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This is part 2 of a series talking about exams in a Charlotte Mason home school.
Last time we talked about what those exams should sound like—what kinds of questions we should use. If you haven’t read that post yet, I encourage you to do that first. This post is all about what exams should look like—how to schedule an exam week. And we’re going to focus on how to do exam week with multiple children across different grade levels.
We talked last time about using the week or two before exams to select the passages and pictures that you want to use and to prepare your exam questions. But there is also something that you should not be doing during that week prior to exams. You should not be spending your lesson times going over everything again and giving practice questions. You should not spend that week having your student cram for the exams. No teaching to the test!
Charlotte instructed that
“No revision [reviewing] is attempted when the terminal examination is at hand; because too much ground has been covered to allow of any ‘looking up’ ” (A Philosophy of Education, p. 241).
and she explained that
“There is no distressing cramming for the term’s examination. The pupils know their work, and find it easy to answer questions set to find out what they know, rather than what they do not know” (School Education, p. 301).
If you have been faithful to require narrations and pre-reading reviews all along during the term, there should be no need for last-minute cramming or dropping hints about what will be on the test. Those types of activities only communicate to the student that the motive for learning is to pass a test. Once the test is over, he can dump all of that material out of his head. That might be how we approached tests and exams when we were in school, but that is not the way Charlotte wanted us to approach education with our children.
We encourage lifelong learning and a continued love for personal knowledge when we use exam week to celebrate what the student has internalized from the feast of ideas presented during the term. Yes, the certainty of exams should motivate our children to pay full attention and to give their best efforts; but we need to keep the focus on the great value of the knowledge they have gained, not on test results.
As Charlotte put it: “The first thing that this school is designed to teach is a love of knowledge for its own sake” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 252).
If our children do poorly on an exam during exam week, that should be a red flag to us as the teachers. Were we faithful to require narrations all the way through those 12 weeks? Did we do the pre-reading reviews before every reading? Were the children struggling with a certain book all term and on the exam? Perhaps we need to swap out that book and use a different one.
As we mentioned last time, the results of exam week should come as no surprise. We should be monitoring progress all through the term and tracking the effort that our children are putting forth. Exam week should be an opportunity for each student to demonstrate the ideas and the knowledge that he has taken in and made his own possession.
The wording of the exam questions is a key to offering that opportunity and keeping the focus positive. So be sure to read part 1 of this series for guidance in that aspect of exam week.
Once you have your exam questions ready, you simply plug them into your regular weekly schedule. Exams are done during the same time slots as the regularly scheduled subjects. If you do a certain subject more often than once a week, you can spread out the exam questions and do a few per day.
Younger students, in grades 1–3, do most of their exams orally. You can audio record their answers or write them down as the child dictates. Older students do much of their exams in writing.
Doing an exam week with one child is pretty simple. Let’s look at how to do exam week with multiple children spread over several grade levels. Just for a sample, we’ll use one of the abbreviated schedules from the How to Finish Lessons by Lunch article. I think the three days on this sample will be enough to give you the idea of how your exam week can work with multiple students over different grades.
This particular schedule is for three students: one in second grade, one in fourth grade, and one in sixth.
Each day starts with a 20-minute math lesson with your second grader. Simply use the exam questions during that time slot. Take only as many questions as that student can easily accomplish in the 20 minutes. Remember, you have all week to get through those questions. You want full attention and best effort, of course; but don’t panic or push just because this is “a test.” If you happen to finish all of your exam questions before the end of the week, that’s fine. You have accomplished what you set out to do; you have let your student demonstrate what she has learned in her math lessons over the past 12 weeks. So if you complete that demonstration, or examination, in three days, just start in with lessons again wherever you left off or take those lesson times off.
The next time slot on Monday is also with your second grader: a 20-minute slot for reading. Use that time for her to read aloud the passage you have selected.
Next your second grader gets to take a break—maybe do some chores or work on her handicraft—while you do your fourth grader’s exams in math and dictation or English. He has another time slot for dictation or English on Wednesday, so you could easily do his dictation exam on one day and his English exam on the other day.
When that’s done, you have a slot to do your sixth grader’s dictation exam or grammar exam. Same situation.
Now comes the family-together subjects: Scripture Memory, habit reading, picture study, and Bible.
For Scripture Memory, ask each student to recite one of the Bible verses or passages that are in your Scripture Memory Box. You can do a video recording of their recitations if your husband wants to be in on exam week and review their work that way.
Habit reading is done twice during the week, so you could use one of those time slots to have the children narrate one of the stories or poems or Scripture passages that you read and discussed during the term. Go ahead and give them a choice of which reading they want to narrate. Their answers will give you insight into which ideas resonated with them and planted a seed within their hearts. Your second grader will give her narration orally. It’s up to you whether you want your fourth grader and sixth grader to also share orally or to write their answers. The advantage of sharing orally is that all of the children get to hear all of the narrations. And if you start with the youngest, you can put a little extra requirement on the older ones to pick a reading that hasn’t been mentioned yet.
