With proper guidance, students can learn to make their own learning connections.

Charlotte Mason certainly didn't invent the idea that true learning comes from relating ideas to things in our lives, however she did make it a core belief in her method of teaching. Mason asserted that as long as teachers provided living ideas and varied sources as stimuli, students would be able to make valuable learning connections.

  1. Have students read assigned books and regularly make notes in their commonplace book or create a written narration of some sort – journal, notebook page, map, sketch, diagram with labels, mind map.
  2. Provide time to discuss what they've read with you—perhaps even up to a week later. This helps you to see whether your student has absorbed the information rather than just memorizing it. You will hear if they have connected it to something they already know and added it to their store of knowledge.
  3. Encourage students to dig deeper than reading, writing, and oral narrations by asking themselves questions and finding ways to answer them.
  4. An additional step that our family has enjoyed over the years is to make additional connections to our reading and study by traveling to places of interest. This could be a day trip or an extended vacation where you allow time and opportunity to relate their reading to something in real life.

When we trust that our high school students are capable of making their own connections with reading assignments, the idea of testing for mastery seems redundant for most subjects. We don't have to waste time getting our students to answer pre-made sets of questions in their every day work and we won't need to test them at the end of each unit. Depending on the high school course, however, you may find that you still want to test in some subjects. Our family still uses tests in math as a measure of progress. Although Charlotte Mason didn't test students, she did administer an end-of-term exam that differs from textbook-style tests.

Holding your children accountable for their reading and personal learning is an important area of focus during their high school years. And don't worry—it does get easier as they mature and work more independently.

Here's an example of how you might apply these principles to your lesson planning:

  • Assign a good number of pages to be read in their history course. This reading can come from a biography, speeches, first hand accounts, primary source documents, or context books (fiction or non-fiction) written in the time period.
  • Have students read through the material one time and record a list of quotes or important facts. Quotes may be used in a separate written narration, perhaps a short biography or a summary of an event in a person's life. Facts can be added to a timeline or be included on a notebook page.
  • After the written narration, they share an oral account with you of what they found in their reading, perhaps relating an event from history. This is where you can build from week to week as you move through history and see how one person or event is not in isolation.

Finally, students can really personalize their learning and make connections in their minds. Encourage them to ask a question about their reading…or you ask a leading question. I tend to think of these as questions that have no right or wrong answer but their goal is to stimulate thinking and connections. There is an art to forming these kinds of questions but I try to remind myself that if they can be answered with a simple yes or no then I need to rephrase the question.

Remember: Your family may use a different process, and this approach will also always be a work in progress. The main point, is to offer lots of living ideas for your child to consider—ideas that will inspire them to learn more.

Barbara McCoy shares a glimpse into a real homeschooling family that values the arts as well as academics. She creates affordable Harmony Fine Arts plans written in the Classical/Charlotte Mason style at Harmony Fine Arts.

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