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Studying the skill subjects family-style


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I'm interested in talking about how to combine kids for family-style lessons in areas that are generally considered "skill" subjects that have to be taught individually (math and language arts, mainly, but maybe also foreign languages).

Here's an example: last spring we did a unit all together on fractions. I pulled activities and lesson ideas from Family Math and one of Marilyn Burns' books, and maybe two days a week we had a lesson all together, 11 year old down to the 4 year old, and the other days were "differentiated practice," as they say. It worked really well - I felt way more prepared even on the days I was still working one-on-one with each child because I was only preparing to teach one topic, not trying to be ready to teach a lesson on place value to the 1st grader and one on multiplication to the 3rd grader and another on ratio to the 6th grader or whatever. I had time to work through the fractions chapter of Elementary Mathematics for Teachers in an effort to improve my pedagogical content knowledge. My students benefited from being able to discuss and work together, and I think the group setting also took some of the pressure off for my less mathy student, who outperformed my expectations.

So this year, I'm thinking about how to expand this approach to other subjects. I've planned a family grammar study, and am thinking about how to do family-style composition.

One thing I am finding is that teaching this way is easier if I think about the curriculum in broad categories that get covered in increasing depth or complexity over time rather than thinking in terms of "1st grade skills" then "2nd grade skills" and so on. So elementary math is about the four operations, the decimal system, fractions, etc, and each of those topics can be accessed from an introductory and concrete level on to a more advanced and abstract level. For grammar, we're going to go over the parts of speech. My youngest students will be encountering those ideas for the first time, while my oldest student will be looking at how the parts of speech work differently across the different languages we study. And I've found some older "language lesson" and composition textbooks that are helping me think through writing skills in a more topical way (maybe topics like "the sentence," "the paragraph," "narrative," "description," etc - still very much working on this one). 

Has anyone else done something like this for "skill" subjects? Are there any resources that would be particularly useful? I've found it helpful to look at Montessori elementary curricula because it is organized for larger age spans, not single-year grades. 

Any thoughts about how to organize something like this? I think I want some kind of document that, for each topic, has lists of lessons and activities appropriate for whole-family time and also breaks out the specific skills that each age group should be working on to select from for the differentiated practice days, and those skills would be linked to a set of actual exercises, like lesson XXI in Ray's Intellectual or pp. 36-40 in some book in the Math Mammoth light blue series or whatever equivalent I can come up with for grammar and composition. Less of a graded scope and sequence and more of a plan for a multi-year rotation like you see for the content subjects.

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My kids are 4, 6, 9, and 11.

They all complete daily individual math, language arts and Spanish learning.  However, we also weave a lot of those skills into our daily group activities.

Math: We are a mathy family, so we have many math discussions in the car, during meals, while shopping, etc.  I also solve a challenging math problem at the board each evening during dinner.  I aim for a problem that none of my kids will know how to solve right off the bat, and since my 11 year old has already completed algebra, that means most of the problems are pretty high level.  I try to find some way each child can contribute to the day's problem at their own level, and also something in the problem that can challenge each child or introduce a new concept.

Language Arts: I read aloud to the kids as a group for about two hours every day, and that is the main backbone for our group language arts study.  I frequently stop to discuss the mechanics of what we are reading (as well as the content, of course).  I might highlight a spelling or vocabulary words.  I will point out alliteration in a novel or a really strong transition sentence in a non-fiction book.  At least once a week I model outlining a section of our history reading.  And as I read science, I take notes on an overhead projector and the kids use my model to take their own age-appropriate notes.

Spanish:  We use an immersion model for Spanish learning, so it is fairly easy to incorporate the diverse ages.  We spend a lot of time listening to stories, playing games, watching videos, doing crafts and activities, asking and answering questions, etc.  I try to stay 100% in Spanish during the short lesson, but if I cannot convey an idea to one of the younger kids, it helps that the older kids can usually step in and provide a translation.  Mostly I just try to make all of our activities inclusive and interactive enough that everyone can learn something on their level.  When reading a story about animals, I might pull out finger puppets so that the youngest can work on matching up the puppets to their names as I read.  The 6 year old can work on verbs by making the puppets act out the actions.  After the story, the older boys can use the puppets to narrate and perform the story back for us.  The next day we can pull out the puppets again, and while I play matching and naming games and "circle" the vocabulary (a comprehensible input teaching method) with the younger two, the older two can work together to write a parallel story using similar sentence constructions, but different characters or setting or problem.  

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I usually think about this in terms of how it's going to impact my kids emotionally. So, we do a lot ofreading all together, especially in literature, but also in history and science. I love this -- it's a nice way to bring everyone together and to read for pure pleasure. I keep it totally casual; nobody has to listen if they don't want to.

