Thursday, November 8, 2012

Textbooks and Workbooks? Yes or No? How?

As Chari mentioned, I have been up in Oregon.  We had a fairly busy time, for various reasons, so blogging didn't seem to happen, which is sort of sad, because blogging lends permanence and permits retrieval of things that otherwise become buried somewhere in the bottom of my mind.

We arrived back in California yesterday, and today is a day to decompress and get back into the swing of things.   And the main thing to get back into is homeschooling, since we only did bits and pieces while in Oregon.   A little more of it happened than blogging, but not much more.

So I thought I would list out the resources I am using for my three homeschooling boys.    Many of us are probably coming to the end of our first quarter, or trimester, or something, so maybe it will be of some interest.

But before that, I kind of want to talk about textbooks and workbooks.  So the resource posts will follow.

Sally T wrote here about tweaking her homeschooling master plan.   The whole thing is very interesting, but this part sort of leaped out at me:

Why, every year, I tell myself I'm not going to use workbooks, when clearly I'm wrong, I do not know. Well, I do know, sort of. Using workbooks isn't very Charlotte-Mason-y, and I love Charlotte Mason. But I also love my children, who like to work in workbooks -- not for everything, mind you. Literature has pride of place in our homeschool, and I don't see that changing, ever. But for basic skills, particularly in language arts -- we were already using math and cursive-handwriting workbooks -- while I can carry out a literature- and copywork-based program which more or less covers everything everyone needs to know in terms of grammar and spelling, I begin to wonder why I'm doing all this work, when it might be laid out for us in a way that covers all these things more thoroughly and systematically, and in a more self-teaching fashion, than anything I have the time and energy to come up with on a consistent basis.
I will second all that, except for the part about kids liking workbooks (and textbooks).  Mine don't particularly.   However, they do tend to like their work somewhat packaged.    I can sort of see why, because when I look back at my younger self and try to imagine that younger self homeschooling, I picture this:

  • Some workbooks and textbooks to get the skill and content stuff out of the way as quickly and efficiently as possible, with clear, measurable and reachable outcomes. 
  • Lots of time to read and draw and make things and play piano and guitar, and go for walks.
  • Lots of bookshelves from which to read all kinds of books, from my old childhood favorites all the way up to the Russian novelists and Shakespeare (Kindle makes that possible even in a tiny space).
  • Some structured or focused reading directed by someone besides myself, perhaps on the order of the system in A Reader's Odyssey.   Or perhaps on the order of a loose unit study or theme cluster, as I described a few years back.    Or a reading plan like Ambleside's.  At any rate, from late grade school on, I tended to read or research in clusters, and I loved "theme" classes like one on Greek myths and legends in middle school, or another one on Children's Lit. 
My boys are quite different from me, of course, but they do have me for a teacher, and they do share some things in common with me -- a love for reading, a liking for plenty of open time, and a liking for a concrete plan in areas of lower interest, like math and grammar.   And a liking for clear feedback on the "skills" parts of the curriculum. 

The problem with textbooks/workbooks is their prepackaged element, and their tendency to be either slightly superficial (1st grade grammar book), or impossibly intensive (AP Science).   Of the two, my preference is for slightly superficial, and I will tell you why.  A superficial text or workbook (and some themed encyclopedias like the history encyclopedias published by Kingfisher and Dorling Kindersley, qualify here too) is like a colorful, detailed and often visual outline.

If I have a book full of somewhat silly and detached grammar exercises, I can easily add depth, because I've read a lot of grammar books, and it's easy to google and find a 19th century textbook or online game that rounds out the trivial exercise.    But the workbook is there to provide an instant, easy reminder of what we've already done (for review) and what's still ahead.   If I have two or three language arts workbooks, with somewhat different material and approach, I can elect one as my "primary" and then use the other two when we need a change of pace. 

Another reason I like workbooks and textbooks is that the material is all ready to go.   I have a few focus issues -- some apparently innate, some perhaps situational, since my life doesn't lend itself to deep immersion in one or two things, and immersion is my best mode.

Workbooks/textbooks also allow me to choose whether I want the child to work on his/her own, work with me in tutoring format, or do some "extension" or variation of what's in the text.  When the seatwork is out of the way, then we have time for the interest-based or themed reading.

The basic idea is that having some textbooks or workbooks gives a sort of spine and plan for my homeschool that can be elaborated and filled out as we go.    Even if I just keep the text for myself and don't give it to the kids, it helps me keep my eye on both the big picture and the individual steps of the journey. 

Now of course, there are temptations/problems with the textbook/workbooks.

One is that there is a temptation to reduce the homeschool to these, which is like feeding a child with vitamin-fortified protein bars instead of a breakfast of whole wheat toast, eggs and fruit.     The protein bar or crackers or dried fruit may be acceptable as a sometime supplement but not as the whole diet.

Another is a temptation to think that these textbooks/workbooks can be accelerated.  Maybe no one else tries to push a kid through material they have not been prepared for.  But I have fallen into that trap.   Better to do a half page of a math book and really understand not only the concept, but where it fits in, than to speed through a whole chapter with only a glimmer of insight (and usually, panicked tears or sullenness).

The corollary is not to keep hammering a concept your child already understands.  Here the temptation is to teach the text, not the child.   I usually introduce the concept, then have the kid do some of the problems or exercises, then save the rest for reviews, which I schedule for once or twice a week, and a more comprehensive review every couple of weeks or so.

A danger, not so much of a temptation, with a textbook or workbook, is that of political correctness, actual bias, or simple twaddle.   This can be avoided by skipping the silly or incorrect parts, but of course, you have to have done your homework in order to know what to avoid.  I prefer not to use books with huge swaths of anti-Catholic material.  An occasional reference to the Inquisition or Galileo, we can discuss or skip.   If the bias or twaddly element makes the book difficult to use, then the textbook advantages are obviated.      

Another danger or concern is that a steady or complete diet of textbooks and workbooks is stultifying for a child.    Too many of these boring, repetitious and often too-narrowly-focused readings and exercises, especially if done independently without the parent/teacher giving perspective, is simply not respectful of the child's mind.   My kids always remind me of this if I forget it, either by charging through the work in a few minutes flat or by slumping in discouragement and frustration as they face the stack.   Then it's time to make a change. 

Well, I guess it will take another post to get to the actual books we are using, and I'd also like to post on some easy ways to include "real books" in the homeschool without spending massive hours designing careful lesson plans (unless you do those things for fun, which I do sometimes, or are just naturally super-organized, which I'm not, though I can fake it at times).

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating to read your thoughts, after a decade and a half I'm rethinking my position on workbooks and textbooks and admit to my surprise that there is a place for them afterall. lol


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