees me to care about and serve my neighbor. And then, having learned both His Law and His Gospel, I know good and bad, right and wrong, from the position of a person who is free in Christ. I am now free to serve God through serving my neighbor with the good.

"This cycle of Law and Gospel, condemnation and absolution, is the point of the Ten Commandments and the point of all good parental instruction. Law and Gospel, condemnation and absolution, leading to freedom for the good. Not inane questions to children."

Agree or disagree? Post a comment or respond to one on our Facebook page and we’ll enter you into a drawing for a free book of your choice.  Comments must be posted by Sunday, March 6th to be entered into the drawing.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Understanding Dyslexia Part 9

A big part of school centers around measuring and comparing. When students think about math, they ask themselves and each other questions like, “How long did it take you to finish the test? What was your score? What problems did you miss?” Or, consider language arts. Imagine this internal dialog: “I don’t know how to spell this word so I’ll use a different one. I not sure what to write about, oh well. Time for another comma, I think.”

Every day students measure and are measured. Others do it to them, and we do it to ourselves. It’s pretty much non-stop. And, according to Dianna Labrien in her article titled 20 Things Only Parents of Children with Dyslexia Would Understand, students with dyslexia often feel dumb and stupid. She writes,

“They are aware that others in their classrooms are reading better, are completing assignments on time, and do not take as long to learn things. This can really impact self-esteem over time, causing them to withdraw. Teachers must capitalize on strengths and interests, and publicly recognize them in the classroom. Parents need to promote their kids’ strengths and talents with outside activities. Art, music, sports, designing, building, and science are typical areas of strength. Having successes and recognition for those successes is extremely important for adult productivity and happiness.”

Home school parents of children with dyslexia have a distinct advantage. They can more easily identify, draw out, and accentuate their children’s strengths, talents, and interests. Home school parents have an opportunity to customize their children’s education apart from the tyranny of the classroom clock and schedule. Home school parents can give their children the luxury and gift of time, specifically, time to discover their gifting’s and talents.

So let me tell you a story, a story with a remarkable ending. Years ago a young student I knew was struggling to learn how to read. In fact, he wasn’t reading at all by age 10. His parents were friends of ours. He was scheduled to go into a Title One Reading Program at the local public school. His mother, a public school teacher herself at the time, decided to quit her job and home school him. In addition to teaching him how to read, she gave him the gift of time to pursue his passion which for him was computers. Four years later he had written an accounting software program that was put to work by a small business owner I knew. Later he went to work for us doing IT work. From there he went to work for Google. He was pure talent, but he needed the time to discover it and be affirmed.

I wish all stories ended this way. They don’t, despite the tireless efforts of good parents. Still, Dianna Labrien’s advice of promoting kid’s strengths and talents and celebrating their successes is the right thing to do, regardless of the outcome.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Understanding Dyslexia Part 8

One of the key skills all of us need to develop in today’s information over-loaded world is the ability and willingness to sort, distinguish, and delete content that shows up in our various folders or channels. I find it so easy to burn through an hour or so reading blogs, related comments, commenting, checking Facebook posts, clicking on “You won’t believe what happens next…,” etc. Add to that bills that are delivered electronically, upcoming events we have an interest in, and discount offers from merchants we like, and we can begin to feel overwhelmed if we don’t stay on top of it.

Imagine being a student with organizational challenges already growing up in this world.  That’s where some students with dyslexia find themselves. 

   

The eighth point Diana Labrien makes in her article, 20 Things Only Parents of Children with Dyslexia Would Understand, is that children with dyslexia can be disorganized.  She writes:

“Their failure to have attention to detail causes disorganization, impacting both school and home life. Their rooms may be messier than most, and cleaning them up is truly challenging. At a young age, parents would do well to “walk” dyslexic children through each step of the process for cleaning their rooms and putting things in proper places. In school, older children specifically may have difficulty organizing and managing their time, and may need lots of tools, such as cell phone alarms, a picture schedule, and so forth.”

With so many things competing for their attention, disorganization is almost a certainty. There are ways to minimize the degree of disorganization, ways of bringing more order to a student’s world. Like Diana says, “walking” your student through each step of a process helps, but be prepared to do this over and over again. Visual and auditory cues help too.

The Skylar Process is designed to help your student become better organized.  Jo Edwards, the learning disabilities specialist here at Basic Skills, is currently taking families and their students individually through this process.  If you’d like to find out how this might work for you, please email or call our office at 503-650-5282 and Jo will contact you.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Understanding Dyslexia Part 7

Early on as children, most of us were taught the high virtue of being “fair” and treating everyone the same. We were quick to figure out when some something wasn’t “fair” as in, “She got a bigger piece of cake than I did,” or “He got more game time than me,” etc. In some cases, parenting our children from the standpoint of what’s fair is the right course of action to take. When kids pick up on patterns of favoritism by one or both parents, resentment isn’t far behind. The story of Joseph and his brothers illustrates this.

But, when it comes to teaching methods for children with dyslexia, “fairness considerations” need to be adjusted or even set aside.  When I taught elementary-age children in school, occasionally I would be “challenged” by a student when it seemed my actions weren’t fair. My mentor suggested I respond to the student by asking a friendly question that went something like this, “Either I’m being unfair or I have a good reason for what I’m doing. What do you think?”

The seventh point Diana Labrien makes in her article, ‘20 Things Only Parents of Children With Dyslexia Would Understand’, is that children with dyslexia need accommodations in school, at all levels. She writes:

“While they may not always qualify for an IEP, there are other individual plans that can be put into place that allow for longer assignment and test-taking time, modified assignments (e.g. half of the spelling word list), and orally provided exams.”

As home schoolers, I think it’s easier for us to think in terms of customizing our children’s education. We know the “one size fits all” mentality is stupid. While we all wear shoes, we don’t all wear the same shoe size or style. Nor should we.

Let IEP (individualized educational plan) thinking rather than “what’s fair” thinking guide your educational decision. Use it for all your children, not just those who may have a learning disability. Take the pressure off yourself. Everybody will be happier.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Morning Activities: The Final Two

Let’s recap. Tim Ferris’s first three morning activities are:

I like what he’s written. You can read my thinking about these first three routines by following the links above.

His final two activities go together.

Morning routine number four is to make a cup of tea. Not simply have a cup of tea, but make it. For Tim, making it is a process. It starts with boiling water in a kettle, letting it sit a few minutes, then adding an aged loose-leaf tea, and then throwing in some fresh ginger and turmeric shavings. Sometimes he adds green tea and coconut oil. Sometimes he adds some garlic if he’s feeling a cold coming on. All this is happening while he is feeding his dog.

Honestly, this sounds comparable to preparing a meal. My “process” is to simply microwave some water in a cup until it’s hot, throw in a tea bag, and add honey. Some might consider my way of doing tea comparable to fast food consumption. They’re probably right.

Once the tea is prepared, Tim begins his fifth morning routine. He journals for 5 minutes while sipping. He writes about two things, what he wants to achieve for the day, and what he is grateful for. He recognizes he’s a “type A” personality, a driven kind of person. He finds that writing down what he’s grateful for tends to level him out some. He attributes this part of the journaling routine to a small book he read that made a big impact on him. Written by a pastor, the title is A Complaint Free World. The challenge of the book is to see if you can stop complaining for 21 days.

One year I gave books to all of our graduating seniors in our diploma program. I wish I’d given them this one. Instead, I’m embarrassed to say that they each ended up with a copy of The Prayer of Jabez. I don’t know what I was thinking. Well, it was a trendy book a long time ago and it was on sale at Costco….

So there you have it, five routines to help you win the morning and thereby win the day. If life were this simple. Still, if you wanted to try your version of all five, how long would it take? Probably 45 minutes to an hour. Probably doing all five would require getting up earlier, before the kids get up, unless they’re at an age they can appreciate these routines and do them with you.

Remember Tim’s point of view. If you can do just three of the five, that’s good. Even one works.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Achieving and Maintaining Fitness Levels

Tim Ferris’ third morning activity is hanging, 30 seconds to a minute, from a parallel bar by his hands. I know this sounds weird. Why does he do this? Why would anyone do this for that matter? For him and for others, he uses hanging to decompress his spine. Not only does he hang first thing in the morning, but as a writer who sits a lot, he finds that periodically going to his bar to hang briefly during the day to be beneficial. Doing this addresses any back issues he may be experiencing as well help prevent future ones from occurring.

What I took away from this is that we need to find a way to maintain a degree of fitness that matches our goals and lifestyle. If we neglect and let our fitness levels slide, at some point it will catch up with us.  

About 15 years ago, I injured myself on a family vacation to the Southern California coast. I wanted to teach my son to surf, a sport I enjoyed growing up and continued into adulthood until moving to Oregon. On the second day of our trip, I tore some cartilage away from my ribs while paddling to catch a wave. My mind knew what to do, but my level of fitness wasn’t up to it. This was my body’s way of saying, “Hello, you’re not 25 anymore…” The healing curve on this type of injury is six weeks or so. Teaching my son to surf would have to wait.

Experiences like these lead us to ask questions and eventually require us to make decisions. Questions like, “Just how important to me or my children is doing this or that?” Pain, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, is a motivator.

For most of us, the solution to addressing general physical challenges, or achieving a level of fitness or wellness, is that whatever we choose to do has got to be simple, accessible, and short in duration. All of us with children, especially if we’re home schooling them, are beyond busy. Jorge Cruise, an author who seems to understand this, wrote a book, 8 Minutes in the Morning. Even though it was written years ago, the content is sound, helpful, and supportive. 

Tim’s third morning activity is to address a physical condition by hanging from a bar, 30 seconds to a minute. There are two more activities he tries to work in each day. I’ll write about them soon.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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The Book Tim Keller Has Read Once a Month for 20 Years

What book would anyone read, or even have time to read, once a month for twenty years? I can’t remember the last book I actually finished, let alone read more than once, the exception being a book for a book study I was leading. The book Tim Keller has read once a month for twenty years was referring to was the book of Psalms.

The other Tim (Tim Ferris) I wrote about last week said the second thing on his list of 5 things he’d like to accomplish the first hour of the day was mediation. For him, meditation is a twenty minute or so exercise in which he contemplates, concentrates or focuses on something.

In place of Tim’s Ferris’s version of meditation, I tried the Tim Keller route. After 10 days, I was already behind schedule, and it was clear to me that I wasn’t going catch up. I just came to terms with my pace. Two Psalms a day is about right for me, depending on length.

I think if you put some form of Christian meditation into your morning routine and you become consistent in this practice, you also need to remind yourself regularly that this practice in no way grants you special favor with God. It does not put God into your debt as if he now owes you something because of your “great commitment and resolve.” He is not obligated to you now that you’ve move him up in your list of priorities and are “giving him the first part of your day.”

Actually the opposite is true. The way I see it, it’s a sign of my weakness and need. Implementing this sort of discipline into my life provides a channel to repent daily and receive God’s forgiveness. I like to think of it as my “daily intervention,” to the degree that I do it daily.

Additionally, Keller says a regular reading of the Psalms do the following:

The Psalms teach me to do the things the psalmists do: (1) commit myself to God; (2) depend on God; (3) seek solace in God; (4) find mercy and grace in God; and (5) get perspective and wisdom from God—all through Jesus Christ.

The Psalms reveal Christ to us. It’s no wonder they’ve been the church’s prayer and song book for 3000 plus years.

There are three more items in Tim Ferris’s list of morning activities for you to consider. I’ll write about them later this week.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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If You Win the Morning You...

…You win the day. Is this true for you?

It’s New Year’s Day, the time of year when many people make resolutions. Those with a strong will keep them, and the rest of us, well, don’t do so good. Still, here’s something to consider to help you “win the morning” and get your day off to a good start.

Tim Ferris, a very popular author and podcaster, was asked, “What does your morning routine look like?” Tim responded with 5 things he’d like to accomplish in the first 60 minutes or so of an “ideal day.” He said that if he can hit at least three of the five items, he’d feel he’d won the morning and thereby the day.

Now, given that Tim is a single guy who works from home, his “days” may bear little resemblance to your days as parents with children.  Still, his list is worth a look, and may serve as a model.

The first item on his list is “make your bed.”

The thinking behind this task is that by making your bed, you will have accomplished one small item at the beginning of the day. You will have taken control of at least one thing right off the bat. Our lives are dominated by a series of small items, of activities, and they all add up. Additionally, we’re affected by visual clutter- some of us more than others. When everyone, children included, make their bed, they’ve brought some order to where they spend their time and where some of their home schooling likely takes place.

I’ll cover the other four items in a future ezine.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE 

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Understanding Dyslexia Part 6

Around the time I started teaching elementary school, I took an advanced writing class at a local university.  Near the end of the term, I posed a question to the instructor that I think was also on the minds of the other students. I asked, “So how does a student go from being a “B” or B+ writer to an “A” level writer?”  The answer the instructor gave me boiled down to this: “Read good literature.” That was it.

Sure, there’s a lot more to improving your writing. But, I think what she was getting at is that to a certain degree, good writing skills and techniques are often “caught” rather than taught. In other words, the more exposure we have to a variety of good writers, the more likely we will internalize some of what makes them effective.

In some ways, my instructor’s advice to me was similar to the sixth point Diana Labrien makes in her article, 20 Things Only Parents of Children With Dyslexia Would Understand.  She writes:

They need “ear reading”. This is the term advocates and parents use for audio books. While the obvious benefit is that are able to stay up to date with their classmates in all content areas (textbook publishers all offer their publications in audio format), they are also able to conduct research and to complete book reports/reviews. Another benefit is an increased vocabulary and the ability to “hear” good grammar.

For students who learn differently, the side benefit to “ear reading” is increased vocabulary and the ability to recognize good grammar.  This may possibility result in an improvement in your student’s writing too!

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Understanding Dyslexia Part 5

Many years ago, dyslexia was also referred to as specific language disability, or “SLD.” The terms were interchangeable. One of my mentors, Dr. John Blanchard, suggested a different designation to what the letters “SLD” stand for. He liked to think of students with “SLD” as “students who learn differently.”

Students with “SLD” not only learn differently, but they also “see” differently. And, seeing differently can be a very good thing as Diana Labrien points out in her article, 20 Things Only Parents of Children with Dyslexia Would Understand

She writes:

"Yes, they occasionally reverse letters and words, but that is because those words and letters appear differently to them on the printed page. What they view in the world, they often see holistically (rather than in detail). They have a grand ability to see what is “out of place.” Carol Grieder, a molecular biologist with dyslexia, won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2009 because as she looked at DNA molecules through a microscope, she saw something that should not be there. She discovered a new and extremely important enzyme that is today the subject of cancer and aging research. In this case, her dyslexia was a wonderful “gift” to the world."

We need to celebrate students who learn differently, and who see differently. We need them, and the contributions they make to all of us!  Students frustrated with dyslexia need to be encouraged with stories about such outstanding people such as Dr. Grieder.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Understanding Dyslexia Part 4

As a classroom teacher, one of the hardest messages I had to deliver to parents was, “I’m not successfully meeting the needs of your student.” Something needs to change, something needs to be added to what I’m doing in order for your student to succeed. Often that “something” was tutoring.

Dads, and not so much mothers, had a hard time hearing this. As a father, I get this.  In our minds, the recommendation of tutoring suggests there’s been a failure of some sort. The schools, whether public or private, were the ones that were failing our children which is why many of us pulled them out. When we find our child continues to have a problem we can’t fix through home schooling, we rationalize and often go into a time of denial. 

Once we get over the denial stage and finally acknowledge there is a learning problem beyond our ability, a lot of second guessing goes on. We ask ourselves what we should have done differently, what we should have done sooner, and maybe what we should not have done at all. Along with these questions comes guilt, often a lot. We need to move past these questions and take action.

Dianna Labrien’s fourth point from her article, 20 Things Only Parents of Children With Dyslexia Would Understand, is that students with dyslexia often need tutoring outside of school. Home-schooled children with dyslexia can benefit as well since the tutoring strategies used by a specialist are customized to the student. She writes:

"If the tutoring is designed for kids with dyslexia, some studies have shown, the brain actually changes (this is called neuroplasticity) and “rewires” itself, resulting in enhanced reading skills. For the older student, facing essays and papers for which research must be completed, as well as the normal rounds of standardized testing that come at specific milestone points in schooling, tutoring for reading, writing, and test taking must continue. Private tutoring services that have specialists for kids with learning disabilities are numerous in both the United States and in the UK. With their help and their special approach, children with dyslexia can pass any type of exam."

There are two things I would underscore from what Dianna says. The first is that through the right kind of tutoring, the brain can actually change in how it acquires and processes information. That should bring all of us hope. The second thing is that tutoring is likely to take some time for the results to be seen. There are no quick fixes.

If you suspect your child has dyslexia or another kind of learning disability, our learning disabilities specialist, Jo Edwards, would be glad to talk to you, either by phone or in person.  If you’d like to schedule a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation to see if might help you, please call or email us.    

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Time to Slow Down

By the time the Advent season begins later this month, the ridiculous hoopla over the Starbucks cup will be over. At least I hope so.  Unfortunately, all the other craziness associated with this time of year will vie for our attention.

Also vying for our attention will be our children. And what is it they desperately want from us?  It’s the same thing we want from each other.  It’s what we want especially want from God.

The cautionary article Matt Kroelinger just posted at Christ Hold Fast will be worth the few minutes it takes to read and think about his message, especially at this time of year. Worth communicating to your children too.

"News shocked the College football world back in August, when Cordell Broadus, four-star recruit to the UCLA football team, abruptly quit. When asked why, UCLA head football coach Jim Mora said that he wanted to “pursue other passions in his life.” A lot of people don’t know this, but not only was Cordell Broadus one of the most highly sought after high school recruits to college football, but he is also the son of legendary rapper Snoop Dogg. Many people, including myself, were left scratching our heads trying to figure out exactly why one of the best football recruits would suddenly quit after he worked so hard to get where he was. Finally, on October 20, Cordell explained a little more in detail on his Instagram page:

"'I played football for my father because I thought that was the only way he would love me & be a part of my life. It took me 12 years to realize he loves Cordell Broadus the person, not Cordell Broadus the football player. The best day of my life was when I heard those exact words…'

"Cordell’s words pierced my heart, because like him, I spent many years trying to be and do something that just wasn’t me. As a Christian, I spent years working hard to try to earn God’s favor. I jumped on the treadmill and ran…ran until I became so tired and depressed that I had to get off (or let the treadmill throw me off). I couldn’t do it anymore. I soon came to believe that God didn’t love me because I couldn’t keep up with the endless demands of the do more, try harder Christianity that is so pervasive in our American Evangelical culture. Like Cordell, as much as it looked like I had it all together on the outside (minus the football abilities), on the inside I was walking in turmoil to the point where I abandoned Christianity altogether. It just wasn’t for me.

"Over time, I realized that leaving Christianity didn’t help me either. The endless demands of my career, schooling, family life, managing friendships continued to take its toll on me. The competition in life to have the best car, house, boat leaves us endlessly struggling to keep up with our peers. Maybe that’s why America has some of the highest rates of mental health issues in the world. Ronald Kessler, a Harvard Researcher studying mental health, spoke to the Washington Post concerning his research in this area: “We lead the world in a lot of good things, but we’re also leaders in this one particular area we’d rather not be.” The endless demands and anxieties are constantly around us, whether we’re Christian or not.

"But here is the good news, and something that took a long time for me to understand. We can get off the performance treadmill, that treadmill that endlessly ensures we are exhausted from the demands of our lives. You can quit the football team, because guess what? Your father loves you regardless of whether or not you are on the football team, or performing on the treadmill. Snoop Dogg loves his son Cordell the person, not the guy on the football field. Likewise, God doesn’t love us because we are on the treadmill constantly working for His love, He loves us simply for who He is, a gracious and merciful Father, longing to be with His children. Everything is already done. Jesus took our burdens, sorrows, lack or performance, sin, and nailed it to a cross. Martin Luther in his Heidelberg Disputation said – “The law says, do this, and it is never done. Grace says, believe in this, and everything is already done.” We have been set free in the finished work of Christ, and that is Good News!"

"My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ, and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” – Brennan Manning 

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Understanding Dyslexia Part 3

Years ago when I was employed by a private school, I was assigned to teach a class of fifth graders. I had a student who just wouldn’t follow conventional capitalization rules. In particular, he would never capitalize the word “I” when used as a pronoun. I tried everything to change this, to motivate him. I affirmed him when he followed the rules. I pointed out his errors when he made them. I tried to motivate him with incentives. I held him in from recess. I had him write sentences without end reinforcing the rule he was currently breaking. While nothing I did worked, he worked. He worked really hard.    

His inability to implement capitalization rules with consistency was the result of a learning disability.  It was not a result of being lazy or unmotivated.

Dianna Labrien, in her article titled 20 Things Only Parents of Children With Dyslexia Would Understand, makes her third point:

Students with dyslexia are not lazy or unmotivated.

Dianna writes:

“The undiagnosed dyslexic kid is often labeled as these things both in the classroom and at home. However, remember to consider the following issues:

– They may not hear multi-step instructions. While the 2nd and 3rd instructions are being given, their brains are still processing the first.

– In school, during reading class, they are still de-coding the first sentence while classmates have moved on to the 5th or 6th.

– It takes them far longer to complete worksheets and tests. When they do not get things finished, the teacher may be inclined to keep them in from recess to make them finish. What they don’t understand is that this child is exhausted from the effort just to complete what he has, and needs a break just as much as his peers.”

I lost track of my former student.  Years later I ran into him after work. It was great to see him. We talked for a while, and then it was time for him to get back to work.  He climbed into his truck, a truck he owned that was used for a business he started and owned. He was anything but lazy and unmotivated.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Understanding Dyslexia Part 2

I imagine it’s the same with you. Part of me is drawn to articles whose titles make a promise or guarantee a solution to a dilemma I’m experiencing or likely to experience in the near future. I picked up one of our home schooling magazines in our lobby and these cover headlines popped:

Fun, Creative Ideas for Learning Outside the Book. This will be sure to attract the attention of those who want or desperately need a break from the standard workbook approach to home schooling. 

How to Choose a Reading Program. With the myriad of options out there, just how do we choose? 

8 Great Foods to Boost Brain Power. We all want our kids to be as smart as they can be.  If following a certain nutrition regimen will help, we’re likely to try it.

When I try the suggestions and find the results are less than what I expected or hoped for, what then? I’m likely to give in to self-blame. I might say to myself that I didn’t follow the directions carefully enough, I didn’t give the solution enough time, I wasn’t “committed,” or something like that. Regardless, it’s somehow my fault or my child’s fault. I or my child must shoulder the responsibility for why “it” (whatever “it” is) didn’t work.

When it comes to learning disabilities and dyslexia in particular, this kind of thinking is harmful and unproductive. Dianna Labrien in her article titled, 20 Things Only Parents of Children With Dyslexia Would Understand makes her second point:  

Students cannot overcome dyslexia by reading more

She writes:            

“Those who do not understand dyslexia (including some teachers) think if parents just read to their children more, and if elementary aged children are just forced to read more, somehow the dyslexia will be “cured.” Nothing could be further from the truth. While reading to a dyslexic child has great benefits (I.E. information, exposure, stimulation of imagination), it will not help him/her become a better reader. Likewise, forcing a dyslexic child to just read more, in a traditional manner, only leads to frustration, anger, and behavioral issues. It is the equivalent of forcing an adult to go to a job every day at which s/he cannot perform the tasks and is not ever given the training to acquire the skills to perform them. How long would that adult remain on that job?”

Just because one teaching method, textbook series, or learning setting works for one group of children doesn’t mean it will or must work for all children. This is especially true when it comes to teaching children with dyslexia.

I know most of us would agree to the above in theory.  But, there’s a tendency among those of us who feel compelled to “fix things” to offer “advice,” to communicate what’s worked for us in such a way that the receiver of the “advice” feels judged.

I’ll be presenting points from Dianna’s article in the coming weeks.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Understanding Dyslexia Part 1

Many parents of young children cringe inside when the topic of learning disabilities is brought up. “Not my child” is the unspoken response. There’s a stigma attached to this “tag” just like there is when the topic of mental illness is brought up. If your family is dealing with either one of these issues, you’re likely to feel out of control, angry, and despairing. Go to three different health/education professionals and you’re likely to get three different answers, and maybe a prescription that you don’t want to give your child if the issue is behavioral.


In the past, the Christian community has not done well in dealing with learning disabilities.  Years ago I attended a seminar presented by the founder of one of the major Christian textbook publishing houses. During the Q and A, I asked the question, “How well does your curriculum work with children who have a language disability?” He quickly responded “Learning disabilities are largely a myth.  Next question…”


Well, learning disabilities aren’t a myth, and if your child suffers from one, you know this to be true.
I recently came across an article by Dianna Labrien titled, 20 Things Only Parents of Children With Dyslexia Would Understand. I thought I’d present her helpful thoughts from this insightful article, one or more a time, over the next few weeks as a way of helping all of us appreciate what many parents experience on a daily basis. I’ll insert my own comments here and there as well.


Dianna writes, 


"Dyslexia. It’s a word many parents dread when they hear it in reference to their own children. What their “lay” minds take in is that they have a child who will face struggles throughout his/her schooling and in life. Dyslexia never goes away. There is no medication to mitigate the symptoms; worse, it is an invisible disability which (if undiagnosed) subjects the sufferer to lots of misunderstanding and criticism for things over which s/he has not control."


Dyslexia is inherited. If you or one of your parents or grandparents are affected, there’s a good chance it will show up down line in one or more of your children.


Here’s the first point of understanding dyslexia on Dianna’s list:


Children with dyslexia read differently


"The brain anatomy of a dyslexic child is different. The area that understands language operates differently than the average individual’s. The brain has to translate symbols on the page of a book (for example) into sounds. The sounds then have to be combined to make meaningful words. The parts of the brain that do this are not as well developed with dyslexia, so affected children will have to engage different parts of their brains to compensate. Part of this compensation is enhanced by specialized reading programs which are research based and multi-sensory, as well as by audio books that allow kids to keep up with their classmates in school."


One source for audio books is Audible. The first book is free so you can try it and see if you like it.


I’ll be presenting more points from Dianna’s article in the coming weeks.


Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Thinking About Abandoning Cursive?

A little over two weeks ago I posted an article advocating the value of teaching cursive writing.  Our learning disabilities specialist, Jo Edwards, wanted to follow up with some additional information that will further convince you to include this in your home schooling curriculum.

Jo writes: 

What the Research Says:

 

Research shows cursive penmanship has proven educational advantages.  It is especially effective for students affected by dyslexia and other learning disabilities affecting spelling, written expressive language and penmanship. Please see the following articles:

 

What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

 

Practice Handwriting on the ipad

 

How Cursive can help Students with Dyslexia Connect the Dots

 

 Cursive instruction for these students with dyslexia should be done in a systematic, consistent and intentional way.  Each letter is introduced and production is explained in detail.  Don’t just show a model and say, “Make one like this.”  If cursive “h” is being taught the teacher demonstrates writing the letter while describing her/his actions something like this: 

“Put your pencil at the baseline.  Go up and touch the top line and curve toward the windows (or some other obvious landmark to the student’s left).  Then go straight down to the baseline.  Retrace up to the midline and go towards the door (or some obvious landmark to the student’s right) and then down to the baseline.  Make a connecting stroke (the ending line that will eventually connect to the next letter.)” 

 

Each lower case and capital letter should be introduced and practiced this way.  Letter connections also are taught especially “tricky connections” such as bi, be, bo, ov, ot, wi, we, etc. 

Additional Resources, Tools, and Tips:

 

One resource for this kind of instruction that is readily available to home school families is Handwriting Without Tears.  Another curriculum option is Handwriting Program for Cursive, by Phyllis Bertin and Eileen Perlman, published by Educators Publishing Service.  Both these programs are available at Exodus Books.  Use our discount code, Basic Skills 2015, to save on your purchase.  

 

Be sure the student holds the pencil with a conventional three point grip.  Some students find handwriting easier when they use triangular rather than hexagonal shaped pencils.  Triangular pencils are also slightly thicker which makes it easier for the student to grip.  Another help is a pliable pencil grip to slide onto the pencil.  This makes the pencil thicker and more comfortable to hold.  Check Lakeshore Learning and office supply stores for a variety of shapes, sizes (and colors.)  Pencils, pens and grips designed for those with arthritis are also helpful for students with dysgraphia. 

 

Students will have more success learning letter formation if they use wide lined (primary) paper with the dotted mid-line.  Even older students with penmanship difficulties should start this way to make them aware of letter shape and placement.  As they achieve success, the line width can be reduced until they are able to use wide lined notebook paper without the midline.  This transition may take several months or longer.

Thank you, Jo, for your input.

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Insights on Raising Sons

As we approach Father’s Day, a lot parents reflect on their families and how quickly time is passing. Our kids are growing up, too quickly for most of us. Babies are becoming toddlers, toddlers becoming preschoolers, preschoolers becoming elementary students, and so it goes. Eventually our children will enter their teenage years and things often get complicated quickly.


One line of thinking held by some parents, myself included for a while, runs like this: Be ultra-strict with your children up through age 12 or 13 and then slowly loosen your parental grip as they progress through their teenage years. Give them more and more freedom as they demonstrate responsible behavior. Sounds good, and I wish it were that simple. Often it isn’t. If you’ve parented children to their adult years, you know what I’m talking about. Whatever we thought we knew about raising children can fade quickly.


One of the most nerve wracking times for parents is when their children start driving. We worry about getting the call, your son (or daughter) has been in accident. What if you get a call that your son’s been in an accident and its alcohol related? How do you respond?


Earlier this week I listened to a conversation in which a father and son talked about such an event that happened in their family years ago. How the father handled it may seem controversial to some. How the son perceived his father’s actions, and how he might handle a similar family incident with his own children is worth your listening. You can listen to their conversation here.


The father and son were joined by other fathers. I think you’ll appreciate the transparency and honesty expressed by all with the goal of fostering healthy father-son relationships.


