Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Setting Goals in Project-Based Homeschooling

A few weeks ago, I shared a little bit about my new role as a teacher-mentor under Project-Based Homeschooling. This week, I wanted to share how we have started incorporating basic goal-setting skills into our PBH journey.

Ideally, I would like to get to the point where the sprouts are able to set Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely goals-- usually abbreviated to SMART goals-- and be able to make a plan to reach them. However, I think that some of those concepts would be pretty abstract for my learners at their ages and experience levels. So, I have been trying approach their goal setting a little bit differently.

We have started discussing project goals at each of our monthly conferences. Once the sprouts give me a goal, such as building or sewing, we then talk about the steps we need to accomplish the goal. Usually, we generate a list of 3-5 specific actions that will help accomplish the goal. For example, when Second Sprout set her building goal, we felt that looking at library books, saving recyclable materials, and buying some new tools would help her reach that goal. At first, I would offer suggestions on possible steps, but I am gradually trying to step back from that and let the sprouts plan the steps themselves.

By the time we had our second round of conferences in November, the sprouts had a better idea of what to expect. Both of the older sprouts had a goal and some of their steps ready to go for our discussion. Second Sprout was interested in building with milk jugs, while First Sprout wanted to switch gears and study cats instead. However, I added a new component to their goal setting for these conferences-- they had to come up with an idea for sharing what they are learning. Second Sprout immediately suggested making a book of her creations, while First Sprout took much more conversation and thought to reach an idea. She eventually decided that she was interested in planning and hosting an art show of cat-themed works.

Now, I have to say that these goals sound incredibly awesome, but neither of the sprouts have followed through as of yet. Most of their Project Time has been spent on other pursuits, which is really crucial to their process of becoming self-directed learners. It's entirely possible that they will end up switching goals again at our next round of conferences. Practice is the key here.

And goodness knows that I haven't reached (or even started) all of the goals I ever set for myself.

I don't want everyone to think that we have perfected anything here. Rather, I want to share what we're doing and how it's going in case our experience might be useful to others. So, I'm okay if they don't start hitting their goals right off the bat. For me, it's all part of the process.

One thing I CAN do as they practice is model my own goal-setting skills. Currently, I have two projects going. One is Project-Based Homeschooling itself, as I try to navigate this new routine, conduct my research, and practice new skills. While I do (try to) make a habit of sharing this journey on the blog, it's maybe still a bit abstract for demonstrating the whole goal-setting process to the sprouts. So I created a second project for myself-- learning to crochet-- and set goals as well as steps I needed to get there. The sprouts got to see me skimming books and watching videos and creating samplers. They got to see my pull out stitches and puzzle over patterns and get impatient over interruptions. To be honest, I think they have been prouder of my accomplishments than even I am. They are rather fond of telling everyone they meet that "Mom is learning how to crochet-- she made that scarf all by herself!" I plan to keep working on my crochet and setting new goals for myself to keep this momentum going.

For the foreseeable future, I plan to continue working on our goal-setting skills in our conferences and through modeling the process. While we are not at the point of following through on independently-created SMART goals, we are practicing and learning a lot in the process.

Until next time,

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Getting Started with Project-Based Homeschooling

At the beginning of our school year, I decided that I wanted to set some clear goals for learning. After a lot of thought,  I finally settled on: focus, persistence, asking questions, solving problems, and self-motivation. A few weeks into the year, we realized that the way we had been schooling wasn't working. The sprouts were distracted, bored, and annoyed with any sort of paperwork that I assigned. Even the projects I planned were often hit-or-miss. Anything that I gave them to do with a specific end product in mind resulted in disappointment and frustration.

So, I decided to step back. I retreated to stacks of books and internet forums. I chatted a lot with my husband and other homeschooling friends. I finally settled into reading Lori Pickert's Project-Based Homeschooling, and I had an epiphany. Workbooks, guided writing, and parent-led projects were not going to meet ANY of our learning goals for this year.

