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Practical Homeschooling® :

Ending Units with a Bang

By Jessica Hulcy
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #3, 1993.

Jessica Hulcy explains the difference between wrapping up and embalming a unit study.
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Jessica Hulcy

When my oldest son Jason was six years old and had just begun home schooling, he thought school lessons should end at a definite time each day. Jason had been learning to read, so I asked him to read a word on a sign "after school hours." He balked and asked, "I'm not supposed to read after school, am I?"

For Jason, "reading" equaled "school" and school had come to an end. He saw no point in extending school after 3:00 p.m.

Naturally, in a typical home schooling, Biblical perspective, Christian-world-view manner I informed him that according to Deuteronomy 6:7 school never ended. Parents were commanded in scripture to teach our children when we sat with them, when we walked with them, when we lay down with them, and when we rose up with them. I was sure that covered "after school hours" too. Besides, I knew Jason desired to be a life-time learner - didn't he? - and that meant learning every minute of every day.

School Lessons Need Closure

At that point my husband, Wade, intervened on behalf of Jason and suggested a new word to me: "closure." Shouldn't school have closure to it? Did school have to go on and on and on? After all, even adults want closure to a daily job.

Closure is a good thing. It gives people a sense of completion, an ending or pausing point to work, an event, or a unit. Yes, Jason had to read "after school hours." Yes, parents were commanded to train our children constantly. Yes, learning was an ongoing process. But I was not to remain in my "broadcast teaching mode," creating a 30 minute lesson complete with maps, reference books and additional assignments out of every question or every situation after 3:00 p.m. "Turn off the teaching machine!" was the command.

Closure to each school day is the break, the change of pace and focus each person needs to relax and rejuvenate for the next day.

Without Closure, Students and Teachers are Frustrated

When I taught science in public school eons ago, I realized the value and importance of hands-on learning. I was delighted when my school was chosen to teach a pilot physical science program which used the total experimentation method instead of only the textbook method.

I couldn't understand why teachers who had initially been delighted with the class were totally frustrated with the class by the Christmas holiday. Then it dawned on me. The new program had children doing experiment after experiment after experiment with no wrap-up, no end, no conclusion. There was no mental closure to an experiment or unit. No scientific principle was ever extrapolated from the hands-on experiments. Doing experiments was the sole purpose and focus of the classes. Never did the students come together and compare data to discover any scientific principles. Classes never dialogued about experiment results. Teachers never drilled on what had been learned, because, nothing had truly been learned or mastered. It had only been experienced.

First Experience, Then Closure

I have known homeschoolers who have had field trip after field trip or experience after experience without any wrap-up or closure. For them, as with the pilot science classes, the focus was solely on the experience.

Don't get me wrong; for years I have been trying to get homeschoolers to increase experiential learning, especially for younger children. But when some homeschoolers brag about taking twelve field trips per week, I wonder if their children are able to take in the experience, much less have any closure on the first experience before jumping to the second and third experience. Even if all the experiences are related to the same topic, digesting them takes time, time the children must have. Successfully digesting the experience also requires closure, so the children can internalize what they have experienced.

The 5 D's of Experience-Based Learning

As Carole Thaxton and I wrote our KONOS curriculum, which is largely experience-based, we grappled with different teaching methods and the order in which they should be used. Carole came up with the 5 D's of KONOS.

Actually, these 5 D's are what we consider properly sequenced teaching methods that apply to all experience-based learning, not just KONOS. The first D is DOING the experiment or hands-on activity. From DOING, DISCOVERIES are made, principles are extrapolated. Next we DRAMATIZE. Though dramatizing applies mostly to history, KONOS has been known to ask children to dramatize parts of the body or a car distributor and a spark plug.

The last two D's, DIALOGUE and DRILL, provide the wrap-up. Dialogue between students and between students and teacher helps to identify major points of what was discovered and aids in internalizing those points. Drill is any repetition that crystallizes everything learned, so subjects will be retained and mastered.

Ways to Add Closure to Your Experience-Based Studies

GAMES. Most parents think the only way to drill is by test or with flash cards. Drill for our purposes should be defined as any process that causes knowledge to be crystallized in a child's brain. Though tests and flash cards can be used, there are a variety of more exciting ways to crystallize and close a unit. Games are great vehicles to test knowledge. We have closed units with competitions such as Family Feud, Jeopardy, Olympics of the Minds and Trivial Pursuit. We let the children make up the questions, form the categories, etc. We find that they make up far more difficult questions than the questions parents add to the question pot. Competitive games prompt unsolicited studying as teams study to beat each other on game night.

SHOW AND TELL. The simplest way to test knowledge is to let children explain what they have learned. If they have learned the parts of the ear and created a large model "ear" to crawl through, then they need to show Dad the parts of the ear when he comes home. If Dad wants to crawl through the ear while the children tell him about each part, so much the better! Explaining to another person reinforces the explainer's knowledge as well as informing the explainee of the information. Good ol' Dad is not the only person children can share their new knowledge with, either. Older children may first read information and then impart it to younger siblings, or vice versa. Statistics show the child doing the explaining learns and retains more than the child hearing the explanation.

CREATIVE EXPRESSION PROJECTS. While studying the character trait of Cooperation, we studied systems of the body. To culminate this unit children cooperatively wrote a book entitled Traveling Through the Human Body. Parts of each body system and how it functioned had to be completely understood to write such an epic. Likewise, under the character trait of Honesty, we studied newspapers, their parts, how they were written and published, what made news newsworthy, etc. What better way to test our children's complete understanding of newspapers than to have them produce their own newspaper?

CUT, SORT, AND MATCH. This is an excellent way to test specific knowledge such as capitals of states, countries on continents, duties of each branch of the government, characteristics of different phyla in biology, etc. For example: write down the states and capitals on paper or cards, cut them apart, and place them in a plastic baggie. (You may want to photocopy several sets first before cutting, if you have more than one child.) Give each child a baggie and time him as he matches the states to the capitals. You can do the same for the duties of the branches of the government. We wrote down all the duties of the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch. Then we cut them apart and placed them in a baggie. Our children then sorted the duties under each branch. This exercise also could be timed or not timed - your choice.

WRAP UP WITH A PLAY OR PROJECT. After studying a Kings and Queens unit our children were well acquainted with the feudal system and who had to obey whom during medieval times. But instead of a test covering the unit, we had a medieval feast which put into practice all our children had learned about the period. Cooking chicken on a spit, stitching tapestries to decorate the walls, speaking Old English dialect, dressing the part of a knight or lady-in-waiting, juggling for entertainment, and even placing the lower classes "beneath the salt" at the table were activities that reinforced details as well as the big picture. What a review!

As you can see, adding closure to your studies is not just a necessary chore. It can be fun! Whether it's fun or not... whether it takes the form of games and drama or just an old-fashioned tests... we all need closure. Closure helps us crystallize and internalize the new information we have learned. It also brings our unit to a climax and gives us a breathing space before we turn our attention to a new unit. Once the door has been closed on one unit, we can confidentially turn our attention to a new unit without feeling like we have left unfinished business or loose ends hanging.

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