Thanks for reading,


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Is the Sky Falling? Common Core and Testing

The sky is falling! Or is it? Some proponents of home schooling are suggesting that the Common Core Standards are about to be imposed on home schoolers. How? Through testing we are told. Not so fast.

If this is happening in your state, we’d like to hear about it. Please comment on our Facebook page. Here in the Oregon, this simply is not the case. Not currently anyway.

Part of the concern surrounding Common Core Standards and testing stems from families whose children are enrolled in one of the charter school programs. While the children are “schooling at home,” they are not considered home schoolers. They are simply public school students being taught at home. These students are accountable to the state, and their achievement will be measured using a test that aligns with Common Core Standards. Home Schoolers are not under the same testing standard as public school students. They are not accountable to Common Core Standards.

Another part of the controversy seems to be related to the new achievement test we and other examiners will be using this spring and for the foreseeable future. The TerraNova 1 has been replaced with the TerraNova 2. With the adaption of this new test, the question we’ve been asked is, “Is this test linked to the Common Core Standards.” The short and correct answer is, “No.” While the test may be new to home schoolers, it’s not a new test. The copyright on the test is 2001.

The interesting thing about the TerraNova 2 is that home schoolers were asked to be part of the norming study in which students took a version of this test back around the year 1999-2000.  The publisher wanted more participation from the private sector, both private and home schools, so that the data used to measure your child’s performance would be more inclusive of different learning platforms. Oregon home schoolers participated in the study.

Did this test reflect what was taught in the public schools at the time? Yes, to a large degree. It measured content such as adding fractions, whole numbers, and decimals. It measured the use of punctuation rules and grammar. It measured the ability to comprehend reading passages. In other words, it measured a range of skills.

There is a popular argument forwarded by some in the home school community that oppose state testing of home schoolers. It seems to surface around this time each year. Their line of thinking runs like this: “Achievement tests reflect what is taught in public schools. Home schoolers don’t teach the content taught in public schools. That’s reason enough to get out from the tyranny of testing.” Honestly, disagreeing with state testing requirements from this point of view is not factually based. As mentioned above, achievement tests are skill-based tests. Arguing this is simply arguing against a straw man.

Opponents of home schooling look at those who make such statements as uniformed and reactionary, “sky is falling” types. The home school community can do better. Again, Home Schoolers are not under the same testing standard as public school students. They are not accountable to Common Core Standards.

Well anyway, stay informed and know the facts, and voice your opinion.   

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Confusing and Erroneous Information from the Department of Education

Now that the spring testing season is here, I want to clear up some confusing and erroneous information coming once again from the Oregon Department of Education’s website. While the Department has been contacted by phone and in writing about this issue, nothing has changed.  So what’s the issue?

The issue centers around which tests are to be used by home schoolers in the state of Oregon so that they may be in compliance with the current laws and rules. Below are the problems:

Two tests that should show up on the list but are missing:

* The CAT Form C (associated with the TerraNova 2) is an approved test and is missing from the list of approved tests.  This may be the most common test examiners will use this spring and summer. 

* The Metropolitan Achievement Battery is also an approved test and is missing from the list of approved tests. I’m not sure how accessible this test is, but if you’ve been using it, you may continue to do so.

Two tests that are on the Department’s list but shouldn’t be:  

* The McGraw-Hill Tests Grade level 3-8 aligned with common core 3rd addition.  This is actually the TerraNova 3.  The TerraNova 3 isn’t on the list of approved tests according to the Oregon Administrative Rules.  Even if it were, the publisher isn’t releasing it for home school use.

* Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills – CTBS Terra Nova.  While this test was once on the list, it is now out of print. The publisher has asked that it no longer be used.

Here is the actual text of the OAR:

OAR 581-021-0026 Examination of Children Instructed by Parent, Legal Guardian or Private Teacher

The following definitions and abbreviations apply to OAR 581-021-0026 unless otherwise specified within the rule:

“Approved Tests” Tests approved for assessment of satisfactory progress by home school students are the two most recent versions of the following tests;

California Achievement Test;

Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skils;

Iowa Tests of Basic Skills/Tests of Achievement and Proficiency;

Metropolitan Achievement Battery;

Stanford Achievement Test Battery.

If you want to see the Department’s version, go here. Specifically, scroll down and read FAQ 3.3.

Stay informed, and thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Your New Year’s Resolution: Give up Your Ambitions?  

No, but you might want to lower your gaze.               

I hope your New Year Celebration was fun and memorable.  Ours was pretty boring-- we went to bed around 10:00 p.m.  We slept through everything. On the other hand, my 90 year old mom who lives on our property was up past midnight.  She stayed up to watch the ball drop in Times Square and welcome in the New Year the right way.   And, not to be out done, she was up on New Year’s day by 9:00 a.m.  When I came over to see her, she had already cleaned out her utility room and was working her way into the dining room.  While her energy level isn’t always this high and varies from day to day, she’s never been one to sit around. Having worked as our accounts payable person for the past 20 years or so, she’ll be entering semi-retirement this year and will just be “on call” when I need her for a special projects.  Thanks, Mom, for all that you’ve for Basic Skills!

As some of my readers know, I’m not a proponent of New Year’s resolutions. Yet, I’m thinking of 1st Thessalonians 4:11 which tells us “to make it your goal to live quietly, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands as we instructed you” actually might actually be a good fit for me. Maybe for you too. I like its tone, its lack of militancy, and the relevancy to “the neighbor,” whoever that might be in our life.

1st Thessalonians 4:11 runs against the grain of American education and our culture.  While I’m an advocate of college education, the burden we’ve put on our children to get that BA, BS, or graduate school degree has saddled many of them with a ton of debt. Is it worth it?  Maybe and maybe not.  I think it depends on the vocation and the calling God has on their life.

I like what Chad Bird has to say in a post he wrote titled Dream Small: The Joy of an Unaccomplished Lifell

He writes:

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life,” St. Paul urges (1 Thess 4:11) in what is arguably one of the most un-American verses in all the New Testament. Those words have become almost a mantra for me. I must say them over and over to silence the lifelong indoctrination I have received from a culture that worships those who do big things and urges us all to do the same. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” These words are, I believe, a call for a radical reorientation of our lives away from dreaming big to dreaming small.

To lead a quiet life doesn’t mean that you lower your expectations as much as you lower your gaze. Instead of looking up to the next accomplishment, the next rung on the ladder, you look down at the daily life you live, the children God has given you, the spouse by your side, your aging parents, your dear friends, the poor and needy—all those “little things” you miss when you’re always looking up to the “next big thing” in your life.

I am forty four years old this year. The first half of my adult life was spent dreaming big, acquiring trophies that now gather dust and serve as nothing more than icons of lost loves and lost years. I can’t get those years back. I can’t undo the damage my ambition caused. But I can make it my ambition to lead a quiet life from now on.

I will seek joy, and find it, in those little moments that add up to a lifetime. I hope and pray you do the same."

So, how successful will I be at “keeping” this New Year’s resolution?  I really can’t say and besides, it’s a goal, not a resolution…  And, I won’t have the best take on how well I’m doing either. But, if you were to ask my mom, my wife, my children, or my grandchildren, they’ll know.

Thanks for Reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Advent: It's Not about You, or Is It? 

At Basic Skills I teach a math and Bible class to fifth and six graders twice a week.  Last week we were talking about advent, my student’s love of the holiday season, and the original Santa, St. Nicolas the Bishop of Myra.  They clapped when I told them that St. Nick punched Arius at a pastor’s meeting (actually the Council of Nicea) for saying Jesus wasn’t really God, but was simply a man.


When you think about it, Jesus didn’t show up in a big way, with a great display of power or fanfare. He didn’t show up the way we think God would, if he were truly God. But of course, He was God.  Instead, he came in weakness and vulnerability, born in a barn.  He was raised in a little drink-water town and eventually died a death reserved for criminals. If we’re honest, we’re reluctant to point these not so desirable aspects of Jesus’s life out to our children. While we admit they’re in the Bible, we’re quick to gloss over them and instead emphasize the miracles, healings, and crowds that gave him his celebrative status.  That’s the kind of Jesus that’s consistent with our culture.


So how should we approach this Advent/holiday season?  How does 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “to make it your goal your goal to live quietly, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we instructed you,” play out in our lives? And, what do we tell our children?


I think that first we need to avoid a “rules for celebrating Advent” mindset.  We need to avoid a “if you’re really committed to celebrating/observing the Christmas season correctly, you’ll be doing this, and you won’t being doing that” kind of thinking.  A rule or law-based way of doing life often leads to conceit (I’m doing it right, look at me) or gloom (I’m doing it wrong, or not enough, I’m a looser, stay away from me). Whichever end of the continuum you find yourself, it still comes down to being “about you.” I find myself slipping into this way of thinking constantly and I’m guessing that many of you do to. I’m afraid it’s hard wired into us.


But what if we looked away from ourselves?  What if we stopped making the Bible be about us and what we do, and returned to its primary message of being about Christ who incidentally is for us and loves us in spite of what we do or don’t do?  After all, isn’t that the idea behind this Advent season?  Thinking this way would really start a paradigm shift in our lives.  And what about the stuff we do for God, our “good works,” if God doesn’t need them, and he doesn’t?  Well, your neighbor needs them.  And that’s where 1 Thessalonians 4:11 comes in.


More on this next time.


Thanks for reading,


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Black Friday and Home Schooling

With the event of Black Friday, I can’t seem to get 1 Thessalonians 4:11 out of my head:

“Also, make it your goal to live quietly, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we instructed you.”

For some, participating in this major consumer fest, the day that has come to mark the official beginning of the holiday season, is just plain wrong.  Even more so this year since some stores will be starting early and launching their holiday sales on Thanksgiving itself.

Whether you shop the deals offered, and I can say that as a Black Friday shopper myself that there are some good ones, is not why I keep coming back to this verse. And no, I’m not using this verse to guilt myself or anyone else into staying home this year, that somehow by staying home I’ll be truly putting “Christ first” in my life. No, I’m not thinking that.  Here’s what I’m thinking. 

Black Friday takes place near the beginning of Advent season, the time when we look forward to the coming of Christ.  When I think about Christ’s coming as a baby, it was so unassuming, without fanfare. It was quiet and ordinary. Contrast this will the coming of the holiday season, the frenetic buying, holiday movies, and the endless list of holiday activities to choose from.  It can drive you crazy. I think that for many of us our decision to start home schooling began with this awareness of Christ’s coming, our redemption, and our children’s relationship with God.  As first generation Christians, we became aware of the increasing secularization of the public school system and we just didn’t want it for our children. Imparting an eternal perspective to our children things meant home schooling.  That meant withdrawing to some extent, dialing things back a bit, and slowing down in order to have the time to do this. Once we had our homeschool “lifestyle” in place, we figured everything would just flow - godly children, healthy marriage, financial stability, etc.   After all, we were doing things God’s way.  We weren’t caught up in the “Black Friday” frenzy of life like those “others.”  Yet, things didn’t turn out the way we thought they would.

More on this next time, and how 1st Thessalonians 4:11 relates.

Thanks for reading,

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Those Who Can do, Those Who Can't...

A common saying most of us have heard before goes something like this: Those who can do, and those who can’t… …teach.

To explain my  understanding of this quote, I’d like to tell you a story.

I celebrated Thanksgiving with friends and family in California.   At dinner I was introduced to a former public school teacher.  She was competent, dedicated, and loved kids. But she had quit teaching the previous year. She had had enough.  Years before she had entered the profession because of her love for children, and now she had left for the same reason.

The quote, “Those who can do, and those who can’t teach” is attributed to H.L. Mencken (1880-1956).   As cynical as this statement sounds (and professional teachers have raged against it and to this day continue to take offense), there is truth to be gleaned if we can just relax long enough to appreciate the caustic sarcasm. Mencken’s point may have been that teaching separated from application is next to useless. It has little relevance to the real world. Just a big mouth getting paid to move a lot.

The teacher I had met could no longer tolerate the endless testing and measuring; grades on report cards had been  replaced with dozens upon dozens of “academic outcomes” she was required to evaluate and document.  She could no longer tolerate the shelving of her previous professional training and classroom know-how, not to mention common sense honed by her life experience (that’s right, she’s over 40) with a rigid lesson plan passed down from on high that required every teacher at the same grade level be on the same page of the same book on the same day or certain sanctions would be applied. 

Spontaneity and curiosity were all but outlawed.  Besides, there wasn’t time, and teachers would get in trouble if caught using an unauthorized book.  She knew this wasn’t good for the kids, and in good conscience she couldn’t continue.  She quit.    

Don’t think such administrative nonsense is limited to secular education.  Years ago I was made aware of a major Christian institution and textbook publisher that was training new administrators in the same assembly-line approach to education.  Sounded more like a car factory to me.  They also sold textbooks to home schoolers. 

You’ve probably bought and used them.  So have I, because they are good books, just needing some modification.  One of my mentors taught me years ago to not be afraid to “fillet the fish.”  This is especially true if you use some secular books in your home school.

All this to say that to expand your children’s thinking, to insure their education is more than the result of simply a “moving mouth”, you’ll need to ask questions and implement activities that require your children apply what they’re learning. 

If you’ve thought about changing up the way you home school and would like to try this approach, there are two principles to keep in mind.  They are:

1.     Information and skills become useful to the degree they can be applied to new situations.

2.      Students need to have real life experience in applying what they have “learned” to new problems or situations.  Their ability to apply what they have learned reveals the depth of learning.

The following true story illustrates these two principles.

Before leaving for Vietnam to serve as a fighter pilot, a student attended a class in advanced gunship.  Part of the course content included knowing emergency procedures in the event that something went wrong on a mission. They were so important that he had committed them to memory.  He bragged to his flight instructor that he had memorized them well enough that he could literally recite them in his sleep.  The lieutenant, a veteran aircraft pilot, simply nodded and said, “Good.”

The lieutenant orally quizzed the student for a half an hour in which the student responded with the correct answer to every question asked.  The lieutenant affirmed the student’s complete memorization of all the procedures and suggested they board an aircraft and practice shooting.

Once in the air, the target practice began.   Without warning, the lieutenant purposely killed the engine and the aircraft began to descend toward the earth, out of control.  The student, shocked by his instructor’s action, panicked.  On top of this, he couldn’t recall any of the emergency procedures he had “learned” and so confidently recited earlier that day.  About 100 feet from hitting the ground, the lieutenant took back control of the aircraft and the lesson, which really wasn’t about practice shooting, was over.

 Like the above story illustrates, the key to asking questions that require application is real life experience.

So… how do we set this up when home schooling?   It might help us to think about the number one question our children are often asking themselves, “When are we going to use this?”

Here are a few possibilities:

Math: Use math skills to build or remodel something.  All four operations, problem solving, and measurement tasks will be required.

Home Economics: Make dinner. Use a recipe. Purchasing the necessary ingredients, measuring accurately, following directions, are just a few skills that will be “tested.” 

English: Write a paper for publication or contest entry.  Research skills, formatting standards, grammar, spelling, and punctuation must all come together if the end result is to be of “presentation quality.” 

Art/Crafts: Engage in projects that in order to complete, competency in certain skill sets must be acquired.

Athletics: Sports such as soccer or basketball require the application of skills in a team context.  

History: “History repeats itself” as the saying goes.  Dig beneath the facts of history and look at the circumstances and causes that lead to the outcome.  The wisdom literature of the Bible is an excellent pattern to follow.  Look at today’s current events and hazard a few guesses as to what’s going to happen in the future.

Science: Learn the scientific method and then apply it as a framework to understanding possible reasons why things happen the way they do in this field.  Do experiments.

Home schooling with the intent of having your children apply knowledge and skills is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. 

Experiment with one subject and see where it goes.  Have fun, and see your children grow in their understanding, love and appreciation of the subjects you’re teaching.

Thanks for reading,

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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The Necessity of Stressful Learning

I remember times when I wanted to protect my children from the struggle what went along with learning.   I wanted to spare them the stress, frustration, and pain that comes with the extended effort required to gain something they needed to know.  Even though I’m reasonably patient, there were times when I became tired of how long things were taking and just simply supplied the needed answer or solution in order to put an end to the “misery”- mainly mine.  There were times though when I let my children struggle on purpose.  I consciously thought to myself that the intellectual suffering they were going through was a good and necessary part of their education, more important than the actual academic content of the lesson. 

In one culture (definitely not ours), intellectual struggling, even to the point of suffering, is considered essential.

The following excerpt from an article that appeared on MindShift two years ago underscores this point of view.


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In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class.
“The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper,” Stigler explains, “and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, ‘Why don’t you go put yours on the board?’ So right there I thought, ‘That’s interesting! He took the one who can’t do it and told him to go and put it on the board.’ ”


Stigler knew that in American classrooms, it was usually the best kid in the class who was invited to the board. And so he watched with interest as the Japanese student dutifully came to the board and started drawing, but still couldn’t complete the cube. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid had gotten it right, and the class would look up from their work, and shake their heads no. And as the period progressed, Stigler noticed that he — Stigler — was getting more and more anxious.


In Japanese classrooms, teachers consciously design tasks that are slightly beyond the capabilities of the students they teach, so the students can actually experience struggling with something just outside their reach.
“I realized that I was sitting there starting to perspire,” he says, “because I was really empathizing with this kid. I thought, ‘This kid is going to break into tears!’ ”


But the kid didn’t break into tears. Stigler says the child continued to draw his cube with equanimity. “And at the end of the class, he did make his cube look right! And the teacher said to the class, ‘How does that look, class?’ And they all looked up and said, ‘He did it!’ And they broke into applause.” The kid smiled a huge smile and sat down, clearly proud of himself.


Stigler is now a professor of psychology at UCLA who studies teaching and learning around the world, and he says it was this small experience that first got him thinking about how differently East and West approach the experience of intellectual struggle.


“I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart,” Stigler says. “It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.”


In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.
“They’ve taught them that suffering can be a good thing,” Stigler says. “I mean it sounds bad, but I think that’s what they’ve taught them.”


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I’d be interested in reading your thoughts on this.  Please go to our Facebook page to leave a comment or post a follow up question.


Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Why Not Accreditation?

The question of accreditation when it comes to home schooling comes up regularly. With accreditation comes regulation, and with regulation comes Common Core.  Not in all states, but in most.  The issue is academic and religious and freedom.  I encourage you to watch the following video to inform yourself.  Then if you'd like, post a comment on our Facebook page.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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The Right Tools for Every Occasion

Do you ever think about what sort of tools your children are ready to handle?  You have probably begun to equip your sons and daughters with a starter set for chores, hobbies, or just helping the family.  Thirty years ago, we outfitted our little daughter with a pint-sized shovel, and today she is teaching her three children to garden.  I remember deciding it was time to buy a real hammer for my kids, and today they are all helping to build their homes.  Over the years, as interests developed, they received sewing machines, and musical instruments, and mechanics tool sets... Various kinds of tools preparing for adulthood.   I sought to nurture a number of practical skills (from driving nails to defensive driving) as well as character traits (like trustworthiness and helpfulness).

There is another set of tools I have in mind.  As a homeschool father, I answered the call of Deuteronomy 6 to teach my children the statutes of God's Word, in every context - relaxing or working or playing, relating to tasks or amusements or nature or whatever we happened to be doing together.  I wanted them to see God's handiwork everywhere, and recognize His relevance in all things.  I wanted them to be able to think for themselves, to dig in and ask hard questions, and apply His words to their own lives.  What sort of tools are needed here?

Along the way, not only did I seize opportunities to teach my family, but I found that my family was teaching me, too.  I saw in them a need for tools I hadn't thought of, and even tools I needed myself!  It was a remarkable two-way street of learning and identifying the most important tools for each situation.  My heavenly Father was teaching His "tools" to this son, as I sat with Him in the house, and when I walked by the way...  Then, I would prayerfully seek how I could equip my children with these tools, and the skills to use them.  Of course, we plant and another waters, but it is God who causes the growth (I Cor.3:6ff).

Recently, I realized that parents are equipping these young saints for the work of ministry, by giving them several sets of tools useful for all aspects of life.  Just as we gradually add a pair of pliers or a wrench to a son's hammer and screwdriver set, so also we work to build up his Christian tool set.  In fact, there are several sets of tools that our children need to develop before adulthood - regardless of whether they are naturally compliant or strong-willed, brilliant or learning-challenged, focused or distracted.

Brain Tools:  Reading, Writing, Math, Art, Reason

Heart Tools:  Curiosity, Creativity, Love of Learning, Enthusiasm for Tasks, Courage, Contentment

Power Tools:  Diligence, Practice, Comprehension, Organization

Character Tools: Responsibility, Integrity, Trustworthiness, Conscientiousness, Perseverance

Social Tools:  Honesty, Respect, Fairness, Loyalty, Unselfishness

Spiritual Tools:  Trust, Obedience, Discernment, Prayer, Praise, The Word, The Spirit, The Name, The Blood, Love, Peace, Joy, Patience, Goodness, Kindness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Self-Control

This list is certainly not complete, but I hope it will be helpful for managing the progress of the precious lives that God has placed in our hands, to join Him as He molds and shapes godly men and women for leadership and service and witness, to magnify His glory in all the earth.  While we certainly want to be deliberate about this, it is also important to keep in mind that this process happens best in the context of everyday life, as those teachable moments and the needs arise.  That is the genius of Deuteronomy 6.  I challenge you to develop your own tool sets.   And may you be guided by the Spirit, purposeful, alert to the opportunities, "always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord."  (I Cor.15:58)

Thanks for reading,

Jerry Jones, Math and Science Teacher

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Beware of Accreditation

Accreditation comes with a price. 

Many years ago a high-ranking employee from the Oregon Department of Education visited Basic Skills.  After some light conversation, he posed a question.  He asked, "Would Basic Skills consider becoming a charter school?"  His question was purely hypothetical because at this time there were no charter schools in this state.  He was just "testing the waters" knowing what was on the horizon.  I countered with a question of my own. 

"Would that mean you would be choosing our curriculum?" 

He answered with a smile, "Well, Curt, you know the answer to that."

I knew he'd say that, but I just wanted to hear it for myself.

I simply said, "I think we'll pass, but thanks for thinking of us; thank you for your offer.  Let's get some lunch."  Off we went to a local restaurant.

This man, now retired, was a good educator.  His dedication to the well-being of children, especially those with special needs, was indisputable. I respected him greatly, and still do.  But accreditation comes with a price.

Just last week, a college president put his college's accreditation on the line.  The president of Gordon College, D. Michael Lindsay, signed a letter to President Obama requesting a religious exemption to a planned executive order that would ban organizations that do business or receive funding from the federal government from discriminating against homosexuals in hiring or services.  He, and the thirteen other signers of the letter made it clear that they do not approve of discrimination and expressed their conviction that "all persons are created in the divine image of the creator, and are worthy of respect and love, without exception. Even so, it still may not be possible for all sides to reach a consensus on every issue. That is why we are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need."  (See the full story here.)

So, what will happen if President Obama rejects this request? Gordon College, as well as many other Christian Colleges and Universities will eventually have a decision to make. 

The decision to forgo accepting federal funds, to resist the financial benefits that accompany accreditation, will be disruptive at the very least.  It will though result in a true positive outcome: 

Freedom.

Thanks for reading,


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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Slow Down and Read the Question!

When taking a test, it's essential that your student not assume he knows what is being asked without actually reading the question.  Doing so often leads to choosing a logical yet incorrect answer. Test publishers anticipate this approach and provide answers that fit this hasty approach.

 What might this look like?  Below are two simplified examples.

 An illustrated math question asks that the answer be expressed in yards.  The illustration is expressed in feet so the student only considers answers in feet.

 Here's another one.  The problem, requiring measurement, is accompanied by a four-sided shape.  The student, without reading the question, assumes he is to measure all four sides of the shape.  He measures accurately, totals the sides, and finds and chooses an answer that matches his computation.  Unfortunately he's chosen the wrong answer.  The question, had he taken the time to read it, required he measure and compute only the two longest sides.

Teach your children to slow down and read each question carefully.  Doing so will result in better test results.  

That's the tip of the week!

 Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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When Should I Test My Child?

Most achievement testing in public and private school takes place in April. That's likely the month when the publisher collected the comparative data for the achievement test your children are taking.  Your children's performance will be compared to this data. 

In states where home schoolers are required to test, there's a lot more flexibility when it comes to the month they choose to test.  While May and June are the most popular months, many families who school year round choose to test in the summer.  Don't let the calendar dictate your decision.  Test when your students are nearing the end of their course of study.  Nearing, but not finished with their course of study.  The reason to test when students still have some school work left helps ensure they will remain invested in the process. 

There's a potential danger in waiting to test until after the books are put away. In the minds of most students, once their books are completed, schools out!  Their minds are on to other things. Language rules and mathematical formulas are harder to remember and apply the longer you've been out of the habit of studying.

Test when your students are nearing the end of their course of study. 

That's the tip of the week!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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When Being Good Isn't Good Enough

We rank and measure everything.  Sports: Did you make the cut?  School: What’s your GPA?   Testing:  What was your percentile rank? Work: How much money do you make?  And on and on it goes.

Being good at something is the path that leads to acceptance.  It often leads recognition and reward.  Except when it comes to God.

In the article I referenced in a previous post, there’s a picture of the young girl, a home schooler, probably about ten years old.  In the picture she’s holding up an Awana award for being the most “godly” student. The caption below the picture reads, she would later complete the Awana course, memorizing over 800 Bible verses along the way.

I’m not sure if all Awana programs function the same.  My children were in Awana, and they memorized a lot of Scripture.  Nothing wrong with that.  However, unintentional outcomes can occur from any program that recognizes, affirms, and rewards young people for doing something considered “spiritual” or “godly.” When children are lead to believe that their acceptance with God depends upon their being “good” which in turn comes from their being obedient, there will likely be spiritual confusion ahead.  It’s just a matter of time. They’ll come to a proverbial “fork in the road,” and both paths will end badly. More on that in a moment.

She goes on to write:

… we were all homeschooled in a highly strict, regulated environment. Our A Beka schoolbooks taught the danger of evolution. Our friends were “good influences” on us, fellow homeschoolers whose mothers thought much alike. Obedience was paramount… We were extremely well-behaved children, and my dad would sometimes show us off to people he met in public by issuing commands that we automatically rushed to obey. The training was not just external; God commanded that our feelings and thoughts be pure, and this resulted in high self-discipline.

Then she refers to an entry in a workbook she wrote when she was nine.  She writes:

I’m hopeless.

 

Oh boy. I’ve got a lot to work on. I try to be obedient but it’s so hard! The more I read, the more I realize how bad I am! My problem is that when things don’t make sense to me, I don’t like them. When Dad gets mad at me for something, everything makes perfect sense to me in my mind, so I tend to resent my parents’ correction. I have just realized that I yearn to please the lord, but why can’t I? I just can’t be good! It seems impossible. Why can’t I be perfect?

 

Perfection through obedience.  Right.  Reminds me of comments made by Ted Haggard., former President of the National Association of Evangelicals, in which he said there are days when confession is unnecessary because no sins are committed. In other words, Christian maturity is evidenced by increasing obedience to God’s word.  Not that we will ever become perfect in this world, but we’re closing in on it, sinning less and less.  His comments came just before the sexual scandal he was involved in became public.

The quest to become perfect leads to a fork in the road.  One path leads to bragging (pride), the other to bailing (leaving the faith).  Those who end up being prideful typically “tone down the demands of the law.” They rationalize that as long as we try hard, God is pleased. Those who bail often do so because they’re convinced that obedience is sine qua non of the Christian life.  For them, they’ve been taught to see the Bible as essentially a manual for how to live.  Can you relate to this?  I can.  Shoot, I’ve taught this.

If you hold this view (one that I’m personally recovering and repenting of), what gets underlined in the Bible?  Usually all of the passages that tell me what to do—and there’s a lot of them.  But, what if the Bible isn’t chiefly a manual for how to live the Christian life?  What if the Bible isn’t all about us, that the central message of it is altogether different?  

What if we saw that the central message of the Bible was Jesus, his death, his resurrection, and his sacrificial love for us?  What would we be underlining in our Bibles then?  Likely the promises, the Jesus for us kind of passages.

Obsession with being obedient, with continually dotting our I’s and crossing our t’s, usually makes us weird, not godly.  Besides, this obsession with being obedient, with being good, is limited to external acts as far as others are concerned anyway.  No one can see what we’re really thinking.

So, did the quest for perfection through obedience contribute to this young woman’s decision to bail out of Christianity?  Maybe I should be asking to what degree it contributed to her defection from the faith, unless you think I’m really missing it here.  Your comments and questions are welcome.  Please use our Facebook page so others may respond to your thoughts too.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE          

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Clues to Why Home Schoolers Leave the Faith

If you’ve been around the home school community for any length of time, words like purposeful, intentional, and sincere come to mind. Being sincere, though, isn’t enough. I’ve been sincerely wrong about things I’ve taught my children, things I’ve said, and things I’ve done. I’m guessing many of you could say the same. Like you, my motives were right, but mistakes were made. Some of my missteps were easily correctable while others had more serious outcomes. I want to talk to you about four serious missteps that in my mind contribute to the ultimate angst in the life of any parent, when their children seemingly leave the faith.

Last summer I read an article written and published online by a young woman who was home schooled by Christian parents. She has subsequently abandoned her faith and has been very public about her decision. As I read the article, four “clues” or factors that likely contributed to her decision surfaced to me. At least that’s the way I see it. If you agree or disagree or have a different take with what I’m about to write, please post a comment on our Facebook. If you’re a former home schooled student reading this and would like to comment, we’d like to hear from you too.

My reason for writing about this subject is to help us all come to terms with the fact that home schooling is not a silver bullet. It’s not the unfailing answer to our children’s educational or character needs, as we may have been led to believe. Some of us might say, “Of course, it doesn’t work in every case,” but down deep we believe it won’t fail in our home. Even as a promoter and believer in home education, I still know there are far more casualties than we care to admit.

Expect a few posts on this topic. I’ll be quoting directly from the article mentioned above to flesh out “clues” as to why this unthinkable thing happened.

