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Portfolio Review-Or Liking The Thing You Thought You'd Hate

alec vanderboom

As further proof that God uses all things for his glory, I have now become the biggest fan of the "portfolio review." For those of you blessed to have either "school in a box" or a State that doesn't micromanage your home education curriculum, this sounds odd.

I live in the 16th largest school district in the United States (Montgomery County) in a state with some of the most stringent home schooling laws.

The way home education works in Maryland is that you choose one of three options. Option A, is the portfolio review, where you meet up with a public school administrator twice a year for a review of your child's school work. If the work is not up to par, you get a 30 day remedial period. If the child hasn't made satisfactory progress, you kid is immediately placed in public school.

Option B is to go with a special correspondence school (only two are licensed in the whole State.) Option C is to go with an approved home education curriculum. Under Option B and C, the local school board has nothing to do with you beyond filing a piece of paper. All assessment of your child's progress is left to be completely monitored by the home ed school of your choice.

Everyone who home schools in my parish assured me that it was "impossible" not to go with Mother Seaton, the only Catholic Home School curriculum approved by the State of Maryland. (Which I find hysterically ironic that there are multiple Amish, Mennonite and Free-Will Baptist curriculum available, but only one Catholic curriculum in the state where American Catholic Church began!) Even with the Mother Seaton set, I was strongly advised to sign up for the Home-School Defense Fund and remain on guard for unmerited reports by concerned neighbors to Children's Services.

Going the easy way is never really an option with the Benjamin Family. We prayed and prayed and prayed. It seemed pretty clear that while Mother Seaton has beautifully educated one of my favorite people (Maria from Ordinary Time), it isn't a good option for Hannah. As my husband blithely said "you can either have the daily stress of trying to enforce a curriculum that doesn't fit, or you can have two days of great stress as you meet with the school board each semester." We opted finally for the two days of great stress.

So now I'm trying to figure out what goes into the portfolio? Which is a much larger questions "how do you document unschooling?" and "if you measure something does it change the thing you are trying to measure?"

I'm going to print out the state kindergarten guidelines for Math, Language Arts, Science and Social Studies. I'm just going to file them in the back of the portfolio and check them off as we go along. I also invested in a Teacher Planner Book. There's no grand plan. Rather I just stop every so often and write down what we did that day.
The benefit is that while, I think that we spend most of our day simply "hanging out together", in hindsight there is quite a lot of learning activities going on that would make even the most stringent public administrator proud. That hungry crocodile game just appeared during one quiet nap time.

The benefit of the portfolio review is that it forces me to better reflect and record what happens each day. I'm please to realize in a concert way that what we call "living life" has other official educational names. For example, Hannah's home-made comic book is also called "mastering the concept of return sweep." I feel like I've moved from "Teacher" with a capital T, to 'scribe' with a small s. In my heart, I know this is where God means for me to be.

One of the most complicated thing I had to do as a swimming instructor was teach a kid how to float. There are lots of guidelines in the Red Cross handbook about how to teach the arm movements in free-style or the breaststroke kick. There is no strategy for teaching a kid how to float. Yet, all of swimming depends on that basic building block.

The problem is learning how to float is counter-intuitive. You need to completely relax in the water and "trust" that this "dangerous" substance will hold you.

To teach the youngest swimming class, I didn't focus much on this one critical skill which determined whether the kid passed or needed to repeat the class. Instead, I focused on gaining confidence in the water. I played crazy splashing games. We pretended the water was a boa constrictor that ate us slowly, first the feet, then the knees, etc.

On the last few classes, I held the kids in the water on their backs. My only direction was "put your ears in the water." I held then with both hands until I could feel the tension in their bodies relax. I asked their permission first to drop on hand, and finally simply hold up their bodies with the pressure from one finger. The way I taught kids how to go from "non-swimmers to swimmers" wasn't written in any textbook. I simply hung out patiently in the water with them for 8 weeks. When they were ready to try to float on their own, they told me. I was there to catch them if they sunk. In a class which was supposed to have a 35 percent average failure rate, I never, ever had a kid not be able to easily pass the critical floating test by last day of class.

I hope that this "hang out in the water thing" will work in a similar way for reading and math. As my kid's teacher, I naturally go for the more unstructured "wait, follow the kid's lead" approach. I'm so blessed to have this extra time together. I love hearing Alex theorize that the "red ball" will go faster in our gravity experiment because "red is the fastest color."

I'll leave you some notes on my blog from our journey this year. It's a little intimidating in the beginning, but we are already blessed with beautiful views.