Measuring Success

Guest Column

Measuring Success

Originally published by Marisa Corless at her Lighthouse Classical Academy blogspot




Sail along with the TOS Homeschool Crew!

When the TOS Crew Blog Cruise posed the question of how to measure success, I initially thought there is no way I am answering that. This topic is too big and too broad and I am not sure I even know. But then I realized that I needed to write so I could clarify in my mind. In the past I have sometimes gotten to the end of the school year and felt personally unsuccessful, even though my children made great forward progress, because we did not finish a given book or maybe we are still using the same book for the 3rd year... Sometimes I feel like I fell short because my own personal type A personality of checking off all the done items didn't get satisfied. When I take a step back I begin to see a different picture though. I hope this post will help me clarify for myself  what success is and how it is measured.

What is success? Does that mean I can check off every box of accomplishments that the state says that a child of a given age will learn? Does that mean my child has finished a book and moved on to the next? Does that mean a test score is high? Does that mean someone else notices that my child is "on track" or "ahead" of  his or her peers? I am not so sure any of those are a good measure of success.

According to those measures, I was successful in school growing up. I was a straight A student even in a prep school which required HOURS of homework and effort. I was accepted into every secondary school and college I ever applied to. I did decent on my ACT exams. I graduated Magna Cum Laude (in the top 3 in my major) from an excellent school. I took AP classes in high school and was a quintessential overachiever.Now, several years out of school I don't know that I can say that was success. I learned some things, but much of what I put in during those years was put in, remembered long enough to put it back on the test, and dumped in the trash on my way out. It was only the things I found most interesting that were retained. Either that or they were drilled to the point that no one would ever forget!

Following graduation, I had my first child and then my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. I started school again after Tiger was born. This time it was for a Masters of Herbology- something I became passionate about. I worked hard and used what I learned. I enjoyed almost all of the coursework and even if I don't remember every detail of every plant, I do know where to look to remember. It took me years to finish and still I continue to study it even though I graduated. Is that success? I think it is much closer.

Measuring success is so difficult in the world of homeschooling because every child is different and every family situation is different. I suppose it is kind of like a child learning to talk. If we "measure success" with a 1-2 year old talking then we will record every word they say, each and every change they make in their pronunciation and each and every attempt at a new word. How exhausting! I have had a couple of really late talkers. Twice I have had a child who didn't speak a single word until after 21 months.  By many measurements this would be classified as a speech disorder. One of those children is now 28 months and still learning, although she has complexity in her speech and word choices, she is still not fully talking.  My other daughter is now 5 1/2. It is this 5 1/2 yr old I am referring to in the following story.

If I had measured Pumpkin Pie's success like many feel we should measure academic success, I would have been panicked that they were not succeeding and growing fast enough. As the mother, I looked to my child. I noticed that she was communicating very effectively with signs, body language, and responding effectively to my language. She didn't have any hearing problems and I knew that she would one day talk. Sure enough she did. A year later, she was talking so well that no one believed  she was not even 3 and furthermore they didn't believe she had only been talking for less than a year. Surely one so adept at language was an early talker. Nope. This child was observing before speaking. I expect that Strawberry will do the same.

To me, success is measured by looking at my child and evaluating how he or she is doing based on where he or she has been. Are these children moving forward in their skills? Are they striving to try new things? Are they stretching ever so slightly as they learn new things? For some children, that will mean huge success measured by the public school standards. For example, Tiger, who won't be 10 until March is chronologically a 4th grader. He is working on pre-Algebra though. By many standards, this is huge success. This has not been due to me pushing him along but rather it is due to his love of all things numeric. As long as he is still enjoying numbers and moving forward he is successful for him. He has a mission in life to fulfill and I imagine that numbers might play into that mission, but in the meantime, I keep providing him with the next step and encouraging him to climb. I also have to be aware that this child, although advanced is emotionally his age. This means that I have to be prepared for emotional walls that have and do occasionally fly up and halt progress in something. I have to remind myself that it is ok and that when he is ready, that wall will crumble and he will rush through again. I have seen it happen before when he was 7 and got towards the end of 4th grade math. He sort of understood fractions and decimals but all the tricky rules with fractions were too much for him emotionally. He spent nearly 2 years stuck and then one day it clicked and he flew through the rest of elementary math in a few short months.

Butterfly asked me to teach her to read but then wanted NOTHING to do with reading. Try as I might, she wouldn't let me teach her to read. She let me teach her the letter sounds but that was all. She wouldn't read out loud and she was not going to sit for a reading lesson! She found a Dick and Jane book and spent 2 hours a day on her bed with that book. Every once in a while she would ask me what a word said, but that was all. I think after a month or so she came to me and said she had finished the book! A month or so later she brought me Swimmy and proclaimed she could read it. And sure enough, she read it without any hesitation!

Pumpkin Pie is chronologically in K. She is the third of 4 and has realized that she has lots of people to read to her. On the one hand, she wants to read, but on the other hand, she doesn't because she is scared if she learns to read, no one will read to her. She is very slowly making progress, but each new word she learns is a victory and progress. She will learn to read in her own time. I am confident in this. In the mean time, I will keep reading excellent literature, fascinating stories, and helping her read the words in the scriptures, just as I have done with my other children. Who knows, she might surprise me like Butterfly did and one day proclaim she can read.

I suppose that in my home success will have to be measured by watching the children. Are they engaged? Are they excited about the new things they have discovered? Are they making progress in their own way?Are they contributing to the family and helping build an eternal family with love and healthy relationships? These are evaluated daily.

If I can help guide my children to always remember the Lord, love the Gospel, love one another and be best friends with each other, create lasting positive family memories, teach them to read and write and do arithmetic, think for themselves, and guide them to follow the path that the Lord has in store for them, then I suppose I would consider that success. Unfortunately, I can take steps towards that success today but the measurement won't be until much further down the road.

For today I can only measure each day. Rather than looking at the whole year after the fact, which often leads to forgetting all the successes and triumphs, I will need to look at each day. Did we do our devotional? Were the kids engaged during our group school time? Did they get excited about something? How engaged were they in their free learning time? Did we get our chores done? Did our day have a good routine and rhythm? Do they look forward to tomorrow's learning time? If I can answer yes to most of these questions, then I think I will have had success for the day. If not, there is always tomorrow and I can succeed tomorrow.

So in the end I suppose success is the incremental evaluations that we make on our road to the eventual. If we are always striving for improvement, and we regularly see it, then we are seeing success.