She writes:

One of my earliest memories is of my dad’s gigantic old Bible. Its pages were falling out, its margins were scrawled over with notes, and the leather cover was unraveled in places from being so worn out. Every night, after we stacked up the dishes after our family dinner, he would bring it down and read a passage. I always requested something from the Book of Revelation or Genesis, because that’s where most of the interesting stories happened. After he was done, he’d close the Bible with a big WHUMP and turn to me.

“Now (name),” he would ask, “What is the hypostatic union?” 
and I would pipe back, “The two natures of Jesus!”

“What is pneumatology?”

The study of the holy spirit!

“What is the communicatio idiomatum?”

The communication of the properties in which the attributes of the two natures are ascribed to the single person!

Occasionally he would go to speak at churches about the value of apologetics and, the times I went along, he would call on me from the crowd and have me recite the answers to questions about theology. After I sat down, he would say, “My daughter knows more about theology than you do! You are not doing your jobs as Christians to stay educated and sharp in the faith.”

Conversation with him was a daily challenge. He would frequently make blatantly false statements — such as “purple dogs exist” — and force me to disprove him through debate. He would respond to things I said demanding technical accuracy, so that I had to narrow my definitions and my terms to give him the correct response. It was mind-twisting, but it encouraged extreme clarity of thought, critical thinking, and concise use of language. I remember all this beginning around the age of five.

I identify with the father in this story, and maybe you do too. Teaching and reading the Bible to our children was a priority in our family. Teaching them theology was a big deal too. And, now that my children are adults, my interest now extends to seeing my grandchildren grow in their faith. So what’s wrong with this?

Well, it’s possible to obsess on knowledge, to make something necessary and good into something ultimate.

Public schools have long promoted the idea that the acquisition of knowledge is the key to societal progress. KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) is a nationwide network of public schools. The acronym speaks for itself. Of course knowledge is power, but the power knowledge brings is limited. KIPP’s motto, “Work hard. Be nice,” seems to acknowledge that the pursuit of knowledge needs to be tempered.

The More You Know, a series of public service announcements, communicates a similar sentiment. We’ve all heard the commercials and would immediately recognize the comet trail star logo.

When it comes to communicating Bible knowledge and theology, it’s easy for this to become an obsessive activity since acquiring and dispensing knowledge is something we can control, or so we think. Activities we can control, measure, and document, and to an extent, “show off” to others publicly are attractive. Pride is often the byproduct of those who succeed.

So, did the quest for Bible and theological knowledge contribute to this young woman’s decision to bail out of Christianity? Your comments and questions are welcome. Please use our Facebook page so others may respond to your thoughts too.

Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

 

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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News Year’s Resolutions for Home Schoolers

                           

It’s the time of year that most us of think about making New Year’s Resolutions. As a home schooler, you may resolve to be better prepared, start school on time, stay on schedule, finish your books by June, etc. There’s no end to the list of changes we’d like to see in the way we school at home.


Nevertheless, I’m no fan of the New Year’s Resolution practice. It’s probably because my commitment, while strong in the beginning, soon gives way to the bad habits I’ve spent years cultivating. Change is hard for me, but I take comfort in Martin Luther’s first of ninety-five theses in which he wrote, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” While I’d like to improve and be better than I currently am, failure happens and so daily repentance is simply a description of reality, at least for me.


For some of you though, January 1st is a catalyst for change, a call to action. If you’re one who is stepping up to a challenge, here are seven suggestions that will tip the scales in favor of you succeeding. I’ve adapted the suggestions from one of my favorite writers, Rajesh Setty.


Here they are:


1. Don’t go it alone. Find accountability and support from other home schoolers, ideally in your locality. There are plenty of online forums in which you can find support too.

2. Make yourself available to help another home schooler succeed in their resolution. Be aware, though, that being in someone else’s business can get awkward.

3. Recognize that succeeding in keeping a resolution is hard work, not magic.

4. Recognize that knowing what to do is not the same as doing.

5. Avoid rigidity and keep your eyes on your goal as you move toward it. Life rarely works exactly as planned. Be flexible.

6. Avoid trying to succeed in your resolution by copying someone else’s style or behavior. Here’s what I mean. We’ve all left home school conventions inspired to be like or homeschool like so and so. But the reality is, we don’t really know the speakers. We don’t see their life being lived out day to day. An easy mistake to make is to draw conclusions based on an incomplete picture.

7. Enjoy the process. Avoid the mindset that says, “I’ll only be happy when this happens, or my resolution is realized.” Remember that you’re fulfilling a vocation that God has given you. In some cases, the outcomes of your actions are beyond your control anyway.

After taking a few weeks off for the Christmas holidays, I’ll now be writing more regularly. Look for teaching tips and ezine articles to help you enjoy your children and be successful as you resume homeschooling the second half of the school year.


Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

 

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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The Seduction of "Be The Change You Wish To See

There’s a common pattern to many home school “testimonies.”  They often seem to mimic many Christian conversion stories.   

On one level, testimonies like the one below are appealing.  We want to believe there is an answer to the frustration we’re experiencing.  And of course, God is involved in the solution.  We too play a part. Usually a big part.

See if you recognize the pattern in the following excerpt from a home school story that was published about a week ago.  God is involved in the solution, but not in the way this writer thinks.

“I was ready to walk away and experience the "good life" of corporate reward and fulfillment. Anything had to be better than the frustration I was going through now. However, each time I was determined to give up and send my children to school, a wonderful day of homeschooling blessings encouraged me again. My spiritual and homeschooling journeys became intertwined, and I learned that any success I had when teaching my children was dependent on my closeness to God's heart (emphasis mine).

My days of looking for a way out eventually ended when God gave me my own homeschooling life verse: "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (2 Timothy 2:10). I knew I could endure any homeschooling negatives for the sake of my children's salvation and growth in Christ.” (emphasis mine)

The simple pattern to this and many home school stories is:

  • I took my children out of public or private school in order to home school them.
  • I was pleased with how well things were going (the honeymoon stage).
  • I experienced difficulties and wanted to quit.
  • I discovered that obedience or closeness to Jesus was the secret to blessing.
  • I began to obey, draw close to Jesus, etc. God showered me with blessings.
  • We all lived mostly happily ever after.

When our children hear this kind of story told repeatedly, what do they think?  How old are they when they begin to see through it? 

For a while I believed this story.  I lived it, or so I thought.  That was until life caught up with my theology and forced me to read the Bible with fresh eyes, in particular verses like:

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” 1st Corinthians

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6

As much as we wish it were otherwise, there is no relationship between our obedience and God’s blessing.  And contrary to what the writer above says, you’re not responsible for your children’s salvation.  We don’t have as much control as we think we do.

Now, I’m not saying that what you do doesn’t matter. It does.  Actions do have consequences. I suppose in some sense we can “be the change we want to see” when it comes to our relationships with each other.  But not with God. Problems occur when we mix our “spiritual journeys” with our “home school journeys.”  Our spiritual journeys are often not what we think they are.  Our children should be taught this.

All this to say, I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving holiday, a break from the normal routine, a little more rest. I’m looking forward to the season of Advent which reminds me, and I truly need these reminders, that Christ came because I need him more than I realize. As much as I’d like it, it’s just not in me to “be the change I want to see.”  We all need the “intervention” that only Christ can bring.  That’s the story our children need to see and hear.     

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Two-Tier Home Schooling

The following is an excerpt from a blog post I read this week.  It ticked me off. While the writer was attempting to be encouraging, following the advice given will send the reader in one of two directions: pride or despair. The post was directed to the parent who is so busy home schooling and preparing lessons for her children day after day that she doesn’t have time to feed and satisfy her own intellectual interests. If this even remotely describes you, this blogger wants you to listen up. She has something to say to you.  

“There is another type of hunger, however, that homeschool parents must feed — a hunger for righteousness. We must come to the Lord expectantly each day to learn and digest what He desires to teach us from His Word. "Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name" (Psalm 86:11). Unlike other books, we cannot afford to leave our Bibles unread and stacked on our desks.

Isn't it time to become a student again and learn something new about God and His Word?

How well do you know your Bible?

Have you ever read through it entirely?

Do you know how to…

cross reference Scripture,

memorize verses,

use a concordance,

read maps,

or find the Greek and Hebrew meaning of the words used in the verses?

There is so much to learn. Don't stop with what you know. Grow! "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6).”

When I read content like this, I feel like cussing, and sometimes I do.  If someone had personally asked me these questions, there’s a part of me that would have wanted to shock them and falsely answer “no” to each one. And then for effect, say something like, “Are we done? I have to go now.  Time for me to watch Entertainment Tonight and Inside Edition. Time for me to eat a quart of ice cream.”

There’s another part of me, though, that would want to impress.  It’s the part of me that would answer “yes” to each question posed and to enhance my responses, I might say something like, “By the way, I just finished memorizing Psalm 119.” Or, “I’ve been pondering the significance of the aorist imperative tense of the word ‘come’ found in Matthew 14:29…”

In all seriousness, for anyone who hungers and thirsts after righteousness, the last thing he or she needs to be given is a “to do” list and told to get busy. The last thing our children need to hear from us is the way to be righteous is to “work harder for Jesus.” 

As I mentioned before, this kind of advice often leads to pride or despair.  It leads to two types of home schoolers: top tier types and the rest of us: those on the bottom tier. The top tier types are those who are “growing in Christ.”  The bottom tier types are “just getting by.”

The writer tells us, actually commands us, to “Grow!” That’s like commanding an apple tree to produce apples …While we all know that growth in the natural realm doesn’t work that way, we somehow think it does in the spiritual realm.  It doesn’t.

What I can tell you is that the answer to our hunger and thirst for righteousness is not found in what we do, but in trusting in what Christ has done.  It’s not found in constantly checking ourselves to see if we’re growing - it’s found in looking to Christ as our all-sufficient savior.

That’s what we need to hear.  It’s what our kids need to hear and be taught.

Pastor Matt Richard of Zion Lutheran Church, summarizes this point of view well when he says, “Furthermore, our goal is not to journey to a second level, rather it is to abide in Christ.  We never journey away from Christ, even if that which we journey to is right, holy, and just.  Rather, we progress by beginning again daily in Jesus' death and resurrection for us.”

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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The Day After

Having reached “the day after,” I think I can safely address a touchy subject among the home school community: whether or not to allow their children to participate in Halloween. A week or so leading up to “the day,” I got the following email:

Is Halloween a harmless holiday, or is it rooted in the occult world of witchcraft and Satanism? Should this holiday be allowed in our government schools? The producer of this film recognizes that many people celebrate Halloween in complete innocence, but this film presents an informative case for the importance of being aware of the dark side of Halloween. The information you need to know is in this film.

This video uncovers the mystic Druidic rites and ceremonies with which “Samhain” (Halloween) was originally observed thousands of years ago. The modern-day occult rituals seen in this film are real and not re-enactments.

All the seemingly innocent symbolism of Halloween — black cats, snakes, broomsticks, bonfires, “trick or treat,” jack-o-lanterns, apple dunking and Halloween costumes — has its roots in Sorcery, Witchcraft and Satanism. Parents' responsibilities are challenged to decide whether to allow their children to participate in celebrations which glorify Pagan Occultism.

The above is nothing more than a sales pitch to peddle a DVD.  If you buy it, you’ll have all the ammo you need to tell other Christians why letting their daughter dress up as Snow White is satanic.  If you can’t be guilted into buying it with that line of thinking, maybe you’ll purchase it just to see actual “modern-day occult rituals.”

I know my tone is sarcastic, but communications like the above are what give Christianity the anti-intellectual reputation it has in the minds of many-- especially since a case against the above position on the origins of Halloween has been made.  You can read the full article here; check it out, study the references given, and make up your own mind.  You could ask your high-school- age students to read it and write a position paper. I’ll bet they’ll appreciate the intellectual honesty they find.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Remembering Pastor Chuck Smith

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. -- First Corinthians 4:15

Last week, Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, California, passed away.  The Stage IV cancer he had overcame him Thursday morning, but not before he had preached three times that Sunday and did a radio broadcast a day or so later.  He was an amazing man whose life and ministry made a huge impression on me.  Even though I hadn’t personally seen him for years, the news of his death left me with a sense of sorrow and great loss beyond what I expected.  I think I’m beginning to understand why.  Since moving from California, my relationships with church leaders have been exclusively collegial.  But with Chuck, it was different.  He was my first pastor and literally my “father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” 

Growing up in Southern California, I was introduced to him at the tail end of the Jesus movement.  What drew me and many of my friends to his church was the genuine welcome he extended to us in spite of our messy life styles that dogged us even after coming to Christ.  Repentance, the forgiveness of sins, and God’s inexhaustible grace was the message he preached from his pulpit Sunday after Sunday.  The cross was the center piece of Chuck’s ministry.

I had been a Christian just four years when he hired me to become part of the teaching staff.  Six months later Jenny and I were married by him.  I was on staff for three years before moving to Oregon.  Here are a few things I remember about him. 

He was one of the hardest working people I ever knew.  He came from very modest beginnings.  His home was not far from our apartment.  When the Calvary Chapel movement took off in those early years, it didn’t really seem to affect him.  Contrary to many of the immerging mega-church leaders who loved being in the spotlight, he chose to live simply.  He continued driving the same car and living in the same house, year after year.

His heart’s desire was simply to pastor the people God gave him.  He was busy “equipping the saints” each week through teaching God’s Word faithfully.  From looking at his website last week, I saw that the routine was the same as it was over 30 years ago.  He’d preach a topical sermon repeating it three times on Sunday mornings, teach a survey study of the Bible on Sunday nights covering three to five chapters, and present an in-depth study of a chosen book on Thursday nights.  This “liturgy of the Word” was repeated year after year, decade after decade.  He was faithful to the call of God on his life.    

He was, of course, human.  His detractors will eagerly point out his flaws.  I can say that he worked tirelessly and endlessly, probably too much -- likely a characteristic of his generation. He was strong-willed.  When Chuck wanted something done a certain way, that’s the way it went down.  When the Calvary Chapels grew so quickly, the oversight was sketchy. It seemed that the controls that should have been in place weren’t.  It was a problem.  But when you look at church history, these issues were not different from any other period of renewal and reformation.    

Without Chuck hiring me to teach, I’m not sure I would have entered the teaching profession.   Had I not three years later decided to move to Oregon to teach and start a home school program, you wouldn’t be reading this.  Basic Skills wouldn’t have happened.  Looking back, the connections are clear. 

Another connection is very personal to me. Indirectly, Chuck played a role in my father’s conversion.  A year ago last summer I went to California to see my dad.  It would be the last time we would be together. As we ate at his favorite restaurant, he began to tear up and break down as he confessed his faith in Christ to me.  Broken and aging, he had come to realize his need for forgiveness. A leader at a Calvary Chapel just a few miles from his home was instrumental in his movement toward God. Four months later my father was killed in a car accident.  

Just days before Chuck passed away, he told one of his closest staff members,  “If someone reads about my death in the obituaries, tell him I didn’t die.  I’ve simply moved.”  When I heard about this, I had to laugh. So true.  He always saw things from an eternal perspective.

Welcome to your new home, Pastor Chuck.  I’ll see you again someday.

Curt

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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The End of Common Core

A long time ago I wrote about the end of home schooling.  I used the word end to mean purpose or reason.  In other words, I asked the question, “Why are we doing what we are doing nine to ten months out of every year?”

The same question could and should be asked about Common Core.  What is the “why” behind it?  The “why” behind Common Core can be found in its mission statement found at its website, (http://www.corestandards.org/): 

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

As you know, Basic Skills believes in academic standards and has its own product that was first released over 20 years ago. We have tests you can use at home to assess your student’s level of knowledge.  The problem I have with “The Standards” is not with the standards themselves—everything I’ve read and seen leads me to conclude that they are well-constructed and educationally sound.  My problem is with the universal application of the standards to all students in order to ensure “success in college and careers.”

The following illustrates what I’m talking about:

This speaks for itself, at least it does to me.

More on vocation, Common Core, and the end of education next time.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Why Home School a Dyslexic Child? - Revisited

              Dyslexic children (also Specific Language Disabled, Learning Disabled) require direct, systematic, and individualized instruction in reading and spelling.  Home schooling can provide solid remediation and can allow the parent to see directly the progress of the child.

              The most obvious benefit to home schooling is that it allows for the necessary individualization in all subject areas, including reading, spelling, composition and comprehension.  It allows students to focus on areas that interest them and allows parents to develop lessons based on those interests.  Home-schooled children are free from measuring themselves against peers without learning differences.  They can work at an individualized pace in a program which directly addresses unique needs.  Home schooling may provide an alternative to the premium on speed, conformity, and rigid scheduling that may be emphasized by many more traditional educational settings.  Home schooling allows for enriching experiences on a daily basis: cooking, music, field trips and hands-on learning. 

              To get started you need a thorough understanding of your child’s reading, spelling, writing, and comprehension abilities.  You may wish to consult with Basic Skills to get an evaluation related to possible learning disabilities.  We can provide specific recommendations.  The report will include descriptions of the child’s reading and spelling abilities and offer specific educational recommendations.  Be aware that there is no magic bullet for dyslexia and that remediation is best achieved through structured direct language instruction.

              Language remediation often requires daily spelling and oral reading.  Spelling generally should move from the letter or syllable to word, phrase and sentence dictation during a single lesson.  The lesson should include new words displaying a similar spelling pattern as well as review words and recently taught sight words.  Techniques such as writing on a rough surface or in the air, clapping syllables, using cards to make words, arranging written syllables into words, and direct instruction concerning mouth positions for language sounds provide a multisensory basis for learning.  Students should read aloud on a daily basis from a book which they can read with relative accuracy.  Before the student reads aloud, he/she should review the passage and ask for help with words that may cause difficulty.  Parents should select challenging words from the passage and explain their pronunciation and meaning before the student reads aloud.  A warm-up reading of words and phrases on flashcards or from lists is often useful.  Reading errors should be recorded to serve as a basis for future instruction.  (Orton-Gillingham based and/or multisensory structured language approaches are a good resource for this teaching style.)

Home schooling is a viable and rewarding option for parents committed to securing an excellent education for their dyslexic child.  At Basic Skills Assessment and Educational Services we provide support services for families choosing this option for their special needs student.  In addition to the evaluation services already mentioned, we provide specialized tutoring using Orton-Gillingham instruction designed for students with specific language disabilities (dyslexia, learning disabilities, etc.)  Privately Developed Plans for home school students who would be on an IEP or 504 plan are also available.  Feel free to contact us with your questions about these specialized educational services.

Thanks for reading!

Jo Edwards, MS

Jo Edwards holds both BA and MS Ed. degrees in special education and is a licensed teacher. In addition to home schooling her children through high school, she has taught in public school and eleven years at a small Christian school. Her specialty is teaching in a multi-age classroom that includes students with special needs. Click here for more information about the Privately Developed Plan program she services.

(Adapted from “Why Home School a Dyslexic Child”, Fact Sheet #56, International Dyslexia Association.)

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Common Core, Vocation, and Freedom

Consider the following situations:

You're driving over the mountain in the middle of winter when your tire blows out.  If you had a choice of having one of the following passengers with you, would you choose your friend who's a chef at Red Robin, the loan officer at the credit union, or an employee at Les Schwab?

You're uncertain about which laptop to buy.  Who do you ask for advice?  Your dentist, the barista at Starbucks, or the local tech person at Office Depot?

I'm guessing the answer to each question above is obvious to you.  And behind each answer is the notion of vocation.  

As mentioned in an earlier article, the word vocation comes from the Latin term vocātiō, which means a call or summons.  God works in the world primarily by means of vocations or callings.  It's through callings that God meets our needs.  Medical professionals treat the sick, law enforcement officers protect, and repair people fix things.  Martin Luther considered these callings "masks" by which God remains hidden, yet nevertheless through them cares for us and His creation.

How does rediscovering the nature of vocation set us and our children free? We're set free when we realize our educational trajectories, while having some things in common, must by necessity differ. Does a service tech need to know Algebra 2 to successfully change the oil in my car?  Does the accountant who helps me complete my tax return need in-depth knowledge of Shakespeare?

The former school administrator whom I had breakfast with knew the answers to these questions were not found in having every student successfully pass the common core tests to "earn" a high school diploma. That's why he was so agitated about forcing students into this cookie cutter approach to education.

As a staff, we have attempted to define what "things in common" is through our Essential Learning Objectives product. Regardless of the standards we've come up with, you're the one who ultimately decides what or what not to work on with your student.

In our Diploma Program, one third of the courses needed to earn our diploma are electives so that parents can customize their student's high school education relative to potential vocations.

Education should not be a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Rediscovering the nature of vocation is an important key to setting your children free to fulfill what God made them to be and do.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you’d like to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites.

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Common Core Vs. Vocation

A lot of students, especially high schoolers, ask the question, “What does God want me to do with my life?” In other words, many are asking, “What has God made me to do?” Unfortunately, this question for some is being crowded out by a more pressing issue: figuring out how to survive Algebra 2 which is likely to be required of all students learning at home who are enrolled in one of the various government programs. I’ll be discussing this and other related issues soon in a series of FAQ’s dealing with the Common Core Standards beginning tomorrow. But that’s not my focus here.

I believe it’s time to rediscover the nature of vocation. And, by discovering and embracing it, we’ll be set free from the crazy, one track, “change the world for Jesus and this is the way to do it” pressure many of us have been laboring under. Not that I don’t want you to make an impact on the world; I do. It’s just that changing the world isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

The word vocation comes from the Latin term, vocātiō, which means a call or summons. Most people today think of vocation in terms of a job or career. Because school is so closely linked to getting a job, this kind of thinking shows up in school to work thinking. It’s reflected in the Common Core Standards. Not that this thinking is completely wrong, it’s just that it’s too limited an understanding.

Earlier this summer I had breakfast with a former public school administrator. Actually, he was an administrator at a high school I attended in California—our paths crossed coincidentally. Weird. After some reminiscing, we started talking about the current state of American education. Then, the question about implementing the Common Core Standards nationwide came up. I asked him what he thought about it, thinking he would hold to the party line of unquestioning support. Surprisingly, he said he was adamantly opposed to it. His position came from his understanding of vocation. More on this in my next article.

Thanks for Reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you’d like to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites.

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When Abnormal Is Normal

In my last article, I said I would post a short article from one of my favorite bloggers, Michael Mercer, that should hit home for those of us who are driven, over-committed, constantly working off of to-do lists-- in other words, too busy. Michael’s comments lead me and perhaps you to ask, “Am I making it my ambition to live, or at least make room to live the quiet life that 1 Thessalonians 4:11 describes? For me, the answer is “not really,” although I think about slowing down. My problem, and maybe yours, is that I think my time is unlimited. “Slowing down” can wait until later, or so we think.

Please take a moment to read an excerpt from an article Michael recently wrote. More of Michael’s writings can be found on his website, www.internetmonk.com. Then, please follow a link in a closing comment I make following his article.


* * *


Enjoying an Abnormal Normal


When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, “What is it?”
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod; I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.


- Robert Frost, “A Time to Talk”


Last week I enjoyed what I consider to be a “normal” week (ideally). In terms of my life, it was abnormal. In terms of what I think life should involve, it struck me as delightfully (though abnormally) normal.
I spent time every day with members of my family.
We ate supper every evening together at the table.
I had time to visit with neighbors as we puttered around our houses and yards.
I was able to run errands and go to the store on occasion and talk with people from town while getting things I needed.
We had meaningful work and projects that we participated in together around our house.
I had a decent night’s sleep every night.
I felt no pressure to constantly check the web, my phone, and my email.
I read for enjoyment alone.
I sat on my front porch.

This is the life from which we used to take vacations. Now it requires taking a vacation to enjoy anything resembling this kind of daily experience.

It is criminal, what we have done with the rhythms of life.

* * *


Thank you, Michael.


As parents, all of us expect our children to outlive us. Yet, into our children’s lives come situations and circumstances that are so brutal and unthinkable that we feel paralyzed and unable to act. A dear and close friend our family and former student at Basic Skills, Sarah Evans, was just diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer last Thursday. Her situation, while life threatening, is not without hope as her family and friends join together to support her in prayer for healing as she seeks alternative treatment. My daughter Natalie, her best friend, writes about Sarah’s story and what you can do to help here. Please join as we come alongside this courageous young mother.

Sincerely,


Curt Bumcrot


If you’d like to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites.

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Disconnecting the Home School Pressure Cooker


A special Father’s Day sermon titled, “Man of Steel, Becoming a Superman of God,” was presented on Father’s Day, June 16 at the Journey Church in Manhattan, New York. The sermon focus was not just limited to dads. Mothers and children got their share of the “do something amazing for God” and God sees the “potential in you” message. Of course, there were the four steps or actions needed to make this happen in the lives of the listeners, accompanied by an “encouragement” for all in attendance to examine themselves to see how well they were doing in each area. That’s not a message I want my children to hear.

So, what is the message I want my children to hear? I’d like them to hear that the outcome of their life is a simple one: to love God and their neighbor. I’d like them to hear that when they find themselves unable to pull that off, there’s a solution—grace, faith, repentance, and forgiveness.

Among the 20 plus students who were present for the NCCA graduation ceremony was a merit scholar, at least one “super senior,” (a student who took five years to complete our graduation requirements), and a young person with Down Syndrome. All of these young adults are remarkably different. This being the truth, their life trajectories will be different. To put the same pressure and the same expectations on each of them would be ridiculous. To tell them they are to be awesome, extraordinary, and that they are the generation God has raised up to “make a difference in the world” is a pressure cooker for which we can expect to see a number burnout sooner or later.

I’d like my children to hear that it’s okay “to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you-- 1st Thessalonians 4:11.

I’d like my children to understand that the Biblical concept of vocation means that they can serve God in any sphere of life, that no job or activity is to be considered trivial or unimportant.

What would this mean if we embraced this change of perspective? It would mean rest for both us and our children. Rest from the implication that in order to be world changers for Jesus, we must be “relentlessly pursuing Him (Jesus) for the rest of our lives” as one national conference directed toward our youth is promoting this year. Rest from the guilt of wondering if we’re doing enough, pursuing Him enough, praying enough, reading our Bible enough, improving enough, etc.

So, what might this life of rest look like? In my next article I’ll be posting a short reflection on this theme from one of my favorite bloggers, Michael Mercer.

Thanks for reading!

Curt

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please  visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Second Thoughts About Raising "World Changers"

At this time of year, the pressure of home schooling fades for many with the coming of summer. At least for a little while. We’ve finished our books to one degree or another, maybe skimming or just skipping the last few chapters so we can be done. And now, finally, we experience relief.


The stress we feel during the year may actually pale in comparison to what many of our children feel especially as they approach and go through graduation. What do I mean?


All of us are prone to legalism. It shows up differently depending on where you are, and who you’re with. Clothing, entertainment choices, occupations, relationships, political party affiliations, adult beverages, etc. are often the substance of acceptance or exclusion. Add a religious dimension to the mix and things get weird really fast.


Home schoolers, in spite of boasting about not cultivating “peer dependency,” are as vulnerable as anyone to going into “judgment mode.” There seems to be a new and emerging legalism that Dr. Anthony Bradley, professor at Kings College in New York, commented on this last May that I think home schoolers are especially susceptible to: the “call” to being radical and missional for Jesus.


I’ve put on and hosted more than my share of “How to Raise World Changers” type workshops over the years, and now I’m having second thoughts. The not-so-veiled party line that was communicated went something like this: the kids educated in the public schools, well, they’ll make good employees (maybe). Those educated at the college level will make good professionals and middle managers. And of course, those who were home schooled will be the leaders, the entrepreneurs, the employers…, the “head” and not the “tail.”


The pressure on today’s home school graduates to “do something amazing for God,” to “standout in today’s marketplace”, to “fulfill their destiny,” is often intense. “To whom much is given, much is required” is the refrain that weighs heavy on many of our kids. Shame and guilt is the outcome if, for some reason, a student “settles” and ends up working in retail, say for Walmart. According to Dr. Bradley, this kind of pressure may explain why young Christians (in general) are leaving the church after age 15 at the rate of 60 percent.


In my next article I’ll explain how a change of perspective on our part will provide relief and rest to our children, and how our most recent graduation ceremony further confirmed my change of mind.


Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please  visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Misinformation Continues from Oregon Department of Education

The Good News: We’re pleased to see that the list of home school examiners on the home school page of the Oregon Department of Education website was recently updated. Previously, some counties listed only a few qualified examiners. This was likely making it difficult for some home schoolers to find a local examiner to test their children. Unfortunately, there is some bad news…

The Bad News: There is an attempt to restrict your testing rights. And, because we’ve been getting some calls from home schoolers and qualified examiners, we want to clear up the misinformation. Here’s the problem.

Right below the list of home school testers on the ODE website (www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?id=2080) is the statement, “Your home schooler must be tested by a person from this approved list.” The fact is, that statement is false. What is true according to the administrative rules is that parents whose children are to be tested must have the examination administered by a neutral qualified person. There are plenty of neutral and qualified examiners (such as every licensed teacher in the state of Oregon) whose names do not show up on the Department’s “approved list.” In fact, many people who are neutral and qualified don’t want their name on anybody’s list. But, they will test one or two home schoolers and the ESD’s will gladly receive the test reports, irrespective of the Department’s list.

The administrative rules do state that “the Department shall make available a list of persons qualified to administer tests under this rule.” The purpose of this list is to enable home schoolers to find a qualified examiner; it does not qualify anyone to give tests.

Even though we pointed this out to the Department almost two weeks ago, nothing has changed on their website. There has been no acknowledgment or communication forthcoming from them regarding this matter.

So, because these rules affect you, we wanted you to know your rights. Please forward this information on to other Oregon home schoolers who need to know this.

Thanks for reading!


Curt

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please  visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Can “Free” Still Be Worthwhile?

In my previous article I said I would suggest some free literature study guide resources. There are two we’ve used here at Basic Skills. You can implement either one immediately.

The first is glenco.mcgraw-hill.com. Each study guide begins with some brief background about the author and the chosen book. The study guide then breaks the book into sections that group several chapters. Within this structure, the student studies relevant vocabulary words, questions that require higher level thinking, and suggested activities. This approach is repeated for each section until the student reaches the end of the book.

