in homeschooling??! (Insert gaping-mouthed gasps from all across cyber-ville.)
Before you tune me out at the mere mention of the word "workbooks" in relation to homeschooling, I'll have to confess, I, too, am anti-workbook. They go against my core beliefs of how to best foster individualized, self-motivated learning. They are the GO TO resource for the factory model of education. They promote a 2-dimensial, black-and-white way of learning. I get it! I BELIEVE it!
at the risk of sounding like a total turn-coat to the entire homeschool movement, I must admit, I USE WORKBOOKS in my homeschool.
(I'll pause for a moment to dodge a few rotten tomatoes, and then go on to paint you the full picture.)
Let me first start by disclosing that not only did I teach in a very traditional, workbook-driven classroom for several years, I was also employed for a time in the homeschool division of one of the leading Christian workbook-based curriculums, ABeka Book.
And while you might assume that it is BECAUSE of these experiences that I use workbooks in my homeschool. On the contrary, it is IN SPITE of them. It was during those "workbook" years, that I learned the TRUTH about workbooks.
The truth is, in most curriculums, workbooks are designed to compliment the teaching portion of the lesson. Let me repeat that...workbooks are designed to compliment. COMPLIMENT...not BE. There's a difference.
The framework of ANY math or language lesson (I use these two subjects as examples because they comprise the majority of workbook texts.) should be teacher/student interaction in the form of games, manipulatives, real-life examples...not a page of black-and-white questions torn from a workbook. The workbook page is merely an easy method of review. A means to measure whether the material learned can be put into practice. For this reason, they are PERFECT for classroom learning. A classroom teacher does not necessarily have the time to have individualized practice with each and every student to see if the knowledge has been mastered.
And if we are all being perfectly honest, workbooks are designed to "manage" the wide-spread learning abilities of a large classroom. Children start the school year off at varying degrees of knowledge. Much review of very basic information has to happen at the beginning of the year in order to get everyone to the same spot in the curriculum. (The first one-fourth of the entire school year is usually just a regurgitation of the previous one.) In addition, throughout the year, the gifted children need some "extra" to "occupy" while the classroom teacher works with struggling learners. And the struggling learners need a few additional problems to practice in order to "master"...and so the lengthy worksheet with its never-ending supply of repetitive questions is the perfect solution!
Knowing all of this,
why, then, do I choose to use workbooks in my homeschool?
The answer is simple...just because THOSE are the how's and why's that a CLASSROOM teacher might use workbooks does not mean they have to be MY how's and why's.
So, here's how ONE eclectic homeschooler (that would be me) uses workbooks in homeschooling.
How do I use workbooks
- I never use a workbook to teach. Its sole reason for "being" is for review/practice.
- I do not assign every page of the workbook. Many days it is unnecessary and redundant. I think we have already established that a workbook is for practice. That being said, if I see that the concept has already been MASTERED, why would I need to assign "practice?"
- When I do assign a workbook page, I rarely ever require my child to complete every single problem of every single section. I typically circle the problem number or section number that I wish for my child to complete. He/she does ONLY those problems and disregards the rest. (It is logical to assume that if he/she can correctly answer three long division problems correctly by using the correct steps and procedures, he/she can answer 10 or 12 correctly. I don't need to "see it" to believe it.)
- If my child does poorly on the 3 or 4 assigned problems within each section of the page, I can reteach the material or use the remaining problems in the section for further review.
- It is not unusual for me to skip the entire front or back pages of a workbook. I know my children. I know what they know and what they don't. If the first 20 pages of a phonics workbook are simply a review of the alphabet and my child is already reading one-vowel words, why would I waste his/her time...AND MY TIME...with worksheets that review the ABCs??! Or if the back fourth of the workbook is merely a long-standing review section, and he/she has already proven mastery, what would be the point of the review?
Why do I use workbooks
- Workbooks are an easy, no-fuss way of providing review of learned material. Yes, I CAN create example problems for my child to work on, but why WOULD I? I don't need to "invent the wheel" when someone else has already done so in the form of a workbook. My time is too valuable.
- The more children/grade levels you teach, the more corners you have to cut in order to squeeze it all in. I'd rather spend my time creating wonderfully engaging units and hands-on activities than devising my own subject/verb agreement charts and review sentences.
- If I have a harried homeschool day...OK, as a mom of five kids, ALL my homeschool days are harried. So, let me rephrase...if I have an UNUSUALLY harried homeschool day and find myself carting my brood to one appointment after another, I can rest in the knowledge that the school day was not a complete loss. My children can still accomplish the bare basics by completing a simple worksheet in a waiting room.
- While I think that science, history, Bible, and most extra curriculars are designed to be learned through enriching literature and engaging projects, Math and Grammar are sometimes best learned in black-and-white. They are rules-based subjects that have to be learned in a concrete, sequential order. A workbook generally follows the natural order of a sequential subject.
- I think that workbooks...when used in moderation...CAN be a nice COMPLIMENT to a thorough teaching time.
And how about you? Do you have a secret stash of workbooks on your homeschool shelf?