In October and November, I struggled mightily with work plans; partly because I had so many ones I knew about. First there are the work plans I read in the Lillard books, which is basically children having meeting with teacher and then coming up with list of things they want to do and then documenting it down on a workbook. Then there is what I saw during my observation of classrooms, which have grids of Monday-Friday across, and general subjects (Reading, Math, Culture) going down. Teachers check off each subject as children complete them.
First I tried to do something similar by writing them on the whiteboards. I listed the items and had how many times Thumper had to do them each week, which were more granular than subjects. The first week I had Reading, Being Read to, Math, Meditation, zhuyin, etc with 3 squares for each week. By the third week, the list grew to about 7-10 items, with some items having 4-9 squares and others 3.
At this time, I got push back. “If I read one paragraph, does that equal to one check mark?” “If I do 3 math problems, am I done for the day?” I would always tell her, “No, just do as many as you want and then stop.” But at the same time I wasn’t okay with the choice of just 1 problem, so I was technically lying to her. In addition, because she dillydallied, sometimes it would be Thursday and she would have a mad rush of finishing all the check marks. Because of this, at that third week, I also had her “plan” by writing when she was going to do them on top of the squares. But there really wasn’t any consequences like in a real school where they have to finish work during lunch and can’t play. Because other things in life gets in the way, like Mommie being too tired at the end of the day, having to make it to swimming, Mommie being hungry herself and needing to leave the classroom to feed Astroboy.
I had thought myself a genius in using the white board because I can arbitrarily add new squares. And I knew I was “assigning” the amount of work because it’s a transition. But I found that this didn’t work for two reasons:
- Within each subject, there are multiple threads. Saying I want her to do math does not specify WHAT math. It also gets confusing because I don’t know off the top of my head what materials goes with which strands of math and therefore which ones I need to hit or do follow up work with.
- She got into the “How do I check off the squares” mentality. Totally not what I want. One reason I love Montessori philosophy is the child choosing their work, within limits. And having the ability to do a lot more of one work if they’re interested. Checking off squares does not help with that ultimate goal.
Reading What Did We Do Today’s different work plans (2013, 2014), I decided to try it with just index cards. I don’t have an extra wall calendar for the visual aid but I thought maybe Thumper could go without it since she’s 7. For each subject, I put a cute post-it on top, and wrote down all the items we were working in that subject and had her choose. Each morning, right after we get into the classroom, she would pick a certain number of cards (determined by me) from each area. I also added the “Thumper’s Choice” and “Mama’s Choice” cards just like the blog suggested. She then puts the card in order of her choosing and go through them.
I like the system because it’s way more concrete. Ordering the cards and working through them gave her a “plan” that the whiteboard method didn’t provide. However, it didn’t work for several reasons.
- The cards did not specify WHAT she was to do in each subject. For example, how many addition problems? I understand the child kind of chooses to stop whenever they want. But I had no way to keep track myself of what she’d done or what she’s been doing. I needed to know what work follows so I can make the materials.
- I also got confused myself because I could not keep track of the different threads in each subject. This is the reason I did not use What Did We Do Today’s 2014 system, because I just don’t have the curriculum all in my head yet.
- The system allowed her to chose 2 operations cards from “Math” every day but keeps avoiding memorization work. I guess I could have had many “tabs”, each one for each thread. But that’s a lot of tabs.
- The other problem was that I could not really easily say, work through these subjects/threads (Reading, math) once a day, but work these other times 3 times a week, similar to What Did We Do Today. Since we weren’t record keeping, it was hard to tell what she’d worked on.
In a way, this system gave Thumper too much freedom. And that’s what frustrated me the most, her choosing the easy, non thinking things like handwriting and being read to, but not doing things like math or writing.
What did work for Thumper was having the index cards themselves. It allowed her to work independently, knowing what work to choose next and where to get the materials. Rather than having to ask me after every work. It also cut down on the dilly-dallying because the plan is right there. It’s like writing a to-do list before you start work.
This might have worked if we had that wall calendar. It totally illustrates something that I encounter again and again when borrowing ideas from the web. Often in tweaking someone else’s plan, due to lack of materials or lack of money, the plan doesn’t work.
Thankfully I took an Overview class this semester and we asked out trainer. She showed us the work plan she developed for Kindergarten and first grade. It’s that specific because in the beginning she writes out the work plan for them and only after a few weeks do they start doing it themselves.
