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Group Classes – How do you decide?

By Penny Ross

George just asked you what would happen if you were to substitute ingredient X in place of chemical Y in today’s experiment. You haven’t a clue – but how do you admit that without sounding hopelessly unqualified to finish leading him through his science book? Meanwhile, Julie is three Shakespeare plays ahead of you and wonders if you’ll be ready to discuss them with her before she forgets what they were about. How do you tell her you’ve fallen asleep on the old bard four nights in a row? Do you find yourself longing for the days of a simple read-aloud? Are you beginning to realize that your students have advanced beyond you academically? What’s a homeschool mom to do?

The solution seems easy enough – sign up for a zillion group classes! So many opportunities are available now, including our own HELP classes, the Biola STAR program, Potter’s School and other Internet classes, junior college courses, and classes taught by homeschool parents throughout the local community. But, prior to trading in your teacher’s hat for a chauffeur’s cap and before you mortgage your house to cover tuition costs, let’s take a quick look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of group classes.

To me as a parent, the greatest blessing of group classes is the passionate and knowledgeable teachers. I hated science as a student, I merely tolerated it as a homeschool teacher, but my oldest son truly loved it. It was in group classes that he was able to learn from others who were even more passionate about the subject than he was. He’s now an electrical engineer; I can’t take any credit for inspiring him in that direction! However, you must choose carefully between secular and Christian classes. Godly teachers can role model their faith and influence young people far beyond simply teaching an academic subject. As your student’s faith becomes more solid and mature, there will be a time and a place to start sampling secular coursework.

No matter how the great the class, it should supplement the education taking place in your home –not replace it. You no longer have to choose curriculum, make lesson plans, or stay at least one step ahead of your student. But you do need to keep pace with your student. You must be familiar enough with the material to help your student through any difficult spots and to oversee the homework process. Remember, regardless of who is doing the teaching, it is you the parent who is accountable to Hope Chapel Academy (and ultimately, to God) for your student’s education.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest drawbacks to group classes is the classroom setting. After 12 years of teaching in Hope’s program, I have learned some tricks about adapting curriculum to different learning styles. But nothing I can do with twelve or fifteen students in a group setting compares with the one-on-one teaching you can accomplish at home. A younger student who is still working hard to master basic academic skills will struggle in an environment totally alien to his dominant learning style. For example, a 12-year-old student who has been using Math-U-See or Cuisenaire Rods for his entire math curriculum will likely have a difficult time adapting abruptly to a teacher using a Saxon textbook with no manipulative supplements. However, a college-bound student will do well to be introduced to a lecture-type teaching environment in high school, regardless of his learning style, to help prepare him for the typical college classroom. Of course, you can still encourage your hands-on student to continue using manipulatives at home as a further aid to his understanding, but you cannot dictate to a college professor how to teach your student. Therefore, when shopping for group classes, it is essential that you know your student and fully understand the teacher’s proposed teaching methods in order to make the best match between student and class.

Before committing to a class, be sure to investigate the amount of homework required. You don’t want to load up your student with so many group classes that he cannot also accomplish the work you have for him at home. In addition, consider the time period of the classes. Both HELP and STAR offer study halls for students with free time between classes. But realistically, your student may not be able to concentrate on his work in study hall as well as he can at home.

Also, don’t underestimate the influence of the fellow students. Young people are particularly susceptible to peer pressure, even in a supervised Christian environment. In a secular school, you will have to watch out for illegal substances and sexual temptations. Here at HELP, we deal with fashion, music, and language – not every family attending our program sets the same standard for its students. Keep the lines of communication open with your student, be sure he knows you are willing to discuss any issue of concern with him, and be ready to explain how and why your family’s rules were developed. As your student matures, it is essential that he understand how you use God’s Word to establish guidelines to keep your family firmly upon God’s path in today’s morally-relativistic world. He may not agree with the rules, but he must know that they were not some arbitrary invention dreamed up solely to cause him discomfort and inconvenience. That same thought applies to the differing rules between homeschool programs. When you register for a class, your family agrees to abide by all its rules and regulations, even if they are more rigid than the ones you have established in your own home.

In short, a few carefully chosen group classes can lend a new dimension to your student’s homeschooling experience. Select wisely and prayerfully. But do not abdicate your responsibility to oversee and supervise – a group class teacher is not a substitute homeschool parent!


Copyright 2007. Penny Ross. Used by permission of the author.
You may contact the author c/o Hope Chapel Academy, 2420 Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254, 310-374-4673, pross@hopechapel.org

 

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