But Project-Based Homeschooling hits ALL of them.

I wasn't in a good space at the time to drop everything and switch to PBH, but I did start incorporating some open-ended Project Time into our day. Once I tied up some loose ends, we were able to incorporate still more Project Time. I tried to hang on to some of our routine school work those first few weeks, but it quickly became apparent that the more my sprouts directed their own learning, the less they wanted anything to do with what I was planning.

It's been hard for me to take, especially as a trained teacher. But I believe in my kids, and if they need a few weeks to immerse themselves in projects, then I can support that. Honestly, the holidays are huge distraction anyway, so I know they will learn a lot more by doing their own thing that they can fully focus on. Once the holidays are over, we can re-evaluate our school day and see what needs to be done.

A glimpse at our project space (formerly known as the dining room).

In the meantime, I will probably be just as busy as the sprouts. One of the great things about Project-Based Homeschooling is that I'm not entirely out of the picture; my job just looks a lot different. Here are a few things I have been working on to facilitate the sprouts' project work:

1) Provide an organized, well-stocked work space

This "job" came pretty easily, since I have always worked to make art supplies, craft materials, and learning tools accessible to the sprouts. It's a bit tricky to fit everything in our dining room where we have our project space, However, I really like having our work space centrally located and integrated heavily with our regular life.

2) Document their learning

This one is a little trickier since I don't have the patience to write long, detailed records each day, but I'm not entirely sure that's necessary. Instead, I have continued my habit of taking anecdotal notes and photographing the sprouts' work into a dedicated "project notebook" that I make visible to them. I also keep a book list, quotes, and other snippets of ideas in my notebook for later reference.

3) Practice what I preach

Modeling is a powerful yet under-utilized tool in education. I once read that "children will do as you do before they do as you say," and this is especially true with PBH. In this spirit, I have actually started my own project-- learning to crochet. I have tried to make my learning steps (goal-setting, research, practice, mistakes, more practice, more goal setting) visible to the sprouts. I like to think that the more I learn and self-motivate in their presence, the more they will pick up on those habits as well.

4) Be a good listener

One of the practices I wanted to implement when we started PBH is conferencing. I was used to having conferences with parents and conferences with students in the classroom, but it never really occurred to me to have conferences with my own kids. I think I just kind of assumed that I was present enough to already know what they would say. To some extent that was true, but I was really taking away their agency by making that assumption. We have had two sets of conferences now (one at a time, at the local bakery, just for fun) and the sprouts are thriving on the undivided attention and opportunity to communicate their needs. We get to talk about what is and is not working, how they want me (if they want me) to assist with projects, and set goals for what they want to do. Knowing that I'm listening, focused, and taking notes has been really meaningful to the sprouts.

5) Give them time

We are still working to make Project Time a part of our everyday life, but it's not always going to happen on my schedule. Even though we didn't plan Project Time specifically over the Thanksgiving holiday, we often found the sprouts working on their projects anyway. My husband remarked on how First Sprout was up and working on her projects first thing in the morning a few times. As a planner, this can be challenging for me. I want to be present during their projects, but I know that it's really important for them to be independent and work on their own time tables. So, I am working on finding a balance of setting aside specific Project Time for me to be present and available to help. Then the sprouts always have the opportunity to work on their projects independently and spontaneously, knowing that I maybe be busy doing something else and unable to help. The important thing is that they have the time to think their own thoughts, to dream their own dreams, to plan their own plans.

Overall, I have really been enjoying Project-Based Homeschooling, even if it has meant changing the way we do things. In some ways, it feels a lot more like summer when the sprouts were much more self-directed. It will be interesting to see how it goes as we gain more experience and more learning into the process. It's important to me that they know it is a process, and we will make mistakes. But we can learn just as much (if not more) from the mistakes as we will from the successes.

Until next time,

Happy Learning!