Reflections on the various dimensions of feminine vocation from liturgical homemaking and child rearing to education and the spiritual life.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Stir-Fry! Complete Protein Vegan Mania

Tonight's protein-loaded vegan stir-fry was delicious. Here's how I made it:

1. Cook according to package directions:
  • 2 C brown rice

2. While the rice is cooking, bring to a boil
  • 2 C water, salted
Add and cook for 1 minute:
  • 1-2 C frozen peas
Drain peas promptly and set aside in a separate bowl.


3. Steam for 5 to 7 minutes until just cooked:
  • 3-4 C green beans (fresh or frozen)
Set green beans aside with the peas. 


4. Dice
  • 1 onion
Heat in a skillet over medium heat:
  • 1-2 T coconut oil
When oil is hot, add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft and beginning to brown. Add
  • 3 t crushed garlic (I use frozen, crushed garlic from Trader Joe's.)
  • 2 t minced ginger (The frozen cubes are great for this, too!)
  • Salt to taste 
  • 1 t toasted sesame seed oil
Stir fry for another minute or so, until the garlic and ginger are soft and integrated. Then add the peas and green beans and toss until thoroughly mixed. Remove from heat.


5. Serve stir-fried vegetables over the rice and garnish each serving with the following:
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Roasted peanuts, chopped or crushed
Optional additions:
  • Soy sauce
  • Sriacha/Sambal Oelek
  • Green onions, sliced
Serves 4.
 
Bon app├ętit! 


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Comparing Phonics Programs

In my previous post, I highlighted three popular phonics programs that are based on the best research currently available. A friend asked me to write more about the pros and cons of the programs I mentioned and to say why I prefer the one over the other two, especially since Spell to Write and Read, my favorite, is known to be difficult to get off the ground.

Happy to oblige!

It's true. Spell to Write and Read (SWR) does require a good deal of teacher time and investment. At first, SWR is difficult to get off the ground and implement because you, as the teacher, have to learn the program (and wrap your mind around all the spelling concepts you weren’t taught yourself in school!) and then map out an individualized plan for your student(s). While this makes it a lot to learn at first on the teacher's end, the upside is that it is extremely flexible for personalizing for individual students and situations. Personally, I've found it totally worth it. And after the first year or so of figuring it out, it's pretty smooth sailing.

All About Spelling/All About Reading and Logic of English are both based on much of the same research as SWR. Those are good options, too, especially if you want everything laid out for you grade-by-grade (and for more money). I received a review copy of All About Spelling (AAS) along with the PAL materials from IEW. I tried using it a bit with my youngest, and it’s a good program. I haven’t seen Logic of English (LoE) in person, but you can get a pretty good feel for the curriculum from their website.

Pros & Cons:

AAS is easier to use than SWR in that every lesson is laid out for you in order and scripted; it’s an “open and go” curriculum—after the initial set-up of the materials. However, AAS doesn’t necessarily take any less teacher time than SWR because each lesson requires intensive teacher-student interaction. AAS is distinctive in using "letter tiles" for hands-on phonogram learning. This might be especially helpful for children who are too young for writing letters with pen or pencil.

Like AAS, LoE lays everything out for you. Unlike AAS, LoE has student workbooks with full-color activity and practice sheets that students can mostly do on their own. Additionally, the teacher's guide provides scripted lessons as well as other suggested multi-sensory activities to further student learning. Some of these workbook pages and suggested activities seem unnecessary to me—either busy work or too cutesy-clever. For example, in the Foundations A Teacher’s Manual sample page online, they suggest eating grapes, gingerbread, and granola when learning the letter ‘g’ as well as wearing green and gold and maybe learning about geckos, etc.  
All three programs—SWR, AAS, and LoE—are multi-year programs that teach the 70+ basic English phonograms and 28 foundational spelling rules. All three use flash cards, recommend games, and encourage other multi-sensory learning processes and activities.

