Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Short Lessons

Charlotte Mason (1841–1923) was a British educator who developed several teacher-training programs in the 1880s. One of her programs was a college for governesses where they were trained to be effective tutors to their young charges. She had students attend her school to be "students" for the governesses while they were in training. Most of these children came from very poor families and given the opportunity to get an excellent education (and to prove her methods were very effective, even for those who did not come from educated families). So, she was training governesses to be homeschoolers! I have read parts of her writings here and there, but have yet to read through all six volumes that she wrote on the subject of education.

One concept that I did feel kinship with early on was her belief that children's lessons should be kept quite short. About a week ago, I decided to start timing our instructional time just for informational purposes. The first block of the morning is always davening, torah stories, Hebrew songs, plus other Jewish studies. That takes about an hour, 30 minutes of which the children can quietly draw while they are listening. What I was a bit astonished to discover is that most of our other subjects (Hebrew writing, Hebrew grammar, English printing, English grammar, spelling, composition, and math) only take 5 to 8 minutes per lesson! Reading (English and Hebrew) (5x/week) and history (2x/week) each take 15 minutes per session. Science and art take longer just because of the nature of the subject.

And yet, even with lessons this short and plenty of time taken for summer activities and play, we are already pretty far ahead of schedule compared to what I estimated we would complete in the first two months of our year (our learning calendar runs July to June). I think optimal focus (short lesson) + optimal instruction (tailored completely to the student) = a great deal of information being processed in a very brief amount of time.

There is another Charlotte Mason suggestion that I have always used in our printing work—that it is much better for a student to write three really good Bs, then to write a whole page of them getting sloppier as they go. Again, there is the principle of instilling a good habit, in this case of making letters that are very well-formed. This takes advantage of that absolute focus that comes when a student is fresh and the length of the lesson hasn't allowed their mind to wander off.

Miss Mason recommends that lessons for elementary school children should be 15-20 minutes long. For junior high it should be 30 minutes, and for high school, 45 minutes. Even the youngest students should have 15 to 21 subjects to study (we have 20, thanks to all of our Jewish studies!). I'm sure our lessons will naturally lengthen as the material demands it, but for now it's working really well, and I absolutely believe in the effectiveness of (surprisingly) short lessons.

From the moment Amirah arrived, I strived to create an environment that was not full of all kinds of stimulations, with noises whizzing by and toys that gave instant gratification and big, flashy rewards for no effort. I wanted them to have the habit of taking the time to observe and interact with things. When I think of this, I always think of the Mr. Rogers episode where he spent FIFTEEN MINUTES just observing an African violet. That's the kind of habit I want all of my children to have. The habit of observing, questioning, pondering, and analyzing—and not glancing at something before rushing off to the next thing. The habit of a quiet, focused mind.

Good night!

1 comment:

alpidarkomama said...

Not sure why my fonts went wonky! Sorry for the odd look...