Best Practices for Organizing and Documenting Your Homeschool Progress
One of the tricky aspects of homeschooling is that when you choose to go against the grain, you open yourself up to scrutiny and criticism. There are many ways of coping with this. Some may opt to stay below the radar, keeping to themselves. Some may arm themselves with a strong knowledge of the law or align themselves with powerful interest groups. My strategy so far has been a little different.
In general, I am not worried about my children being scrutinized by anyone. They are smart kids and they can take it. We also generally teach in fairly close alignment to the public school standards. Yet, it would be untrue to profess that I never worry about this issue. Every homeschooler probably harbors a secret fear that someone somewhere will object to their educational practices and make it into a public case.
This year, I wanted to improve how we document our homeschooling progress. My main motivation was not so much a fear that we weren’t doing things right but rather looking ahead to documentation standards as children get older. Once children hit high school, you have to be far more diligent in your record keeping as a homeschool teacher, particularly if you intend for your children to go to college someday. I like long transition periods so I wanted to start doing some minimal record-keeping standards now.
I didn’t want to create any systems that were too burdensome or did not serve any purpose for me personally. This is what I came up with.
The Academic Resume
Each year in Virginia, homeschoolers file a Notice of Intent with the school system, which is essentially a short letter indicating the subjects that will be taught that year. For my own records, in addition to the Notice of Intent, I am starting to keep a personal list of the specific books and curriculum materials we taught from for each subject area. It is becoming an informal transcript-like document.
I think of it as an academic resume and format it similar to a resume. In addition to the curriculum, I also list any special classes, camps or summer programs my daughters attended. If anyone ever needed to know what we have been doing, this would be the one-page summary I would give them. It also serves as a great memory aid for me.
There is no legal requirement in Virginia that homeschoolers satisfy any particular hour or time commitment. I personally don’t put a lot of emphasis on hours as an indication of academic progress since each person is different. Some children will learn quickly and some will learn very slowly.
However, if you have ever participated in a school-at-home type of program, like the one our county is currently experimenting with, you will find that the school system and academic accreditors put a huge emphasis on hours. If you ever think you might need to transfer into the public or private school system, keeping at least some record of hours is a good idea.
I find it too tedious to track the actual number of hours studied each day, but I have come up with two easy-to-maintain methods that would allow me to back-calculate our hours should I ever need to.
First, I have started creating a general calendar by month, setting out the subjects I want to cover on each day. I check off each subject as we finish it or circle it if we just didn’t have time to get to it that day and need to come back to it later. It serves a dual purpose as our checklist for the day. I used Target’s $1 teacher planner book for this purpose.
Next, I make sure to date each page that my daughters complete, whether it is in a workbook or a written assignment.
Between the calendar and the page dating, I (or someone else, if I was being scrutinized) could look back in a year or two from now and estimate about how much time we were spending each day on each subject.
Another standard aspect of educational monitoring is calculating grades based on a logical averaging of numeric scores. There is no requirement that homeschoolers assign grades and it is easy to get away from grading entirely. With the one-on-one instructional nature of homeschooling, particularly for young children, sometimes it is very hard to know how to grade.
In our classroom, there are very few times that I send my girls away to work entirely alone on an assignment and bring it back to me for grading. Generally, we are working through an assignment together. If an error is made on a problem, we correct it immediately. When we are done with the page, all the answers are right but it doesn’t necessarily mean my child working alone would score 100%.
When I first started homeschooling, I didn’t calculate the percentage of right answers at all. Instead, I would just make notes to myself at the bottom of the page about the concepts my child was struggling with or was doing extremely well with. Over time, I became more comfortable with percentage scoring and came up with a grading system where I subtract ½ if the process is right but some minor mistake leads to a wrong answer or if I have to give hints about how to solve something. I don’t grade 90% of the work we do. I generally only grade “Review” assignments.
It has also been my experience that numeric scores and marking questions wrong can be very disheartening for young learners. Generally, I sneak the numeric score onto the page while I am marking the date without making a big deal about it to the children. Sometimes they notice and sometimes they don’t. They know I am proud of them for putting in the effort to do the assignment.
At this point, I am not up to doing a formal grade book with scores and calculations but with this informal record, I could always go back and create that if necessary.
Notebooks and Journals
Schools also love to see scrapbooks, portfolios or organized journals. It makes sense. If, for example, you want someone to evaluate your math ability and you hand them your current math workbook, they have an instant understanding of what topics you covered and where you are currently. This is my first year trying to organize each subject we study into a journal or notebook.
So far, it is not hard at all. For math, we use the Singapore Math workbook so it is all organized for us. For English, we have a composition notebook we write or paste all the assignments into. For art, we have a wire-bound sketchbook we do all the assignments in. For Spanish, all the completed worksheets go in a pocketed folder. For music and dance, I am taking occasional videos of my children practicing the piano to show their progress (and share with family). Many homeschoolers write blogs to document their homeschooling experience.
This method is also a great way to keep your homeschool classroom organized. You don’t need to worry about lots of loose papers and assignments all over the place. It takes almost no extra effort to maintain. If you are doing that subject, you pull down that subject’s record-keeping book to work in. My girls also like to look back at some of the work they have done.
In general, my strategy is to be prepared for any eventuality when it comes to our homeschooling records. Should anyone ever conduct an educational audit on us, my first instinct would be to assert every legal right we have to provide minimal records. However, to be able to sleep well at night, I do keep my own records so that we can easily show the wonderful progress our children are making and disarm any naysayers.
Do you see educational record-keeping as an important part of homeschooling? Please share any tips or advice in the comments.