Saturday, December 15, 2007

Our Very First Exam Week - Ever!

Week twelve is now officially completed and that means one thing. We are about to embark on our very first ever exam week. I'm a little nervous. I'm trying to remember all the kind and encouraging words I've read at Higher Up and Further In about making exam week pleasurable and a highlight of the term. I'm trying to remember that I had similar feelings when we first began narrations, and look how well everything turned out. I'm sure it will be fine. There's just this funny insecurity because I have never done this before nor have I seen it done. It's just me, Charlotte Mason, and a few good blog posts tonight as I try to figure out exactly what I'm supposed to do.

I know that last line, "exactly what I'm supposed to do", is a little out of fashion right now in homeschooling circles. We hear a lot about how "supposed to" is like a dirty word in homeschooling. Someday, I am sure I will have tailored CM style exams to fit our family just right, but at this point, I'm wanting a good deal of guidance. The flex part can come later when I have a better idea of what I'm doing.

In reading other blogs and specific entries on exams, I've been surprised at how many comments seemed to think examinations were incompatible with Miss Mason's methods. Without a doubt, Charlotte Mason's students underwent an examination at the end of each term. Even the youngest ones.

Did you know that Charlotte Mason gives a very detailed outline of how these exams were conducted for each of the grade levels (forms)? Her explanation of Parents' Review School (the homeschool version of a PNEU school) examinations can be found in the appendix to Volume 3, School Education. (By the way, "drill" simply means exercises or calisthenics.) She writes the following:

"The Parents' Review School, an output of The Parents' Union, was, in the first place, designed to bring homeschools, taught by governesses, up to the standard of other schools. A Training College for governesses, with Practising School, etc., was established later. Children may not enter the School under six; because we think the first six years of life are wanted for physical growth and the self-education which children carry on with little ordered aid. The Parents' Review school is conducted by means of programmes of work, in five classes, sent out, term by term, to each of the home schools (and to some other schools); and the same programmes are used in the Practising School. Examination papers are set at the end of each term.

The work is arranged on the principles which have been set forth in this volume; a wide curriculum, a considerable number of books for each child in the several classes, and, besides, a couple of hours' work daily, not with Books but with Things. Many of the pupils in the school have absorbed, in a way, the culture of their parents; but the children of uncultured parents take with equal readiness and comparable results to this sort of work, which is, I think, fitted, not only for the clever, but also for the average and even the dull child.

Class 1a. - The child of six goes into Class 1a.; he works for 2 and 1/2 hours a day, but half an hour of this time is spent in drill and games. Including drill, he has thirteen 'subjects' of study, for which about sixteen books are used. He recited hymns, poems, and Bible verses; works from Messrs Sonnenschein and Nesbitt's ABC Arithmetic; sings French and English songs; begins Mrs. Curwen's Child Pianist, learns to write and to print, learns to read, learns French orally, does brushdrawing and various handicrafts. All these things are done with joy, but cannot be illustrated here. Bible lessons, read from the Bible; tales, natural history, and geography are taught from appointed books, helped by the child's own observation.

Our plan in each of these subjects is to read to him the passage for the lesson (a good long passage), talk about it a little, avoiding much explanation, and then let him narrate what has been read. This he does very well and with pleasure, and is often happy with catching the style as well as the words of the author.

Certain pages, say 40 or 50, from each of the children's books are appointed for a term's reading. At the end of the term an examination paper is sent out containing one or two questions on each book. Here are a few of the answers. The children in the first two classes narrate their answers, which someone writes from their dictation."

Miss Mason then goes on to cite specific exam questions and answers from students in each of the grade levels. The narrations these children give are truly illuminating for the modern CM mother. Do you ever wonder what Charlotte Mason's standards were for children the same age as yours? Rest assured, sister, they were high. If you'd like to read the exam answers, Ambleside Online has them available here. I've typed enough tonight ;)

I will, however, list out the example questions that were sent out to the Parents' Review School homes. These questions are for Form 1a. (six or seven year old children).

* Tell the story of Naaman.

* Tell a fairy story. (If you don't read any other answers, read this one!)

* What have you noticed (yourself) about a spider?

* Gather three sorts of leaf-buds and two sorts of catkin, and tell all you can about them.

* Tell about The North-West Passage.

Of course, this is just a sampling. Miss Mason indicated that the examination paper included one to two questions for each of the books used within the course of the term. She reported that roughly sixteen books were used to cover thirteen 'subjects'. We have not, in our little homeschool, had a "full load" CM term. This was our first term of Year One (Form 1a.), and I felt the need to ease into things a bit. We have not included all of the subjects at this point; although, I plan to include all of them by the middle of the second term. For our first term, we had about 11 books, including our poetry and math books (we read well over fifty pages from each of them - something to improve next term - more later). I'll be working on questions from each of those books tomorrow night, and we'll be doing exam narrations on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week.

I'm still learning, ladies. Little by little :)