Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Evaluating a Curriculum

So, while my children have been off enjoying VBS this week, I've been spending time over at my friend's house helping her go through a new curriculum she wants to try for her children this coming school year. My friend is unique. Both her and her husband are blind. Try homeschooling your children without eyesight! What a challenge.

Anyway, O. was very excited to test out what she hoped was going to be a great curriculum to use with her 3 children. Without sight her and her husband rely on their ears to take on the role of two senses. So, to aid them, their computers (and many other appliances/electronics in their home) speak to them. An online screen reader can read any text found on a computer screen. The key is "text". Screen readers cannot read an "image".

So what is the curriculum? The Robinson Curriculum.

The Robinson curriculum consists of 22 CD-Roms full of volumes of books that are used to form the basis for their curriculum. The only thing that is not included is Math - and Saxon Math is recommended. In fact, one of the tenets of this curriculum is that children should progress from Saxon 54 all the way through Calculus before even attempting any science program. When I told my husband this he said, "Actually that makes so much sense. Math is one of the 'languages' of science and if you know math, then all the scientific equations & formulas will all make so much more sense." He should know. He taught high school sciences for two years at GICA (biology, chemistry, physical science...even some physics).

The first hurdle occurred when we realized that all the "text" on the CDs were image files. So much for a screen reader! Then, nowhere on the CDs can you find any kind of Scope and Sequence to follow. Books weren't even categorized into grade levels. From what I could tell, the recommendation was to find your child's reading level and start them at a book that would match and then have them read the books in order to the end.

At first glance that is what I saw. But as I looked more, I realized I was looking at a fantastic library of old classics, original books, biologies, autobiologies, old readers, the bible. All on computer disk. Now personally, I like to hold an actual book in my hand and am not too thrilled with reading a book on a screen. But for my friend O. this is the only way she can read a book, other than listening to a book on tape. Such a wealth of information. The trick was to figure out how to use it!

O.'s husband was able to get one of their reading programs to convert the image to a PDF file, which then could be read from another program they had. It was a complicated process to figure this out and then teach me how to teach O. how to use it. Do you know how much we rely on a mouse to navigate on a computer? Imagine having to navigate over a screen, blindfolded, using only your keyboard and a robotic voice telling you where your cursor is on the screen? That is how O. and L. navigate without sight. It's a learning curve for me, trying to explain that they are on the wrong spot "move left, no down, up. over 3". LOL. You can imagine!

It will take several meetings before O. will feel comfortable finding the books on the CDs. Luckily her kids should be able to figure it out and help mom and dad.

I'm not sure if the Robinson Curriculum will be the right one for this family. I'm not sure it's the right one for any family. It is a strange philosophy, yet has its appeal. The 3 R's are the focus - reading, writing, 'ritmetic. The children are to read the books, write essays and do their math - for up to 8 hours a day. Theoretically, at this pace they could finish school by age 15, easily. And probably have a very interesting and well read vocabulary and outtake on life. Or be burned out. Depends on the child.

For me, I see it as a great library resource. But I'm an unschooler and reading is what my kids do.

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