Well, I love that the new teacher seems pretty swift with tech tools and happy for a lot of our contact to be virtual. But ... well, there's a process involved here in opening her eyes to unschooling.
I had mentioned in our learning plan that Fiona would be interested, if possible, in participating in the on-line literature circles that the local school has been involved in for the past few years. Students would choose one of a handful of novels to read, and would then be encouraged to discuss with each other various interpretive themes and issues results from teacher prompts or more free-flowing threads. Very much like this forum in format.
The teacher wrote to let me know that the Lit. Circles wouldn't be happening this year.
I wrote back saying "too bad, because that would have been a really easy and natural way for you to get a sense of Fiona's writing ability." And then I tried to explain why it isn't necessarily easy to get unschooled kids to produce samples of their writing for a portfolio.
I know that from the perspective of a teacher who normally deals with students who have been writing for evaluative purposes since age 5 it seems like a really trivial thing to get a kid to write something for a portfolio, but for all of my homeschooled kids it has been a challenge. Not because they’ve been resistant to writing or are bad at it, but because they just don’t ever do it for that reason.
It’s hard to explain, but imagine a similar scenario with verbal language. Imagine that you were going for a job interview where part of the hiring process was based on your ability to handle verbal language — not conversationally but more formally. They want you to bring some sort video presentation of your oral prowess to your interview. I think for most people that requirement would create a lot of self-conscious awkwardness. I mean, I speak all the time in a million different contexts, and I do so in public quite easily. But it would feel weirdly contrived and awkward to have to create something that illustrated my speaking ability in order to present it to an evaluator.
Fiona feels that way about writing samples. Her schoolwork isn’t based on writing for evaluation. We just talk as she’s learning and doing and wants to communicate; she tells me cool things she’s figured out, and if I ask she tells me honestly and perceptively whether she understands or remembers things. She writes for various reasons, and writes pretty well I think, but entirely for her own purposes. When asked what she would like to submit for a writing sample, she gets stressed, can’t think of anything that isn’t either too personal or too unpolished for her liking. She procrastinates, and if I get anything at all it’s usually under duress, pretty minimal in quantity and quality, and leaves a bad taste in her mouth. Which really isn’t how I want her to feel about writing or about the DL program.
I thought maybe she'd start to understand. But then I got this reply:
I agree that literacy isn’t all about the written word. There are other ways Fiona can demonstrate her understanding of a novel or other reading passages, as you said, “She loves talking and thinking about novels and literary devices and themes.” For example she could do a podcast or power point.
So I write back:
I think it might be easier to just quietly gather some of her natural writing to use as samples. Her issue is with the expectation that she needs to do something that is (for her) completely separate from learning: creating/presenting something to “demonstrate her understanding.” It’s the demonstrating that’s the issue, not the writing. I guess I'm not explaining this very well.
She does love talking about the things I mentioned, but not in a parent-prompted “show me what you’ve learned” fashion. For example, she’ll be reading in the car and will suddenly turn to me and start talking about whether she thinks this author had the over-arching plot for the entire series of books mapped out ahead of time or not, and what her evidence is, and the different ways books in series can be linked and what styles of linkage she prefers.
To take a spontaneous interest-inspired conversation like that and turn it into a demonstration of learning (whether essay, Prezi, oral presentation or podcast) is a completely unengaging task for my unschooled child. She did some thinking and learning that she found interesting and which excited her. There’s no reason she’d want to add a whole other subsequent — and pointless to her — phase to it.
But anyway, I’m sure we’ll find workarounds. I’m not worried.
I wonder if we'll ever end up understanding each other. It's early days yet. She clearly wants to be understanding and accommodating, but she's definitely in that school-based head-space. We'll see.