Monday, January 23, 2012


:the action or an instance of assessing: determining the importance, size, or value of

My daughter B hates the word assessment.  I know this because she told me so not long ago: "Assessment just means test.  I hate that.  They should say test."  So I thought it would be funny to block off part of my girls' schedule for today for assessment purposes.  Instead of testing them, I wanted us to talk about the importance and value of what we're learning.  I wanted us to assess together why we learn - broadly - and why we study the specific subjects that comprise our weekly plan.

While B was upset (read: threw a 10 year old's version of a temper tantrum) when she saw an assessment slot on her daily plan, her mood did improve as we drove out to Long Hunter State Park to walk while we assessed.  This park is lovely.  It's far enough removed from the city that we've seen deer and wild turkeys on past walks, yet it doesn't take us all day to get there and back.  The weather was perfect for our outing - not too cold with loads of sunshine (something we have been sorely lacking in Nashville of late).

On the drive, I offered up the first question, "Why do we learn?"  Both girls jumped right in - and not in the direction I would have expected.  B's immediate response had to do with the fact that learning by individuals is responsible for the advancement of society.  She talked about a person studying science and finding a medicine.  Or someone studying mechanics and inventing a machine.  I found it interesting - and not at all surprising - that this creative child of mine sees learning as a platform for boosting one's creativity.

A took a slightly different approach.  Her response was that we learn now in order to help us later in life.  I asked what that might specifically look like for her.  For example, how might she be at a disadvantage in the future if she stopped learning today?  That prompted a great discussion of how our minds can atrophy just like our muscles if we don't use them regularly.

Before moving on to our next question, I offered my own reason: We learn in order to become more of who God made us to be.  I think he means for us to use our time here learning so that we can help others (like B said) and find vocation and passion for ourselves (as A mentioned).

We then moved on to "What's good about learning?  What do you like about it?"  Both responded that learning is fun (with B seeing the added bonus that sometimes learning lets you show off a bit - that might require a follow-up conversation...) and I heartily agreed.  I told them that I've always loved learning and that I like it still.  We talked about how homeschooling lets me not only teach them, but continue to learn.  I told them that everyone has some gaps in their learning and that I love the chance to fill in some of my own gaps as an adult.

The final question was "What's bad about learning?"  A talked about how sometimes learning was time-consuming and could take her away from something she'd rather be doing.  This was to be a theme throughout the day as we worked through these three questions subject by subject.  I don't remember B's response to this question, in part because our conversation took a completely unplanned turn when I said that I think one bad thing about learning can be that once you learn something, you can't un-know it.  And that might be preferable with some things - like the Holocaust.  This prompted a full discussion of what caused the Holocaust and how people let it happen.  It was fun (if I can use that word when referring to the Holocaust) to have A jump in as I explained how WWI set up WWII.  That eldest daughter of mine knows and understands history.

Once we arrived at the state park, we walked through these same three questions about every subject we study.  I won't bore you with their individual answers, but my main take away is that they are very clear on why we are learning what we're learning.  There wasn't a single subject (even the dreaded grammar) that they thought is useless.  Instead, they were quick to offer reasons for studying everything from history to Latin to the Bible.  That doesn't mean they like everything.  I heard more than once that a subject could be boring and that it could take time away from other things they enjoy more.  But I was encouraged to hear them talk about learning, to see their minds click into the why behind the lessons, to just walk alongside them in the sun and discuss something very near and dear to my heart.

My daughters are in a stage (a stage that I fear is here to stay) where they fight/bicker/argue a lot.  I used our assessment day to talk about this, too.  I asked why God puts us in families and then what are the good things and what are the bad things.  They see our family as a place of support and fellowship ("So you won't be lonely," B said) and they were quick to expound on the good things.  I offered my own opinion that one reason for siblings is to learn conflict resolution.  They have sisters so that they can learn to live with someone who thinks and feels differently than they do.  I admitted to them that their fighting tires me.  We talked about trying to not respond in kind when a sister uses a sharp tone of voice.  I have no illusions that their behavior will change overnight.  Maybe it won't change at all.  But I think the advantage of conversations like the ones we had today is that it helps you keep perspective.

I thought before today that our school year is going well.  I know after today that my student-daughters would agree with me.  I thought before today that siblings just fight - it's part of what they do.  I know now that my daughters see the value in having sisters, even if the benefits get hazy in the fog of their own selfishness.

B may not like the word assessment, but by mid-day, she was declaring this one of the best days of her life.  We didn't get a history lesson in.  Grammar sat waiting on the shelf.  No Latin was spoken.  But it was a great day of learning.  And a great day.

1 comment:

Kim said...

I want to be in your class :D