As I see it, SWR offers three main advantages over the other programs that are based on the same research:
  1. SWR is a total steal since the initial package covers you for spelling, phonics, plus other language arts foundations for grades K through 12 and beyond. So comprehensive! And all for about a $100 initial investment plus $6 to $12 per student in consumable learning logs each school year. Compare this with around $50/year for AAS and with $176 to $213 per year of LoE! 
  2. SWR is designed to be adaptable for any student at any level and at any age. While this makes it a bit unwieldy at first for the teacher, it’s a powerful benefit. You’re not stuck going through a bunch of pre-designed lessons ordered for generic classes/students; you have the flexibility to use the provided diagnostic tools and lesson components as best suits the individual person and situation. The corollary of this is that there are no cutesy gimmicks to wade through, but there are tons of practical hands-on tips for multi-sensory learning organized by skill or concept in the SWR teacher’s guide. SWR does not distract teachers or students with unnecessary activities or program elements. Which leads us to  . . .
  3. SWR offers the most effective, efficient, and sound phonics program. If you read SWR author Wanda Sanseri’s speech to the Oregon senate, you might note some principles that make SWR unique. Instead of the “phony," “pokey", or "fickle" phonics of other programs, SWR offers all of the 70 basic phonograms and 28 spelling rules early and fast through a direct, uncluttered method that is systematic and intensive. After one year of SWR, a student will have all of the basic phonics knowledge they need to start reading almost any English book. From what I can tell of AAS and LoE, this is not the case. A student would have to complete multiple years of either of those programs in order to cover the same breadth and depth of phonics knowledge delivered in the suggested plan for the initial year of SWR. (And AAS is meant to be combined with All About Reading as a separate track!) This is why SWR is not merely a spelling program per se, but rather a comprehensive language arts foundation in phonics, spelling, reading, and beyond. (It even covers manuscript penmanship and an impressive amount of grammar.)
So if colorful student workbooks and/or prescribed, ready-made lesson tracks are important to you, SWR is probably not a good pick for your homeschool. But if you’re looking for a resource that will equip you to be the best possible language arts teacher for your students and give you the best bang for your buck, SWR is where it’s at. 
N.B., I am not affiliated with SWR in any way, and I receive no material benefit for endorsing the curriculum.  I'm just a fan girl whose been happily using the program for about six years now with both my own children and also other students.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What Is Demanded of Us: Charlotte Mason Admonishes Us to Get on Our Game

When trying to discern the best curricular choice or course of action, the most helpful question a Charlotte Mason homeschooling teacher can ask is not, "What would Charlotte Mason do?" or even, "What has Charlotte Mason recommended that teachers do?" but rather "What would Charlotte Mason do if she lived now and were in my situation?"

Because, of course, Charlotte Mason would have gone home from teaching mid-afternoon to a child-free, spouse-free house and a nice, quiet cup of tea.

She also has recommended that a mother outsource nurse-maid/nursery duties so that her children have her only at her best. (See her Volume I: Home Education, I.iv, pp. 17-18.)

So, if you are married, with children, and homeschooling, you are already not doing what Charlotte Mason did during her time, or even what she recommended doing.

But what would she do if she were married, homeschooling, and living now in the twenty-first century? Now that is a different question! And an interesting one.

Charlotte Mason is one of my heroes for many reasons including not only her brilliant insight into how children best learn, but also her dedication to following and investigating the best thought and research available to her at the time. For example, she studied the latest, breaking findings related to the physiology of the brain and frequently referred to it in her own writings as a basis for many of her practical recommendations for parents and teachers. She read widely in various fields related to child development, psychology,  educational theory, and "natural law." She was eager to circumspectly incorporate "whatever new light modern research puts in our way."

