I'm busy getting together our schoolwork for next week -- this is just a little break while I wait for AAA to rescue me again. Anything from A Beka and Saxon comes in neatly numbered lessons. . .easy-peasy. I purchased daily lesson plans for Apologia for a song, and they are worth every penny. But I'm charting my own course for two non-academic courses this year: FACS (Family and Consumer Sciences) and Bible.
So how do you choose a real book and use it for a class?
Choose a book that's well-designed for teaching.
Given unlimited time, almost anyone could write a fantastic course with modules that incorporate books, websites, and hands-on experience. For our purposes, I want a single book that lends itself well to working through from beginning to end as the backbone of my course.
- I look for interesting and relevant subject matter woven into every chapter first. I don't want to have to teach through three months of filler or preparatory information.
- The material must be roughly organized from simple to complex. I do not have the time to jump around between chapters.
- I prefer books that review material and re-use key skills. I love books that have a single page summary or mnemonic that highlights all the major points.
Our first project in cooking class is making our own bacon from a pork belly, but they'll also learn how to saute a chicken breast and make a simple pan sauce without a recipe before the year is out. The personal evangelism course is going to require your brothers to master the use of 111 gospel verses by the end of the year so they can work seamlessly with the Holy Spirit in an individual's life. They're nervous about that, but they're eagerly anticipating loading up a USB drive with material that will help them navigate apologetics and discipleship.
If a book matches your philosophy and your children's personalities, it's probably a winner.
Ok, so now I have my book, what am I supposed to do???
Figure out the big picture using the Table of Contents.
Skim read the entire book in an hour or so, and then turn back to the Table of Contents. Pencil into the margin what month you plan to cover each chapter. With real books, it often makes sense to skip a chapter (or two or three) if they don't fit into the core concepts or time frame for the course. I don't have to spend class time on the chapter, "The Reason for Evangelism," because we are doing this course at the boys' request. They'll read it for homework, but their motivation level is sky high because of their attempts to share the gospel over the last year with their robotics group.
Divide the first month's work into weekly segments.
After penciling in a basic schedule for the year, I want to have a rough idea of how much material I plan to cover each week. I place a little W1, W2, etc. into the margin at each start point for the first month. I don't do this for the whole year until I have a good feel for the pace of the course. If the material goes faster or slower than anticipated, I can easily adjust after the first couple of weeks.
Divide the first two weeks into daily segments.
The first two weeks of school can be hectic as we settle into new routines, celebrate birthdays, and usually end up with last-minute Labor Day plans. I take the time to go through and pencil the day number and record any homework assignments into the margin beside each day's material. I also make a list of supplementary material during this time. I don't do this for more than a couple of weeks until I have a good feel for the course. In some courses, I don't go through and mark daily work until the break week before the new session.
Even if I haven't had time to go through the whole book and make seamless plans, I jump right in on Day 1. There's always time to re-adjust when I catch my breath during break week. Done is better than perfect.
Keep Good Records
I'll be re-teaching these courses when you hit high school, and I don't want to have to redo work. I keep careful records of time, assignments, any glitches, and supplementary materials I used. I also need to be able to give proof of course for high school transcripts as a home educator.
With a little passion, creativity, and planning; real books can become one of the best textbooks available.