hen we made the decision to homeschool, we mustered up our courage and clung to an important assumption: We can make it better as we go. At the time, I didn’t realize how this belief—and how we had arrived at it—would shape our learning processes. Nor did I realize how helpful my memory keeping hobby would be to it all.
But, Let’s Digress a Smidge
We arrived at our understanding of better over time via two different paths. First, our experience in software development had given us years of practice designing, assessing the quality of, and improving processes (and products) over time. We were used to prototyping imperfect solutions, seeing them as starting points, and improving them. Next, when my son was younger, motherhood seemed a bit alien and it worried me. I obsessed about getting it right. When I studied other moms, I saw all sorts of ways in which I didn’t measure up. Consequently, I read, and read, and read dozens of parenting and self-help books in an effort to become a better parent. Finally, after reading Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, I realized that parenting is an adventure in vulnerability and all we can do is our best. Even in human processes, it’s all about making things better as we go along.
Since it didn’t have to be perfect, it was easier to start homeschooling. We could do our best and improve things as we went. Meanwhile, our engineering experiences—especially, the improvement practices we’d mastered—made their way into our homeschool learning systems.
Skipping ahead to today, we assess and improve our learning system by:
- Planning: Really, our plan is more of a road-map than a static plan for a given school year. The plan is flexible enough to allow for proper exploration time as well as time to engage in emerging, spontaneous, and independent projects. Further, it is flexible enough to support continuous process improvement efforts.
- Holding a Morning Meeting: Originally, we modeled our meetings after Scrum Meetings—a practice of agile development within the software industry. As such, we shared about our work effort, obstacles, and plans for the day during our meeting. However, after reading about the Assemblea (a Reggio-Emilia practice), we decided to lead our meetings with a discussion/conversation to establish what’s on Duncan’s mind currently. The purpose of the conversation is to create stage for ideas, theories, and opinion to be expressed and explored.
- Observing, Reflecting, and Interpreting: We observe (and document) learning in the moment and over time so that we can make informed adjustments to processes and our plan. We consider what worked, what didn’t, and where to go next through weekly and yearly retrospectives (derived from software engineering practices). Throughout the year, we collaborate to interpret our observations. Sometimes, we consult with others to broaden our perspective and learning opportunities, too.
- Capturing and Recording: Writing (and other forms of capture, like photography) is integral to our improvement efforts. We record our plans, observations, retrospectives, and interpretations.
- Making Learning Visible: We do this in two ways:
- A display at year end that centers on a major theme, illustrates development, provides a record of student ideas, observations, and artifacts, and where the student is headed next.
- A displayed scrapbook that centers on learning and shares slices of everyday life, works in progress, projects underway and emerging, and a record of student ideas, observations, and artifacts. This presentation is always available and updated every few weeks, offering a bit more granularity on various projects than the year end presentation.
Which takes me back to that point I made about my memory keeping hobby, earlier.
Memory Keeping and Making Learning Visible
Surprisingly, when it comes to making learning visible, my memory keeping hobby has been highly beneficial. Access to tools, materials, and techniques that simplify capture and display have been invaluable. Also, since I love the hobby, I’m motivated as much by creative impulse as my geeky inclination towards process improvement. Next, as a memory keeper, the process of capture-and-record are something I’ve practiced a great deal. I’m comfortable with it and my subjects are used to being observed and having their lives documented to some degree. Finally, my family values memory keeping which makes them great partners in the process.
By making learning visible through our displayed scrapbook (a book I call For the Record), we’re able to see what worked well and didn’t in a way that transcends reflection. It provides hard evidence, a record, of what was and what is. It tracks process, learning, and the learner in a way that memory can’t, making it clear just how much recall is served by documentation, rather than by memory alone. Our scrapbook is a living, visible record we can use to assess and improve the system.
But, our scrapbook is more than that, too, it’s a way to:
- Invite further reflection (from learners and mentors).
- Celebrate learners, the learning, and the work.
- Provide an opportunity to assess learning outside of the learning moment.
- Support collective (social) knowledge building by giving us a way to view and interpret the meaning of specific learning moments together.
- Connect others (e.g., stakeholder parents not involved in day-to-day mentoring) to learning and learners in a deeper way than conversation alone, providing evidence of learning in areas that might otherwise be forgotten and go unshared.
Truly, memory keeping enriches our homeschooling effort and has become an indispensable element in our system. I’m so grateful for the hobby and the benefits we’ve realized through it.