When it comes to more formal stuff, I am very aware that my son (8 and a half) is way more advanced than my daughter (almost 7). I really don't want a dynamic where he is always ahead; I find it's bad for both of them.

So I look for areas where she is his equal,  and those are the areas that I fully combine them in. This coming year, we'll be doing grammar together, and conversational French. 

 

 

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I love the idea of this. However, in general (and especially for anything more formal) it only works well for us for content subjects and in areas they are *very* close in skill. We cover a lot of ground in these areas with read-alouds, discussions, informal conversations, etc.

Language arts and math, though, it doesn't work well. In addition, any program they are both doing, I make sure neither has more than a vague idea where the other is (Dreambox, for example). DD8 is extremely sensitive to any perception of DS7 being more advanced than her. She has language issues and other LDs. He has LDs too, but not the language or other issues. So he can usually narrate, calculate, make conclusions . . . simply respond much more quickly than she can. One of the things I love about homeschooling is that she (and he) doesn't have to constantly compare herself to others, and I don't want to set up that situation here at home. 

I could see it working well if they were much further apart in age or skill, though. 

 

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2 hours ago, wendyroo said:

Spanish:  We use an immersion model for Spanish learning, so it is fairly easy to incorporate the diverse ages.  We spend a lot of time listening to stories, playing games, watching videos, doing crafts and activities, asking and answering questions, etc.  I try to stay 100% in Spanish during the short lesson, but if I cannot convey an idea to one of the younger kids, it helps that the older kids can usually step in and provide a translation.  Mostly I just try to make all of our activities inclusive and interactive enough that everyone can learn something on their level.  When reading a story about animals, I might pull out finger puppets so that the youngest can work on matching up the puppets to their names as I read.  The 6 year old can work on verbs by making the puppets act out the actions.  After the story, the older boys can use the puppets to narrate and perform the story back for us.  The next day we can pull out the puppets again, and while I play matching and naming games and "circle" the vocabulary (a comprehensible input teaching method) with the younger two, the older two can work together to write a parallel story using similar sentence constructions, but different characters or setting or problem.  

 

Wendy, this was all very helpful, but especially the above. I've slowly been moving to a more CI-approach to our foreign language study in part to be able to include all the kids, so I really appreciate your examples of how your kids are working at their own level in response to the same input. That is exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for. Thanks so much!

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The issue of siblings comparing themselves negatively to each other is a good caution. This has not been an issue for us thus far, so I'm reflecting on why that is and if there's anything I can do to make sure it continues not to be one. I suspect the age spacing of my kids help (they are all at least two years apart), and also, this wasn't exactly intentional on my part at the time, but the group lessons we've done have been more exploratory or conceptual or have involved a game. We also don't really use programs from start to finish, so my kids don't have that kind of a yardstick to measure themselves against in comparison with their siblings. But definitely something to keep an eye on.

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I don't naturally combine my kids, so I find your description interesting.  My concerns were along the lines of those already shared, though.  I have had multiple younger kids completely surpass older siblings.  Right now my 10 yr old is rapidly catching up to her 15 yr old sister.  While my kids don't directly compare themselves to eachother in a way that is negative or mean, older siblings definitely do know when a younger sibling understands things better, faster, or more easily than they do.  It just isn't a good emotional dynamic.  It may never be an issue for you.  But it is something to watch out for. 

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1 hour ago, LostCove said:

The issue of siblings comparing themselves negatively to each other is a good caution. This has not been an issue for us thus far, so I'm reflecting on why that is and if there's anything I can do to make sure it continues not to be one. I suspect the age spacing of my kids help (they are all at least two years apart), and also, this wasn't exactly intentional on my part at the time, but the group lessons we've done have been more exploratory or conceptual or have involved a game. We also don't really use programs from start to finish, so my kids don't have that kind of a yardstick to measure themselves against in comparison with their siblings. But definitely something to keep an eye on.

The bolded is pretty similar to most of our group lessons as well.  Another tactic I often use to prevent competition is always asking questions of a particular child rather than letting anyone jump in with an answer.  It takes training and enforcement to keep the kids from blurting out their answers when it isn't their turn, but it has been well worth it for us. 

So, for example, if we are reading a book in Spanish and I point to a wheelbarrow and ask the whole group what it is, then it will be obvious to everyone who answered first, who answered at all, and who didn't know the answer.  Instead, I try to ask each child exactly the right question for him or her...the one that is just the right amount challenging.  I might ask the 11 year old to name the wheelbarrow, the 9 year old to name the shovel, and the 6 year old to name the pumpkin.  I might ask the 4 year old to name a cat or hat or hand or something simple, or I might ask her to find something and point to it.

I also strategically choose what order to ask the kids questions.  If I am asking them one silly thing a character in a book did, I would go youngest to oldest so that the youngest can say any one thing she remembers, but the older kids have to think deeper to remember.  OTOH, if we are talking about alliteration and I ask the kids to generate one, I would probably go oldest o youngest so that the younger kids have heard a few examples before it is their turn. 