The way this work plan works is that there are 3 major areas, Reading, Math, Culture. Within each one, there are different threads listed. The child decides with teacher at the beginning of week what they will work on. Then she logs it onto a second sheet of paper each time she completes it. For example, for Math, you have:
- Equations ___20 addition equations________________
- Memorization ___________________
- Math Cards ___________________
- Word Problems ___________________
- Geometry ___________________
- Money ___money basket match________________
They have to complete 20 addition equations in a week and they can choose how many to do in a day. The expectation is that they will do one thing in each thread each day.
I had an AHA! moment when I heard about this: A work plan has very specific goals, but gives the children leeway to choose how they accomplish it. I didn’t have specific goals in my previous tries. There are two reasons I like this plan.
- It clearly shows me the strands that Thumper will be working on within each subject. Because I’m not 100% familiar with the curriculum yet, having the threads and the weekly goals on paper helps me organize and categorize what needs to be covered next and see the big picture.
- It has goals I can see.
What doesn’t work for us in this plan is going through every thread every day. I like the idea of working through a thread over a week or two week period. This makes sense especially for larger projects. But I could not figure out how to implement the “complete this work over 2 weeks” part of What Did We Do Today’s 2014 Workplan with the index card system. It was too abstract for Thumper and me I think, with no definition of what was considered enough work. This plan solves the problem by listing the goals and having the child logging what they’ve done to accomplish that goal.
So what I’ve done now is to merge these three ideas together, from my trainer, and the What Did We Do Together 2013 and 2014 plans.
Sunday night, I generate a new work plan for Thumper. I highlight the threads that needs to be done daily, vs items that needs to be done by the end of the week. As a transition, I am listing the amount of work expected in some threads and letting her choose in others, base on what I’m most anxious about. For example, she has to read 1 phonic book a week, once a day. But she can choose how many sentences to write for writing each week. I think if I were to ask my trainer, “But what if they always choose the minimal amount of work?” she would say that you have to keep encouraging them, and let them know that they can only do the work listed in the work plan. That is why there is no art in her sample plan.
I also print out all the worksheets she needs for that week (yes, I’m making worksheet till I have time to make materials). This gets put in her work folder, which is divided into “This week, Future, Completed Work.” The folder is also there to show our charter homeschool teacher. They want work samples, preferably in 8.5×11 paper.
Every Monday morning, we go through our list of items in our Work Plan and determine what needs to be done for that week. I then show her where to find materials like worksheets, which books she’s reading, which materials (Stamp game, vs Dot Board) she could use, etc.
Every morning, after school starts, we sit down to look at the work plan together and choose her task for the day out of the index cards I’d made before. The index card system needs to be updated and reorganized to follow the work plan schema, but I don’t have time right now. She then orders the index cards into the order she wants to work on them. I’m sitting down with her right now partly because I think I still need to tweak the plan a bit. I need her to know somehow how much work she’s completed vs how much work she needs to do. And the current logging system doesn’t quite reflect that easily. That is why I look it over with her to help her determine what needs to be done.
The Work Log has Mon-Fri on top, 4 areas listed (Math, Language, Culture, Chore), and several grids under each area. After she is done with an activity, she is to log it. Right now the square for each “unit” of work is small so we’re writing in short hand. I wrote it down for her the first week since I was figuring out the short hand myself. The second week, she wrote some I wrote some, and this last week, she did most of it. For example, when she does multiplication of 3s, she writes “x3” in a grid.
The nice thing about the Work Log is that it isn’t checkboxes like my First Try. I like that it doesn’t give that feeling “I must check off xx boxes today.”
So far things are working pretty well, especially on the good days. It was very hard in the beginning because I got into my habit of expecting the child to just magically get a system after I explain it. So I wasn’t sitting down with her to help her get used to the process. That was when she kept asking me, “What should I do next?” Once I consistently sat down with her and we pulled out the index cards, it worked better. I also started giving her a shorter timeline than 3 hour work period. Because honestly, I think each “unit” of work is about 15 minutes long. I know kids can work longer than that, but she hasn’t chosen to work that long for any single work. So the amount of work she chooses can be done in an hour, 1.5 hours if she takes her time.
My biggest problem right now is trying to figure out how a Work Period itself works, what a typical child would do. How I should organize myself and what I do during a work period. Because I’m discovering that all my observations in classrooms don’t match what I’m seeing at home. And I don’t know if it’s because of what I’m doing or if it’s because home schools are inherently different because there are only 2 kids. I’m thinking it’s the latter.