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    Post-Exam Troubleshooting

    March 19, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    I‘ve been changing a few things with my Year Three student after his recent exam. It’s not that he bombed it, but his answers were markedly inferior to his Term One exam. In my opinion, the exams are mostly a tool for me to learn from, a way of guaging the effectiveness of what we are doing. After all, if he cannot remember something three months later, it cannot be said that he really learned it.

    I was surprised at how many times his answer was “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” I admit that I usually offer one question that I know will be hard for him, both to keep him humble and to see what he can do with the challenge. But most of these I-don’t-knows were in regard to things that I completely expected him to remember. In fact, I made him go back and read the entire chapter on John Calvin because he had entirely forgotten him.

    After thinking about this a bit, I think my worst mistake was allowing my sickness to breed poor habits. I was sick for the first three-quarters of the term, and it showed. I feel behind on my pre-reading, which meant that sometimes I had to take his word for it in the narration–I didn’t really know what he was talking about. Some of this is unavoidable, and I’m seeing a major difference now that I’m back on top of my prereading, but I still think that the other issue was the system I’d devised.

    This year, I began giving my son a clipboard with his lessons for the week. I gave him a lot of freedom to order his lessons as he wished. In first term, he mixed it up, and it worked great. In second term, he seemed to be aiming for efficiency, rather than variety. This means that he was doing all of his non-reading/narrating work first {math drills, math worksheets, copywork, etc.} and then saving all of his reading and narration for the end. As the assignments got more and more intense, he ended up spending over two hours per day in a row reading and narrating.

    And this is not the Charlotte Mason way.

    One of the things I allowed to be neglected, by handing more control over to my son, was alternation. Charlotte mixed things up. She found that this kept the brain from being overtaxed, and children would continue to think about their readings–meaning they were assimilating what they had learned–when they were doing math, copying in their copybooks, and so on.

    So this week, I taught my son the meaning of alternating {which was harder than I expected}, and I explained to him that this would help him keep his mind fresh for his reading and narrating. He had noticed that this exam did not come as easily to him as the last, and I think he appreciated being helped into a better system. He knows that the purpose of the exam is to help Mommy assess her teaching methods.

    By Thursday, he finally had it down. He read his Bible before breakfast. Then, we had our breakfast with Circle Time. After that, there were chores. When he settled at his desk, he read for his written narration, and wrote a page or two in his notebook. Then, he did his math wrap-ups. Next, he read for another narration, and came to me to narrate aloud. This was followed by copywork. After this, I read aloud to him, and he narrated back to me. This was followed by math worksheets. Finally, he read one more reading, and narrated aloud.

    It worked!

    His narrations were fresher and faster {without nagging him to hurry up or focus, another bad habit I’d sunk into}. He seemed to go more swiftly through his work in general, and yet I felt like we were less rushed. I think I started hurrying him because, frankly, three or four narrations in a row were getting to be too much for my brain, too.

    I look forward to seeing how the final exam compares to Term Two.

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  • Reply Switching to CM | Afterthoughts September 9, 2019 at 6:56 pm

    […] Year Five student has been taught to alternate, and I also alternate subjects with my Year Two student. A Year Two student only has about two […]

  • Reply amy in peru May 21, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts on exams. I think you do a great job! We never did exams officially until y6 with my oldest and can I just say that I think they’re a greatly helpful tool. I wish I’d started earlier. Anyway, I just had to say that when I let my boys do their own thing with their time (they can arrange their weekly assignments the way they’d like, daily is still somewhat dependent on my availability), they did the SAME thing. They did all their reading at once. We had the same discussion, but I’m finding they need to be reminded every term as they work out their schedules and how they will spread their stuff out. I don’t pre-read everything anymore either… I know this would help, but it would be virtually impossible for me now. I do try to strategically select the books I am able to give time to pre-reading though. As I was linking up to your exam posts, I stopped to re-read a few too 😉

    amy in peru

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts May 31, 2012 at 9:38 pm

      Thanks for the encouragement, Amy.

      And for the record: we are skipping exams this term. Things have been crazy and something had to give…Such is life. 🙂

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 19, 2011 at 9:06 pm


    That’s it.

    One more nice word from you two and I shall ban you from the comments.


    I mean…

    Thank you for your encouragement.


  • Reply Harmony March 19, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Ditto Mystie. I’m years from having a child of school age, but I love hearing how you plan and organize and assess and rethink all you do with E. I haven’t read any other blogs that go into the nitty-gritty of school as yours does, and it’s inspiring!

  • Reply Mystie March 19, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing all this, Brandy! It’s really quite helpful.

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