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Those are good tips - I had already moved to calling on specific children for some questions, but also using the order they get called on for different purposes in different contexts makes a lot of sense.

The different pedagogical strategies available in the group setting really interests me. I picked up Building a Better Teacher from the library recently hoping it would have discussion of concrete teaching practices in it, which it does a little, but not in any great depth. I might look up some of the citations, though. 

One other thing that I realized reflecting on this is that I tend to get more out of my most laconic child in group discussions. One-on-one with mom, I get stereotypical, minimalist "boy" answers - one sentence, no elaboration - but with his siblings, it is easier to draw him out and get him to explain and defend his thinking.

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Just a note to say I haven't read that article about pedagogical content knowledge since I was doing my doctoral coursework for my Ph.D. a few years back. It made a great impression on me then and is still a valuable read now.

On combining and the quality of discussions, sibling interactions, etc. I recently decided to combine my rising 7th grader (girl) and rising 11th grader (boy) for a literature study. She is a strong reader and advanced in literature studies while he generally dislikes reading and is a bit behind (less motivated and more literal than she is, mostly). They get along well in general, but at first he was offended because of their age difference. I told him I was not going to lower expectations for our discussions of the novel, that they would stay at the "high school level,"  and that his sister would get what she could out of the experience. Of course, I hoped that with her involved with asking questions and sharing insights, he would be encouraged to "raise his game" and engage at a deeper level with a novel than he typically does. This is exactly what has happened, and his experiences and maturity push her as well.  Both have been pleased to learn from each other and are benefiting enormously from this combination strategy. 

Edited by CAtoVA
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14 hours ago, CAtoVA said:

Just a note to say I haven't read that article about pedagogical content knowledge since I was doing my doctoral coursework for my Ph.D. a few years back. It made a great impression on me then and is still a valuable read now.

On combining and the quality of discussions, sibling interactions, etc. I recently decided to combine my rising 7th grader (girl) and rising 11th grader (boy) for a literature study. She is a strong reader and advanced in literature studies while he generally dislikes reading and is a bit behind (less motivated and more literal than she is, mostly). They get along well in general, but at first he was offended because of their age difference. I told him I was not going to lower expectations for our discussions of the novel, that they would stay at the "high school level,"  and that his sister would get what she could out of the experience. Of course, I hoped that with her involved with asking questions and sharing insights, he would be encouraged to "raise his game" and engage at a deeper level with a novel than he typically does. This is exactly what has happened, and his experiences and maturity push her as well.  Both have been pleased to learn from each other and are benefiting enormously from this combination strategy. 

This is exactly what I've been planning for -- I'm happy to read this! I figured if I'm going to combine my kids, it makes sense to do it for subjects that my younger kid is very strong in. They definitely work best together in areas where she can keep up or is a little ahead in some ways. That makes them happy and productive. When my oldest is best at something, my youngest just gets turned off. 

But I can see how this would be really different from family to family, depending on the kids!

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I think a literature discussion is different than math due to subjective vs objective answers.   I have on occasion combined younger and older kids for literary type discussions and have had it be a positive experience for both.  Discussing personal POV/analysis is less "comparative" than knowing the correct answer to a math problem.  (I have had a much younger child, sitting on the floor playing and seemingly oblivious to what we are doing, blurt out the answer to a problem (that they solved mentally) that the older student was struggling with while looking at the problem being solved step by step on paper in front of them.....that is definitely ego-killing.  

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Yes, totally agree 8Fill, this is what sometimes happens between my rising 7th grader and my rising 4th grader. The 4th grader is a crack speller but my 7th grader struggles in this area. Thankfully, she doesn't allow this to impede her writing. Anyway, there will be glares for days if/when the younger "dares" to "butt in" to older's spelling lesson/book. Sometimes we play word games where they are given a series of letters and a time limit to make different words with them. At the end, they are challenged to use all the letters to make a "secret word." In another game, they will be given a word family like ight or ish and challenged to use blends and letters to make as many words as they can, within a time limit, that end with the focus word family. They are pretty well-matched skill-wise even with the difference in age, the older not being a "natural" speller and the younger being advanced in this skill. There definitely have been tears from the older when the younger appears to find the challenge easier than she does. 

Occasionally this can happen in math too because the younger "sees" patterns quickly and may blurt out an answer to a question in the rising 7th grader's problem set. My rising 7th grader is pretty confident in math and advanced in this area however (Algebra 1 this year), so, while it may irritate her,  it does not matter to her as much and does not hurt her ego.