The downside to this product is that there is no answer key. Therefore, you need to be familiar with the story line well enough to evaluate your student’s answers. The advantage is that the studies are brief and provide a good overview of the story.

The second resource we use is sparksnotes.com. Once you get past the advertisements, you can access hundreds of study guides for books typically read in high school literature courses. Each study guide provides a plot overview, an analysis of major characters, and explores the various themes, motifs, and symbols found in the story. Additionally, each guide summarizes and analyzes the story chapter by chapter. Suggested essay questions with answers are just a click away. A fact-based quiz (also with an answer key!) along with suggestions for further reading concludes each guide.

Whereas the glenco.mcgraw-hill.com resource provides more of an overview approach to the study of a book, the sparksnotes.com provides tools to go deeper into the story. What you choose to use depends on what your goal is for the literature course you are creating for your student. Neither resource provides a “Christian perspective” from which to interpret a work of literature.

In my next article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of reading “wider” and covering more works of literature verses going deeper and covering fewer works.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot

Are you experiencing learning difficulties with your student? H.E.L.P. (Help Eliminate Learning Problems) is a great local resource for identifying and assisting families whose children may have a learning disability. Click here for more information.

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please  visit our Facebook page to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Before You Decide What’s Appropriate Literature

All high school students should study literature. Literature is often cataloged into three primary categories: American, British, and World. Before deciding what’s appropriate for your high schooler to read, consider how you want him to approach it.

One approach is to study literature by reading a complete work by a given author. For instance, no matter what kind of book a student is reading, he will be reading it from beginning to end. He’ll be getting the “complete picture” as opposed to simply reading an excerpt from an anthology. Reading a work from beginning to end enables a student to analyze the following components:

Setting: the time, place, and context in which the story takes place

Plot: the events of the story

Characters: the personality, views and motivations of the main and supporting characters in the story

Theme: the point the author is trying to communicate through the story

Worldview: the point of view from which the author writes

You may be thinking that guiding your student through these and other aspects that make up the study of literature are beyond your expertise. If so, I’d like to recommend three resources my clients have used, all with success. At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, here they are:

Written by Christian authors, Progeny Press Study Guides explore unabridged works of literature suitable for various reading levels. Therefore, be sure to choose titles considered to be at the high school level especially if you’re in a diploma program such as ours. These study guides cover all of the essential elements I mentioned above. They’re easy to use and implement. Bible passages are integrated throughout to help students detect the author or a character’s worldview. Students learn to express their answers by means of multiple choice, fill in the blank, short answer, and essays. An answer key is included in the back of each guide. Currently there are around 100 titles available. Students should consider completing four titles for one unit of high school credit.

Also written by Christian authors is Total Language Plus. This product has a similar focus as Progeny Press but also includes a vocabulary study using words taken from the story. It also has suggested projects and activities parents can use to make the story come alive. Again, four titles should be completed to earn one unit of high school credit.

A third option is Smarr Publications. These study guides are shorter than Progeny Press or Total Language Plus and take less time to complete. Because of this, I recommend students complete six titles to earn one unit of high school credit.

All producers of study guides write from a particular point of view which occasionally results in some fanciful and unusual conclusions and applications. You may even find yourself strongly disagreeing with the answer key. In a previous article, I suggested home schoolers practice “filleting the fish.” In other words, don’t let a few “bones” keep you from getting value and benefit from what otherwise is a useful text.

In my next article, I’ll discuss some free resources on the internet you may find useful. Until then, check out www.Exodusbooks.com for more information about these products. If you decide to buy, be sure to use our discount code, basicskills2013, to save some money.

Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot. MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Avoiding Vocabulary Blunders

Last week I made a call to a company I was doing business with. I was experiencing a problem with a transaction and the person I spoke to connected me to the customer service department. I explained the problem as clearly as I could to the representative who then replied, “So it sounds like you don’t want bad stuff to happen, right?”

While she seemed to be empathetic, I didn’t know what she meant by her use of the word, “stuff.” I think she was referring to my present experience with the company which was not good and would likely become “bad” if something didn’t change. Still, by her use of the term “stuff,” I wondered if she knew what she was talking about because she didn’t offer a solution.

Having a strong vocabulary is crucial if students are to communicate clearly, concisely, and effectively. Likewise, if your student’s vocabulary is limited, his ability to understand what he hears and reads will be limited. Words have specific meanings and all are governed by the context in which they are used. As a mentor of mine once said jokingly, “There is a huge difference between a Venetian blind and a blind Venetian.” Same words, different order, and of course different meaning.

Having a strong vocabulary helps students identify when a word is being misused. This is especially important when a word that is misused provides the basis of someone’s position or argument.

Earlier this month at the Passion 2013 conference, one of the speakers offered a convincing argument based on the word community. He said, “God is a community in and of himself.” His point of view was based on God being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He then argued that because we are made in God’s image, we must be in “community” to properly image him. And, from there, he argued that if you’re not in community, you can’t fulfill his will…

At the conclusion of his talk, some of the 40,000 students and young people in attendance were probably feeling a measure of guilt for not living up to this truth. The problem is that neither the Bible nor Webster defines the word community in the way he did. His argument, while passionate, was nevertheless fallacious.

So, how can you expand your high schooler’s vocabulary? Here are three suggestions:

First, because the majority of English words come from Latin, teaching Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes is very helpful. The parallel to this approach is teaching a younger child phonics. Learning the sounds that letters and letter combinations make allows your child to decode thousands of words. Likewise, learning Latin roots enables your student to decode the meanings of thousands of words. English From the Roots Up is a popular program that develops vocabulary in this way.

A second suggestion is to use a workbook. I recommend Wordly Wise if following this approach. Workbooks in this program follow a similar pattern of presenting students with lists of words, exercises, and an occasional crossword puzzle. The words that make up high school levels are words students most likely will encounter on an SAT test, solid literature, and high school level textbooks.

A third suggestion is to learn vocabulary words as they occur naturally in literature. Using this approach directs students to see how words are used in context by a real author who wanted to use a specific word to convey a specific meaning. Progeny Press and Total Language Plus literature study guides help expand the student’s vocabulary in this way.

In my next article I’ll discuss the topic of “literature” and what to read.

Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot. MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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The Traffic Signals of Clear Writing

A number of years ago I was reading an excerpt of an instant messenger dialog. The writer used the letters, LOL, and I thought to myself, what’s with this? What do they mean? Can’t they spell? Were they too lazy?


Just this week I received an email in which the writer used u (for you) and thx (for thanks). Capitalization present? Sort of. Maybe it’s just my training as an English major in college, or maybe it’s because I’m a professional educator, but these things stand out to me. But, as a fellow teacher reminded me, context is everything. Nothing is wrong with using abbreviations and internet slang when chatting online or texting. After all, when you’re in a hurry, communicating like this speeds the process along.


But, formal writing is different.


Punctuation and capitalization rules are the “traffic signs” that aid clear communication. Consider the three sentences below. Read them quickly, and the point I’m trying to make will hopefully stand out to you.


If you wish to shoot the assistant will load the gun for you.

While we were eating the cat began to purr.

On the walkway leading to the cellar steps were heard.


What was missing in the sentences above? The comma! Place a comma in the appropriate place in each of these sentences and their intended meaning becomes clear. Punctuation is not so much for you, the writer, since you know what you mean to say. It’s for the reader.


I recommend that you teach your student to think of punctuation marks as “traffic signs” or “signals” that help the reader understand what he or she has written. Here are some ways this analogy might be presented:

  • They prevent “collisions” between words. Periods, question marks, and exclamation points function this way.
  • They make reading “safer” and “surer” and tell you when to “slow down.” Commas, dashes, colons, and semicolons do this.
  • They can indicate a “detour” from the main thought. Parentheses and brackets accomplish this.

Again, isolating and practicing the use of punctuation marks has its place. Mastering Punctuation 1 and 2 produced by Basic Skills accomplishes this through a process of instruction and spaced repetition. But, like I said in a previous article, just as the study of grammar should not be separated from actual writing, nor should the study and use of punctuation and capitalization rules be separated in this way either.


So, what am I suggesting?


First, teach/show your student by analogy how punctuation marks help the reader understand what’s been written.


Second, utilize a text that teaches and drills punctuation/capitalization rules.


Third, evaluate your student’s writing to see how and if their use of punctuation and capitalization rules results in writing that is clear and understandable to the reader.


Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot. MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Enough Grammar Already?

Some publishers suggest that high school students study grammar all four years. I agree. They suggest you buy one of their textbooks to do this. I disagree. The real question is how grammar should be studied.


Years ago when the Christian publishing industry was just beginning, it seemed to me that it was suffering from an inferiority complex. To show their materials could produce superior results compared to major secular publishers, these companies amped up their text books to the highest academic levels possible. If the typical test was 30 questions, they'd make their tests have 60. Memorizing 15 spelling words a week? Their text books would require 30. Are the spelling words learned relevant to the student? Length and the number of syllables in each word would trump relevancy. Readability? Two to three years above conventional grade level would be the norm.


This notion of academic rigor was carried into high school textbooks, and is present in many of today's grammar books. The problem is that grammar in these books continues to be taught in much the same way as it is in upper elementary and junior high levels. Exercises can be summed up as identifying, defining, drilling, and diagramming. While this approach has it's place, and is used in our own product, Grammar Bytes it's important to remember that when we speak about grammar, we're referring to the structure and meaning system of a language. By meaning system, I mean the rules for putting words together to make meaningful sentences.


Simply learning abstract terminology (nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc.) for its own sake should not be our aim; using grammatical concepts to help our students improve their written expression and gain confidence as writers should be. Learning abstract terms and grammatical concepts allow us to describe and discuss written expression using a common language, the language of grammar.


I would say that 9th grade is the last year you need to use a text book dedicated to teaching grammar. For grades 10 through 12, having a grammar book for reference is recommended. Grammar for these grades may be taught in the context of the student's own writing. In fact, some research suggests that grammar instruction taught separate from writing will not improve writing competence, which is our goal. In other words, spending time in textbooks that teach grammar in isolation could amount to a waste of time.


The same holds true when it comes to studying language mechanics (rules governing the use of punctuation and capitalization). I'll expand on this in my next article.


Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot. MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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What Makes up a High School English Course?

I’m often asked by parents whose students are entering high school what makes up an English course. In other words, they want to know what to put in and what can be left out.


The difference between English and other courses studied at the high school level is significant. A math course such as Algebra I is taught in a pretty straight-forward manner. The student has one text book. The parent has an answer key and likely a solution manual. Most students spend about 45 minutes to an hour a day in this subject and approach it in the following way:


1. the lesson explanation is read
2. the problems in the lesson are completed
3. the problems are corrected
4. the missed problems are attempted again, and if they’re missed a second time, the student receives help from a parent or tutor.


Ideally, this process is repeated daily, with tests following every 5 to 10 lessons as recommended by the publisher. I say “ideally” because I know it doesn’t work out that way in many home schools. But, the reason for that is a subject for another article.


English is different. Many English courses are made up of several components which may include a grammar text, a text covering punctuation and capitalization, a vocabulary book, some work in spelling, selected literature in the form of novels, short stories, or poetry, and a formal course in writing. I get tired just thinking about all of that. If a student went through all of the above each day, it could easily take the entire morning.


Again, the question posed is what does a high school English course look like? One way to answer it is to consider the above components one at a time.


Grammar, and by this most publishers mean the parts of speech, is typically introduced in 2nd grade. Students at this grade level learn nouns, verbs, and maybe adjectives. By the time a student has completed fourth grade, all eight parts of speech have been introduced and diagramed (or at least identified) over and over again. Students learn to categorize various words in sentences in much the same way a book store is organized: this book is fiction and goes on this wall, this is non-fiction and goes on this side, poetry is over here, books on nutrition in the back, etc.


After seven years of this, parents wonder if they should keep going or can they stop because their students have had enough. A second question follows the first which asks what does a student do with their knowledge of grammar once it has been mastered. Grammar Bytes was written to help elementary students not only drill the parts of speech, but apply them to their writing. Click here if you’d like to know more and try some sample exercises from this helpful product.


Some publishers suggest that all students, 9th through 12th grade, continue to study grammar by going deeper and dealing with more and more complex sentence structures. Is this a good use of their time? Will all students benefit by an intensive study of grammar as part of their English course?


More on this in my next article.


Thanks for reading.


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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The Most Meaningless Test Score


The most meaningless test score is perhaps the most important test score. It depends on its use. Once the raw score (the number right out the number possible) is determined, it is then converted into this score. Apart from the raw score, this score is the most important one because all the other scores like percentile ranks and grade equivalents come from it. If this score is off, all the others will be too. So, what score am I writing about?

I’m writing about the Scale Score.

The scale score (SS) typically follows the Grade Equivalent (GE) as you look across the page of an achievement test report from left to right. It is the final column of scores on our sample test report (click here).

Like I said, it’s the most important score apart from the raw score because all the other scores come from it. The other thing I can tell you is that it’s always a three- digit score. Yet, it’s likely the most meaningless score when it comes to interpreting test results. Most of us look at it and say, “OK, so what?”

Because it’s always a three-digit score, it’s able to reflect the smallest changes, up or down, in a student’s performance. Think of the way a race is judged when it appears that two or three runners cross the finish line at exactly the same time. A series of rapidly triggered photographs are often used to distinguish a “dead heat” from the true winner.

In this year’s Olympic 200 meter semi final, one-hundredth of a second separated the top three finishers. Blake finished first at 20.01, Spearmon second at 20.02, and Lamaitre third at 20.03. Does running one-hundredth of a second really make a difference? Only in cases like this. Most of us are content to say all three runners are incredibly fast.

Just because something can be measured doesn’t mean the information is helpful or necessarily useful.

Do we need to know how many calories are in that dessert? If we’re studying health, maybe yes. But if we’re constantly measuring the calories in our food, the pleasure of eating likely disappears.

Do we want to know how many words per minute we read? If we have a deadline to turn in a book report, knowing this information will help us plan realistically. Constant measurement of our reading speed, though, will make reading a labor.

Do we really care what the precise Richter scale measurement of a strong earthquake we just felt was? Probably not. If your home was damaged, you’ll be more concerned with what your home owner’s insurance will cover.

In spite of the importance of scale scores, there’s no inherent meaning to them. But, because they’re on your report, you should be aware of them. However, there’s no reason to know any more than what I’ve just pointed out.


Thanks for reading,

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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There’s Testing and Then There’s Testing

By Jo Edwards, MS


In most states, home school families had their children take some type of end- of- the-year testing this spring. It was likely an achievement test. Some families only tested at those years required by their state’s law. Their aim was compliance and making sure their students “passed the test. ” Other families had their children take the achievement test to see if they were making progress, to see if their teaching style and the curriculum they were using were being effective. Other parents tested hoped the results would help them determine the cause of their student’s weak performance on daily assignments. Likely they were disappointed. There are limits to what an achievement test does. Matching the purpose of your testing with the right kind of test is important.


Conventional achievement tests compare your student against other students across the nation at a particular grade level. For instance, if the child is a 5th grader, he/she takes the 5th grade achievement test and the scores achieved compare your student with other 5th graders. These scores give limited information about the student’s performance in each academic area. They only indicate strengths and weaknesses somewhat above and below the 5th grade norm.


Other kinds of tests give much more specific information about academic performance. They consider the student’s abilities from different perspectives. Rather than having a set number of test items for each subject area, these test instruments start with items that are easy for the student and proceed to gradually more difficult items until his/her maximum ability level is reached in each subject. These tests provide much more specific data about the student’s strengths and weaknesses than a conventional achievement test can.


For example, a reading inventory identifies the grade level at which a student reads by reading a list of words out of context. It also gives the number of words per minute a student can read; his/her word recognition when reading a story; and comprehension level when reading paragraphs at varying grade levels of text.


This type of testing is more specific and helps determine exactly where a child is functioning in a variety of academic areas. The information gained assists the parent in making curriculum changes that address the weaknesses identified. It can help the parent to provide more challenging tasks for students who are capable of more than has been required.


This last spring, did the testing used with your child provide you with the information you hoped to gain? If you’d like some direction, send us an email or give us a call. We’d be glad to help point you in the right direction.


Thanks for reading!


Jo Edwards, MS


Jo Edwards holds both BA and MS Ed. degrees in special education and is a licensed teacher. In addition to home schooling her children through high school, she has taught in public school and eleven years at a small Christian school. Her specialty is teaching in a multi-age classroom that includes students with special needs. Click the following links more information about the PDP and ILP programs she services.

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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New Info on Coming Testing Changes

Rules bring clarity. They define what needs to be done, how it should be done, when it is to be done, who is to do it, etc.

Rules bring order. They often describe a process which, if followed, brings about a desired outcome.

Rules also bring control, or at least a sense of control. Most of us don’t like surprises or to be caught “off guard.” To insure this doesn’t happen, many think that the creation of more rules is the answer to the uncertainties we all face.

Home schooling in Oregon, as well as all states, is managed by rules. As mentioned in a previous article, a written communication to examiners from Travis Moore, an administrative assistant with the Oregon Department of Education, stated the following:

“The Oregon Department of Education will allow testers to use the newly released Form C, effective immediately. Testers will also be able to continue to use Form A, until further notice. Although Form A is now out of print, the notice from the publisher is just too short for testers who are currently using this form.”

In a previous article I referenced administrative rule 339.035/3a which states, "The State Board of Education shall adopt by rule a list of approved comprehensive examinations that are readily available."

The first part of this rule directs the State Board of Education to adopt a list of approved comprehensive examinations. The current list is:

California Achievement Test (CAT)
Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS)
Iowa Tests of Basic Skills
Metropolitan Achievement Test Battery (MAT)
Stanford Achievement Test Battery (SAT)

I say “current” because other tests like the SRA were once on the list, but have since been removed because they are no longer readily available. First they went out of print, then the existing supplies were sold until the warehouse emptied out of the test.

To give Mr. Moore the benefit of the doubt, he is anticipating that the CTBS Form A (associated with the TerraNova 1) will eventually not be readily available.

I agree. Tests that are out of print eventually cease to be available. At the publisher’s discretion, the tests may be pulled out of circulation too. It’s their intellectual property, and they have the right to do with it as they will.

However, the rule does not authorize the Department to tell home schoolers, or test examiners, they may no longer use it at this time. Why? Because even though the test is no longer being printed, it is still readily available. Out of print does not mean unavailable.

A representative with CTB/McGraw Hill last week informed our office that they will continue to score and process test reports for the CTBS Form A. Why? Because it’s still available. The representative also told us that there are over 14,000 consumable tests in their warehouse, waiting to be shipped. Waiting for examiners to use them and return them for scoring and reporting. In addition to the 14,000 consumable tests in the CTB/McGraw Hill Warehouse, examiners like ourselves have tests stored and ready to be used. In our case, about 500.

Yes, it’s out of print, but it’s still readily available.

Again, our position with regard to the CTBS/TerraNova 1 is the same one we held and communicated to the Oregon Department of Education the last time we faced this issue with the CAT 5. Just leave it alone. The supply will take care of itself.

For now, keep your test appointments and continue to use the CTBS/TerraNova 1. I’ll update you if anything changes.

Thanks for reading.

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

 

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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The One Test Result Score Often Withheld From You

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt you needed to act as if you understood something when the reality was you knew you knew you didn’t get it? I think most of us will admit to this. Sometimes we find ourselves in a place where we feel the need to nod our heads in “agreement” and supply a sufficient number of “yes’s” and “rights” in a conversation where basically our level of understanding is pretty low…perhaps non-existent.

Many discussions about the grade equivalent score on an achievement test report are like this, but why would a private school, public school, or government agency decide to withhold this information from you? Because they’ve been told to.

The problem is that we’re often convinced we do understand the meaning of this score when actually we don’t, and this misunderstanding translates into a false picture of the achievement level of the student. Beneath our misunderstanding is often a bigger problem: our attitude and resistance to truly understanding the score. What do I mean?

If you look at the sample report on our website, you’ll find that the Grade Equivalent scores (GE) follow the Stanine scores (S9) as you look across the report from left to right.

The student taking this test was testing at the end of fifth grade. The grade equivalent score for reading is 4.3, meaning fourth grade fourth month. Does this score mean the student is a year and one-half behind grade level? Should the parent be discouraged?

The grade equivalent score for language is 10.1, meaning tenth grade first month. Does this score mean the student is more than four years above grade level? Should the parent begin researching on-line high school level writing classes?

The scale for grade equivalents range from 0.0 to 12.9 (sometimes expressed as 13.0), representing the thirteen years of school, kindergarten through the end of twelfth grade. The first digit represents the year; the second digit represents the month. 5.0 would mean fifth grade first month of the school year (September); 5.1 would mean fifth grade second month (October); 5.2 would mean fifth grade third month (November), etc.

A grade equivalent score represents the grade and month in school of students in the norm group whose test performance is theoretically equivalent to the test performance of the student on a report. The norm group is a sampling of students nationwide. Again looking at our sample report, the grade equivalent for the total score is 5.8. The average raw score (the number right out of the number possible) for students at the end of grade 5 who were part of the norm group for this test was 60 out of 87. That’s all that it means. Nothing more.

The student in our sample report whose grade equivalent of 10.1 for language does not mean that he or she has mastered all the skills typically taught in grades 6 through 9. Again, it simply means that the student’s performance on this test is theoretically equivalent to students in the norm group who had completed the month of October for grade 10.

A little confused? It’s understandable. My head spins too…

While we can confidently say that this student’s understanding of grammar, mechanics, and writing as measured by this test are considerably better than the average fifth grader, it would be a mistake to “skip” junior high language arts on the basis of this score and place him in a high school language textbook next year. If the student in our sample were to be given a test designed for tenth graders, it’s likely his grade equivalent would fall to a much lower level.

Because it’s so easy to misunderstand and misapply grade equivalent scores, achievement test publishers strongly recommend that schools and other educational agencies not report grade equivalent scores to parents unless a thorough explanation accompanies the score.

Hopefully the information above clarifies what grade equivalents are and what they are not.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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How to Understand and Use NCE’s and Stanines

Some scores on an achievement test are less meaningful than others to parent educators and classroom teachers. The normal curve equivalent, commonly referred to as the NCE score, falls into this category.

If a score lacks meaning, it often lacks usefulness and is considered irrelevant as well. Nevertheless, because NCE’s are part of most achievement test reports, here are two things you should know about this score.

First, NCE’s are similar to percentile ranks in as much as they rank your student’s score from 1 (low) to 99 (high). If you look at the sample report on our website, you will see that the NCE scores follow the NP scores as you look across the report from left to right. The NCE score for the Total Score on our sample report is 50. Achieving an NCE of 50 is the only time the percentile score and this score are the same. When percentile rank scores are higher than 50, NCE scores will always be lower. The NCE score for Language on the sample report illustrates this. When percentile ranks are lower than 50, NCE scores will be higher. The NCE scores for Reading and Math on the sample report illustrate this.

Secondly, NCE scores allow for “meaningful” (meaningful to statisticians primarily) comparisons between different achievement test batteries and between different tests within the same battery. How this works is complicated, and I won’t go into it here.

In the column to the right of the NCE scores are the Stanine scores. The name of this score comes from the fact that it ranks student performance on a standard scale of 1 (low) to 9 (high). A stanine score of 5 falls in the middle of this scale and in our sample report corresponds to a percentile rank of 50, indicating that a student’s performance falls in the average range. Likewise, a stanine score of 4 links to a slightly below average percentile rank as we see for Reading subtest. A stanine score of 6 links to a slightly above average percentile rank as we see for Language subtest.

The stanine’s value comes from the fact that because it is expressed as a single digit number, it’s easy to draw quick conclusions about a student’s performance. Stanine’s of 1’s or 2’s suggest a student had trouble with the content on the test. Stanine’s of 8’s or 9’s suggest a high degree of mastery of the concepts covered. Keep in mind, though, that stanines are less precise than percentile ranks.

In my next article, I’ll discuss what is considered the most controversial and misleading piece of information found on an achievement test report. It’s so controversial that government agencies have actually suppressed this information because of the unwarranted conclusions teachers and parent educators have drawn from it.

Thanks for reading,

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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How to Understand and Use National Percentile Scores

Most published tests provide a scale a parent uses to assign grades such as “A’s”, “B’s” and “C’s.” The letters, as you know, represent a level of achievement such as superior, above average, and average respectively. Typically, earning a grade of “A” means your score fell between 90 and 100 percent, a “B” between 80 and 89 percent, and so forth. In schools, a grade is sometimes determined on the basis of how a student performed on a test relative to how other students performed on the same test. The National Percentile score on an achievement test works this way.

The National Percentile score (NP) typically follows the Raw Score (RS) as you look across the page of an achievement test report from left to right. Once again it will be helpful for you to reference our sample report (click here to view) as I explain this score. On our sample report, the first subtest is Reading. Across from this test title is 20/32. This is the Raw Score. The score next to this is 34 which is the National Percentile. It is right below the letters NP which represent the National Percentile.

The National Percentile score ranks raw scores from highest to lowest and shows where an individual’s raw score falls in comparison. The lowest score that is reported is 1; the highest is 99. Here’s how the scale breaks down:

1- 4: lowest
5-10: low
11-22: well below average
23-40: slightly below average
41-59: average
60-77: slightly above average
78-89: well above average
90-95: high
96-99: highest

A common misconception is to confuse a percentile rank with a percentage. The confusion shows up in the question, “Why, if I got a perfect score answering every question correctly isn't my percentile rank a 100? Again, a percentile is a comparison of one particular student’s performance to a sampling of other students. Thinking of this score in terms of a bell-shaped curve helps to visualize it. The 34 on the sample report tells us that this student’s score for this subtest was better than 34 percent of students nationwide who took the same test.

The value of a national percentile rank is that it is based on a national sampling of student performance rather than simply a smaller and local one. Smaller samplings may reflect state or regional populations. They are often less helpful and can even be misleading. In other words, consider a student whose intelligence and performance is in the “average range.” Compare his or her test performance to a group of “high-octane, over-achiever types” and where do you think his percentile rank would be? Near or at the bottom. Likewise, compare him or her to a group of students for whom education is unimportant and who could care less about learning, and the percentile rank will likely be near the top. I say likely because some “under achievers” are really smart but are bored by the instructional setting in which they find themselves. The basic principle is, the larger the number of students your student is compared to, the more realistic the picture the test will present of your student’s performance and standing.

In my next article I’ll comment on Normal Curve Equivalents and Stanines. I know, sounds real exciting…but it’s helpful to know.

Thanks for Reading,

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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How to Understand and Use Raw Scores

The results of scoring objective tests for subjects like spelling, math, or history may be expressed as raw scores—the number right out of the number possible.  In other words, on a test where there are 25 questions, a student who answers 20 questions correctly receives a raw score of 20.  It doesn’t make any difference whether a question is worth more than one point, weighted in some way, or whether there is a penalty for guessing as opposed to not answering a question.   The raw score simply reflects the number of items answered correctly out of the number of items on a test.   Now, it is appropriate to weight the items on tests you give at home.  The answers to some questions should be worth more points.  When determining a grade, the answers to essay questions should count more than the answers to multiple choice questions. But, that’s not what raw scores mean on an achievement test report.

Let’s say you’re reviewing your student’s achievement test report.  On our sample report (click her to view), the first subtest is Reading.  Across from this test title is the number 20 followed by a forward slash and the number 32.  The first number which in this case is 20 represents the number of items answered correctly.  The second number of 32 represents the total number of items on this subtest.  This score is pretty straight forward.

Sometimes parents wonder if their student should guess when taking an achievement test.  First, there is no penalty for guessing on an achievement test.  An item left blank will be marked wrong regardless.  One point of view suggests that the student eliminate answer choices that can’t possibly be right and then choose between the options that remain.  This is often referred to as making an educational guess.  Another point of view suggests that the student not guess at all because answers guessed correctly lead to a misleading understanding of the test report.  What do I mean by this?

Although a raw score gives a numerical summary of a student’s performance, the real meaning behind the items answered correctly lies in converting them into a report that identifies what they were measuring.  That’s what a Performance Evaluation Report (PER) does.  For instance, if a student answered five correct out of eight on a particular section of the test, the PER report would point to what those items were measuring.  Guessing diminishes the value of this report if the student answers any of the guessed items correctly.  The parent assumes the student knows something that actually he doesn’t know; he just got lucky.  To see a sample of this report, click here.

Performance Evaluation Reports provide a description of the tasks students were to perform on the test.  This is also referred to as a criterion reference interpretation.   Raw scores are also converted into scores which yield what is called a norm-referenced interpretation, the subject of a future article.     

Thanks for Reading,

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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How to Understand and Use Test Results

End-of-the-year testing begins soon. Many children will be taking a standardized achievement test. When you get your student’s results, the first question often asked is, “Did he pass?” Once this question is answered, it’s quickly followed by another, “What do the rest of these scores mean?”

No matter what achievement test your student takes, there are six types of scores your report should provide. They are raw scores, national percentile ranks, normal curve equivalents, stanines, grade equivalents, and scale scores. As I discuss these, you’ll find it helpful to refer to a sample report which you can view here. I’ll explain what these scores mean and the significance they hold to you as you home school your child.

When you receive your report, check to see that it contains the following information, and that it is correct. At the top of the page you should find the name of the test your student took, his or her name, and the date the test was given. You should also find the level of the test taken (in my sample report it is level 15) and what is referred to as the norm level.

The norm level refers to the time period your student’s performance was compared to. There are three norming levels in a school year. A norm level referred to as Beginning of the Year means your student’s performance was compared to students who took the same test sometime in September, October, or November. Middle of the Year compares your student’s performance to students who tested in December, January, or February. End of the Year compares your student’s performance to students who tested in March, April, May or June. In Oregon, students testing in July or August usually order reports with end-of-the-year norms in recognition that some students home school year round.

Following the above information should be a list of the sub-tests your student took, and what is identified as the Battery Total or Total Score. Across from each subtest will be the scores I mentioned previously as raw scores, national percentile ranks, etc.

