Now that it’s February, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at how things are going with our 4th grade curriculum choices this year. (Check out my video sharing this year’s curriculum choices.) I’ve already published a couple of posts about two of our group subjects, complete with successes and failures.
Today I’ll share some thoughts about how things are going with my fourth grader, along with our biggest success and biggest failure so far this year.
Something New – Mental Warm-Ups
The first thing my fourth grader does each day is work out of his Morning Work binder, which contains calendaring and copywork materials. This fall I also added a mental warm-up section. It currently contains analogies, simple word searches, and logic problems. The purpose of the mental warm-ups is to get my son to sloooowwww dooooowwwwwn. He tends to rush his schoolwork and not pay attention to details, which results in careless mistakes. I thought that starting out the day by doing work that requires him to slow down his thinking could help him in other subjects. It’s hard to be sure, but it seems like it’s helping.
Successful Change – Math
This year I moved my fourth grader from Teaching Textbooks to Math-U-See. He’d used Math-U-See in first and second grades, but I switched to Teaching Textbooks for third grade. I thought he would enjoy the lessons online, and I liked the idea of not having to check his math work.
I was so wrong! The lessons on the laptop totally didn’t work for my non-auditory learner, so I had him read the lessons and do the work in the workbook. That seemed to work well, he was getting A’s on every assignment and seemed pretty confident.
And then he had trouble one day, so I sat with him to go over the lesson and watch him work. That’s when I noticed that the confidence he had after completing a lesson was totally not there while actually doing the math work. This surprised me because, based on his grades and the fact that most of each lesson was purportedly review, he should have had a lot of confidence in doing the work.
After digging deeper, I attributed this disconnect between his lack of confidence in math last year and his great grades to the fact that new concepts do not have enough practice problems. Out of the 20+ math questions in each lesson, only a couple of them pertained to the new concept just covered, and they were often not even the first couple of problems! So there’s a full page describing a new concept, and then instead of getting to practice that concept themselves, the student is given questions that might not have anything to do with that concept.
So yes, Teaching Textbooks has a lot of review questions in each lesson, but I contend that they’re not really review because the student wasn’t encouraged to learn new material well. Instead, I felt like my student had to go through the stress of re-learning each concept over and over again. This wasn’t immediately apparent to me because Teaching Textbooks gives a student multiple chances to get a question correct before it’s marked as wrong.
When it was time to make our 4th grade curriculum choices, we couldn’t wait to move back to Math-U-See! I did change the way we use it. Instead of doing one worksheet a day, I give each of my boys two worksheets – one for practicing that week’s new concept, and the other containing review questions. So he’s doing pretty much the same number of questions that he did with Teaching Textbooks, but actually has the chance to internalize concepts before moving on.
New Favorite – IEW
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This is our first year using IEW resources and I was curious about the hype. But I’m now a convert and have a deep and abiding love for IEW resources! I would say that the IEW philosophy is the educational version of “gentle parenting.” The resources we’ve used so far are intended to be low stress for the student, but still give great results.
- Fix It! Grammar – Grammar has been a struggle with my fourth grader. While he has learned to enjoy reading, he does not have a natural bent toward a love of words. So he really couldn’t care less about parts of speech. Fix It Grammar works for him because the focus is on a developing story, not boring rules. He doesn’t have to memorize any rules because he can refer to the included flash cards at any time. And the lessons are short because he works on only one sentence a day. And it’s working! I’ve noticed that he refers to the cards less and less, and he’s learning so much. This one has been a big hit for us.
- Student Writing Intensive (Level A) – I’ve gotta be honest – the name really scared me. I assumed that the great results people got with this program would be attributed to a high-pressure curriculum. And it’s totally not that. You can move through this curriculum as quickly or slowly as your student needs. Since my fourth grader is not a natural writer, we’re taking it pretty slow, and I’ve even purchased extra source material. I love that it teaches note-taking via the key word outlines. I have had to change my thinking quite a bit. Parents are encouraged to help as much as needed (you can’t help too much! they’ll tell you when they don’t need your help!), and to edit drafts without comment or lecture (they’ll internalize your corrections during the re-write!). This took some getting used to, but I now see the wisdom in those suggestions.
Biggest Failure – Code Ninjas
Even though I made a living doing software development, we enrolled my son in Code Ninjas because I thought he might have fun meeting other kids with similar interests. Unfortunately, the location we chose was not well-run, which caused several frustrations. Also, the kids were required to attend for either one hour or two hours at a time, which was super boring for my son – partly because of the uninspiring environment, and partly because of the distractions around. Add to that my opinion that it’s way over-priced for what you get, and we decided to cancel our membership after a couple of months.
Since then, I’ve had him working in his Coding with Scratch workbook (similar) once a week. It has been a much more positive experience. He spends the same amount of time or more that he would have at Code Ninjas, but he is learning more and having more fun with coding. And we don’t have to drive anywhere! #introvertwin
Biggest Win – Cub Scouts
Yes, I’m counting Cub Scouts as part of our 4th grade curriculum choices! We liked the idea of putting the boys in Cub Scouts both to make friends and to learn responsibility. I’m glad to say it has exceeded our expectations! They are learning so much, everything from respectfulness to health and safety. My husband and I have a deal that he handles the Cub Scouts since I’m busy with homeschooling, so it has been great for the boys to spend that time with Daddy. It has been more involved than we expected, but we’ve seen it as an opportunity to take part in a positive community experience.
I’ll probably have another update at the end of our school year (this summer, since we school year-round). I hope that you enjoyed this peek into my fourth grader’s school year so far!