Wednesday, March 2, 2016


This is the third part in a series based on this cost/benefit analysis.  Here you can find Part 1:Scoping out the Sequence and Part 2: Making the Grade.  Next I want to talk about this "plus" for us in letting go of our math textbooks:

  • I can school without the parameters of a "school year" or a "work week".

Textbooks are designed to be used by schools and to meet the needs of a school schedule. And so they should be; this is not a criticism.  They generally plan for students to have 32-36 weeks of lessons and to complete lessons five days a week.  They intersperse new material and review material to round out the appropriate amount of assignments needed.  But couldn't a family use a textbook and still choose their own schedule?  Absolutely.  Here are some of the ways I've adapted our various subjects to fit with our own schedule.
  • Our on-line History program has 32 topics with 5 "lessons" per topic (4 lessons and a test).  We do the test along with the fourth lesson so that we have four days of history instead of five per week.
  • Our Latin textbook has 32 chapters of material, but interspersed along the way are review chapters.  Sometimes we skip the review chapters or sprinkle the review material in with other chapters.  Also, we often don't have a chance to complete all of the activities per chapter since we don't school 5 days a week.
  • Our Math textbooks contain 170 lessons each.  In some grade levels, the textbook authors expect you to have a test (in a book you purchase separately) either every 5 or every 10 lessons (presumably every Friday or every other Friday).  I've never used the test materials and we've been skipping over those lessons that are only review with no new material presented.
So yes, you can use textbooks and make them work on most any schedule.  In other words, if I were trying to compile an objective list of reasons why one ought not to use textbooks, this one wouldn't really fit.  And even in a list of my own personal cost/benefit analysis, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it was a secondary benefit rather than a driving cause.

See, in my imagination, our school culture would look something like this.  We would be a home where learning was part of the normal activity of the household.  We would study a variety of topics and read a variety of things.  We would wholeheartedly engage with what was in front of us, explore further if we wanted to, read extra, do some more problem solving or spend another day on it if needed.  And, when we had a need or an opportunity for a break, we would take it.  And when we had refreshed ourselves through a break, we would get back to the business of learning whatever was next.

And yes, this is doable with a textbook.  But when (for other reasons as well) we moved to going without the math textbooks, a wonderful benefit was realized in terms of the increased freedom to break when we need to and begin again when we are ready (which, at this point, has mostly included sick-days and broken arms!).  Perhaps, in the final analysis, this "benefit" speaks more to my own personal hang-ups over loose-ends and tidy finishes than to any objective characteristics of textbooks.  But if what we're doing is an individual cost/benefit analysis, personal hang-ups carry weight, too!

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