In the Preface to the Fourth Edition of Volume I, she writes,
My attempt in the following volume is to suggest to parents and teachers a method of education resting upon a basis of natural law; and to touch, in this connection, upon a mother's duties to her children. In venturing to speak on this latter subject, I do so with the sincerest deference to mothers, believing that, in the words of a wise teacher of men, "the woman receives from the Spirit of God Himself the intuitions into the child's character, the capacity of appreciating its strength and its weakness, the faculty of calling forth the one and sustaining the other, in which lies the mystery of education, apart from which all its rules and measures are utterly vain and ineffectual." But just in proportion as a mother has this peculiar insight as regards her own children she will, I think, feel her need of a knowledge of the general principles of education, founded upon the nature and the needs of all children. And this knowledge of the science of education, not the best of mothers will get from above, seeing that we do not often receive as a gift that which we have the means of getting by our own efforts. [emphasis mine]
We have, she tells us, a maternal duty to study the science of education.

Under "Some Preliminary Considerations," she further clarifies what it looks like for mothers to "owe a  'thinking love' to their Children": (I note here how she herself quotes other contemporary educational thinkers, such as Pestalozzi, revealing her own commitment to ongoing study of developing educational thought.)
"The mother is qualified," says Pestalozzi, "and qualified by the Creator Himself, to become the principal agent in the development of her child; ... and what is demanded of her is––a thinking love ...."
We are waking up to our duties and in proportion as mothers become more highly educated and efficient, they will [...] take it up as their profession––that is, with the diligence, regularity, and punctuality which men bestow on their professional labours. That the mother may know what she is about, and may come thoroughly furnished to her work, she should have something more than a hearsay acquaintance with the theory of education, and with those conditions of the child's nature upon which such theory rests. [emphasis mine]
These strongly-worded admonitions suggest to me that, if Charlotte Mason were alive today, she would urge us not to look back to her late-1800s/early-1900s curricular recommendations as a static educational plan to imitate without question. On the contrary! She would urge us rather to rouse ourselves to get on our game and do our own research.

If we want to imitate Charlotte Mason, we ought to look at, evaluate, and incorporate the best of current educational research.

Take reading instruction and phonics, for instance. Since Mason's time, we have learned much more about how English is best taught and learned.

Just within the homeschool world, there are now several powerful phonics/spelling programs available that have recently been developed on the basis of the ground-breaking research Orton and Gillingham conducted on English phonograms and spelling rules shortly after Mason's time.

Additionally, because of both national legislation like No Child Left Behind and also because of the school system's need to accommodate a wide diversity of students (including those who do not speak English as a first language at home), much research has been done on how to best teach reading and writing (e.g. phonics vs. whole word reading instruction and such).

Would Charlotte Mason encourage us to ignore all that and keep doing what worked best for her in turn-of-the-century England? Her admonitions and her own example make that highly unlikely.

Best research (like the meta-study here; get it free at a university library) suggests that a systematic phonics program is by far the best foundation for reading and writing. The whole-word approach that rolled through U.S. schools on and off during the last several decades has been debunked. And, while informal, laissez-faire approaches can accomplish good, systematic phonics remains the most sound and reliable method for ensuring success for students of all abilities.

Curriculum author, Wanda Sanseri, further argues that a program that overtly teaches the 70 basic English phonograms along with the 28 foundational spelling rules is the best kind of systematic phonics instruction. Her presentation to the Oregon senate is revelatory and compelling. She bridges the gap between Orton-Gillingham and contemporary practice.

Since Sanseri delivered her presentation, several programs have debuted in the homeschool market that draw on the Orton-Gillingham research base. I personally prefer Sanseri's Spell to Write and Read, but there are several other curricular options that follow the same research and are also great. Two such programs are All About Reading/All About Spelling and Logic of English. Before any of these, there was also The Writing Road to Reading. All of these programs are great with different trade-offs. Different programs will certainly work better for different families depending on the needs and temperaments of those involved.

Discussing these options and the underlying research certainly seems within the spirit of Charlotte Mason education to me!

Unfortunately, not everyone seems to agree.

Have you ever been a part of an online Charlotte Mason discussion where a respectful curriculum discussion was shut down by moderators because the curricular options under discussion were not "Charlotte Mason programs" and did not seem to match the instructional progression prescribed by Mason more than a century ago?

If thinking critically about particular instructional recommendations becomes anathema, perhaps we're missing the true spirit of our beloved paragon of "a thinking love."