Typically, the first score you will see on the report will be the raw score. This score provides the basis from which all the other scores are derived. More on this in my next article.

Thanks for Reading,

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Doing Well Enough, and Won’t Leave Others Alone.

If you’re like me, you keep score every day. We “keep score” because by doing so, we can gage how we’re doing. Scoring, or measuring performance, characterizes many of our home schooling activities to one degree or another. It often takes place through asking questions. When scoring ourselves, we’re often more generous and forgiving. When scoring others (and we all do this), we typically place them in one of two categories: the “many” who don’t seem to fair as well as we do and the “few” who are on their way to some version of the home school hall-of-fame.

Most students ask these kinds of questions:

How many pages until I’m finished with my math book? Can I be “finished” with my book without doing all of the lessons, just most of them? And, if the answer is “most,” just how many is “most?”

How many questions will be on the test and over what? Do I have to answer all of them? What’s a passing score?

How long does this composition need to be? How neat does it need to be? How sloppy can it be until I hear the words “do over.”

How much more work do I need to complete before I can go outside?

Parents, likewise, have their own set of questions, often like the following:

How do I grade this essay? There are so many variables… spelling, mechanics, grammar, the ideas, etc.

This math problem isn’t totally wrong, so how much partial credit should I give?

Should I count off for spelling errors when grading the memory verse my child has just written because after all, isn’t content the main thing?

How many “fact questions” do I eliminate on the history story so that my student can earn a good grade?

The answers we come up with to these and similar questions are important. At least I think so since I write about them regularly. All of us benefit from ideas or practices that work well and can be used and passed on to other home schoolers. However, sometimes the answers we come up with serve as “evidence” to let others know that not only are we “doing well enough to be left alone,” but we’re doing well enough to tell you how to do it the right way. That would be our way, of course. The problem is pride and if deeply rooted, the next bud to blossom will be unsolicited advice-- lots of it, both spoken and unspoken. It can come in regular doses from those who have “figured it out” to those who are “still in the dark.” Those in the dark often feel guilt or annoyance.

Time often corrects this attitude, and tempers it with humility and compassion. By this, I mean that if you live long enough, watch yourself, others, and even your children sin big enough, you’ll find out that you don’t have as much figured out as you once thought.

The great poet, T.S. Elliot came to Christ around age 40. It was at this time he wrote one of his most famous poems, Ash Wednesday. I don’t know much about him, but my guess is that he’d probably seen enough of life centered around himself. At this time, he’d begun to turn his focus toward Christ.

Written in six parts, part one has four lines that especially stand out to me:

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain

For those of you who do observe Ash Wednesday, I’d like to suggest reading some or all of it to your children, if appropriate, and discussing a few of the poem’s ideas. For those of you who don’t observe Ash Wednesday, it would still be a benefit to read it inasmuch as Elliot’s writing is part of the cannon of poetry high school students should be acquainted.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

 

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Doing Well Enough to be Left Alone?

Doing well enough to be left alone… In Oregon, that was the phrase used to rally opposition to government involvement in home schooling. The basis for the argument was the annual achievement test data collected by the state of Oregon. The results of the data were undeniable. Home schoolers, compared to students in the public school sector, did score better, much better. Score one for the home school community, or at least most of the community. But, what if your student was one of those who didn’t score “above national standards”?

Achievement testing, wrongly used, can lead to two very different experiences: despair if your student does poorly, or pride (the unhealthy kind) if he or she does exceptionally well. I want to say something to you if yours is the first experience.

At this time of year parents in many states where annual achievement testing is required begin thinking about it. Maybe not too much, but some because testing usually occurs in the spring. Anticipation, concern, and maybe even dread builds the closer it is to March. It’s understandable. If testing is the ruler used by your state to measure home schooling success or lack of it, who wants the exposure if you don’t expect your child to do well?

Sanctions by various states for poor performance aside, the problem is not so much with testing, but our relationship to it. We allow it to say or imply too much about our success or failure as home schoolers. Remind yourself that home schooling is much bigger than academics.

Years ago I had lunch with an official from the Department of Education. His leadership position required that he interface with the home school community on behalf of the department. His office was responsible for collecting test result data which eventually made it on to a government report. His tenure in the position was over and he spoke very candidly to me.

He had been vilified by some in the home school community as is often the case with state officials. It just comes with the territory. He was actually a very likable person. Throughout lunch he expressed a genuine concern for children who did not test well. The issue for him was not their test scores, but the labeling and false conclusions that often accompany poor test results. He was keenly aware that the bigger an institution becomes, i.e. the government, the dumber it behaves.

As the testing season moves closer, please keep in mind that the results from an achievement test are simply a snapshot of how your student did on a given day. It may reveal and confirm some deficits you’re already aware off. Don’t ignore or go into denial about them. The information gleaned can be useful in planning remedial strategies to address the deficits.

Additionally, avoid letting the results become the “judge and jury” that passes judgment on your home school efforts. Home schooling is much bigger than academics.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Do More, Try Harder?

Make any New Year’s resolutions? Doing well at keeping them? Good! (But remember we’re just over a week into the new year.) Already starting to slip and cross a few resolutions off the list? Even better!! What do I mean?


On New Year’s Eve I was having a pleasant dinner at a restaurant with some family members, both immediate and extended. The topic of New Year’s resolutions came up and I was asked if I had made any. I told them no, that I gave up that exercise a long time ago. I never did well with them, and when I broke them, I’d either rationalize their importance away or begin making excuses. Plus, I didn’t like feeling guilty about my commitment level not being strong enough or not really meaning what I said.


As home schoolers, all of us set goals whether they’re academic, spiritual, relational, etc. Years ago I tried using a planning/record-keeping system to help me track what I was doing and what my kids were doing. I prioritized all activities with an “A,” “B,” “C.” Within the “A” category I prioritized even further and identified tasks as a “A1,” “A2,” etc. I wasn’t very successful and I started and stopped several times before finally giving up. I ended up word processing task lists, keeping minimal records, and using lots of post it notes. Now the kids are grown, two in college, one out, and all working. This phase is over. On to the next chapter.


I think the issue for all of us whether it’s New Year’s resolutions, goals with deadlines, or task lists, is our basic desire for control. This is true no matter what stage of life we’re in. With control comes a sense of safety. That’s why we flock to seminars that teach “life principles”, “wisdom for living” or other presentations designed to help us get what we want. And what we want is control.


I don’t like being out of control and I doubt you do either. But as Christians, the rub is that we are called to walk by faith. That is, trusting God all the time, especially when things go out of control, even when we’ve diligently applied and carefully tried to live by “the principles.” Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying as if I’m suggesting that all ways of living are equal or don’t matter. They do matter. But our trust cannot be in “the principles” as if by trusting and applying them will guarantee us the “good life.”


As Christian home schoolers, pointing our children back to trusting Jesus and the gospel on a daily basis would be a good New Year’s resolution. Good, because when you fail to do this, and you will fail, you’re covered (by Jesus). So, with this in mind, I’d like to recommend a book to help you. The title is The Jesus Story Book Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Click here for more information. While it’s designed to be used with elementary-age children, adults will also benefit by the simple way it presents the gospel message through Old and New Testaments stories. Below is an excerpt from the beginning pages of the book that I think captures its main thrust:


“Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and what you shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.


Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.


No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!


There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.”


Don’t forget to use our discount code for the new year, basicskills2012, when purchasing this or any product from Exodus Books, either online or in the bookstore.


Thanks for reading!
Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Educational Roadblocks
By Jo Edwards, MS Ed

Years ago when I was teaching at a small Christian school I had a phone call from a distraught home school mom during the first week of school. She told me she had spent a part of the day in her closet crying because she was so frustrated about her son’s lack of progress in reading, and she was considering enrolling him in school. I asked for some basic information to determine the source of her extreme frustration. Her son was 8 years old, and she was beginning her third year of home schooling.


“What curriculum are you using this year.”


“1st grade Brand X.”


“What curriculum did you use last year?"


“1st grade Brand X.”


“And what curriculum did you use for his first year?”


“1st grade Brand X.”


This mom was beating her head against the wall trying to get her son to make progress thinking that there was something wrong with her teaching when what she needed to do was change curriculums (and therefore change teaching style) in order to meet her son’s unique educational needs.


As I consult with parents about their children and home school curriculum choices, I frequently run into the same parental comment. “I use _______ curriculum. It has worked really well for all my other children over the years and I really like the way it is organized, but this child is not making progress.”


All children are not created equally. Each student has his/her own learning style. Books and materials that work excellently for one student may not work at all for another. Some students thrive on fill-in-the-blank workbooks and enjoy seeing how many pages they can finish each day, whereas others need projects and hands-on activities to learn the same content. Some are motivated by workbooks with lots of pictures, diagrams and other decorations on their math pages while others find all the visual stimuli a huge distraction and want plain, to the point, black and white print.


Even though a family may be using a well recommended, first rate curriculum in their home school does not guarantee that every child in the family will make their best progress using it. If a child is not making the expected rate of progress, an analysis of the curriculum and the child’s learning problems and learning style may be warranted.


The frustrated mom mentioned earlier did eventually enroll her son in our school where we did NOT use Brand X curriculum. His needs were met through the use of a sequentially organized, multi-sensory instruction system, and he began to make real progress in reading and writing skills.


Thanks for reading!
Jo Edwards, MS Ed


Interested in sitting down with Jo to personally discuss curriculum options for one or more of your children? Email info@basicskills.net or call Basic Skills at 503-650-5282 to make an appointment.


If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Could Canned Curriculum be the Right Choice?

I used to look down on “canned curriculum.” I think my attitude came partly from my first teaching experience at a private school in Southern California. I didn’t have a teaching credential when I was hired. In fact, I was still about a year of “course work” away from finishing my bachelor’s degree. In spite of this I was offered a position as a second grade teacher. The school granted me as well as the rest of the teaching staff an amazing amount of freedom. We were encouraged to innovate and create interesting lesson plans to reach the learning objectives for our particular grade levels. Along with this freedom came two full-time teachers whose sole task was to source instructional materials from a “mini warehouse” on the school campus for us.

Three years later I accepted a teaching job in Oregon. This school ran differently. To accomplish their objectives a “canned curriculum” was used. What I mean by “canned” is that the curriculum guide had a very specific plan that told you what to teach and when to teach it for every day of the school year. It was timed to the minute and even told the teacher when the students should take a break and use the restroom. No kidding! I balked at using it, and eventually replaced it once I took the elementary principal position.

Not all “canned curricula” is the same, however. In hindsight, I probably over-reacted to the extreme micro-management nature of what we used in Oregon. I was guilty of “throwing everything overboard” when much that was good could have been salvaged.

As I mentioned in a previous article, some of you might be considering a break from the state system. If fear of the unknown is holding you back, my suggestion to you is to find a good “canned curriculum.” Here are six things a good “canned curriculum” will do for you:

• give you an overview of what will be covered during the year.
• keep you from having to “re-invent the wheel.” They’re simple to use because a lot of the thinking 

   has been done for you.
• keep you on track. We all tend to gravitate back to teaching our favorite content which leads to a

   lack of balance and content gaps.
• provide a structure for you.
• provide you with step-by-step lesson plans.
• help pace you through the course, so that you complete the course.

Are you weary of the mindless micro-management of many public, charters and home school programs? Is the local charter school becoming “too helpful” and too involved? Tired of the weekly check ins by your friendly academic advisor who is there to make sure you’re not using any three or five letter words like “God” or “Jesus?”

A “canned curriculum” may be your ticket to freedom. Give it a try!

Thanks for reading!
Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Unaccredited Thanksgiving?

Imagine the following conversation between a home-schooled student and his mother:

Son: “So Mom, according to the book we’re using, we should be thankful for family and friends. But, what about God?”

Mom: “Well of course we should be thankful to God. The pilgrims had a terrible time the first couple of years, but God was with them, and they were grateful. Their life centered around him.”

Son: “Well if this is true, and God was such a central part of their life, then why isn’t He mentioned in our book?”

Mom: “We’ve been over this before.” We’re not allowed to use Christian textbooks or books that refer to God or Jesus. Not if we want to receive credit.

And so the conversation goes…

A while ago I got a call from one of the principals of a local charter home school program. He and one of his staff members wanted to come visit me. It seemed that some of our students were transferring from our program into theirs so that they could access the local community college for free. There appeared to be a problem with awarding credit for some courses taken in our program.

When they arrived we grabbed a private office. The conversation was light and the tone friendly. Then we got down to business and one of the men popped a question. Was it true that we used and recommended a science textbook that held that the origin of the universe found its source in God and that evolution was simply a theory? I said, yes, that’s right. I thought my answer would have been a “no brainer” to them in as much as our school name was New Covenant Christian Academy.

The question reminded me of the time I spoke at an Elks Club meeting and was asked what I saw as a basic difference between public schools and private Christian schools. I answered, thinking I was simply stating the obvious, that the difference between the two was one taught and supported evolution while the other did not. My comment stirred up a strong protest by some of the government employees in the room claiming the public school “doesn’t teach evolution, it teaches ‘about it’.” Rising to the challenge, I countered that “yes, they actually do teach it,” and then the tension really increased. The moderator wisely saw what was developing and rang his little bell announcing the meeting was now over and it was time for all of us to go to work…

Back to my meeting with the principal and his staff member. The next question went something like this: “Is it true that some of our students take a class titled Classical Literature, and that the subtitle of this course was The triumph of Christianity in the Ancient World?” I asked why that should be a problem in as much as Christianity, under Constantine, became a dominate religion in the fourth century. This was, after all, an historical fact that nobody disputed. There was a strange silence as if my point wasn’t clear to them. They wondered why the subtitle was necessary. I think if we had been willing to change it or delete it the course would have been “approved.”

What was becoming very clear was that students transferring from our program into their charter home school program would not receive credit for any class where God was part of the curriculum. I thought to myself here were families who, with the help of our teaching and advising staff, were doing a remarkable job in educating their children. Unfortunately, because Jesus happened to be involved, no credit was going to be recognized or extended in order to protect the charter’s “accredited status.”

After they left, I thought I thought to myself, who do these people think they are? Talk about censorship!

So, during this Thanksgiving holiday, don’t shy away from studying and presenting the whole story. And, if you’re thinking about making a break from the state system, I’ll have some suggestions for you in a future article.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Home Schooling After all These Years?

A call from a high school student came into our office a few years ago.  Would we help her, she asked?  She was smart, a hard worker, and serious about her education and future.  Her problem was that her place of learning, the public school, wasn’t helping her meet her goals anymore.  Actually, it hadn’t for quite awhile.  This was her senior year, and now she was quitting and wanting to home school after all these years.

For a lot of people her decision just didn’t make sense. They were thinking, “You’ve been here eleven years and now you’re just three quarters away from being presented with that coveted public school diploma.”  She didn’t value or covet it enough to continue attending six hours of classes a day with students who had largely “checked out.”  In her words, it was a “party atmosphere” most of the time. 

She wasn’t angry.  She didn’t describe her situation in “us” verses “them” language.  She was simply ready to move on quietly, not with bitterness.  She still wanted some recognition for the work she had accomplished, the grades she had earned.  She wanted some direction in what final courses she should take to complete her education at this level.  Her parents supported her decision.

I think what I saw in her was someone who, at the beginning of adulthood, had come to realize that school, learning and education aren’t always a package deal.  School is largely an artificial environment where learning sometimes takes place, and sometimes it doesn’t.

  • Mark Twain said, “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.”
  • Shakespeare, through the mouth of Hamlet said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

That November I met with her and her family.  We discussed her goals and where she saw herself in the next few years. I helped them think through the pros and cons of the decision she was about to make. I explained what it would take to meet our graduation requirements, and what books and other means she could employ to complete this phase of her education.  Even though our program was still a structure, it was one with a lot more freedom and meaning.  

After our meeting she picked out her books and got right to work. She didn’t need any prodding.   I met with her and her family a few more times that school year to look at her work and do the necessary documenting.  That June, with her parents standing with her, she was presented her diploma.

Some might say she really wasn’t a “home schooler.”  I would say in response, “Who cares what you call what she was doing.”   The important thing was that she wasn’t afraid to seek professional help and make a decision that would change the course of her education, to “home school” after all these years!

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Ready to Call it Quits?

The following situation is more common than you think:

"We've been homeschooling for almost three months now. Since we started he hasn't wanted to do his work. I told him I would send him back to school if he didn't listen and follow my directions. He settled down for awhile and was compliant, doing what I asked. But, it didn't last for long. Now I'm back to listening to one excuse after another for what he doesn't want to do. All I'm asking is for him to do two chores a day and complete around one page for each of the four subjects he's doing (math, language, writing, and geography). I have told him a million times that I am here if he needs help. When he asks for help, it turns out he does know what he's doing and is just pretending. I just can't make him apply himself. I really don't want to send him back to public school... but I'm really tempted. Help"

I'm sure a lot of thoughts run through your mind as you read the above. Thoughts like, could this really be true? Is this an exaggeration? How can she stand living like this? For those of you who have no experience with the above, all I can say is, again, this experience is more common than you think. And, because my wife once picked up the phone and "dialed" the local school to see if there was room for "one more," I can personally relate to this.

So, what can be done to correct this situation? Finding out that he is eight years old, here are three things I recommend:

Threats: While I don't recommend threatening to do something you know you really won't follow through with (like sending him to back to public school, unless you mean it), "collecting information" in his presence by calling or visiting may raise the anxiety level enough to stimulate compliance. And in reality, if you were unable to continue home schooling due to health or other issues, going to a public school could become a reality.

Structure: Children especially at this age need a predictable pattern. "School" should start close to the same time every day. Subjects studied should follow the same order: math, followed by penmanship, followed by reading, etc. For those who argue against such an approach, saying it is making the home too "school like," all I can say is that typically productivity and creativity are linked to discipline and structure. In other words, home schooling is often just getting your work done day in and day out. Can you adjust the schedule, and take a day off when warranted? Of course. I'm not suggesting that you should be inflexible.

I would also recommend what I call "pass the salt, pass the pepper" tones when implementing the schedule and course work. Your son needs to know that this is just the way the school work and chores are going to flow kind of tone. Avoid getting into arguments, even though it's easy to "win" them when the children are younger. As they get older, you'll find yourself "winning" less and less until your relationship with him or her crashes.

Instruction: It isn't going to work to tell him what to do, let him go to his room, and expect him to return at lunch with everything completed. At this age, home school instruction is largely driven by the parent. Yes, you can explain a math worksheet, leave him for ten to fifteen minutes and check back. A better approach would be to have him work at the kitchen table so you're close by for accountability and to teach and answer questions. The older he gets though, the less you should be needed.

Please keep in mind that parenting is both an art and science.

Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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What to do if you Finish a Textbook Early

The typical textbook is designed to be completed in nine months.  Even if you follow the traditional school calendar, schooling from September through May, what do you do if your student finishes a text book early?  Consider the following question that was asked recently:   

“My son just finished his 6th grade speller. I'm wondering if I should move him into the next book or just end spelling now for the year, which for us ends in May.”

--J.M.

My answer:   I have a few thoughts as I respond to this question.  First, it’s unusual to complete a book after just two months of school. Are you sure your student is in the correct grade placement?  It may have been too easy in the first place which is why your student flew through it, assuming he pre-tested and knew most of the words without studying.  Secondly, and this information wasn’t supplied in the question, I’m wondering if this book was used last year but, not completed.  The mother was simply finishing up the last few lessons in the book.

If you were asking me this question in April, I would be inclined to say sure, take a break from spelling.  But at this time of year, I’d say begin the next book in the series.  In other words, keep in mind that your goal is to build a strong set of memorized spelling words your son can draw from, not just complete a textbook. 

Let me change the question slightly and apply it to a different subject, asked at a different time of year.   Let’s say it is March and your student has just completed his math book.  In this case he finished pre-algebra.  While there is always some review built into all math series (publishers assume students are coming back from a three-month summer break from school and need to review), the higher the level of math, the less of the beginning of the book is dedicated to this. If your son has completed a quarter of the next book in the series, algebra 1 in this case, when you quit in May, you can be sure he’ll need to back track in September, maybe even to the beginning of the book to review what he “learned” but was forgotten.  

So in this situation, I would say don’t start the next book in the series.  Instead, pick up an enrichment text (story problems, math brain teasers, etc.) at a local teacher or home school supply store.  Do math two or three times a week.  Another option would be to start the next book in the series, but plan to work through it most of the summer so the time spent in the spring isn’t seen as a waste.  Most students won’t like this idea, but others will embrace it and see it as a chance to get ahead.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

Interested in a half-hour phone consultation with Curt to discuss and suggest solutions to specific home school problems you may be facing?  Our new program, Ask the Expert, may be just what you’re looking for.  Our introductory price is just $24.95 for a half-hour phone consultation.  And, as an added bonus, you may choose any two ebooks from our list of educational products for free... up to a $36.00 value.  You can’t lose!  Simply call or email us to book a consultation and well get you scheduled and send you your ebooks immediately.  The free ebooks are a limited-time offer.

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Peer Groups and Slow Movers

Years ago I held the idea that children who were home schooled became immune to peer dependency.  I believed that the very structure of home schooling was the secret to raising children with “godly” convictions who would naturally be able to stand on them in the midst of a culture that was collapsing from dry rot. I was wrong.

The problem with this view was my denial that the need for acceptance which leads to peer dependency was, and is, largely an inside issue.  All of us are hard-wired to seek acceptance to one degree or another.  What got me to thinking about this was observing some home schoolers who had been insulated from the typical cultural channels (TV, internet, DVDs, youth group, etc.) but who still found a way to tap in and discover what was “cool.” This created two very different kinds of reactions: disappointment on the part of some adults, and a kind of admiration and envy on the part of many of their home school friends.  

This need for acceptance is not going to go away.  Yet, as a parent, you can use it to indirectly influence your child in a positive way.  Peer groups can be very helpful in motivating a “slow mover.”  They can affect attitudes and goals. Take initiative to involve your child in a group that shares many of the following characteristics:

  • Where effort and hard work is valued
  • Where education is valued
  • Where involvement in community service is common
  • Where parental views, while not always agreed with, are nevertheless respected

Yet, having said that good peer groups will often exert a positive influence on children, there are situations where no matter how good the influence, the child still makes poor decisions.  One high school student I knew had both family and professional support and was committed to completing a GED. Then, this goal gradually became unimportant and he began to balk at the preparation required to pass this test. At age seventeen having at least a GED would have put him ahead of the line of those without one when looking for a job. That didn’t seem to make a difference.

Another family had a student who, upon entering the high school years, resisted doing their school work. Then, two years later, with little perceivable outside influence, education became important.  This student’s drive to compete, or in this case begin high school level study in earnest, was totally inside driven.

Again, the need for acceptance is an interior issue.  All of us will choose a way to meet this need.  Tapping this need for acceptance within peer groups with positive values may help.  One thing seems certain, if we don’t take the initiative in finding such a group, you can be sure most children will.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

As you start the new school year, add some fun into your elementary math program by grabbing a copy of our favorite new math product.  Click here to get over 450 pages in 8 books of printable board and card games, worksheets, and ideas at a very low price.

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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3 Tips to Help Slow Movers

If you find that school work isn’t getting done, here are three tips that may boost your student’s productivity.

1. Consider having your student attend a class somewhere. One of the values of a traditional school setting is structure. I know that some home schoolers feel guilty about thinking, let alone suggesting, that anything of value can possibly come out of school. But, like most things, school is not an “all or nothing proposition.” Take or use what’s good and helpful, and leave what’s bad and counter-productive alone. The dynamic of a class meeting creates motivation and accountability that helps most students to get work done. Classes, some of which are offered through co-ops, provide a weekly and regular point of contact and expectation. “Due dates” for daily work, tests, quizzes, and projects are less flexible than courses studied exclusively at home.

2. Combine your home school efforts with another family. Home schooling typically works better when there is more than one child learning in a group setting. At least for the kids, it’s more interesting. If you’re down to teaching your last child at home, a feeling of isolation may set in. Productivity drops. Home schooling with another family often leads to life-long relationships between the children. It’s worth a try.

3. Link consequences to actions that have a real life component. Virtually all home school families use some sort of reward and punishment system. To avoid having your children feel like they’re being manipulated or simply “controlled” (and the older they are, the easier they can pick this out), think through why it’s important that they do what you want them to do. Link the consequence to real life because outside the home, this is the way it generally works. Think about it. Put things off, don’t deliver, and you’re typically passed over for a promotion or fired. Exceed your employer’s or customers’ expectations and typically the opposite happens. Speed regularly and eventually you’ll get a ticket. Text and drive and an accident will likely occur.

Help your students think this way by communicating to them that sloppy work means the teacher can’t read, evaluate, or get the benefit from it, and therefore it must be done over. Insufficient work completed means access to the TV or to recreational use of the computer or handheld technology is withheld. Work completed and goals met result in rewards or privileges extended. Again, remind them that most adults work an eight- hour day and then come home to relax and recreate. Weekend hobbies take place after they work a forty or fifty hour work week. Reverse this order and problems will follow. Convey to your student that all you are doing is helping them establish a healthy life-long work ethic that will serve them well both now and in the future.

Here is a final thought about consequences. The funny thing is that “what’s important” changes as our children get older. Also, what we think is important isn’t always seen that way by our children. We have to continually remind ourselves of the point behind the consequence, because consequences must change as our children mature. Keep in mind that for older children, consequences seem to communicate a “life lesson” of their own, unless we get in the way.

I’ll discuss more issues related to productivity in another article.


Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Home Schooling 24/7???

Now that the “honeymoon phase” of the new school year is over, productivity for some children starts to drop.  In some cases, school work that should have been completed Monday through Friday now spills over into the weekend. “School” on Saturday two or three times in a row can be a miserable experience for everybody, not just the kids. If this describes what’s happening with one of your children, here are some thoughts that may help you with the situation.

First, if you are seeing this in only one of your children, maybe there is a physiological reason behind it.  What I mean by this is that if a child is a slow or reluctant reader, eye fatigue may be a factor.  An optometrist could diagnose and prescribe stress lenses or glasses.

If you have a child who is entering into her teenage years, hormonal and/or chemical changes could be taking place which is affecting her mood and personality.  Previously compliant, some children become oppositional and lethargic.  Some Christian writers would lead you to believe that this kind of behavior is simply spiritual in nature (i.e. rebellion, sin, etc.), but this narrow view often prevents getting to the root of the issue.  Making an appointment with a pediatrician for a physical would be a first step in addressing this issue.

Secondly, this may simply be an emerging personality trait. While some children “just get to it,” others move methodically and slowly. While the promise of a reward or incentive may increase their productivity to some degree, it usually doesn’t last.  I saw this with a student who took a timed test in which the results pointed to below-average achievement. Weeks later we gave this student the same test but this time removed the time limits.  The results were well-above average achievement. Sometimes you simply need to accept the personality trait and work with it by adjusting the amount of work assigned.

If your child is a “slow mover,” consider making the work load on Fridays lighter. This is the day you “catch up” with little if any additional work assigned.  Classroom teachers do this all the time (for themselves) when they get behind in their grading.   

For older students, another possibility is to schedule the day into half-hour to one-hour time segments in which you move along to the next subject once the time allowed for the current subject is up.  For younger students, setting a cooking timer for them to see may help build awareness of time elapsing.

Other issues related to productivity include structure, family dynamics, the use of incentives, interest level, and peer influences.  More on this in another article.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

Some changes in student motivation may be related to ADD, ADHD, or dyslexia. A local resource we recommend is HELP. Click here to be directed to their website.

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net

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Measure Progress Without Testing

A myriad of footnote questions appear on most published tests.  Why?  Because they are easy to write and easy to score.  They’re also largely meaningless when it comes to measuring what your student has learned.  If you’ve concluded that the tedium of having your student memorize what seems to be an endless stream of facts is just not worth the investment of time, what do you do instead? Here’s a simple but powerful option.

Many textbooks have review questions located throughout and at the end of each chapter.  Some are well-written and require the student to use the higher levels of thinking we suggest in the booklet, How to Ask Questions that Matter.  I recommend that you replace the tests with the review questions using the following simple method to help you determine what your student is learning.

First, choose review questions that seem important to you.  Important as opposed to simply recall-type questions.  The number of questions you choose to have your student respond to will be proportionate to the length and content of the chapter.

Second, ask your student to write an answer to each question.  Make this an open-book test if you like.  Let him know that he will be evaluated on the substance and quality of his answer.  Suggest, though, that he limit his answer to one paragraph.  This forces word economy.

Third, evaluate and score his answers.  I suggest the following scale:

  • Adequate answers are awarded 3 points.  “Adequate” means his response demonstrated he understood the basic content called for by the question.
  • Good answers are awarded 4 points.  “Good” means his answer showed a greater degree of understanding than just the “adequate level.”
  • Excellent answers are awarded 5 points.  “Excellent” means his answer was well-thought through and showed an even greater depth of understanding than at the “good” level.  

If you choose questions that require the student simply recite facts back, award full credit (5 points) if completely accurate or no credit if the answer is simply wrong.

Finally, to generate a grade for the chapter based on this approach, simply total the number of points awarded for each question and divide this total by the total number of points possible.

Here’s an example.  Let’s say you choose five questions for your student to answer.  You award 4 points each to three questions, 3 points to one question, and 5 points to one question for a total of 20 points.  Now, divide 20 points (the number awarded) by 25 points (the number possible).  The result is .8.  Convert .8 to a percent (move the decimal point over two places to the right and add the percent sign) and you have 80%.

Using a traditional grading scale of A: 90-100%, B: 80-89%, C: 70-79%, etc. the grade for this chapter would be a “B.” 

This method works best when you keep it simple.  Don’t spend too much time deliberating over whether an answer should be awarded 4 or 5 five points.  Only occasionally split the difference and award a 4.5 or 3.5.  You’ve got better things to do with your time.

Thanks for reading!

Only four days left to take advantage of our 50% to 70% off back-to-school sale.   Be sure to take advantage of this limited-time offer by checking out the Back to School Specials on our website.

Want to save some money on last minute purchases? Visit Exodus Books and use our discount coupon code BSAES2011 when you make your purchase. Exodus Books ships worldwide. 