For the second habit reading time slot during the week, you might ask the children to evaluate themselves. How do they think they are progressing with that term’s habit focus? Depending on the atmosphere of your home and the relationships between your children, you might allow students to respond to this question all together as a group or split them up to respond individually. You could keep the second grader with you so she can share orally, but send the fourth grader and the sixth grader to different rooms to write their answers. Or give them digital audio recorders so they can record their verbal answers in private. You can listen to their answers later.
Keep in mind that the regular lesson time for habit reading is only a 10-minute slot, so adjust your questions and your expectations accordingly. Don’t get bogged down.
The ten minutes for picture study exam can be done together as a family. Simply ask each child to describe one of the pictures that were studied. Ask each student to describe a different picture, and they can all listen to each others’ descriptions.
A 25-minute slot is next for Bible. Keep the students together to hear each others’ answers as they narrate and answer your questions from the Bible readings you have done as a family.
Then do your math exam with your sixth grader and you’re done.
After lunch you might take one of the afternoon studies to examine each day. So maybe you’ll do music study on Monday. Ask each student to describe his favorite piece from the composer you studied during the term. Again, you could have all of the students share orally as a group or you could divide them up and give the older ones a more challenging question, as we described in part 1 of this series, and have them write their answers.
I think you get the idea of how this can work, so I won’t go through every time slot on the remaining days. Let’s just touch on those time slots that have different students doing different subjects at the same time.
On Tuesday, you’ll start with math with your second grader. Then the second time slot has you continuing to work with your second grader on handwriting, so you’ll give her a handwriting exam assignment during that time.
Your fourth grader is scheduled for a typing lesson during that same time slot. Most typing software has regular testing incorporated into the lessons. Now, maybe the particular lesson that your fourth grader is working on today doesn’t have a test. Don’t let that handcuff you. Just because this is supposed to be exam week, that doesn’t mean you have to go hunt for a typing exam. You can either allow your fourth grader to do the next typing lesson as usual during that time slot—whether it’s a test or not—or if he has advanced far enough, you could select a passage for him to type as an exam. Either way is fine.
Your sixth grader usually is doing his extra geography reading during that time. So you can give him the exam questions on that book. He can write his answers while you work with the second grader as usual. And you’ll notice that he also has the next time slot to finish his geography while you’re doing shorter lessons with the younger ones.
Then just continue working your way through the schedule, incorporating the exam questions and assignments in place of your usual lessons as you go through the day. You’ll see the family-together geography time right before lunch on Tuesday. Well, your older student has already done his exam on his extra geography reading, so you can use this Family time slot to do the mapping questions.
Then after lunch, give the exam on another one of the afternoon projects. Perhaps your friend who is skilled in that term’s handicraft can come over that afternoon to give the children feedback on their projects. Or maybe you want to sit down with each child and have him show you what he entered in his nature journal during the term.
You see how this works. Simply use the same time slots in your regular schedule, but do the exam questions instead of a lesson.
For the Family subjects, you can keep the children all together and let them hear each others’ oral narrations and answers. Or you can keep the younger children with you to answer orally and send the older ones into different rooms to write their answers or audio record their answers. It’s up to you. Do what works best for your children and for the questions that are being used. Think of those scenarios as tools in your toolkit. Use the one that will work best for the situation at hand.
And now I hope you understand why, in the first part of this series, I recommended writing the exam questions on index cards, one question per card and labeling the cards with both subject and student. Now that you know how the exam week looks, you can easily check each day’s schedule and see which subjects are going to be examined for which students. Then just grab those cards and put them in order for a smooth passage through the exam day. If your older student is heading to a different room to write his answers, simply hand him the card or cards that have his questions.
And if you have the prepared Simply Charlotte Mason lesson plans, you’re good to go. Those exam questions are already sorted and popped into the appropriate lesson times. If you want a copy of the questions for your older students, you could write them on index cards or just make a photocopy of the page and circle the questions that you want him to answer.
One more logistics tip: If you want or need a record of exam week, you can transcribe oral answers or capture them on an audio or video recorder. Use your phone. Of course, you can hang on to the written narrations and exam answers that older students completed. And if the paper pile is overflowing, feel free to take pictures of their papers and save them digitally. A digital portfolio can be a great space-saver!
I hope these two articles on exam week in a Charlotte Mason home school have been helpful. And I hope you will find this approach to end-of-term exams to be encouraging as you take regular time to acknowledge and celebrate the growth of each person in your home.