Thursday, 21 January 2016

The (un)importance of Testing

It's been a funny week this week.  We had friends to stay at the weekend, which resulted in three sleepover nights in a row for the boys.  Sleepovers should really be called wake-overs, as very little sleep is ever achieved, hence they were all extremely tired on Monday, and any planned activities were quickly shelved.  Eldest did his Maths because he is close to the end of the whole curriculum and we are trying to see if he can get it finished before I have to pay for another year's renewal - but no other work was even attempted.  We just watched TV and read books, played board games and generally had a lazy day.

Tuesday was Middle's birthday, which automatically makes for a day off too, so we had lots of present-opening, game-playing and fun with family and friends.

So it wasn't really until Wednesday that we tried any kind of parent-led work.  MathsWhizz all round, followed by Brainpop exercises.  Eldest and Middle chose to study Genetic Mutations and Bullying respectively, and did very well in the simple tests that followed.  Youngest doesn't get to choose as he is restricted to Brainpop Jr's free weekly video (Brainpop Jr being ridiculously more expensive than Brainpop UK which the older two subscribe to) - so Youngest watched about Martin Luther King jr, and got no questions right in the test.  To be honest, I don't care about the test results: maybe Youngest was still tired; maybe he didn't understand the questions; maybe he was rushing - it doesn't matter.  He was really interested in the story and asked me some great questions about segregation, which to me matters more.  Testing is a very shallow, one-dimensional way of trying to measure growth/learning, and the only reason the boys do the Brainpop test at all is that it can be part of life (esecially if they go on to more formal learning such as college etc at any point) so these simple quizzes are a very low-key way of becoming familiar and relaxed with the idea, particularly as I deliberately treat them as not a big deal.

This morning we had Henry VIII on the planner, but changed the plan.  Since we talked about the Wars of the Roses last week I remembered that I had the DVD box set of the TV series "The White Queen" and have been watching an episode or two every evening since.  It may not necessarily be an accurate retelling of history, but it helps to get the main points fixed in your head, and put faces to names, which always helps me to remember facts (I am quite a visual learner, like Middle).  Anyway, while chatting online yesterday somebody mentioned Warwick Castle and I remembered that we are closer geographically now & thought it would be great to visit - so today, rather than go on to learn about Henry VIII we stayed with the Wars of the Roses and looked a bit more at the role Richard Neville (the Earl of Warwick) played, with a view to visiting his castle asap.  It's previously been a confusing period for me, but especially with the TV series fresh in my head, I was able to go through it with the boys.  They acted out the main parts, starting with Henry VI being defeated at Towton, and going through to Henry VIII's victory at Bosworth.  When I say 'acted out', it was very much in Horrible-Histories style, with certain bit-parts being played by stuffed toys (Prince George played by a cuddly orang-utan, and the princes in the tower  played by Eldest's plush Yoshi slippers).  They do enjoy play-acting though, and whole-body (Kineasthetic) experiences are a great way to learn. Youngest particularly enjoyed playing Warwick, getting cross with all the kings who were letting him down, plotting and then going into battle repeatedly...

One of my favourite things about Home Ed is how it repeatedly gives me opportunity to learn alongside the boys - especially in subjects that I "failed" at school but actually really enjoy, such as Art or History.  I don't want my boys ever being told that they are not good enough to study something they are really interested in, as I was at school.  It put me off for years and I kind of wrote myself off in those areas, but since starting our Home Ed journey I have rediscovered a love of those subjects that is now not influenced by how "good" my performance is judged to be.  I suppose that reinforces what I was saying previously about the boys being aware of testing in subjects but not influenced by it, as it is actually such a very shallow part of learning generally but seems to have become the be-all and end-all of school education.

Afterwards the boys drew pictures again of the bits they liked, and I was particularly impressed with Eldest's cartoon-strip version of the Wars of the Roses.  Yes I am biased, but I do love seeing them become engrossed in a subject! And it doesn't matter whether they can remember all of the details next week, month, year etc - if they are inspired and interested by what we have looked at today, then I'm happy.  They are much more likely to remember it than if I just read the facts out at them, and they can come back to it again if they forget bits and want to remember anyway.  As long as I have helped to fan the flames of their interest, I count that a success!

PS Eldest's cartoon was so much fun we turned it into a slide show here - hope the link works!

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