If you care to comment or have a question about this or other articles, please visit our Community Forum  or email me direct at info@basicskills.net. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net

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Home School Perfectionism

Being a perfectionist is tempting.  You know, doing the “dotting your i’s, crossing your t’s,” leaving no blank unanswered, doing what it takes for as long as it takes sort of thing.  And it usually takes a long time.  By being “perfect” in this way, your student will have effectively ended any potential unpleasant conversations before they begin.  After all, how can he be faulted for the extreme lengths he goes to do things right?

As Brene Brown (CNN.com) put it, “Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.”  In the past, I might have said that doesn’t apply to home schoolers because after all, being raised in an age-integrated context (the family) made peer dependency and the need to be accepted largely non-existent .  I was mistaken. 

I may be off the mark here, but it seems that perfectionism to any degree is used as a barrier to criticism whether by others (parental or peer standards) or even by yourself (your standards).  When our children continually relate to us or to themselves on the basis of performance, life becomes a grind.  And, usually perfectionists are not very fun to be around.

  The very thing that makes home schooling appealing can also make it unbearable.  Think about it.

  • You can customize the student’s curriculum to his or her needs, but the notion of customizing leads to too many books that your child “needs” that you’ll never get through.

I can’t tell you how many books I’ve bought for my kids that were never used.  In fact, I even bought some books twice not realizing I had already made the purchase months prior.

  • Teachable moments can be related to real life, but teachable moments never end.  You and your student may find yourselves “in school” 24-7.

It can be weird and embarrassing when every trip to the store is seen as potentially fulfilling a home economics or consumer math assignment.  I knew things had gone over the edge for me when, after parking downtown in Portland and rushing several blocks to make the start of a movie, one of my kids asked if they could count the time “running”  toward their time based PE course.

  • You know your child better than anyone else and are therefore the ideal teacher.  But, if we’re not conscience of the “hat we’re wearing, your child may always wonder if you’re talking to him as the “parent” or the “teacher.”  Relationships can get awkward the older the kids are.

There’s a point where separation of your child from you is absolutely necessary for him or her to truly grow up.  If, when you see your kids leaving their room, you find yourself continually asking them, “you got that math assignment done, right?” it’s time to re-evaluate things.

So, what am I saying?  I’m saying that there is a part in all of us that wants to relate to ourselves and others by means of performance.  Taken to an extreme, home schooling on the basis of performance becomes disordered and burdensome.  If I were to say all you have to do is set time limits (or in the case of the “perfectionist” time restrictions as in you’re not working past 3:00 P.M.), I doubt that would be helpful.  Applying different techniques don’t necessarily change root issues. 

More on this at a later date.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot

Want to save some money on next year’s school books? Visit Exodus Books and use our discount coupon code BSAES2011 when you make your purchase. Browse their huge selection of new and used books. Exodus Books ships worldwide.

If you care to comment or have a question about this article, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back www.basicskills.net.

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Too Much School Work Already?

Usually in the fall I get calls from parents who say they need to come in and see me.  There’s a sense of urgency in their voice.  The story goes something like this.  Their high school student is up early and starts her school work around 8:30 in morning.  She stops for a brief lunch break and picks it up again until 4:30 or 5:00.  On some occasions she even works a little longer.  Day after day this experience repeats itself.  The parent believes that if this continues, she will burn out or at least sour toward the home school experience.

So, what do I tell them?  Actually, I usually ask a few questions to get a feel for what is behind this massive amount of work. 

Generally, I have found that it’s better for students to be too busy than not busy enough. They tend to manage their time better when there is a lot to do, when squandering time isn’t an option.  One of my clients, a senior preparing to test for his black belt in Taekwondo, told me that he had never gotten so much done in spite of the extended practices required to complete this final test.

A major difference between this student and the one I described earlier is that passion, to a large degree, was the driving motivation behind his packed schedule.  Because of the great pleasure he got from the workouts, the mastery he experienced, and the well-deserved recognition, he didn’t need to be goaded or coerced into this schedule.  In other words, for a student who really loves horses, or let’s say skate boarding, the parent rarely, and probably never has to say, “Now go ride your horse,” or “I want to see you on your skateboard for another half an hour.” “Now get to it!” This doesn’t happen.

So, that’s one thing I try to determine.  If it’s passion that’s behind a lengthy school day, it’s probably OK.  If it’s not, what else could it be?

There are three common causes that could be in play:  perfectionism, an unbalanced need to please, and fear.   

Perfectionism is strange to observe.  It’s the point of view that says, “If a job’s worth doing, is worth doing right, and I’m the only one who knows what ‘right’ is.”  Sort of the opposite of the Nike slogan, “Just do it.”  What’s strange about “perfectionism” is that it isn’t always present in every context.  As a “perfectionist in recovery” myself, I’ll say more to say about this next time.

Thanks for Reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

The 50 to 70% off sale of many of our most popular products will be up September 29, so be sure to take advantage of this limited-time offer by checking out the Back to School Specials on our website. Again, this is a limited time offer. 

Want to save some money on next year’s school books? Visit Exodus Books and use our discount coupon code BSAES2011 when you make your purchase. Browse their huge selection of new and used books. Exodus Books ships worldwide.

If you care to comment or have a question about this article, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back www.basicskills.net.

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Using Curriculum that Almost Works

In a previous article I suggested it might be time to change the curriculum you’re using.  If you took my suggestion and made a change, it’s likely that sometime in the next thirty days you’ll be second guessing yourself about your new purchase.  Here’s why.

Within every textbook is a bias, one or more perspectives that sooner or later will rub you the wrong way.  Every author writes from a worldview.

The science book you’re using may present the “fact” that global warming is myth. You’re not so sure.

The history book you’re using may cast certain denominations as the “good guys” and others as the “bad guys.”  Your church is in the “bad guys” camp and you’re not planning on leaving anytime soon.

The Bible study curriculum you’re using makes “life applications” you’re uncomfortable with. 

The government text you’re using implies that if you’re not a flag-waving, NRA member, Republican, back-to-the-gold standard kind of person, you’re misinformed, unpatriotic, or worse, just stupid.

The personal finance course you’re using leaves you feeling guilty if you have any kind of debt. You already feel guilty about enough things without wondering if refinancing your home was the right move.

I think you get the idea.

So, what do you do?  Return the books and just use the Bible and Saxon math?  Some home-school pundits have suggested such a narrow approach. 

I’d like to suggest a different solution.

Years ago I raised the question of what to do with textbooks with questionable  content with a mentor friend who was a leader in the Christian School movement.  I think he gave me some good advice.  Our conversation went something like this:

“Do you eat fish?”

“Occasionally.”

“What about the bones, you don’t eat them do you”

“Of course not”

“Sometimes you need to fillet a fish. You don’t let a few bones keep you from getting the value, satisfaction, and benefit from it.”

That simple illustration came back to me just this week when I read something in a textbook I was using in a class I’m teaching.  My friend would have said, “Just ‘spit out’ the objectionable material.  Don’t let it ruin the good things to be gained from the text.”

Thanks for Reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

Learn how to save 50 to 70% on many of our most popular products by checking out the Back to School Specialson our website. This is a limited time offer.  Save money on textbook purchases by visiting Exodus Books and using our discount coupon code BSAES2011 when you pay for your purchase, when in the store or online.  Exodus Books ships worldwide.

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Curriculum That Doesn’t Work

In a previous article dealing with cheating on tests (click here for that article), I suggested that it’s possible for home schoolers to make good things like strong test scores, grades, and post high school plans more important than they should be.  I referred to this as over investing.  When it comes to choosing curriculum, how do you know if you’ve over invested?  And if so, how do you remedy the situation? 

Years ago a parent told me that she felt the grammar book she had used with her elementary- age student had been a total waste of time.  She had stayed with it the entire year hoping the book would improve and deliver the results it promised. It didn’t, and now she was worried her child had fallen behind. There was no getting the year back. Knowing there is a lot of overlap of learning objectives from one year to the next, I told her not to worry (which didn’t really help her stop worrying, after all it wasn’t my daughter).  I said, after giving her some ideas, just to pick a different book next year. 

Now, some fifteen years later, her daughter has graduated from college.  She holds a job in which the ability to communicate both verbally and in writing is crucial.  Using an ineffective book wasn’t as big a deal as it seemed originally.  This brings me to my point about over investment.   

Sometimes we do over-invest in our curriculum. We have over-invested when we are unwilling to give it up or replace it when it is not doing the job.  Yes, it may have received great reviews from some home-school expert.  Or, your friends may have strongly recommended it.  You thought maybe it would get better, or maybe the problem is me, that I’m just not using it right.  Regardless, if it’s not working, it’s not working.

If this is your experience, sounds like it’s time for a change.  So, go ahead!

Thanks for Reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

Want to save some money on next year’s school books? Visit Exodus Books and use our discount coupon code BSAES2011 when you make your purchase. Browse their huge selection of new and used books. Exodus Books ships worldwide.

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Seeing History through the Lens of Scripture

By Thelma English  

Learning to divide the ancient world into 500 year segments helps the student understand world history more clearly.  

Closely examining the Biblical text provides what we need to:   

date the birth of Abraham  

follow the Exodus from Egypt  

identify the beginning of Solomon's Temple building project  

trace the rise of leaders such as Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah

Studying excavations at Jericho, Nineveh, Jerusalem, Beersheba, Babylon, and Persia, provide fascinating confirmation of biblical history.  

Exploring exegetical and archaeological insights helps students be equipped to trust the scriptures where 'evidence' is lacking.  

Studying the integrity of the scribes concerning the Great Isaiah Scroll found at Qumran in 1947 (Dead Sea Scrolls) instills intellectual confidence in the rest of the prophets.  

Knowing the complete agreement between the biblical text's account of the battle at Jericho and the archaeological excavations arouses an excitement not easily extinguished!  

Awareness of the compelling evidences found in Jerusalem and Nineveh instill confidence in the text.  

When surveying the Old Testament, I have found that short, weekly assignments designed to reinforce recently learned information is effective.  Also, brief writing assignments with various creative options provide an outlet for creative expression!  

With all of the secular attacks on biblical history and the biblical text, studying the Bible in this way will result in encouragement and strengthening your student's faith. An academic study of the Bible is the perfect complement to a great school year!  

Thanks for reading!

Thelma English, Bible and Literature Teacher


If you live in the Portland-metro area and are interested in taking a Bible class from Thelma, you may contact her for more details at Thelma@thelmaslibrary.com or www.thelmaslibrary.com.  Phone calls are welcome at 503-807-7283.  Go to the High School Classes page on our website (www.basicskills.net) for more information about the classes she and our other teachers are presenting in the upcoming school year. 

If you care to comment or have a question about Thelma’s articles, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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When Will I Ever Use This? Part 4

For the Love of the Trade

Paul Lockhart, In A Mathematician’s Lament, muses about a society in which music education has become mandatory, and every student is required to learn all of the terminology, notation and theory of music beginning at a very young age.  Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school:

Students must take courses in Scales and Modes, Meter, Harmony, and Counterpoint. “It’s a lot for them to learn, but later in college when they finally get to hear all this stuff, they’ll really appreciate all the work they did in high school.” Of course, not many students actually go on to concentrate in music, so only a few will ever get to hear the sounds that the black dots represent… “To tell you the truth, most students just aren’t very good at music.  They are bored in class, their skills are terrible, and their homework is barely legible. Most of them couldn’t care less about how important music is in today’s world; they just want to take the minimum number of music courses and be done with it. I guess there are just music people and non-music people.”

It’s precisely this sort of approach to mathematics education that has resulted all too often in destroying a child’s natural curiosity and love of pattern-making.  It leaves the student believing, “I will never use this,” or equally tragic, “I don’t care if I ever use this.”  Learning math without experiencing the puzzle, the imaginative discovery process, is not truly learning math at all, and leaves the student unable to imagine that math is a completely creative art.

The only difference between math and the other arts, such as music and painting, is that our culture does not recognize it as such.  Mathematicians know that there is nothing as dreamy and poetic and imaginative and creative as mathematics.  It is every bit as mind-blowing as cosmology or physics (mathematicians conceived of black holes long before astronomers actually found any), and allows more freedom of expression than poetry, art, or music (which depend heavily on properties of the physical universe).  Let us not forget that the same God of beauty who gave us music, also gave us math.  Mathematics is the purest of the arts, as well as the most misunderstood.

We are all taught the formula for the area of a triangle.  But it’s not the fact that triangles take up half their box that matters. What matters is the beautiful idea of splitting the box with the line, and how that might inspire other beautiful ideas and lead to creative breakthroughs in other problems— something a mere statement of fact can never give you.  By removing the creative process and leaving only the results of that process, you virtually guarantee that no one will have any real engagement with the subject. By concentrating on what, and leaving out why, mathematics is reduced to an empty shell.

Of course, the art is not in the “truth” but in the explanation, the argument, the “why we know this is true” and in the way it reflects the orderly character of creation. Mathematics is the art of explanation. If students are denied the opportunity to engage in this activity— to pose their own problems, make their own conjectures and discoveries, to be wrong, to be creatively frustrated, to have an inspiration, and to cobble together their own explanations and proofs— you deny them mathematics itself.

Everyone knows that poetry and music are for pure enjoyment and for uplifting and ennobling the human spirit -- but the same may be said of math; Mathematics is the music of reason.  To do mathematics is to engage in an act of discovery and conjecture, intuition and inspiration; to be in a state of confusion— not because it makes no sense to you, but because you gave it sense and you still don’t understand what your creation is up to; to have a breakthrough idea; to be frustrated as an artist; to be awed and overwhelmed by an almost painful beauty; to be alive, That’s why it’s so fun!

How many students taking literature classes will one day be writers?  That is not why we teach literature, nor why students take it.  We teach to enlighten everyone – to expand thought -- not to train only the future professionals.  In any case, the most valuable skill for a scientist or engineer is being able to think creatively and independently. The last thing anyone needs is to be loaded up with tools, but never given the love of the trade.

Thanks for reading!

Jerry Jones, Math Teacher

Interested in having your high school student receive a practical math education by attending a class taught once or twice a week by Jerry? Go to the High School Classes page on our website for more information about the classes he and our other teachers are presenting in the upcoming school year.

If you care to comment or have a question about Jerry’s articles, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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When Will I Ever Use This? Part 3

Instruments of Opportunity

It comes up in all sorts of classes, but perhaps nowhere more often than in math class.  If you have ever taught math, you rarely escape a handful (or more) of students who wonder why they need “this stuff.” But then, anyone who has ever found themselves in a workshop full of unfamiliar tools might wonder the same thing. 

Many of us have all sorts of tools in our garage, or all sorts of utensils and appliances in our kitchens.  Some of these only come out once in a great while for special applications, while others are used every day.  The same can be said of math skills; they are certainly a set of useful tools. 

Maybe we can get along without certain tools, but they make the task so much easier.  Others become more valuable with time, until eventually we can’t live without them.  And some turn out to be crucial to any further progress.  They open up whole new realms of opportunities and solutions.

I've always believed that math skills provide an opportunity gateway.  However, the math one needs will depend very much upon his goals.  For instance, Calculus is needed for all forms of engineering, finance and many of the science-focused careers.  Success in Calculus will have a dramatic affect in opening up the job market.  Algebra and geometry are great problem solving topics and are also stepping stones to Calculus.  Geometry is applied in numerous careers both in the trades and at college levels.  The logic and reasoning skills are crucial to careers in political science and law.  Statistics and probability are the maths for business, economics and research.  The more math you know, the more options you have.  A student may easily discover the many careers requiring math and this alone may provide the motivation to embrace it with determination!  For example, WeUseMath.org is a non-profit website that describes the importance of mathematics and many rewarding career opportunities available to students who study math.

On another note, it is essential that students come to appreciate math as more than just a set of tools.  It’s unfortunate that we teach the fundamentals before, sometimes long before, we show students how truly useful it is.  Math can really be quite fun, like music, and quite stimulating, like science, and the fact is, math is a part of both.  But when we sever the tool from its application, we rob it of all satisfaction.  Imagine teaching art theory without actually allowing students to draw or paint!

I will develop this idea further in the next installment of this series.

Thanks for reading!

Jerry Jones, Math Teacher

Interested in having your high school student receive a practical math education by attending a class taught once or twice a week by Jerry? Go to the High School Classes page on our website for more information about the classes he and our other teachers are presenting in the upcoming school year.

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Recent Cheating on Achievement Tests Exposed

Last week recent cheating on achievement tests was brought to my attention.  Not just a little, but a lot.  It made me think about what leads a student to cheat.

*Insecurity?

*Peer pressure?

*Unreasonable performance standards?

*Unreasonable performance standards?

*An unbalanced desire to please someone?

But, in last week’s story that made national headlines, it wasn’t the students who were cheating.

It was a combination of teachers and principals in 44 of 56 public schools in Atlanta, Georgia.  Below is an excerpt from the July 6 Reuters article:  

By David Beasley

ATLANTA | Wed Jul 6, 2011 7:38pm EDT

(Reuters) - Prosecutors are weighing whether to file any criminal charges against 178 Atlanta teachers and principals who state investigators said had cheated on standardized tests to inflate student scores.

The cheating in 2009, found in 44 of the 56 Atlanta public schools examined, was prompted primarily by pressure to meet targets in a data-driven environment, a statement released by Governor Nathan Deal's office said.

"A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation existed in Atlanta Public Schools, which created a conspiracy of silence," the state report concluded. The 2009 cheating was said to include teachers erasing incorrect answers on state standardized tests.

Deal's office said on Wednesday that the decision of whether or not to prosecute would be up to district attorneys in the three Georgia counties where the educators live.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said in a statement he had appointed a senior member of his staff to "begin a thorough review of this case to determine what role our office will play in taking action on this report."

"Once the review is completed, we will make an announcement at that time," he said, without elaborating on what, if any, charges might be on the table.

Eighty-two teachers and principals have confessed to the cheating, according to the state report. Deal's office said six principals refused to answer questions.

"These principals, and 32 more, either were involved with or should have known that there was test cheating in their schools," 

In my mind, what leads to cheating by any of us is often an over investment in the outcome we want.  With the public school teachers and principals in Atlanta, it was likely a combination of job security, potential promotions, salary increases, and professional prestige that led to their involvement in this scandal. 

How do we know if we have made good things like strong test scores, grades, and post high school plans too important?  More on this in a later article.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you live in the Portland-metro area and are interested in taking a writing class from Natalie Trust, you may contact her by phone at 503-821-9133 or email at  natalie.trust@gmail.com. Complete descriptions and details of classes offered by Natalie at both west side and east side locations can be found on our home page in the spotlight at www.basicskills.net.

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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When Will I Ever Use This? Revisited

By Jerry Jones  

“Honest questions deserve honest answers.”  An effective response to the question, “When will I ever use this?” is what may be called the general answer.  There are three such responses that students usually will accept as not wishy-washy.  One answer is to compare the learning process to physical exercise.  Quite often our ability to learn and understand is strengthened by “stretching” our minds in much the same way as our muscles and reflexes are strengthened by exercise.  “No pain, no gain.”  A child who walks along a curb or a log, and tries not to fall off, is actually building skills that will later help in learning to ride a bicycle or compete in sports.  So it is with tackling difficult learning objectives.  You may never need to divide polynomials in your life’s career, but the mental muscles that you developed will serve you well in other sorts of problem-solving situations.  Students can easily relate to this.

Another answer is to remind students that there are many things in life that we are taught early, and then re-taught later on, perhaps several times.  Sometimes we forget what we have learned the first time, but later, the time it takes to relearn something that has been forgotten is much shorter than the time it took for the initial learning, and with each re-training our understanding gets stronger.  In fact, in the process, the answer to the “why?” eventually becomes obvious.  So, if this is not completely clear yet, don’t worry.  You will have a chance to learn it again later, and it will make more sense as time goes by.  This idea might surprise some learners, so citing an example for them of something they have relearned might reinforce the validity of this answer.

A third possible answer has to do with the changes in society.  In the past, a person often took a job with a company and stayed with that company until he retired.  This meant that most people could be very specialized, and only needed to have knowledge and skills related to that one profession.  Maybe it involved trigonometry or stoichiometry, and maybe it didn’t.  But our world today is much different; studies show that a typical adult today will change careers seven times during his working life.  New career fields are opening all the time and many older careers no longer exist.  Our students need to have a well-rounded education, be flexible and adaptable, and be good learners in all sorts of subjects to handle the changes in the future. 

Just don't forget to reassure them that they are capable of learning this new concept or skill. They wouldn't be in the class if they weren't ready, and you know they are up to the challenge!  Remind them that as long as they keep trying they will be able to learn!  It never hurts to show them you care and want them to succeed.

 Thanks for reading!

 Jerry Jones, Math Teacher                                       

                          

Interested in having your high school student receive a practical math education by attending a class taught once or twice a week by Jerry?  Go to the High School Classes page on our website for more information about the classes he and our other teachers are presenting in the upcoming school year.   

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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When Will I Ever Use This?

By Jerry Jones  

 

This is a question we’ve all heard more than a few times, (and perhaps one we have found ourselves asking from time to time.)  Of course, only God knows the future, and we could make a joke about not being a prophet, but I don't recommend that, because the underlying anxiety is no joke.

It’s a valid question.  There is little doubt that we all have stored information and developed skills that may never come in handy (unless we play Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit.)  Nevertheless, as a teacher who often hears this query during a lesson discussion, I would like to offer students a more satisfying answer than that.

Actually, there are many answers for this question, but, when responding, a teacher must also deal with the underlying feelings the student isn’t putting into words.  Almost without exception, there is a tone of frustration or exasperation.  Is this coming from not seeing a practical use for the topic?  Perhaps, because in the absence of years of life experience, a young person cannot even imagine needing to know something they have never used before.

However, it could be that the student doesn’t really want to know how this skill is going to be useful.  Keep in mind that students seldom, if ever, ask this question if what they are learning is easy.  After all, easy memorizing or skill growth occurs on a daily basis, almost unintentionally.  No one ever asks, “When will I ever use these music lyrics?” or “When will I ever need to snap my fingers?”   Moreover, things in school that are easily learned are gratifying because they are fun, and assure success and good grades.  This is an end in itself, and if it should become useful in the future, so much the better!

“When will I ever use this?” is probably a student’s acknowledgement that this concept or skill is more difficult than what he has been doing up until now.  He may be expressing anxiety about his ability to be successful in this challenge; or doubt as to whether this is worth his effort to understand.  It could be fear of failure, or concern about having to work too hard to make sense of something for no apparent reason.  Ultimately, the question posed is an attempt to avoid feeling dumb. 

When this question arises, and it will, we must be able to give a satisfying answer and at the same time we must be reassuring the one who asked that he is capable of being successful.  There are two different approaches to handling this situation.  The first, and perhaps the most straight-forward, is to give actual applications of the skill or facts.  This works best when we can draw from our own personal experiences.  However, this is not always the best approach, especially when the example cited is in a very narrow or specialized profession.  It winds up confirming to the student that they will never use it, and that it’s not necessary to understand.  But there is another way to respond to the question.  I’ll explain what I mean in my next article.

Thanks for reading!

Jerry Jones, Math Teacher

Interested in having your high school student receive a practical math education by attending a class taught once or twice a week by Jerry?  Go to the High School Classes page on our website for more information about the classes he and our other teachers are presenting in the upcoming school year.   

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Behavior Formula

What starts out as “good advice” often morphs into this is “God’s design” or “God’s way.” At least that’s the way we hear it. Previously I suggested three “tones” you could employ when correcting your student. Before I relate a story in which a “firm tone” was employed, one that made a big difference in an elementary student’s life, I want to underscore that what I’m suggesting is designed to promote educational accountability, not guarantee it.


Years ago AT&T coined a slogan that went like this, “The System is the Solution.” That kind of thinking has led to the creation of countless seminars and workshops on home schooling and child-rearing practices that leave you with the impression that if you attend a certain event (theirs), you’ll go home with The formula you’ve been looking for, or been missing…


In an article released earlier this month by Jane Huges, Health Correspondent for the BBC, the case was made by Oxford researchers for the cause of certain behavioral problems experienced by young children, specifically lying and stealing. The cause: they were formula fed! Some in the Christian community would use this article to guilt themselves, and others, into “proving” that God’s way works, whereas man’s way doesn’t. In other words, natural equals good, maybe even godly; technology equals bad and in some cases worldly. The solution for sin is…not Jesus, but nutrition. Right? (You can read the article yourself at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-13336986 if you’d like.)


I have to admit I like control. I like to have things “figured out.” I’m naturally drawn to systems, formulas, and “silver bullets.” But, live long enough and you’ll find that systems, formulas, and “silver bullets” typically break down and fail eventually. Below is the incident in which a “firm tone” was employed. Definitely a successful outcome, still it’s simply advice.


I once tested a fifth-grade student who did not pass. Knowing the student and family personally, I was convinced that the results of the test did not reflect his true capability. I suggested he re-test after a few weeks of review, and so a month later, he returned for a second testing session. His scores came out about the same, maybe even a little lower

With the parent’s permission, I sat down privately with him and found out what was really going on. I suspected that he was under achieving on purpose which he admitted to me. He thought that by failing the test, he would be required to go to public school which is what he wanted.


Using a firm and in this case very forceful and serious tone, I explained that no, he would not be going to public school on the basis of “failing” the achievement test. That wasn’t an option for this family. I said a third testing session would simply be scheduled, and if necessary, a fourth, etc. until his score reflected his true ability. We could continue on through the entire summer.


He passed the next test in the above-average range.


Promoting accountability through your tone will always fall somewhere between a soft delivery (support) and a firm delivery (demand). Like I said before, your tone will promote but not guarantee because no system of steps, ways, or principles can guarantee a desired result, although some approaches may make it more likely.


Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

Want to save some money on next year’s school books? Visit Exodus Books and use our discount coupon code BSAES2011 when you make your purchase. Browse their huge selection of new and used books. Exodus Books ships worldwide.

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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The Tone of Correction

Many parents, after first looking over the results of their student’s achievement test, decide to review the results with their child. Whether or not you choose to involve your student in the process, at some point you’re going to want to re-teach what they missed. I’d like to take a minute and address the tone in which this is done. This isn’t about personalities, or parental teaching styles, but about acting intentionally with the goal of promoting accountability in your student’s learning.

Some students, who seem to embody a “What, me worry?” attitude, need more than a gentle tone to get their attention. Likewise, students who soak up your every word don’t need you to follow the advice of a noted child psychologist who suggested, when speaking to a group of classroom teachers, they “not smile until Thanksgiving.” When correcting, there are at least three "tones" you may employ to effectively get your message across.

Correcting with a soft tone: Like I mentioned before, some children seem to soak up your every word. They’re out of bed early. They get started in the morning without you having to say anything. Their work is neat, legible and organized. Children like these get along fine with simple explanations. They can be corrected or re-directed with just a “Let’s try this again,” or “Here’s another way to approach this problem that might help you see the solution.”

Correcting with a medium tone: This approach is appropriate with children who have interests that are equal too, or hold a higher priority than the assignments you want them to finish. For them, a medium tone is conveyed by explaining the concept again or redirecting them to a page that explains the concept and re-doing what was missed. Adding the caveat that you or Dad will “quiz them” over this material tomorrow morning typically increases the likelihood they will learn the material.

Correcting with a firm tone: Some students take a Whatever… approach to learning. Parents with such children often look at families with “compliant” or consistently agreeable children and wonder what their secret is. And, you don’t have to look too far to find any number of home-school seminars or workshops that will tell you that if you just follow their system of steps, ways, or principles, you too can “mint” obedient children and make it to home-school magazine cover status. If only it were that simple…

In my next article, I’ll relate a story in which a firm tone made a huge difference in the life of an elementary student.

Thanks for reading!
Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you live in the Portland/Metro area, be sure to check out next year’s schedule of classes for home schoolers working at the high school level. We’ve made enrollment for one or more classes easier than ever before. Enrollment information for elementary, middle, and Friday school programs will be released soon

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Are You Home Schooling This Child?

It’s not uncommon for achievement-test results to show a student achieving in the average to well-above-average range and not reveal a learning disability. While some children have average to superior intelligence, difficulties in some or all parts of learning to read, write, and spell, and in oral and/or written expression are only observable through day-to-day home schooling. It’s through an accumulation of non-typical events and experiences that lead parents, and mothers in particular, to conclude something just isn’t right.

These children may exhibit some of the following symptoms:

• reads saw for was
• reverses b, d, p. and/or q
• skips, omits, or adds words when reading aloud
• reads well but can hardly spell a word
• writes 41 for 14
• doesn’t know today the multiplication tables that were learned yesterday
• is an expert in life on Mars but can’t add 2+2
• starts talking in the middle of an idea
• calls “breakfast” “lunch” and confuses “yesterday” with “tomorrow”
• can remember the television ads but not his/her own phone number
• a good child, quiet and polite, but doesn’t learn
• loses his/her homework, misplaces the book. forgets what the assignment is
• likes routines, is upset by changes and is reluctant to try anything new
• doesn’t follow directions
• is distracted by the least little thing
• penmanship difficult and labored and/or illegible


Are you home schooling a child with several of these symptoms? If so, your student may have an undiagnosed learning disability. A weakness in auditory, visual, or kinesthetic function – or in the integration between these sensory modalities - prevents learning language skills when taught in the conventional manner. Disorganization in visual or auditory function results in reversals and transpositions in reading or pronouncing words and in spelling.

If you’ve got a question or concern related to the above, we’d like to help. Email us your question, and we’ll post a response on our community forum.

Thanks for reading!
Curt Bumcrot, MRE

Check out our one-month intensive summer school program for 8-12 year olds starting in July. This program will be led by Jo Edwards, our special needs teacher, and will focus on handwriting, spelling, and reading.

Achievement testing season is here! For those of you who live in the Northwest and will be testing this year, go to our Achievement Testing page to see our various options and test locations. Our popular practice test book, Achieving Peak Performance is used nationwide and will help your child do his or her best on a standardized test

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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How Not to Discuss Test Results

Communicating achievement-test results to your children is a delicate task. If done well, it can have a positive impact on their state of motivation. For most children who ask the question directly, “How did I do,” a deeper question often lies below the surface.


