The Guide to Incredibly Powerful Homeschool Instruction
How to Use Your Guide
By James Haupert
James Haupert is the founder and CEO of the Center for Homeschooling. His background in learning and teaching is broad: he has served as a high school teacher, a professor in the graduate school of Engineering at Santa Clara University, an executive coach, he has trained over 25,000 managers and professionals in the disciplines of management and organizational behavior, and he now wants to serve as a resource to help homeschool parents become better and more confident instructors, and your kids to become expert learners.
Recent scientific studies have shown that better learners are not born with some special gift; instead, we know they use better and more powerful learning strategies. Amazingly, students who know how to use science-based learning strategies can learn 2x, 3x faster, or more because of these more powerful methods.
We can attain these same benefits through the smart application of scientific principles to our teaching! By focusing on a small number of better practices and powerful ideas, you can become a much better instructor with the ability to help your children learn faster.
This is why I created this Guide for homeschooling families. Following these fundamentally sound instructional strategies, along with a few sound teaching tips, can transform your home instruction. If you like the ideas, you are most welcome to share these with other homeschooling parents. The journey is easier when you have the right tools.
Here, you have a distillation of proven powerful teaching strategies. I’ve selected for you a short list of the best and easiest ones to apply to your homeschool instruction. And I’ve also added a few gems that I gained from my years as an educator and instructor that I know you will find helpful.
There’s never been a better time to “up your teaching game” with new ideas! Better methods pay dividends – they can reduce your teaching time because your kids learn faster. They can energize your home classroom. I encourage you to experiment with these fabulous fourteen and discover how they can work for you to accelerating learning for your kids.
3 Teaching Tips from Aristotle
This guide begins with this three-step technique that will show you many of the most powerful teaching techniques are also easy to do. When I began my career as a junior trainer many years ago, a senior trainer mentor shared with me this great advice about teaching.
“There are three things you always need to do, James.” I recall him saying. “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them.” Later in my career, I started to appreciate the deep wisdom in this advice.
But what I didn’t realize at that time was this advice originally came from the master of rhetoric himself, Aristotle! It has served me well in my career as a trainer and public speaker. You will find this simple “triptych” (originating from the Greek word ‘triptykhos’ meaning three-layered) to be one of the most valuable methods to use for all your homeschool lessons.
Follow these three simple teaching steps:
- Tell them what you will tell them. When you open your lesson, explain why you are teaching it. This step has two components – describe what you intend to talk about in broader terms, and then highlight what you most want your kids to learn. Inexperienced instructors tend to cover the former, while better instructors do both. You want to focus learners on what they will get from this lesson. If you have learning objectives, share them here to provide supporting detail.
Then. . .
- Tell them. This step is the heart of your lesson or learning exercise, where you present all the details. As you cover your lesson and your exercises, don’t focus only on the content, but also point out the personal benefits of knowing this information. Good teaching connects to both the learner’s heart and mind.
Then. . .
- Tell them what you just told them. As you close, you again review the most important points. Students need to hear them at least one more time. This step also allows you to correct any misunderstandings, answer questions, and narrow gaps in their understanding. Cover the things you most want them to remember.
“Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them.”
These 3 steps provide structure for leading all your lessons. Sometimes your instructor’s guide gives you ideas for opening or closing, but often not. When it doesn’t, in advance of your lesson take a few minutes and write down the bullet points you will cover for steps #1 and #3. You become a better instructor when you pay attention to fundamentals. For more, see learning objectives.
Follow Aristotle’s triptych – it was a solid idea then – and a useful one today.
Many science-based learning methods are counter-intuitive, like this one. We know most instructors emphasize one thing when they teach – encoding or getting information into the student’s heads. Makes sense, this is how we were taught as kids.
But instruction that emphasizes encoding alone, is not the most effective method.
One of the most robust findings from years of cognitive science research is the importance of efforts to also get information out of student’s heads. Effective teaching requires you to balance two processes – the step of inputting information and the efforts to encourage retrieving that information.
