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Creek Edge Press encourages home schools and schools to keep the following threads in mind when selecting and prioritizing learning materials:
Foundational Studies include work in core subjects, namely math and language arts. A strong foundation in these areas is essential. The goal in this area is competence as this provides the ease necessary to apply these skills to other areas of study.
Investigative Studies include self-directed work and may take the form of student interaction with Montessori shelves, task card sets, or the use of work templates for older students. Investigative Studies allow students to engage directly and make meaningful connections with material within a prepared environment.
Relational Learning places a priority on communication and community within the learning environment. Relational learning objectives involve the development listening and speaking skills through vocabulary study and recitation. Relational learning objectives also cultivate the development of aesthetic awareness through the study of excellent literature, poetry, art, and music.
At times I have been asked why the Task Card Approach is better than simply reading a book and asking a child to provide a narration or summary. Depending on the subject and season of life or educational development, it may not always be better. There are, however, great benefits to using the Task Card Approach, whether it's used exclusively or in addition to other educational approaches.
Active learning is not optional with this approach. Completing the tasks on the cards provides a fundamental shift in how the student interacts with learning material. The tasks are research oriented and, as such, the topic is named and remembered as relevant material is sought within a variety of resources. The research process imprints topics and ideas into a student's mind numerous times as work is completed. The impression given reinforces vocabulary terms and allows students to create meaningful, personal connections with the material and this facilitates ownership and interest.
The learning environment used within the Task Card Approach is another thing to consider. The Montessori-inspired prepared environment builds interest, which creates an eagerness to study and explore. The Task Card Approach fully engages students. This kind of work increases a student's sense of mastery and personal accomplishment.
The open-ended nature of the tasks, allow students to research and respond with their innate and individual pursuit of discovery in mind. In this high tech era of instant information, it is vital that we provide students with learning opportunities that include the process of discovery. At times, interest will take over and send students in a new direction within the material. This is ideal and encouraged.
Along with this element of freedom and exploration, the task cards are designed to keep students on track. They receive direction from the arrangement and specificity built into the program. The logical, topical, and chronological progression of the cards reinforce standard content and vocabulary while allowing students to interact directly with material in a way that balances freedom, exploration, and direction.
Other key elements of The Task Card Approach include the use of a prepared environment, reliance on a block schedule (or work period), and acceptance student work. The prepared environment is a space set aside to display the cards along with the books, supplemental materials, and supplies needed to complete the tasks. This could be a shelf, cupboard, or a cleaned out closet. The concept is to have everything necessary to complete the tasks prepared in advance. The Prepared Environment provides a space for students to enter and focus on their work and investigations. Even though I encourage Task Card families to attempt this, I understand that personalities are different and that the Task Cards are used in many ways. Some families prefer to use them when visiting the library while the younger children are attending story time. Others prefer to plan weekly. Regardless, I encourage you to prepare the environment in some manner as this provides the best environment for your student's interaction with the material.
In addition to a Prepared Environment, a block of time should be set aside as a work period. I recommend the use of a three hour morning block for completing basic work. This includes: math, and language arts and other foundational subjects like Latin, music theory, or logic. A shorter afternoon block is then set aside for interacting with history and science. Recitation and Enrichment is well placed after breakfast or lunch, or perhaps, done once a week on Fridays. Whatever you decide regarding your schedule, it is important to have regular work periods during which students can fully dig into their research. If you find that the Task Card Approach is not working, assess your prepared the environment and evaluate your use of work period as these are the keys to success with this approach.
Since one of the goals of the Task Card Approach is to engage the student directly with the material, their responses should be accepted 'as is.' This requires an element of trust in the learning process and an, at times, feel uncomfortable, especially for those who are coming from a paradigm of 'right or wrong.' The larger goal of facilitating a strong and interested learning process should be kept in mind. That said, communicating a standard for student response is vital to the learning atmosphere and study habits you hope to develop in your students. I recommend beginning with sweeping goals such as: read for detail, respond with detail, and do your work with care. As students grow in ability to research and respond, increase the standard gradually. Focusing on one area of improvement at a time will bring greater success than trying to fix everything at once. For example, as you evaluate student work, ask for more care to be taken with spelling for one month and mention that you would like to see greater attention to detail in their map work or sketches the next month. When the long view is kept in mind it is easy to see that four or five months of gradual increases in these areas will lead to improved focus, greater attention to detail, a high level of ownership in the process, and work that meets high standards.
The Task Card Approach is a champion of independent learning, but only so far as it is beneficial for our students. This approach creates students who know how to learn and engage with material in a meaningful way, but the context of their use is of equal importance. The Task Card sets are not intended to be used by students in isolation. Younger students will need a tutor or a group environment for completing the tasks. Emergent readers will need direction. Older students will need oversight, preferably after the work period is over. Gradually, this oversight is lengthened to the ideal of once per week. Even so, the teacher or parent are watching and aware of areas where the standard needs to be raised. Other areas of school and home life should certainly champion the relational. For most children, entering the prepared environment and sensing ownership of their work is a joyful and fulfilling experience. For Moms who are home schooling and teachers in busy Montessori classrooms, the benefits of a fully prepared environment and work done independently and well can't be overstated.
The Task Card Approach draws from the Classical, Charlotte Mason, and Montessori philosophies of education. An extensive discourse on each of these is not within the scope of this article. I would, however, like to provide you with a brief survey that shows how they relate to the Task Card Approach as well as a list of recommended reading. An understanding of the philosophy behind the Task Card Sets will optimize their use in your home or classroom.
