The last installment in this series has been a long time coming. We took a break for Easter, the Kentucky Derby, Mother’s Day, and a contest. But now it is time to put the bow on this package and send it off for delivery. It’s time to finish. It might seem like an odd time to publish a homeschool article. Many of us are gearing up for summer and are expressing relief over putting another school year behind us. But for many homeschool families, this is when the real work starts, the work of planning, coordinating, purchasing, organizing and reorganizing… all so that the next school year can began smoothly and with purpose.
We began this 4 part series with a careful discussion about why putting one’s beliefs about education into concrete terms is so important for homeschool families. We moved on to examining 4 common philosophies that drive homeschool communities and curriculum and followed up with a peek at my first philosophy from way back when I first began my teaching journey 17 years ago. (Just click the bolded areas to catch up on anything you might have missed or for a refresher.)
We are going to close out this series by taking a look at the loosely used term “method“- what it is, how it is different from education philosophy, how to choose a “method” that fits, and several common large-scale methods used in home education. So let’s get going because that’s a lot to pack in!
What is Method and How is it Different from Philosophy
There is no mystery to the term instructional method, most commonly referred to as just method; it is just what it sounds like- the methods, or practices, one uses to actually present subject matter to students or to facilitate the mastery of material, concepts, life skills, etc. When someone refers to method, she (or he) is literally referring to the things she actually does to achieve her educational goals on a regular basis- (on a small scale) reading aloud together, memorization, utilizing manipulatives, morning meetings, experiments, (on a large scale) computer-based programs, co-ops, and so forth.
Unfortunately, many times in the homeschool community, one hears (or reads) the terms “method” and “philosophy” used interchangeably. But you and I know when it comes down to brass tacks, instructional method and education philosophy are not the same thing. And blurring the lines between the two becomes can make decisions about curriculum or possible participation in programs harder than it has to be or even lead us to make decisions that we come to regret later on.
Being informed about education philosophy, instructional method, and how they work together is an important step that can lead you closer to being able to choose programs, co-ops, tutorials, and curricula that is right for you and your family. In the first installment of this series, we established that educational philosophy is a statement of your beliefs about, goals for, and values concerning education. It is fundamental to our success to write our philosophy down, reflecting on what we actually think and believe and putting those ideals into concrete terms that can be expressed. Our written philosophy acts like a compass, something we can always refer to and rely on for guidance and direction. When it comes to instructional method, our personal philosophy can be used as a measuring stick against which all curricula, programs, or homeschool groups can measured. The instructional method we choose to use should be determined by our beliefs about education and how it works best.
Choosing Instructional Methods That Are Right For You
A common source of frustration for families comes from choosing a curriculum, program, or homeschool group whose practices do not line up with their educational goals or ideals concerning assessment, role of the instructor, or how the learning process best takes place, i.e. their philosophy. It is easy to choose a homeschool group or curriculum based on the glowing reviews of friends, the successes of other families, even popularity and trend. But if the shoe doesn’t fit, it’s really difficult to wear no matter how hard we try.
So, how do you know if an instructional method is right for you? Keeping your philosophy in mind, here are some easy questions to ask.
If evaluating curriculum:
- How is the material organized?
- What is emphasized? Recall of information? Critical thinking? Creativity?
- Are assessments supplied? How often are assessments suggested?
- If assessments are supplied, what types are they? How are the assessments structured? Do they rely mostly on recall? Do they rely heavily on written answers? Do they require students to draw conclusions? (Some of this will be limited by age.)
- What types of practice exercises are provided? Are hands-ons projects suggested? Is there a heavy reliance on fill-in-the-blank type questions?
- Do the assignments encourage inquiry? Exploration? Memorization?
- What role is the parent/teacher supposed to fill?
- Would using this curriculum create the type of learning environment you value most?
It is helpful to note that reading the introduction or prefatory material at the beginning of the curriculum can be exceedingly helpful in determining whether or not the curriculum might be a good choice for you. Many times the philosophy used to put the curriculum together is outlined and is sometimes even named if a common philosophy is followed. It is also important to note that instructional method does not have to be limited to simply what a curriculum presents or suggests.
If considering a homeschool group or program:
- What type of curriculum does the program use?
- What purpose does the group see themselves serving for individual families? The community?
- Does the group adhere to or value a certain philosophy or style of education?
- Does the group hold a view of education’s purpose similar to your own?
- Does the group value the same type of learning experiences as you value?
- What types of assessment, if any, are used? What value does the group place on assessment?
- Does the group share your value of structure or flexibility, whichever the case may be?
- What will be the parents’ responsibilities within the group?
- If there are instructors, what are the roles of the instructors?
- Would being a part of this group or partaking in this program create the type of learning environment you value most?
It is important to remember that philosophy and method are not the same thing, but put in proper perspective, they are and should be closely related. In well-planned and purposeful education, our education philosophies should be the motivation for the instructional methods we choose to implement. Letting convenience, trend, or even a lack of information choose our instructional methods for us can lead to real disappointment, frustration, even struggle. The good thing is that it’s never to late evaluate, or re-evaluate, the “why” and “what” of what we are doing and make the choices necessary to create the educational experience we’ve always wanted our child to have.
Below are a few large-scale instructional methods, or practices, found in homeschool communities. Each method could be broken down further, or is implemented by using more task-specific methods. Click on each one for a brief overview.
photo credits: Roberta Baker, Nithya Kumaresh, M4tik, Kiran Foster, TutorVista, Steven DePolo