Tuesday, June 11, 2013

5th Grade Wrap-up and Review

Now that 5th grade is over we've had time to clean out the school books, sort through all the assignments, and file away the state required samples.  All this cleaning out has me thinking back over the year. What curricula worked well for us, which ones were okay, and which ones we really didn't find to be a good fit? What could have gone smoother? Why did we let art appreciation (and music appreciation) slide away?

Let's start with a quick curricula roundup. (You can see the details of our 5th grade curriculum from the 2012-2013 curricula page.)

Saxon Math was a big success for us, as it always has been in the past.  I realize that Saxon is not a good fit for many children, but for us it is the best option I've seen.  I see no reason to alter our math curriculum for 6th grade.  In fact, I've already got Algebra 1/2 waiting on the shelf.

BJU English 5 was a wonderful fit for us during their grammar lessons. The writing lessons were not as much of a fit.  There isn't anything tangibly wrong with the writing lessons, but they simply did not challenge Amber enough.  We used some of the writing lessons at the beginning of the year and then at the end used their unit on a research paper. The research paper unit was, unfortunately, lacking in instructions and detail.  However, we REALLY liked the BJU English grammar lessons and are therefore continuing with BJU English 6 next year for their grammar alone.

BJU English 5 - good grammar, so-so writing.
Writing is an area that was in flux for much of the year.  Since we didn't like the writing lessons in BJU English, I had to find something else to use. We sampled Writing with Skill Level 1 and decided it would be more suited to Amber's needs. Almost immediately we saw a huge improvement in Amber's summaries and note taking.  Her almost non-existent outlining skills received a huge boost.  We did not get as far into WWS as I wanted though because of Amber's illness in the second semester.  We forged through as much school as possible, but many days (er, weeks) Amber was just not up for writing and I didn't force it.  We will make writing an emphasis area for 6th grade, still using Writing with Skill Level 1 and moving into Level 2 whenever ready.

Amber did participate in the NaNoWriMo Young Writers program for creative writing.  She had a blast going through the free workbook and writing her very first novel. For 6th grade though, I think we are going to move to a different creative writing program to vary Amber's experience some.

We began 5th grade using a complete reading program from BJU and quickly found that the expensive set was not at all suited to Amber.  I felt awful about having spent so much on it, so we forged ahead for almost a whole semester.  There wasn't anything particularly wrong with the curriculum, and it was exactly as represented.  I simply did not understand correctly what Amber's needs in this area would be.  I assumed the same type of reading program that she had been using forever in parochial school would still be valid.  It turns out, not so much.  Amber was learning very little and getting bored by the reading selections that were significantly below her reading level.

In the end, I decided to dump the reading curriculum entirely, and we switched over to literature studies sometimes using purchased study guides and other times working through the novels on our own.  We also added a unit on poetry using A Child's Introduction to Poetry.  Amber thoroughly enjoyed the poetry unit and can't wait to do more in depth studies in 6th grade.  Amber's reading comprehension scores soared this year on standardized testing to a lexile of 1315.  We definitely are going to continue with literature studies in the future.

Latin progressed steadily through the whole of 5th grade with a small break during the first semester.  I made the mental mistake to put Latin toward the bottom of the priority list, meaning it was left out when we had overly busy weeks.  By the end of the first semester I realized this was detrimental to Amber's understanding of Latin and it also signaled to her that I didn't value Latin as much as other subjects.  This was definitely the wrong message to send, so we re-prioritized for second semester and Amber managed to keep up with Latin, even during her bouts of illness.  We are a little behind, and won't be starting the next level of Latin until September, but Amber is understanding much better and enjoying Latin again.  We really do love the Latin curriculum, Latin for Children from Classical Academic Press.  It has just the right balance of grammar, vocabulary, translation work, and humor.  Even I am learning Latin just by grading her work.

History was a convoluted mess at times in 5th grade.  I combined two different curricula, BJU Heritage Studies 5 & AO LIFEPAC History 5, to achieve the desired time frame of study, amount of detail, and topic variation.  We also included a unit study on elections, as well as our own month long study of the Civil War.  Each of the curricula we used has their strength and weaknesses and each did the job I expected.  It was still crazy bouncing between the two and trying to keep everything straight. I also learned that no amount of worksheets are going to encourage Amber to think through her history reading.  She is always going to look for the quick answer. I'm done with boxed history curriculum, for now.

History field trips often resulted in more learning than our curriculum
I've already outlined a course of historical study with a spine book for use in 6th grade.  We will be adding in details for each time period from many resources.  There will be no worksheets, and no regurgitation style questions.  Amber will take notes, outline, or narrate her history readings, as well as investigating further topics that interest her.

BJU has some good curriculum that we found useful in many subjects, science was not one.  The science itself was fine.  The presentation was dry, dull, boring and mind-numbing.  The experiments were "lame" and utterly predictable.  There often didn't seem to be a reason for the experiments except to learn scientific method.  We supplemented much of the year with unit studies (thanks Elemental Science) and dropped the entire biology portion of the curriculum in favor of starting 6th grade Biology (using a different curriculum) during the final months of 5th grade.  We are done, for now, with boxed science curriculum too.  This seems to be a theme.  We enjoy the style of science we've found in Elemental Science and plan to use it for the next few years. 

The best experiment from our BJU science curriculum.  Earthquake proof building design.
I'm really not sure what our problem with art appreciation, and for that matter music appreciation, was this past year.  We had grand plans and multiple curricula.  Nothing kept our interest for very long.  There always seemed to be something more pressing, more interesting, or more fun.  We even tried moving art appreciation to the weekends, which was a total flop.  That couldn't have gone worse.  Thankfully, Amber is involved in several musical activities that exposed her to varying musical styles.  Otherwise, I would feel like an absolute failure in the arts.

I think my carefully made plans for a Friday special topics and catch-up day simply did not work out at all.  Since we didn't have core subjects specifically scheduled for Friday, we tended to just skip out on any and all subjects that day.  Amber has sensory therapy on Friday mornings and it felt natural to just go on with fun things after therapy instead of coming home to work on school, no matter the topic.  I had also hoped that having lighter Fridays (or no Friday school) would keep us from needing too many breaks throughout the year.  That, also, did not pan out the way I hoped.  Instead it just kept us feeling that we shouldn't need a break, but really we did.

Working on balance at therapy
I'm still trying to work out how to maneuver around sensory therapy on Fridays, but we definitely need to continue with scheduled school on most Fridays.  I'm actually thinking about a 6 week on, 1 week off type of schedule for next year with a large portion of December being vacation.  We were so ill-prepared for Christmas this year because we were too busy with school through early and mid-December.  It took me a while to realize that it was actually our first Christmas to be homeschooling. We didn't remove Amber from her parochial school until January of 2012.

Overall, it was a great school year.  Amber thrived in her learning environment. She progressed well through her course of study.  We found our style and rhythm in many subjects after some tweaking.  But as Amber grows and develops each year, especially with the move into the middle school years, so our education methods will need to change too.  

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