Classical Education, for our purposes here, refers to the revitalization of classical education due to the work of Dorothy Sayers in her essay "The Lost Tools of Learning." In this essay she outlined and defined the three stages of the trivium – grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer's The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home is a work that translates the philosophy and methodology of classical education into a workable model for the modern home-school. The Task Card Approach supports the goals of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric stages of learning as outlined in these and similar works. The tasks on the cards present key vocabulary that will be encountered in future years of study. The tasks support connection forming of the dialectic stage and the critical thinking and analysis of the rhetoric stage. They are also organized by topic using a variation of the four year science and history cycles recommended in The Well Trained Mind.
Charlotte Mason's influence can also be seen in the tasks on these cards, especially in the areas of narration and habit formation. Her thoughts on narration as a means to teach a child to intentionally train his or her attention, to synthesize what has been read, to organize that material in his or her own mind, and to determine how to communicate these thoughts underscore the tasks that require a student to 'tell about' or 'summarize.' Her thoughts on the importance of habit formation are also supported by the Task Card Approach. She believed that a proper education included "the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully” and that habit training helped children take charge of their own education. She encouraged the development of a wide variety of good habits, but those of attention, neatness, and order are specifically supported by the Task Card Approach. Engaging books, often called living books, can be used to form the foundation of study with all of the Task Card Sets.
A Montessori education includes three essential elements - independence, freedom within limits, and respect for each child's development. Students in a Montessori school are placed in mixed age classroom where they are given choices of activities within large blocks of time set aside for investigative work. This work is primarily discovery based and relies on specialized educational materials. Maria Montessori's philosophy and materials are readily adapted into the modern home school environment which naturally includes students of various ages. The prepared environment and independent learning appeals to Moms who are supervising several levels while tending to other needs within the home. The Task Card Approach supports many of Montessori's philosophies, but especially those of orientation to the environment, order, exploration, purposeful activity (work), communication, and exactness. The Task Card Approach relies on the use of a Prepared Environment within the home or classroom. This learning space is tailored to the size of the child, arranged to allow for freedom of movement, demonstrates beauty, reinforces a sense of order, and is limited to materials that support the child's development.
Purists may find that the Task Card Approach is not for them, but those who are comfortable with an eclectic approach will see how the Task Card Approach can be adapted to support a variety of specific educational paradigms. The scope and sequence of our materials is classical and those who want to emphasize Charlotte Mason's approach will find that they place their focus on living books and oral narrations. Those who want to build a Montessori atmosphere in their home will provide an extra shelf of self correcting materials from one of the Montessori educational catalogs. The ready-made cards and detailed Introduction pull the best of these approaches together in an engaging and practical way. The Task Card Approach has a level of malleability that allows it to go the distance in meeting your unique goals for your family.
Recitation - Much has been written on the value of memory work and recitation, especially for children in the grammar stage. I want to touch on a few points as they relate to the Recitation and Enrichment Series.
An innovative tiered approach ensures that all grade levels are included and challenged while working together.
Enrichment - The Enrichment portion of this volume relies on the suggestions of Charlotte Mason. If you are unfamiliar with her work, I recommend spending time with her material. I'd like to share a few insights as they relate to the Recitation and Enrichment Series.
An innovative tiered approach allows all students to participate at their own level at the same time.
I have spent most of my adult life pacing and nurturing the musical studies of young children. You might 'know' me as your local early childhood piano teacher. Every year, I start a group of young students on the piano. These groups invariably include students who learn with ease as well as those who are learning while developing fine motor or reading skills. As I watch students progress, one point stands out as the defining trait of those who make excellent progress. They are rarely the ones with natural ability or ease. Rather, the students who make excellent progress are the students who prepare for their lessons. Success in music always boils down to a commitment to daily practice.
This principle applies well to home education. Consistent work periods are a sure way to nudge your educational ideals toward reality. When people ask what is most important to consider when incorporating task cards into a learning environment, my first thought is too simple. Be sure to use them. Nothing turns ideals toward reality more than the use of consistent work periods. The inverse of this is true in all areas of life. A lack of investment (time and effort) leads to a lack of accomplishment.
In our home, we have morning and afternoon work periods set aside for school. Our morning work period lasts three hours for younger students and is dedicated to Foundational Studies - work in math, language arts, and Latin (or music, for my crew!). Our afternoon work period is shorter and focuses on Investigative Studies. These are discovery oriented, research based, and self-directed. Relational Studies, with an emphasis on communication and community, fit naturally after our mid-day meal. Because of my schedule as a private music teacher, it works best for our family to set aside full school days for enrichment objectives at the end of each term, but those could easily be done once a week as well.
Our morning and afternoon work periods are uninterrupted and mostly self-directed within an environment that provides clear expectations. Students rotate through oversight meetings at intervals based on their needs. Younger students, especially those learning to read, have meetings at frequent intervals. Older students, who are engaged in literary analysis and Socratic discussion, have longer meetings scheduled weekly.
When evaluating progress toward goals, start with an honest look at your work periods. Are you having them? Are you using them? Beyond the initial work of preparing of the environment, which was hopefully accomplished before the start of the school year, work periods are where our hope for each school year has the opportunity to come alive.
The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers
The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise
Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series by Charlotte Mason
A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison
What is Montessori? A Basic Guide to the Principles, Practices, and Benefits of a Montessori Education by Heather Pederson and Jason A. Pederson
The Joyful Child: for Birth to Three Years (Michael Olaf's Essential Montessori Series) by Susan Stephenson
Child of the World: Montessori for Ages 3-12+ (Michael Olaf's Essential Montessori Series) by Susan Stephenso