Have you ever had this experience, or one like it?


The lab results are in. The doctor says “over all everything looks good. Cholesterol levels good, blood sugar fine, triglyceride’s number is improving…” You’re feeling good for a few moments and then he says, “I think, however, it might be a good idea to run a BMP test again in six months…”


Or, someone in a leadership position says to you,


“We’re really glad you’re part of the team here. Your assignments are carried out promptly, you have great rapport with your colleagues, you communicate the department’s vision well, we’re definitely on the same page, but, there is one thing…”


One thing… not a big thing mind you, nothing really serious, nothing truly to concern yourself with, but there is one thing…


A parent talks to their child about the results of their achievement test and says,


“You did a great job! Your extra study of comma usage really paid off and boosted your language mechanics score. Memorizing your math facts made the computation test easy to complete and you had time left over to check your work. But I did notice one thing…”


It’s part of our makeup to pay undue attention to that one thing (and what it is really isn’t the issue) and allow it to negate all the positive things said, the things that affirm that what we have done is acceptable. The slightest bit of doubt can sometimes derail us in a significant way. Some students are less susceptible to this condition than others, but all are affected to one degree or another. Down deep all of us want affirmation.


When it comes to communicating achievement-test results to your children, assuming you decide to, the message your children mainly want to hear from you is that you’re pleased with them. There is always next year to work on what they missed. Hearing this from you is important. Achievement testing is not a terminal situation.

Thanks for reading

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Stress and Achievement Testing


Many consider stress to be only a negative factor in life, especially for kids when it comes to taking an achievement test. To be sure, stress can be negative, really negative. Consider the following true story:


A number of years ago a primary-age student came to a teacher at a private school to take her annual achievement test. Her parents arranged for her to have a private exam, and for the first half of the exam things seemed to progress normally. After the break, the student re-entered the testing room and was very quiet. Soon she began to tear up and sniffle. By the end of the test she ran out of the room, embraced her parents, and began to cry.


Just drama or something more? Here’s the story behind the story. Her parents, like most, wanted her to put out a good effort so that her results would reflect what she had learned the previous nine months. I suppose they also saw her performance as a reflection of their teaching and parenting. But, they said three things which progressively set her off. The first was that if she didn’t pass the test, she would have to go to school. While some kids might consider this to be a reward to put some space between themselves and an overbearing parent, that wasn’t true in her case. She desperately wanted to be home-schooled. Secondly, they told her they would be sending her to the private school where the teacher who was giving the test taught. And finally, they said the examiner would be her new teacher. In her mind this would be sheer torture and it sent her over the edge.


Were they really going to send her to school? No. They just overdid it. They stressed her out. What do I mean by this? First of all, know that a certain amount of stress is necessary in life for anything to happen. A few generalities that all kids, home schooled or otherwise, should realize by the end of high school: If getting good grades are important to you, you’ll need to study. If you want a raise where you’re working and the possibility for one exists, you’ll need to work hard (and get noticed). If it’s absolutely essential to get to that appointment on time, you’ll need to leave early. Likewise, if grades aren’t important, don’t study. “F’s” are fine. If you don’t care about keeping your job, don’t show up for work. And if that appointment isn’t important, sleep in…


The principle I want to leave you with is that stress in and of itself isn’t the problem. It’s the level or degree of stress that you have to watch. The unusual thing about stress is that when there is too little of it present, the results will not be good, and when there is too much of it present, the same will also be true. We will have trouble concentrating and sometimes completely shut down.


Keeping the level of stress balanced when it comes to preparing your child for his or her achievement test is the key—not too much, but not too little.


Thanks for reading!
Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Your Best Score Now


Mistakes happen. A private test I had just given was now scored and the results were ready to be presented to the parent. At Basic Skills, our normal process is to discuss the results with the parent apart from the student, but in this case I made an exception to the process. I love to deliver good news. With this high school student’s total percentile score at 87, he achieved among the top 13 percent of the nation. I wanted to affirm him in the presence of his mother as I shared the good news. After saying, "Your son did a great job!" I could tell by the frown on her face that she didn't see it that way.

The next few moments were awkward for me as I, “Mr. test expert, was reprimanded for giving a “false” interpretation of her son’s “poor” performance. Relief came quickly though as the mother’s attention turned away from me and toward her son. Her piercing comments to him suggested school would continue into the summer until he scored up to his potential.

The numbers on an achievement test report are both objective and subjective. Objectively, a percentile rank of 87 does place the student in the high-average range. Subjectively though, scores placing the student in the high-average range may or may not represent a “good job.” That is a value judgment. Western music great, Willie Nelson, when describing his golf game, said, “Par is whatever I say it is.” No one was going to argue with him. It was, after all, his own private course, or so the story goes.

For some children, achieving in the average range may represent a good job, perhaps even an exceptional achievement. Many factors should be considered when interpreting and assigning value to test scores--factors like the child’s ability, work ethic, home environment, etc. One thing is certain though. Your interpretation, your value judgment, your words, carry tremendous weight with your children.

Thanks for Reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Why Home School a Dyslexic Child?

By Jo Edwards, MS

Dyslexic children (also Specific Language Disabled, Learning Disabled) require direct, systematic, and individualized instruction in reading and spelling. Home schooling can provide solid remediation and can allow the parent to see directly the progress of the child.


The most obvious benefit to home schooling is that it allows for the necessary individualization in all subject areas, including reading, spelling, composition, and comprehension. It allows students to focus on areas that interest them and allows parents to develop lessons based on those interests. Home-schooled children are free from measuring themselves against peers without learning differences. They can work at an individualized pace in a program which directly addresses unique needs. Home schooling may provide an alternative to the premium on speed, conformity, and rigid scheduling that may be emphasized by many more traditional educational settings. Home schooling allows for enriching experiences on a daily basis: cooking, music, field trips and hands-on learning.

To get started you need a thorough understanding of your child’s reading, spelling, writing, and comprehension abilities. If you live in the Northwest, you may wish to consult with Basic Skills to get a complete evaluation which can diagnose dyslexia. We can provide specific recommendations. The report will include descriptions of the child’s reading and spelling abilities and offer specific educational recommendations. Be aware that there is no magic bullet for dyslexia and that remediation is best achieved through structured direct language instruction.

Language remediation often requires daily spelling and oral reading. Spelling generally should move from the letter or syllable to word, phrase and sentence dictation during a single lesson. The lesson should include new words displaying a similar spelling pattern as well as review words and recently taught sight words. Techniques such as writing on a rough surface or in the air, clapping syllables, using cards to make words, arranging written syllables into words, and direct instruction concerning mouth positions for language sounds provide a multisensory basis for learning. Students should read aloud on a daily basis from a book which they can read with relative accuracy. Before the student reads aloud, he/she should review the passage and ask for help with words that may cause difficulty. Parents should select challenging words from the passage and explain their pronunciation and meaning before the student reads aloud. A warm-up reading of words and phrases on flashcards or from lists is often useful. Reading errors should be recorded to serve as a basis for future instruction. (Orton-Gillingham based and/or multi sensory structured language approaches are a good resource for this teaching style.)

Home schooling is a viable and rewarding option for parents committed to securing an excellent education for their dyslexic child. At Basic Skills Assessment and Education Services, we provide support services for families choosing this option for their dyslexic/special needs student. In addition to the evaluation services already mentioned, we provide specialized tutoring and two or four day a week classroom options. We also offer a summer school program for four weeks in July providing intensive Orton-Gillingham instruction, as mentioned above, designed for students with specific language disabilities (dyslexia, learning disabilities, etc.) Feel free to contact us with your questions about these specialized educational services.

(Adapted from “Why Home School a Dyslexic Child”, Fact Sheet #56, International Dyslexia Association.)

Thanks for reading!
Jo Edwards, MS

Jo Edwards holds both BA and MS Ed. degrees in special education and is a licensed teacher. In addition to home schooling her children through high school, she has taught in public school and eleven years at a small Christian school. Her specialty is teaching in a multi-age classroom that includes students with special needs. Click the following links more information about the PDP, ILP and summer school programs she services.

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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The Testing Controversy Continues

Spring is just three weeks away.  Group achievement testing for home schoolers begins in earnest here in the Northwest next month.  While what is written below may not directly apply to those of you living in other states and countries, you may still find the information helpful.

Now that the CAT 5 is out of print and the Oregon Department of Education has told ESD’s not to accept it as a means of complying with state law (even though the Oregon Administrative Rules identifying acceptable tests have not changed, but changes are on the way), we have taken the natural step in adopting the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) listed in the current version of the administrative rules.  Families planning on testing have two choices if using our testing service: whether to use the New Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS)/TerraNova 1 Survey edition with the optional Plus tests or simply use the Survey Edition only. Related to this first question is a second one:  What is the difference between the CAT 5 administered in prior years and this new test.

First of all, the CTBS/Terra Nova 1 Survey is adequate to meet state testing requirements for both Oregon and Washington.  If all you want to do is meet state testing requirements, the survey will do the job.  The areas measured on the Survey are reading, language, and math.  These three tests when combined result in a Total Score percentile rank.  To see what this report looks like, click here.    

If you’re looking to gain more information about your student’s grasp of additional concepts and content areas, then the optional Plus tests will provide that information.  In addition to three survey subtests, students will work through tests in the following areas: vocabulary, language mechanics, spelling, mathematics, and word analysis (grades 2 and 3 only).  To see what this report looks like, click here.

Compared to the CAT 5, this new survey takes about the same amount of time to complete.  Adding the optional plus tests adds another hour to an hour and one-half to the student’s testing time. 

One distinct difference is that the language and reading tests are combined into one test that takes about an hour to complete.  Previously on the CAT 5 they were separated.

Another difference from the CAT 5 is that the mathematics test is divided into two tests.  On one of the two tests, students in grades three on up are permitted to use a calculator.  The kind of calculator the student may use is not specified.  If you decide you want your student to use one, make sure it’s one the student is familiar with.

As far as the optional plus tests are concerned, the look and the feel of these tests is very similar to the CAT 5.

One final distinction between the two tests is the increase in the number of items that require the use of higher level thinking skills.  To extend your student’s  thinking beyond the typical remember-recite drill of most textbooks, grab a copy of How to Ask Questions That Matter from our website.  It’s available as an instant download.  Additionally, the Achieving Peak Performance series, also available from our website, are excellent practice tests designed to help your student perform his best!

Hopefully the above has answered some of your questions.  If not, please send us an email and we’ll respond as soon as we can.

Thanks for reading,

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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When Disobedience Brings Great Reward

The threat and delivery of a swat for misbehavior is still used in many homes. I’m supposing most private Christian schools have now abandoned this practice, but like I said in a previous article, it was a disciplinary practice utilized in a private Christian school that employed me as a second grade teacher. It was designed to keep the boys in line. And it did for awhile. But like most school disciplinary policies, there was a backup plan if it stopped working. If the swat did not have its desired result, the teacher could send the student to the vice principal’s office. Like room 101 in George Orwells book, 1984, no one returned smiling.

After many “go-rounds” with one particular student, I finally decided it was this time to call upon the vice principal for “sterner” measures. I escorted the student to the V.P.’s office.

When he returned, the day proceeded without incident. However, the next day a different student seemed to go out of his way to “push my buttons”, which he did, and for which he also was sent to “Vince.” Later in the week a third student boy required the same action, and then I overheard a conversation between students that went something like this: “It’s not so bad, it only hurts for a minute, you can take it, I dare you…”

What was intended to be “punishment” for oppositional behavior had actually become the means of obtaining reward: membership in an “elite” group.

So what am I saying? I’m saying that I didn’t really understand an aspect of motivation, motivation that is extrinsic in nature. The better we understand it, the more effective we can be in leading our students to accomplish our educational goals.

So what is it exactly? Essentially, the weaker the relationship to the reward and the activity necessary to securing it, the more extrinsic this motivation is. And the more extrinsic motivation is, the more likely it will not deliver the desired results in a dependable, consistent manner over time.

Four examples of extrinsic forms of motivation are:

• Rewarding your student with money for doing their work
• Using “time out” to manage bad behavior
• Turning in all your algebra assignments to pass the course
• Requiring your child to do his chores before going outside.

As parents, we all use and are influenced by extrinsic motivation. However, like I said, the weaker the relationship between the reward and activity necessary to securing it, you can count on it failing sooner or later.

The four examples of extrinsic motivation cited above may work for awhile, but likely will fail you eventually.

• Get ready to pay more as your child gets older. I’ve heard quotes of $50.00 paid out for each “A” earned for college classes taken by a home schooler.
• Some kids may like to be “timed out”. Then they can use their technology, read, or daydream.
• Doing algebra assignments to pass an algebra class may not be a big deal to some kids. Their thinking is, “When will I ever use this?” (Don’t let on that they may have a point…).
• “Going outside” may not be very desirable to the sedentary types.

One client of ours used a form of extrinsic motivation with her son when he came in for his annual achievement test. The deal she struck was if he checked his work during the test, she would take him to get an ice cream cone at Dairy Queen after it was over. That appeal may work with most seven-year-olds (assuming they like ice-cream), but it won’t carry the same weight with your average twelve-year-old, and will likely be responded to with an eye-roll if suggested to your sixteen-year-old.

I’m not saying we should discard the use of extrinsic motivation. We just need to be aware of its limitations. There are other factors that can be put to work to help us reach the educational goals we have for our children. I’ll discuss them in later articles.

Thanks for reading.

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

We’re pleased to announce the release our new interactive e booklet, How to Ask Questions that Matter. Besides helping you drill down deeper into your student’s understanding of the content you’re covering, it will also help you prepare your student to answer the kinds of questions that appear in the new Terra Nova 1 test that has replaced the CAT 5. Higher level thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are explained and may be practiced.

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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How Can I Make My Homeschooler Learn?  Answer…

This is a common question that surfaces especially after the holidays when the Christmas tree is down and the New Year’s Day celebrations are now a memory.  In January it’s dreary and cold in most parts of the country.  Somebody is getting the flu or just getting over it.  Many parents are in recovery mode and feeling exhausted from all of the shopping, the preparation leading up to the big day, and any number of family gatherings.  

So, how do I get my kids to reinvest in their learning after being off schedule for two or three weeks?  The question is often expressed as “How can I make my child learn?” especially when my own enthusiasm is pretty low and the interest level of their textbooks is pretty thin to begin with?

Answer:  You can’t!  You can’t make your child learn.  Or anyone else for that matter. 

Even though I “loaded” the above question with the word “make”, I know that some of you may think that statement’s still a little strong or completely wrong .  Other readers may agree somewhat especially if they’ve raised three or more children.  Especially if these children are now teenagers.   

So, am I saying that there is nothing we can do to effectively motivate our children to learn?  No.  There are several actions we can take and environmental factors we can control that will help us reach the educational goals we have for our children.

Often, though, we misunderstand how the actions we’re taking are actually influencing the results we’re getting.   

This was brought home to me many years ago when I was a second grade teacher in a private Christian school.  I know some of you may find the following story offensive or the actions I describe unthinkable, maybe on the barbaric side, but like I said, this took place many years ago.  At the risk of getting some “unsubscribe me’s”, here’s what took place.

I was one of five second-grade teachers.  Each spring we had a teacher’s meeting where we discussed how to divide up the incoming 150 students from our first grade staff.  Some of these kids had already established “reputations” and “personalities”, some good and others not so good.    The meeting ran like sports-league draft.  In the “first round”, the kids were initially assigned a teacher.  In “round two”, the students were “traded” among the various classes based on academic and behavioral considerations.  We were attempting to even each teacher’s load and arrive at a good match between students and teachers alike.

As one of two men teaching at this level, my class roster was populated with a large number of the more “active” boys.  They knew I would exert a firm hand, and a “swat” with a dowel for insubordination. This form of punishment was encouraged by the administration.  As teachers, we were “obeying” Proverbs in our use of the rod and our classrooms were running smoothly just as expected…for awhile.   Then something totally unexpected took place which helped me better understand the difference between reward and punishment.  More on this in my next article.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE 

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Not If We Grade, But How We Grade

Some home schoolers hold the belief that grading and learning don’t mix, that grades and grading, being a fairly recent innovation used by schools, should be avoided at all costs. Over the years, teachers have been accused of “teaching to the test” to gain professional recognition and merit pay. Some instructors have actually been found guilty of tampering with student’s answers on standardized tests to insure certain outcomes were achieved.


While all of the above may be true to some degree, “grades and grading” are still the standards by which students are evaluated at middle and high school levels. It’s the standard means by which GPA’s (grade point averages) are established. Presenting a one-page transcript to a college admission’s staff member that lists courses taken and grades earned makes their job easier when it comes to considering your student for admission. GPA’s and SAT scores are often combined and serve as the way colleges and universities extend financial awards and scholarships to students they believe will succeed at their institutions.


The question then for most of us, certainly at the high school level, is not if we will grade, but how we will grade. It’s important to evaluate your student’s work in such a way that the grade earned reflects effort and performance.


Let’s consider math.


For elementary age students, first through sixth grade, formal testing or grading on a weekly basis is not necessary. In one sense, every lesson is a “test” in which you can decide to re-teach or provide more practice for concepts they have not understood to your satisfaction. We do recommend using the ELO Quick Assessment for your student’s grade level. Having a copy now will alert you to what you should be covering this winter. It will also provide you with a sequential, objective assessment tool by which you can measure and confirm your student’s progress when you test him later this spring.


For junior high and high school level students, grading math is a different matter. Here is a principle to keep in mind that makes transcripting your student’s progress simple: Grade on a quarter system.


Let’s say your student’s math book contains 120 lessons. At the end of the first quarter which is typically nine weeks in length from the time you start, lessons 1 through 30, including tests, should be completed. The grade earned for this first quarter should be seen as a grade in progress. That is, it’s not recorded on the transcript.


At the end of the second quarter, lessons 31 through 60 including tests should be completed. Typically the grade for this second quarter is averaged with the grade of the first quarter to get a semester grade, the one that goes on the transcript and is part of the permanent record. Some parents decide to weigh the second quarter a little more heavily than the first if the student is performing better. Since most math concepts build on previous instruction, and if the student is showing improvement and a higher degree of mastery, this is certainly an acceptable decision.


So what might this look like? Here’s an example. Let’s say your student is studying Algebra 1 this year. His daily work combined with test scores comes out to a 73%, a “C.” He knows he can do better. In the second quarter, he puts more time into this course and makes sure he understands the concepts before taking each test. His strategy and effort pay off. In the second quarter he raises his overall grade twelve percentage points to an 85%, a strong “B”. With strict averaging of both quarters, however, his semester grade results in a 79%, a high “C”, but a “C” nonetheless.


So, do we simply let the numbers speak for themselves and put a “C” down for his first semester? In my way of thinking, the grade isn’t exclusively based upon or about “the numbers.” it’s about what has been learned and achieved. I would justify giving him a “B” by weighting the second quarter more, maybe 60%.


Here’s what the formula looks like:


Previously weighing each quarter 50%
50% of 73 percent (.5 times 73) is 36.5
50% of 85 percent (.5 times 85) is 42.5

Final Grade: 79%, a C

Now weighting the first quarter 40%, the second 60%
40% of 73 percent (.4 times 73) is 29.2
60% of 85 percent (.6 times 85) is 51

In fact, if the grade I thought the student earned and I wanted to give was a “B,” I wouldn’t hesitate to adjust the system further to arrive there. Academic legalists, whose notion of “fairness” I may have offended, might cry “foul” in light of my actions, but hey, if not this, it will be something else.


Thanks for reading!
Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Fraudulent High School Diplomas??

You’ve seen them, and so have I.   We’ve all received ads delivered to our in boxes suggesting we can be awarded (read that purchase) various degrees. Once we possess the degree, we can move easily into the school or profession of our choice. Barriers to entrance are flattened. Diplomas mills, as these are called, are everywhere. And the U.S. Department of Education is taking action!

Effective 2011, the U.S. Department of Education is requiring colleges that receive federal funds to adopt procedures to determine the validity of a student’s high school diploma when the student applies for Federal Aid through the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

Does this new rule apply to students who are home schooled? No, which is good news! If you plan to complete a FAFSA this winter, we recommend that students who are home schooled check “home schooled” to avoid delays in the processing of their application.

What about students enrolled in a diploma program? For the time being, we also recommend checking the “home schooled” box simply because there is bound to be confusion as colleges establish “procedures” and the U.S. Department of Education creates “lists” identifying “valid” (not necessarily accredited) diploma program options. Everybody knows (even though some are unwilling to admit) that bureaucracies are not known for their speed and adroitness.

For those of you completing a college application (not to be confused with a FAFSA) and are enrolled in a diploma program such as NCCA we recommend identifying the school you are graduating from. FAFSA’s and college applications are separate entities.

Among the reasons colleges like to see that a student has received a diploma from a legitimate diploma program are:

•the student’s academic record is presented clearly and concisely by means of a transcript
•increased credibility of the student’s record of achievement
•the ease of being able to determine scholarships the student may be eligible for based upon the transcript’s GPA and SAT or ACT scores


In addition to the above, many parents decide to enroll into a diploma program in order to:

•benefit from the life experience of a mentor who has gone “before you”
•receive professional, academic advice
•request letters of reference from the student’s academic advisor
•help ease the entrance into college


Hopefully, the above information clarifies the recent action taken by the U.S. Department of Education. Expect additional communications as this new policy is implemented.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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The End of Home Schooling Part 2

It's been awhile since I wrote part 1 of The End of Home Schooling so you may want to read it in our archives (click here) to understand the context of the following.  

So, who did or should the graduates have identified with?  Our speaker gave them a few moments to ponder the question and shocked them with the suggestion that they identify with as "Kevin", the homeless man.  

Was our speaker crazy? Had he forgotten who he was speaking to?  These graduates' parents had sacrificed to give them the best education they knew how.  They had invested their time (teaching them formally and informally), their money (books, curriculum, etc.), had taught them right from wrong, and had read the Bible to them regularly.  

But that was his point.  

No one wants Kevin's life.  No one wants to grow up in a dysfunctional family or be around dysfunctional family members.  Addiction brings pain to the addict and those closest to him or her.  But having the pedigree of the girl our speaker described may actually be a source of spiritual danger if we forget the end or purpose of home schooling.   

Around the same time our graduation ceremony was taking place, another was taking place on the East Coast.  The speaker was addressing the graduating class of the Christian high school he was years before expelled from.  I loved reading about it.  The amazing thing was that he was raised in a very loving and godly family.  His grandparents and grandfather in particular were Christian leaders on an international scale.  He attended a conservative Christian school.  In spite of all these advantages, he went off the rails and got himself into serious trouble.  He was kicked both out of school and out of his home, taken away in a police car.  He drifted for a long time.  But here he was, renewed in his faith, and speaking to students from his former high school.  The speaker was Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham.  

The end of home schooling in my mind is helping our children participate in a vital relationship with Jesus Christ.  You might be thinking, of course, we "know" that.  Our kids came to Christ in Sunday school, or Awana, or we led them to the Lord ourselves.  But the problem is that many of us left our gospel focus when our children accepted Christ and substituted "character development" or raising modern knights (or princesses) or establishing a Biblical Worldview in its place.  Jesus got bumped, and the above things, good as they might be, became ultimate things and took center stage in our home-schooling efforts.  

The spiritual danger of having many of the above advantages is that it's easy to shift our focus away from Christ and our daily need for His grace. In fact, our very obedience can stand in the way of knowing Him. A character in a book by Flannery O' Conner put it this way, "that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin." In other words, by focusing on keeping the rules we cease seeing the Scriptures as first and foremost a revelation of Jesus Christ and often look at the Bible as an instruction manual for living "our best life now" or something like that. The switch is often subtle and gradual.

So, when our speaker appealed to our graduates to identify with Kevin, he was saying that humility, brought about by brokenness, leads to receiving mercy and grace, both essential to our growth as Christians. Or, put another way by The Old White Guy, "the most dangerous thing in the lives of Christians is their obedience when they know they are being obedient, and the best gift we have is our sin, when we know we are sinning."

Thanks for reading!
Curt Bumcrot, MRE

Looking for a great children's Bible story book that put's Christ and the gospel in the center? Check out The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. You can purchase the book only as well as a deluxe edition (with audio) at www.exodusbooks.com. Receive a 5% discount if you purchase it (or any product) online or in the store by using our coupon code which is BSAES2010. I think you'll enjoy it.

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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The End of Home Schooling

OK. So what am I talking about? By end, I could mean finished or over due to home schooling being outlawed or made illegal. But I’m not talking about this use of the word.

Some home educators might think I mean the end of home schooling, and now the beginning of home education. They think it would be best to eliminate the terms “school or schooling” from our vocabulary altogether when it comes to describing what takes place in our homes. Their position often represents an us (school is where you send your children away, and we don’t do that) verses them (those who don’t understand the difference between school and education, but they would if they would just attend the right seminars, the ones we in the “us” camp attend) kind of thinking. I’m not talking about that either.

I am talking about end, and by using this word, I mean the purpose, or expected result of engaging in this form of schooling, (oops, or education…).

In other words, what are we doing this for?

While most of us are busy doing it, doing it, doing it, for nine months of the year, there are two times when the Why am I doing this? question especially surfaces: at the end of the school year around the time of graduation and just prior to the start of the new school year. So, here we are at one of those times. With just a week or two left before beginning the new school year, I want to encourage you to think about why you are home schooling again this year. As a way of stimulating some thought about this, I want to reflect a little on our most recent NCCA graduation ceremony.

Each year when we hold our ceremony, we invite a guest to speak to our graduating class. This year’s speaker, a home school father and pastor, began his talk by contrasting two people. Then he posed a question to the graduates.

Here’s a paraphrase of the two people he contrasted:

On a weekly basis, he sees a man who comes to an outreach ministry for support and help. The visit always begins a little awkwardly-- the man smells and looks like he just arrived from a campsite. Actually that’s pretty close to the truth; hours before he was dozing in a sleeping bag. He and his wife are homeless. He suffers the after effects of drug addiction both physically and mentally. In fact, he may still be abusing, still caught in the cycle of starting and stopping and starting and stopping. They talk awhile and afterwards pray together. His need for God is great, and he knows it.

In contrast is a girl around seventeen or eighteen. She comes from a stable and loving family that enjoys a comfortable standard of living. Her parents have invested deeply into her life. She’s benefited by being home schooled and attending a private Christian school the last two years. She is a good student, respectful, and well-liked. She’ll be attending college next year.

After a few moments, our speaker posed the following question to the graduates: “Who do you identify with?” The range of expressions on the graduates’ faces seemed to suggest they thought his question was too weird to respond to or that he was just joking.

He wasn’t joking; he was going somewhere with it.

I’ll give you the crux of the question in my next article as well as tie it in with the larger question about the end of home schooling.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

Does your elementary-age child resist opening his grammar book? If so, you don’t have to look far for the reason: it’s long, boring, and looks all too familiar to last year’s grammar book. For all he knows, it is last year’s book with a different cover! Looking for something to replace, or at least provide a break to the tedium? Check out our new product, Grammar Bytes.

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Testing Controversy: Beware

Because we have received numerous calls and emails regarding the use of the CAT 5 test as an approved test, I wanted to make you aware of an action taken by the Oregon Department of Education, and hopefully clear up some confusion.

After August 15, 2010, the Department of Education has determined that the CAT 5 no longer qualifies as an approved test that home schoolers may use to comply with the rules regulating home schooling. The basis for their decision is that the publisher, CTB McGraw-Hill, is no longer producing this test thus rendering it no longer “one of the two most recent versions” as required by the administrative rules. In other words, if you test using the CAT 5 on or before August 15, you’re OK and in compliance. After the 15th, you’re not in compliance and potentially not OK. Actually, all testing, regardless of publisher, is to be completed no later than August 15th according to the administrative rules.

Does Basic Skills test home schoolers after August 15? Of course. In fact we test home schoolers year round because many parents simply want to know how their children are doing and they don’t follow a typical nine-month school year. They’re not testing to simply comply with state law, they’re testing for other reasons which I discuss in our Peak Performance Products.

While we will be switching over to the Terra Nova 1 test once our license is approved, we will continue to offer the CAT 5 as long as supplies last. As long as supplies last is the real issue from our point of view. The CAT 5 is, and will always remain, one of two most recent versions simply because the publisher stopped creating the CAT series with version 6. If CTB/McGraw-Hill came out with a version 7, then CAT 5 would drop to third place.

So, what should you do if you find yourself “not in compliance” as of August 16th? Keep your “fingers crossed” and hope you won’t get caught? “Getting caught” is not the real point anymore than going forty-five miles per hour in a thirty-five miles per hour zone is. Safety is the real issue, and when it comes to testing, having a paper trail that an achievement test provides is justification that “we are doing well enough to be left alone.”

Here are three steps we suggest you take:

• First, give us a call and schedule an appointment to have your child take an achievement test. Having a test date and time settled makes your call to the ESD easier when telling them you’re aware you missed the deadline, but you’ve made a timely arrangement to correct the situation.

• Second, call the ESD and ask if they will accept the CAT 5. Even the publisher of this test is scoring and reporting results through June 2011 in recognition that many schools around the nation will continue to use it until supplies are no longer available.

• Third, upon request by your ESD, submit your results.

If you need a phone number for any ESD in the state, don’t hesitate to ask us when making your appointment. I have found that almost without exception, officials from ESD’s and the Oregon Department of Education have been respectful and are simply just doing their job. This is not the time to take an oppositional or combative posture.

I hope you find the above helpful. I just wanted to keep you in the “information loop.”

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

Interested in a non-achievement test assessment tool you can use at home? The ELO Quick Assessment is a popular choice among home schoolers nationwide. It’s available as a hard copy which can be mailed to you as well as an instant download. Check out samples here.

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Remembering Sono Harris

                                   Sono Harris, Joyful Mother of Children

For twenty-one years Basic Skills presented the Winter Home Schooling Workshop. Sono Harris was among the many speakers who made regular presentations. Sadly for us, on July 4, Sono passed away after battling cancer.