Go back and forth between the two – this is how we improve memory and the ability to recall information. Of course, you already do this now – but probably not often enough.
While classical teaching emphasized it, most teaching today (and also individual study) vastly underuses retrieval practice as a learning strategy. You can achieve major improvements to learning by greatly increasing the use of retrieval in your instruction. Do it in every lesson – and don’t limit it to the end of the day, or the end of the week.
Why is retrieval so important? Because it’s is part of these 3 steps of learning:
Encoding – this describes the student efforts to input the information in the form of new neural circuits to remembered it.
Storage – this is the process of working with the information in a way to form long-term memories.
Retrieving – these are the efforts of the student to try to pull out or retrieve the information to strengthen neural circuits.
To achieve a balance to these steps, you need to encourage retrieval and explain why it’s so important. Follow this scientific principle:
the process of trying to retrieve something makes that information more retrievable later.
Boom – that’s it! When you teach, periodically pause your lessons and ask your kids to try to recall the information without looking at their notes. Initially, this will seem harder for kids, so they may tend to resist it – until they start to see the benefits.
The key to maximizing retrieval effectiveness is timing – wait a short while after you’ve taught it, when your kids start to forget it, then help them bring it back into their minds (or “retrieve” it). Take advantage of the ironic scientific connection between when we start to forget things and strengthening our memories. Well-timed retrieval helps our brains identify what is important to remember.
To start doing this, set aside time for retrieval sessions in your daily lesson plan. Include lots of retrieval exercises in both the middle and end of each lesson. Also, in your homeschool schedule, set aside time to retrieve last week’s and last month’s lessons.
See Stop and Jot and Think-Pair-Share in this Guide for ideas to do more retrieving.
Learning Objectives are Your Gold Standard
You’ve likely noticed most of your instructor’s guides include learning objectives. They usually read something like this – “At the end of this lesson, you should be able to do X, Y, and Z.” This is interesting, but how can you use them to teach better?
Learning objectives are the gold standard to educators because they serve many purposes – from guiding the creators of the content, to focusing the teacher on outcomes, to helping us measure the effectiveness of that lesson. They state the lesson’s purpose in very clear words.
The statements should be specific and described in behavioral terms because learning outcomes should be easy to observe and measure. Here is an example,
“At the end of today’s lesson, you will know how to safely change a flat tire on your Ford pickup truck.”
If you have that truck, you know exactly what you are expected to learn. And if the instructor wished to give you an official certificate of completion in tire changing, she would likely test your knowledge during a demonstration using this learning objective.
For instructors, learning objectives are there to help you. Explain them at the start of a lesson because they remind you why you are teaching that lesson. But they serve the learners too because they provide focus on expected outcomes.
These dual benefits mean always share and discuss the learning objectives with your kids before you start the lesson. Better learning happens when everyone in the room is on the same page – don’t skip this step.
What happens if your instructor’s guide doesn’t have them? First, this should be a warning sign the lesson may not have design rigor. But don’t worry, you are not dead in the water if you don’t have them. Beforehand, sit down, think about why you are teaching this lesson and write your own.
As a trainer, one of my first activities is writing my learning objectives on a prominently placed whiteboard or flip chart before the trainees come into the room.
When the lesson begins, I walk my trainees through each bullet point, one by one, so we establish a clear roadmap for learning. This also provides a useful reference during the lesson where we can pause and discuss our progress. This holds me, and my students, accountable for making the lesson successful.
At the end of the lesson, here I go again. I use them to go back and evaluate how well we accomplished them by asking questions and then ticking them off like a checklist. When I do this, I can feel the student’s sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
To summarize, students need to clearly know what is expected of them and better teachers know the brain learns better when we establish clear learning goals.
The more razor-sharp your expectations (especially high-level ones that involve deep analysis and conceptual understanding), the more likely your kids will meet them. Practice the discipline of discussing the learning objectives – get them to work for you.
Share and Explain them – Discuss them –then Review them at the lesson’s end.
How Much is TMI? (Too much information)