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13 minutes ago, CAtoVA said:

Yes, totally agree 8Fill, this is what sometimes happens between my rising 7th grader and my rising 4th grader. The 4th grader is a crack speller but my 7th grader struggles in this area. Thankfully, she doesn't allow this to impede her writing. Anyway, there will be glares for days if/when the younger "dares" to "butt in" to older's spelling lesson/book. Sometimes we play word games where they are given a series of letters and a time limit to make different words with them. At the end, they are challenged to use all the letters to make a "secret word." In another game, they will be given a word family like ight or ish and challenged to use blends and letters to make as many words as they can, within a time limit, that end with the focus word family. They are pretty well-matched skill-wise even with the difference in age, the older not being a "natural" speller and the younger being advanced in this skill. There definitely have been tears from the older when the younger appears to find the challenge easier than she does. 

Occasionally this can happen in math too because the younger "sees" patterns quickly and may blurt out an answer to a question in the rising 7th grader's problem set. My rising 7th grader is pretty confident in math and advanced in this area however (Algebra 1 this year), so, while it may irritate her,  it does not matter to her as much and does not hurt her ego.

My kids are younger, so I don't know if this will hold true as they age.  But sometimes when one of the younger ones really unexpectedly excels in a skill and gives one of the olders a run for his money, I think it can do them both good.  My olders spend their whole lives being 2, 4, 6 years older, stronger, faster, taller, more mature and wily and experienced.  They win games and races.  They out-think and out-bargain.  They know how to game every system.

So when one of the littles comes along and does something better than one of the bigs, I think it lets them both experience another important point of view.  It gives the younger a boost of feeling big and capable...something I find my littles often need when they are constantly reminded of all the things they can't do compared to their older siblings.  And it gives the older a chance to feel humble and incapable and weak...which helps them better empathize with siblings, friends, and later people in general who are really struggling and feeling badly about themselves. 

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Gather Round is trying to eventually do a math curriculum like this, but it won't be anytime soon. 

Their unit studies do have some grammar, etc in them that is at different age levels but often the same topic. And the units themselves are that way. The curriculum isn't perfect, and it is NOT enough if you just hand them the worksheets and that is it - it is meant to be used along with your choice of videos, books, hands on materials, play, etc, and it isn't popular on these boards, but it definitely has that aspect to it. 

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Posted (edited)
On 7/27/2020 at 11:38 PM, CAtoVA said:

Just a note to say I haven't read that article about pedagogical content knowledge since I was doing my doctoral coursework for my Ph.D. a few years back. It made a great impression on me then and is still a valuable read now.

 

I had seen it cited many, many times, but never actually got around to reading it til this summer. I'd like to find more discipline-specific work on PCK now, but it is somewhat laborious sorting the rare wheat from the abundant chaff in education research.

On 7/28/2020 at 7:25 PM, wendyroo said:

So when one of the littles comes along and does something better than one of the bigs, I think it lets them both experience another important point of view.  It gives the younger a boost of feeling big and capable...something I find my littles often need when they are constantly reminded of all the things they can't do compared to their older siblings.  And it gives the older a chance to feel humble and incapable and weak...which helps them better empathize with siblings, friends, and later people in general who are really struggling and feeling badly about themselves.

Yes, exactly. It seems to me that, assuming I can handle these situations tactfully, group learning offers other educational opportunities beyond academics. 

10 hours ago, ElizabethB said:

My syllables lessons are designed for multiple ages, older students help the younger ones with looking up words on bingo, everyone uses a different level of Webster eventually but everyone is still working with syllables.

http://www.thephonicspage.org/On Reading/syllablesspellsu.html

Thanks, Elizabeth - reading was the one "R" that I had no ideas for! I've used your syllable materials for the well-taught phonics student with great success for two of my kids and was about to start the third and fourth, so now would be a great time to try this. 

Edited by LostCove
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2 hours ago, LostCove said:

 

Thanks, Elizabeth - reading was the one "R" that I had no ideas for! I've used your syllable materials for the well-taught phonics student with great success for two of my kids and was about to start the third and fourth, so now would be a great time to try this. 

You can also expand on the word roots and word root bingo, older children can do more with them, younger children can just sound them out and find them on Bingo cards.

I've found that my students actually learn more roots when they play bingo and I read off a few words from the word definition document than worksheets or other root programs.  Older students can also run the bingo and read the documents, I used to let older students who won a round run the next round. (Some introverts would decline, I let people decline.)

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Lost Cove, when I was writing my dissertation I seem to recall reading many solid PCK content-area, discipline specific articles. This was eleven-twelve years ago, however. I'm sure there must be something more recent by now (something of quality somewhere), lol. 

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Since you mentioned foreign language...

We often combine reading aloud in foreign language. One reads one side of the page, the other the opposite. The older gets the task of looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary. Sometimes I have the older translate whole sentences to English but would only ask for a few words from the younger.

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