My wife Jenny and I met Gregg and Sono in the early 80's when the home school movement was just beginning. While Sono was in the habit of saying "no" to a number of invitations to speak at various functions and events, she always said "yes" to our conference.

Many mothers came simply to hear her. While the men had something worth listening too, they were, after all, still men and did not (or could not) relate or address the topics these mothers needed to hear, to where they were living. While all of our speakers were respected, appreciated, and their expertise recognized and helpful, Sono was all of the above but more importantly, loved.

In the early 90's she addressed basic, practical topics. But as the home school movement grew, her children as well everyone else's grew up with it and her focused changed.

Mothers came not so much to hear her teach how to do something, but how to live. Sono filled with them with hope, and that's what they needed. Many were ready to quit and were tired. But just being around her helped them stay the course. She was gracious, and she lifted spirits. She shared insights that could only be truly understood as spoken by one mother and wife to other mothers and wives. They listened to her because she was completely invested in whatever she was involved in.

I think of Sono when I read the kingdom parable described in Matthew 13:44. "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy, went and sold all he had and bought the field." She was like that merchant. She held nothing back when it came to her Lord, family, and again, to whatever she committed to. She was, as one of the titles of a talk she gave, a "Joyful Mother of Children." She invested deeply and completely.

Because of this, her life experiences were rich. She had a way of pulling back the curtain of her life just enough and then inviting the mothers in her seminars to get a glimpse. She related in such a way to those she spoke to that at times it was like having a personal conversation with her. She had the ability to distill ideas into something her listeners could easily take in and remember. If she felt she needed to present a correction (attitude, point of view, etc.), she did so in a way that her listeners did not feel scolded or reprimanded.

As I mentioned before, in her later presentations her topics and focus changed. Near the end our twenty-one years of home school conferences, she spoke more about the difficult issues of life that she and other mothers had in common. Mothers felt she identified with their struggles.

I remember one talk she gave which was titled, "An Anchor for the Soul" in which she introduced her presentation by speaking about the desire most wives and mothers have for stability. She then spent the rest of her session talking about change and in particular suffering. She said "motherhood is about change in a progressively painful direction." She was talking about the separation we experience with our children as we move through the stages of life." All of us go through this.

At the end of this particular session, she posed the following questions, "What am I to do with this, how am I to manage this? How am I to handle this suffering, loss, and pain." She talked about "increasing the sacrifices we make (as mothers) while reducing the expectation of immediate returns." She said, "It's about spending all that you have, and letting go. When we embrace God's will, everything changes."

In referring to the kingdom parable described in Matthew 13:44, she said the key word was "bought." We must buy the field. Often we think the field God wants us to buy will be attractive and pleasurable, but it's often bleak, with trouble, pain, suffering, and loss. But there is treasure in that field. The loss and suffering we experience drives us to the only dependable anchor for our souls, Jesus Christ. That is where our suffering finds its greatest meaning.

For Sono, Jesus was that priceless treasure, and now she is enjoying his presence in person. Sono Harris was and is a joyful mother of children.

Thank you for reading.
Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you'd like to make a donation to help the Harris family during this difficult time, an account has been set up at West Coast Bank. Donations can be made at any branch in Oregon and Washington. The account number is 1141007201 under Sono Sato Harris.

To read more about the life of this remarkable wife and mother, go to www.joshharris.com.

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Learning Disabilities: What not to do

Deny anything is wrong.


Rationalize by telling yourself it will go away in time. Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t.


I want to tell you a story about a student who was struggling to learn to read. It was my fourth year as a teacher, but my first at a private school in the northwest. I was faithfully implementing a curriculum written by a major Christian publisher. It wasn’t working for him. At the age of nine, this student had been retained twice, and when he entered my class, he could read, or maybe I should say, could recognize only one word.


So, I went to a seminar presented by the founder of this publisher hoping to get some help. In a roomful of educators and principals of Christian schools, I raised the question: What can I do to help a student with a learning disability?


The room went silent.


He seemed irritated with my question and with great confidence, he announced to me and the rest of the room that there was no such thing as a learning disability, and if there was, it was rare. End of discussion. I sat there, taking my reprimand like a “good Christian” all the while thinking to myself, what is his problem? Is he in denial or what? Was he afraid to admit that his one size fits all reading curriculum might not work for everyone and so jeopardize the building of his textbook empire? Did he think learning disabilities were simply labels manufactured by public schools so they could collect federal funds? While I have my differences the public system, I knew what I was seeing, and it wasn’t the first time that I and some really smart and compassionate teachers, both public and private, had encountered a student who needed something more than just drill, drill, and more drill.


His closing the door on the question I raised fueled my increasing low opinion of the reading series I was asked to use. The stories were often boring. The illustrations were sometimes silly and bizarre bringing out laughter among many of the kids in the classroom. In the case of my struggling reader, I pitched the reading series and pursued the services of a specialist to help me create a plan and strategy that had a chance of working.


A person with a learning disability has difficulty taking in, remembering, and expressing information. You can think of the learning process as five steps:


1. Taking in information through the senses. (See the word “cat.”)
2. Determine what it means. (In the case of reading the word “cat,” decode the letter symbols, say the word, and interpret its meaning.)
3. File it into memory. (Remember the sound/symbol relationship.)
4. Later, withdraw it from memory and remember it. (See the word “cat” in the next sentence, recognize and read it correctly.)
5. Communicate it back to the outside world through some form of expression such as writing or speaking. (Say the word “cat” when you see it in print.)

For someone who has a learning disability, there is a breakdown somewhere in these steps. It’s like turning on your computer, but somehow Windows doesn’t load completely and it freezes up. For a student with a learning disability that is related to reading, spelling, or writing, tasks that should be manageable often feel overwhelming or impossible. Smart students often shut down, and then the labels of unmotivated, under- achiever, lazy, etc. are misapplied. And worse yet, the students begin to believe them themselves.

The first step to resolving a learning problem is to acknowledge there is one. This is an especially difficult step because of fear of the unknown. The problem may be developmental (an issue of maturity) and disappear in time, but then again, it may not.

The second step is to get the assistance of a qualified professional to help sort through and pinpoint the possible causes behind the problem. Then solutions can be considers.

As home schoolers, we tend to be a resourceful and independent group. The attitude often expressed is, “We don’t need the ‘system,’ we can handle everything at home, thank you”… However, this very strength of independence and resourcefulness can lead to pride and become a major weakness. When needing help, we mistakenly see it as a weakness, inadequacy, or failure on our part. Increasing drills, adding workbook pages, working longer, and even changing the curriculum won’t provide the relief and answers we’re looking for.

An expert opinion from a trusted professional can be an invaluable help to a home school family with a child struggling with a learning disability. I encourage you to get the help you need.

Thanks for reading!


Curt Bumcrot, MRE


For those living in the Portland-Metro area, check out the Spotlight on our home page to learn about our Language Arts Summer School Intense. It’s scheduled to start in July. Our learning disabilities specialist, Jo Edwards, will be utilizing a multi-sensory approach to enable students to learn in a ways compatible with their learning disability. Attendance is limited to twelve students, so your immediate attention is highly recommended.


If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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The Final Achievement Test Taking Strategy

In my last article I presented seven tips for choosing the right answer when taking an achievement test. Most students might think this is all they need to do to insure getting the best score possible. In other words, they think once they've reached the last item on the test, they can relax until the examiner tells them "times up."

Well, there's more.

They should be taught that the test is over only after they have checked as many items as possible. Checking answers can take place during and after the test, time permitting. Here are four strategies students can use to check their answers:

1. Check for simple mistakes. Students must be precise in their work. While a student may understand the underlying concepts and the right steps in working a division problem, the right answer may not be reached because the student made a simple computation error. Likewise in language, a competent student may choose the wrong end mark because of misreading the sentence.

2. When a student checks his work, he should know that the correct answer may not be given. In a math test, one of the answer choices that a student beginning at the third grade level may face is "none of the above." Students should be confident in their answer and not feel they must work the problem over and over again until their answer matches one of the choices. Having said this, test writers do not make "none of the above" the correct answer that often. If a student finds himself marking it frequently, it's likely a sign that he is not computing accurately.

3. For some language tests, students should likewise know that an item may not have mistakes. Beginning at second and third grade levels, students may face a sentence that does not need a correction even though many possible "corrections" are present to choose from. Again, confidence in one's answer is important.

4. In math, check by using the opposite operation. Division problems may be checked by multiplying the quotient by the divisor. Likewise, addition problems may be checked by subtracting the appropriate addend from the sum. (That is, thirty plus twenty-five equals fifty-five and fifty-five minus twenty-five equals thirty.

If a student applies some of the test-taking tips I've presented over the last few weeks and still scores poorly, what should you do? Low test scores may reflect a learning problem that should not be ignored. Check out the HELP organization (Help Eliminate Learning Problems) in this week's spotlight on our home page. This organization has been helping families learn about ways to address learning problems for over twenty-five years. It's a great resource!

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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How to Choose the Right Answer on an Achievement Test

In my last article I presented four time-management tips that, if practiced, will result in higher test scores. In this article, I will suggest seven practices that will help students choose the right answer when testing.

1. Distinguish Between Correct and Almost-Correct Answers
Typically, the correct answer on an achievement test does not stand out from all the other possible answers. Achievement tests are constructed in such a way as to present answer choices that are similar, reasonable, or logical. This being the case, students should pay close attention to what the test item is asking so that errors in logic or carelessness do not result in a wrong answer.

For instance, on math tests an answer to a multiplication problem could be
the result you would get if you added instead of multiplying.

2. Read the Answers to Yourself Silently
Students should "try out" the answers by repeating the question and the various answer choices to themselves. Carefully read word for word and avoid adding words that have been deliberately left out to make an item incorrect.

3. Consider Every Choice
It’s not uncommon for students to choose the first or second choice because it looks right. Again, because answers are typically similar, guard against impulsivity and take the time to consider every answer choice before choosing an answer.

4. Eliminate Unreasonable or Unlikely Answer Choices
Students should eliminate answer choices that could not possibly be correct. Doing so will increase the likelihood that an “educated guess” will prove correct if they do not positively know the right answer.

5. Avoid Random Guessing
When ample time remains on the test, students should take the time to work or think through the item when faced with two plausible answers.

6. Anticipate the Correct Answer
If working through math problems, remember that in addition or multiplication problems, the answer is always larger than the numbers added or multiplied. In subtraction, the answer is always smaller than the top number.

7. Read all Directions and Identify Key Words or Symbols
When working through a vocabulary test where directions and tasks change frequently, students should not skip reading directions because they “know what to do.” Tasks that appear identical (like identifying words that mean the same) may actually be different (like identifying words that are opposites). Only by reading each set of directions can students be sure.

In math, certain terms imply various operations which if applied, will yield the correct answer. Usually in a story problem, the words "in all" or "all together" indicate addition is the operation to be used. Likewise, the words "difference" or "were left" indicate that subtraction is the operation to be used.

Want to practice the above using one of our Achieving Peak Performance practice tests? They’re available as instant downloads. Go to our Educational Products page for more information!

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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Four Time Management Tips to Increase Test Performance

In my last article I gave you six tips designed to increase your child’s performance on any achievement test. In this article I want to address another aspect of test taking that if practiced, will result in higher test scores: time management.

All achievement tests have timed sections, which can present a problem- few home-schooled students know how to pace themselves to get it done in a short, limited period of time. While ample time is usually afforded for most children to finish, it is important that your child learn to work at a comfortable, but reasonably quick pace to insure both accuracy and completion of the test. So, with this in mind, here are four time-management tips you can apply:

Start Working Immediately At home, the moment you give an assignment, have your child start working immediately. Set a time limit. In the test setting, when the examiner says it's time to begin, the child needs to begin immediately.

Budget Time Teach your child to work at a comfortable rate and not spend too much time on any one problem. Most achievement tests have both easy and more difficult problems distributed throughout the test. Your child should be taught to come back to items he is unable to work so that he may have a chance to attempt all problems.

Students in grades four through twelve who decide to skip difficult problems and work ahead should be cautioned to make sure they are on the right item number when marking answers on the answer sheet.

Preplan what to do if Time runs out Discuss ahead of time what you want your child to do if only a few minutes remain. Items left unmarked when the test is scored will be marked wrong. Your student has a few options. One would be to complete the final minutes of the test continuing at the same rate as before. A second approach would be to begin move quicker making “educational guesses.” A third option, not recommended by the publisher, is to mark randomly. While this last approach may result in a higher score, it will decrease the reliability of the test results.

Practice a Sustained Silent Effort Children taking survey achievement tests at the second grade level on up should practice working silently for up to twenty minutes without breaking their concentration. If you’re part of a co-op or get together occasionally with other home schooled families, this could be practiced in a group setting to give your child a feel for what the real test will be like.

Want to practice the above using one of our Achieving Peak Performance practice tests? They’re available as instant downloads. Go to the Spot Light on our home page for more details and to find out how to get a free one too!
Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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SIX TIPS FOR GETTING GOOD ACHIEVEMENT TEST RESULTS

End of the year achievement testing is now here, and in many states it’s a requirement. It’s one thing to possess a set of skills, but another to be able to demonstrate them in a test setting which may be unfamiliar and feel uncomfortable to the student. Below are six tips that, if followed, will increase the likelihood of a positive and successful test experience.

For the Child

1. Proper Rest
To do well one must feel his best. Your child should receive an adequate amount of sleep the night before the testing so that he will be alert and ready to put in a full morning's work.

2. Proper Breakfast
A good breakfast is necessary so that your child will have the necessary energy to perform at his best.

3. Good Health
Children who are sick or experiencing a cold should postpone testing. It's hard to do one's best when you don't feel good.

For the Parent

1. Have a Positive Attitude
Younger children are greatly influenced by the attitudes and perceptions of their parents. If your attitude is one that the test is an opportunity for your child to show what he has learned during the year, most will approach the test in a positive manner and experience decreased or little stress.

On the other hand, if you perceive the testing as an adversary to your home schooling efforts, your child may well feel threatened and perform poorly due to an increased degree of stress.

We suggest you communicate the following to your child:

The test experience, while maybe not fun (although some children may think it is), will be an opportunity to be with other home-schooled children and a time to show what has been learned.

Help him see the examiner as a friend who is there to help him do his best. Think of him or her as a coach who, while unable to play in the game, is there to encourage and help each player do his best.

2. Recognize the Significance of the Test
The most any achievement test can do is sample student knowledge. It is not comprehensive, and should not be seen as measuring "all that a student knows." From an achievement test, we may infer that a student possesses (or lacks) a greater body of knowledge, but that is all. Therefore, an achievement test should be seen as an indicator of academic progress, not an absolute measurement.

3. Choose a Test Setting Appropriate to your Child's Temperament
For some young children, the best test setting is a small group of familiar home school friends in which the parent is present for moral support. This helps alleviate tension that may develop should the child be tested privately in which the entire attention is focused on the child.

Other children will do better in a private setting if they are easily distracted or become overly nervous in a group setting. If this is the case, choose an examiner who is empathetic with home schooling and your child in particular. Remember that the goal is to get an accurate picture of what the child knows.

I hope you find these time-tested tips useful as you prepare your children for testing this spring. Interested in more ideas and an actual test you can give at home? Grab a copy of Achieving Peak Performance. It’s available as an instant download for grades 1-10! Go to the Spot Light on our home page for more details and find out how to get a free practice test too.

Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.

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FIVE REASONS WHY HOMESCHOOLERS RELUCTANTLY USE PUBLISHED TESTS (AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT)


Here are five reasons why we reluctantly use published tests and some follow-up responses.

Reason #1: We feel insecure. Even though home schooling has become more and more mainstream, we still realize we’re not trained professionals, and we don’t want to risk ruining our children’s education by trying something too “out of the box.” We play it safe and stay with the “tried and true.”

Response: Feeling insecure is normal when you don’t have the “proper papers.” While it seems to go away with time, it returns when our students enter their high school years. Years ago I began my teaching career in a private school without having completed my Bachelor of Arts Degree, let alone my teaching credential. I hoped my students’ parents would not ask about my university training, and when they did, I changed the subject as quickly as I could. As a non-degreed/certified teacher, my insecurities were eased by finding good teacher mentors to help me and give me feedback. Our high school diploma program was born out of such concerns. My recommendation is to seek out home school mentors.

Reason #2: We assume that book publishers know what they’re doing. We say to ourselves, they are the professionals, and we are just the laymen. They have the inside scoop on pedagogy, and we’re not even sure how to pronounce that word.

Response: Yes, professional educators and text book publishers do know things we don’t. My recommendation is to use the teacher guides that come with the textbooks. However, we need to see them as tools, not another set of the “Ten Commandments.” Many teacher guides were designed for teachers in classrooms of 25 plus students. Don’t minimize your own ability to improvise on a lesson. For most mothers, every day is a day of improvising, course correcting, and multi-tasking.

Reason #3: We tend to teach how we were taught, and we test the same way.

Response: …like we were taught, before Google. My recommendation is that for tests that are memory intensive and scheduled to be taken frequently, cut out some of the questions, maybe up to half. Which half you ask? The “footnote” questions, the ones you could only find the answer to if you spent a lot of time in the index of the book, the ones whose answers bear little significance to getting the main idea of the chapter or section—these all should get the ax! Again, our diploma program advisors walk their clients through this process.. Additionally, study sheets and oral reviews help students know what the test is targeting. More on this in an upcoming letter.

Reason #4: Published tests are easy to score. Simply bring out the answer key, and in minutes you’re done. Evaluating answers to essay questions is another story, and so we keep them to a minimum or exclude them altogether.

Response: True! I like tests that are fast and easy to score tests. We all experience time pressure. Tests that use primarily true-false, multiple choice, and matching items yield a quick score, and most students like their parents to tell them how they did in a reasonable amount of time. But, I’m suggesting we move away from tests in which seventy to eighty percent of the items are fact based. That means using questions that require the student write a paragraph or more to answer. How is this to be graded? I recommend using a point system to quantify answers. Here’s one way to do this:
When evaluating the student’s response to a question, award the following:

4-5 points for good to excellent answers
3-4 points for adequate answers
1-2 incomplete answers

Add up the number of points earned and divide it by the number points possible, and you’ll get a percent which you can use to justify a grade.

Reason #5: Publishers produce and sell what consumers buy, and we buy their tests.

Response: This is just simple economics. But what if you want to change how you measure understanding? As the saying goes, “You can’t be something with nothing.” Four different products we offer go beyond basic memorization. While they do involve some recitation of facts, they also include questions that require comprehension, the ability to analyze, and the ability to evaluate. If you’re curious about what this looks like, you can click the following links to see sample pages from some of our products:

From our Personal Finance product

From our Career Development product

From our Health Product

Asking questions that extend student’s thinking and understanding must be done intentionally. While it may be difficult and time consuming at first, with practice, it gets easier. In the next six articles I write, I’ll present and explain six levels of thinking that you can put to use immediately to check your student’s understanding beyond their ability to parrot facts back to you.

Until then, let us know of any subjects you’d like us to address in future letters.
Thanks for reading!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE
Director, Basic Skills Assessment & Educational Services

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PS – If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.


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TESTS I WISHED I'D NEVER GIVEN

First, let me say that I’m not talking about achievement tests. There’s been some whining on the part of homeschool parents about being required to have their children take these tests. From some of the comments I’ve heard and read, you would get the idea that the stress created by this kind of testing results in widespread and almost irreversible harm both psychologically and emotionally. Please hold the drama…

What I’m talking about is a form of testing I’ve used, and one I suspect many of you have too that makes no sense at all.

Some publishers of home school textbooks still equate regurgitation with excellence in education. And because they do, students spend hours reading, looking up, and memorizing facts to get the “seal of approval”-- an “A” or “B” on a test. And the longer the test, the better, or so we’re led to believe.

For many students, the test is taken quickly, right after having taken a final look at their notes before they forget what they’ve “stuffed” in their head. Once examined, the data is dumped in order to make room for the next batch of information, and so the process repeats itself. Why do publishers continue to create these kinds of assessment tools, and why do we subject our kids them? What are we thinking? What should we be thinking?

First of all, technology has changed the way we “do life” and therefore what we assess and how we assess it needs to change too. Think about the following:

Want to apply for a job? Go online.

Looking for …? Try Craigs list.

Need directions? MapQuest it. Or, get a GPS.

Need to call a friend? Simply scroll through your cell phone’s address book and click.

Want to know how much you know? Spend hours memorizing and take a test ……..

“You’ve got to be kidding,” our children may be thinking (especially as they get older), but they, quietly or not so quietly, go along with the system, because we do.

We’ve got to face the fact that the way information is obtained, stored, and distributed has changed and continues to morph. Why commit to memorizing when in seconds you can Google the information you want? It’s at your finger tips on a desktop, laptop, or handheld device.

OK, just so it’s clear, I’m not totally down on memorization. It has its place. Just not eighty to ninety percent of the time. Elementary students should memorize math facts. Being able to recall the names of the parts of speech is essential to discussing the syntax of a sentence. Knowing key vocabulary terms facilitates communication in a variety of subjects. But again, with the technological advances we are seeing, we need to consider what we are asking our kids to memorize and if “instant retrieval” of these facts is all that important.

Why is it so hard to change from the status quo? And if we did, what would it look like? I’ll address these two questions in the next article.

Until then, please don’t hesitate to contact us for educational support and encouragement.

Curt Bumcrot, MRE
Director, Basic Skills Assessment & Educational Services

Have a question or comment? Post it at our community forum.

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ARE YOU REALLY HOMESCHOOLING THIS YEAR?

Early on in the homeschool movement, virtually all academic instruction took place at home. After all, if you just took your kids out of school, where else would they be learning? This worked fine for all of us for awhile, and then a strange thing happened..............

Our kids grew up! And as this was happening, many of us became keenly aware of our own limitations to meet our children’s academic and social needs. We concluded that they would benefit from various learning settings and that someone else’s instruction, in addition to our own, could be a positive thing.

For those of you who started homeschooling five or ten years ago, the above may seem obvious. There are many support systems and services in place for you to use, and many of you do. But it wasn’t always this way.

Early on in the homeschool movement many states had laws prohibiting home education. Leaders of private schools opposed the movement and saw homeschoolers as a threat to their enrollment. One major Christian book publisher was so suspicious that they wouldn’t make their textbooks available to homeschoolers. Organizations or private schools caught making their textbooks available were threatened with having their accounts cancelled.

Here in Oregon, two main things characterized Basic Skills’ early work with homeschoolers in the 80’s and early 90’s.:

The children of the families we worked with were almost all elementary-age students, sixth grade on down. We worked with a few junior-high students and an occasional high schooler, but it was rare.

Because the laws regulating homeschooling in Oregon were vague and gave local superintendents virtually unlimited power over children in their district, the majority of our clients were schooling illegally. For practical purposes, they taught exclusively at home so they wouldn’t risk exposure and be reported.

But like I said, our kids were growing up. What we realized was that as parents, we had various interests and expertise’s that could be used for the benefit of each other’s children. So, as the laws regulating homeschooling around the nation were re-written, and homeschooling became more mainstream, many of us made changes in the way we homeschooled as well.

One of my clients was a micro-biologist and taught a Biology class. Another parent had spent years working up a literature curriculum for her children and began teaching it to others. Various hands-on courses in art and writing emerged.

We were helping each other and each other’s children’s education. Families partnered together, classes were held, and homeschooling ceased to be restricted to the home. And then question surfaced, “Are you really homeschooling?”

Behind the question was the not-so-veiled implication that we had somehow strayed from the “pure” path of the “Biblical” command that families do it all, or most of the teaching.

“Real” homeschoolers do it this way kind of thinking…

Some leaders wondered if we were sinning by what we were doing… and they weren’t kidding.

To distinguish “us” from “them”, one major homeschool organization tried to help us out. To participate in their national event, a standard was set. It went like this, 51% (or a percent close to this) of your student’s homeschooling had to take place at home. Anything less than this was, well, not really homeschooling… and you couldn’t be a part of “us.”

Thanks for helping us figure it out.

I know that to many of you this sounds ridiculous.

But here’s my point. Whatever educational choices you make this school year, they don’t belong to the person who introduced you to homeschooling, a support group leader, or a speaker who spoke at a conference you attended. They belong to you. In esteeming our leaders too much, many of us have surrendered our educational freedom.

And so, it’s time to reclaim it.

If the popular curriculum you chose isn’t working for you, change it.

Want to be part of a co-op? Go ahead.

Want to earn a diploma through an extension school, correspondence school, or diploma program like ours? Fill out the application.

The choice is yours.

And maybe the best answer to the question, “Are you really homeschooling?” should be another question like “Why do you care so much?”

Have a great school year.

Curt

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Have a question or comment? Post it at our community forum.

The Science of Homeschool
by Jerry Jones

The Egg and I.  For several years we had a poultry enclosure at the back of our yard in the city; with a duck pond and a chicken coop!  It just sort of “grew” out a homeschool project.  We weren’t even thinking “experiment” at the time.  Our family innocently read a 4H pamphlet about how easy it is to raise chickens.  We obtained an incubator, bought a dozen fertilized eggs, started turning eggs every twelve hours, worried they would never hatch, and then as eggshells started fracturing, worried they would die.  Before long, we had to create a backyard chick-zone that was safe from larger critters and pets.  Over the months, we tried several kinds of shelters, poultry feed, and water delivery systems. Besides providing us a steady supply of eggs, the hens inspired a very productive garden. We thought we would learn a bit about hatching eggs, but ended up with much more, including a tremendous appreciation for what God has made, and for the people who do this for a living.  By actually trying it ourselves, an experiment became an unforgettable experience. It was real science. The science of homeschool.

Before Textbooks.  I have come to believe that Adam was the original scientist.  He was busy right from the start, conducting experiments, making observations, and giving names to creatures.  Would it be going too far to say that the Lord made us all to be scientists?  Homeschools have always been around, since long before printing presses.  It’s easy to think nowadays that everything necessary to a good education is between the covers of a textbook; but for the great majority of history, learning was a combination of conversation and application.  Books are very valuable resources, but they should never replace the laboratory of living.  That’s the science of homeschool.

The Permanence of Discovery.  Why do we draw and paint in art class?  Why do we  make a cake in home economics?  In any kind of learning, there is a deeper kind of understanding that takes place in the doing.  In science we call it experimentation.  Trying things and making our own observations are the keys to science.  The best learning results from personal discovery.  To read about volcanoes is fine, but to build a volcano and make it erupt, is tangible learning! To hear that a butterfly comes from a chrysalis is a wonderful piece of information, but it’s nothing compared with hatching your own and seeing a butterfly emerge and stretch and take flight! In the laboratory of life, the scripture says to, “taste, and see that the Lord is good.” All people discover by doing – through both trial and error!  And what we discover, we remember.  And what we remember, we can apply to new experiences throughout our lives. That’s the science of homeschool.

Be Amazed.  Rather than shy away from teaching science (because we are not strong in that subject, or because we associate science with a secular world view) we ought to welcome the opportunity to let God teach us and our children together about the wonders of His creative genius.  Science makes us see the bigger picture.  The more you study it, the more you see the purposefulness of the Creator and Sustainer of all things.  It is important that homeschoolers have a hands-on experience.  When we look closer at what God has given us, it heightens our appreciation of Him.  We need to become awestruck, captivated, and incredibly thankful. That’s the science of homeschool.

Doers of the Word.  The Bible speaks of parents teaching at all times and in every context (Deuteronomy 6).  Jesus was very clear about putting what we learn into practice.  The same applies to the homeschool student.  Math learned without practical application is math forgotten.  Studying geology by only looking at pictures of rocks just isn’t very meaningful.  A young person may study a driver’s manual, and pass the test with flying colors, but then there needs to be some supervised “laboratory” experience.  That’s the difference between homeschoolers who only read about science, and those who do science.  Science is action -- it’s never static, it is always dynamic, a process. Applying is learning. That’s the science of homeschool.

Passion.  I feel passionately about this, because when I was a young science student,  I learned a lot of facts, but what influenced me most was the classroom experiments --  the times when I could be a scientist, make discoveries, and apply them to my life.  Now I teach science and math, and there is tremendous fulfillment when I see the light of discovery in the eyes of my students, when an idea becomes reality for them.  That’s why I try to provide as many laboratory applications as is possible. I want my classes to provide those lasting memories that give life to learning. That’s the science of homeschool.


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Please visit our Community Forum to post a comment or ask a question that Jerry or another member can answer.

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Practice Does Not Make Perfect

Practice makes perfect. Of course, everybody knows this. I know I've heard it, believed it, told others, but it's not really true. Actually, it's more accurate to say that perfect practice makes perfect and at least relatively permanent. When it comes to writing, it is not uncommon for students to make the same mistakes over and over again. They "practice" the same errors, because they did not receive adequate explanation and subsequent practice in the first place. Junior and senior high school students often write inconsistently having never really understood how and when to use many of the punctuation and capitalization rules necessary for accurate and successful written communication.

The Mastering Punctuation series has been designed to help students learn and apply punctuation and capitalization rules to everyday writing. The end result is written communication that is clear, concise, and effective. And now, after a long wait for many of you, Mastering Punctuation Book 2 is being released. You can read a review of it on our home page at www.basicskills.net. To get a feel for the format of the student book, and to see and download the first week's worth of lessons, click here.

 

Mastering Punctuation Book 2, like the first book, is available in both paper back and e-book versions. At $18.00, the E-Book version of Mastering Punctuation Book 2 is a great value. You can print select pages again and again as needed for review and practice, plus it can be used indefinitely for all family members. Of course, if you order the paper back version at $25.00 (includes shipping and handling), it may also be copied indefinitely for family use.

Best wishes as you begin this school year!

 

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

Director, Basic Skills Assessment & Educational Services

PS – If you care to comment or have a question about what I’ve written above, please visit our Community Forum to respond. Please feel free to forward this to home schoolers you think would benefit. Also, you have permission to copy this article to your blogs, forums, social network pages, or other websites. We only ask that you provide the live link at the bottom of the article that leads back to www.basicskills.net.


Basic Skills Assessment & Educational Services  
Voice: 503.650.5282
Fax: 503.650.8578