There was a bit of hoopla in the fall over a Canadian study that (some folks believed) implied that unstructured homeschoolers fare poorly academically.
Please give me a few minutes to present a critical thinking lesson about research.
When reading a research study, these things must be considered:
1) Generalizability- Can the results of this study describe the universal population of homeschoolers or only the local Canadian population of homeschoolers?
The only way a research study is generalizable from the exact persons studied to an entire population is if the sample (people chosen for the study) is LARGE in NUMBER, from SEVERAL LOCATIONS and RANDOMLY SELECTED. Otherwise, the study is useful to describe the small, local group who participated in the study.
To help explain, imagine this fictional study interpretation: Americans are poor performers of spoken English because they say the word, "Ya'll" (based on a study of 75 people from First Groovy Church in Atlanta, Georgia). You simply cannot infer that ALL Americans have poor spoken English. The sample was tiny (75), all from one place (Atlanta, where "ya'll" is part of normal spoken English), and there is no evidence of random selection since they are all from the same church.
This study, The impact of schooling on academic achievement: Evidence from homeschooled and traditionally schooled students (Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science), compared 74 children living in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick- 37 homeschoolers and 37 public schoolers. Of the homeschoolers, 12 were unstructured homeschoolers.
In the study, the homeschooled children who were educated with a structured curriculum all performed at higher grade-level than their traditionally-schooled peers (from .5 grade level above to 2.2 grade levels above). However, the children who were homeschooled with a non-structured approach (unschooling, as it were) scored lower than their traditionally-schooled peers across the board.
Now, this is fine descriptive research. The results describe the achievements of 74 kids in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The results do NOT describe all homeschoolers everywhere because the sample of people studied was SMALL, from a fairly small location, and there is not evidence of randomization of the population.
2) Validity of Interpretation- Are you interpreting the results appropriately?
Let's go back to my fictional study of the folks at First Groovy Church in Atlanta. The inflammatory reading of the results imply that the word, "Ya'll", is an indicator of a person with poor spoken English. HOWEVER, if you ask anyone from First Groovy, "Ya'll" is the best word to use for second person plural, based on tradition dating back to Old English. Thus, to First Groovy, "Ya'll" is an indicator of APPROPRIATE English.
Those of us who know unschoolers know that they do not measure their academic success by achievement test results- far from it. They are more likely to measure academic success with evidence of delight in chosen subjects, development of talents and interests, and rich experiences. Achievement tests can in no way measure these things.
So the Canadian study, while interesting description of one tiny population, cannot be used to imply that unschoolers are under-educating their children.
Next time you read a study, please note the population size, location, randomization of sample, and validity of interpretation.
(Hey, just for fun- do your critical thinking, then weird your friends out with this "powerful" research fact: 97% of all criminals drank milk as children.)
Sometimes homeschoolers struggle with text anxiety.
Sometimes, they get worked up over spelling tests and math quizzes; at achievement test times they are a mess.
Often, test anxieties are rooted in a child's fears. Let's discuss the fears and how to address them:
1) Fear of forgetting something important
To help: Have a review session early in the evening the night before and again in the morning. Make sure you are expressing confidence in your homeschooler's "remembering skills". If you can get a good laugh out of your child, it will help the information to stick.
2) Fear of disappointing Mom and Dad
To help: Make certain that you refrain from giving the impression that only A's are acceptable. Homeschoolers often teach with the goal of mastery (which is good), but mastery of a skill for some children may look like a B score on a test.
This does not mean, however, that we allow children to be lazy, do sloppy work, have bad attitudes, or to underachieve.
3) Fear of failing and feeling stupid
To help: Help your child practice talking well to herself. God did not make a mistake when He made your child. It does not honor Him for someone to insult His children. Children can practice healthy self-talk like, "God gave me a good mind. He will help me do good work."
(You can help this by modeling talking respectfully to yourself.)
When all is said and done: pray together. Praying with your homeschooler before tests helps him remember that God is always with him.
You can pick up some more information in our archive post: 5 Tips for Defeating Performance Anxiety.
Congratulations to Christine! She is our Winner Wednesday Winner!
Christine commented on our blog and was chosen as this week's winner. Join the conversation. You might be a winner too!
Check out our Ebookstore for downloadable literature study guides and writing handbooks. We also have important etexts for high schoolers covering Career Exploration, Psychology, and Human Development- all from a Christian perspective.
DOWNLOAD for FREE: Carry Each Other's Burdens: How to help a friend in crisis.