You’re a coach!

Hey Julie!

I know you are so very busy with your wonderful Brave Writer stuff, but I have a general homeschool question for you. My husband has been off work this week, and he has seen how we “do school” each day. He is very bothered because it is what we homeschoolers call “teacher intensive.” My daughter is in 4th grade, and almost everything we do is teacher intensive. I sit with her and guide her through all of it. Even with math, we do it as a team effort. My husband feels as if she should be doing most of her work independently at this point. I would like feedback on the benefits of Independent work vs. teacher intensive. Thank you Julie.

–Sweet Mom

Hi Sweet Mom!

Your husband’s concerns can be understood as coming from a “school” memory. He likely wasn’t homeschooled and is remembering the classroom (though not specifically for that age, even, but a general memory of doing his own work). He is thinking that he didn’t have so much help in learning (though, he actually did, too, but it was shared with 25-30 other kids).

What most adults forget is just how much help kids need and get throughout their educational careers. An analogy that helps dads especially is to remind him of how a sports coach works with a team of players. Coaches will literally stand next to the practice field shouting instructions, running onto the field to manipulate a body to stand a certain way, to hold the bat or kick the ball with a specific form. They will give endless feedback and practice to a player who needs it.

The coach doesn’t simply get to a point where he says, “Okay, you all know what should be practiced—go do it on Wednesday night. I’ll see you at the game on Saturday.” Far from it! Coaches are at every practice, they supervise every warm up, they model how the practices or forms for play should look, they run drills, they tell kids what they are doing wrong and right—hands on, totally involved, right next to the players. They do not expect kids to become skilled players by telling them to be independent players and practicers. They consider their input of utmost value! The games are even played with the coach present!

You are coaching your daughter in education. This is the KEY model that schools would adopt if it were financially possible. Even without the tutorial model, in a classroom, instructors still offer students a lot of support and help. They are monitoring learning by diagramming on a blackboard, handing out worksheets, asking questions of students, by giving lectures, by physically being present with the students as the students learn new skills. Students are not alone, on their own, self-educating. They are being guided by instructors, they are providing instructors with material to grade or evaluate, and they are being taught in the form of comments (oral and written) to revise and improve. School is not about independent learning. It is about teacher-guided learning.

Unfortunately for school students, they do not get the personal attention that would improve their work to the degree that homeschooled kids can get at home. It has been shown that students who must learn math and writing through large group instruction do not make the kinds of progress that kids in the tutorial model make. These tutored students do become more and more independent as they acquire the skills they need, but initially it looks like they are getting “help.” 4th grade is the very very beginning of acquiring skills that lead to independence. Independence in learning (the kind your husband is envisioning) will become the norm in high school.

Here’s where you can meet your husband’s need for evidence of growing independence, though. You can, as you support your daughter, give her small tasks to complete while you do something else nearby. So, for instance, you might show her how to calculate the first few math problems on her page, then you get up to clear dishes or unload the dishwasher while she completes the page. If she has a question, you answer it from the sink first, to see if she can take your snippet of information and convert it into understanding and practice without leaning so heavily on you for support.

Initially she may only be able to do a few problems at a time this way. But over time, she will get better and better at it and you’ll be able to walk out of the room to change a load in the laundry or to take a shower. You want to let her in on this strategy too. You might say to her:

“One of the goals of home education is for you to be able to do some of your work without my sitting right next to you. I will always be available for answering questions and modeling new processes, but the practice of the work needs to increasingly become your work without my help. This is how we learn to be adults. We’ll take it slowly and you can always ask me to sit with you if a new process is too challenging.”

You want to respect your husband’s worries (otherwise you create some tension around homeschooling) but you also want to stick up for the kind of education that leads to successful homeschooling. It may help your husband to know that kids who are raised this way (with a lot of parental support in learning) often become some of the most independent learners as young adults. They are not waiting for a teacher to teach them. They are aware of what it looks like to be an invested student, having sat with a parent for all those years, absorbing the energy, skills, and habits of a highly motivated adult learner: the homeschool parent. We’ve seen it again and again.

Hope that helps!


Cross-posted on facebook.

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