Tag Archives: Co-ops

Tapestry is with Michelle in South Africa

An encouraging story about a mom who homeschools in South AfricaThis interview is part of a series called Tapestry is Everywhere!”, in which we learn from Tapestry users who are applying the curriculum in surprising ways or places. In this article we’ll meet Michelle, a homeschooling mom and Tapestry user who lives in South Africa!

Michelle, how long have you lived in South Africa?

We’ve been here almost eighteen years.  My husband is a pastor and involved in training other pastors and missionaries as well. When my husband left for university, his father decided he didn’t want to follow the American dream and wanted to use his gifts for the Gospel.  So he moved the family to Kenya and my husband spent his summers there.  He gained a vision from that and when he graduated from seminary he (and I) went to teach other pastors in South Africa.  Now he primarily pastors a church and also trains others on the side.  All five of our children have been born here, including a child whom we adopted.  When I was in college I was studying Christian education, hoping either to homeschool my own children on the mission field or to educate other children.

What made Tapestry stand out?

I had been trying to put together my own stuff for a long time, and then another missionary friend shared her TOG file with me.  At first I almost felt sick because it seemed so overwhelming, but then I saw that actually it had put together for me EVERYTHING that I needed in an integrated way that would shape their thinking and equip them for life.  The only thing that made me nervous at that point was that my mentors with similar educational philosophies in America hadn’t told me about it yet.  So I wrote to them and they said, “Oh, we started doing that a year ago and forgot to tell you!” I forgave them for that, but they had to take me book shopping as an apology when I got back to the states.

Speaking of that, what do you do for books?

 We are almost the only American family in our group.  Sometimes somebody coming to visit can put some in a suitcase, or sometimes we do orders, but then the postal service goes on strike… so it’s a huge commitment for these ladies to do it.  But there’s just nothing else like it in the world and also Tapestry has granted us many scholarships.  One of our ladies was just in tears when she received her scholarship.

How big is your co-op?

For many years it was a small group… just a few families.  When my oldest son got to be old enough that I really wanted to have discussion peers for him, we began to hope that the group could expand.  We prayed for five families and the Lord gave us five families.  The next year we prayed for ten families and the Lord gave us eleven families.  Now we have eighteen families.

What things did you like about Tapestry that made it a good fit for your co-op?

It’s because all our students are able to do the same topics in the same weeks across all their different ages and learning levels.  We just had one family join our group that was using another program with their children who have some special needs.  Their children are way below grade level.  But Tapestry is so flexible that they were able to just slot in with our Upper Grammar children without feeling in any way inferior, and we can tailor the learning levels for the learning level and ability of each child.

How do you address the challenge of including African history in a US-based curriculum?

When moms ask me why they should do a curriculum that involves so much US history, I explain that we are studying the superpowers that have shaped the world, and so just as we study ancient Egypt or Greece or Rome or Persia, so also we study modern superpowers like America.  As they see how these different empires or nations function and influence the rest of the world, they will be better able to consider how these superpowers affect their own country.  We also do take time in the weeks that cover Africa to do more with Africa.  We had one of the grandfathers come in during the week when we were studying the Anglo-Boer war and had him show us his artifacts from that.  We also replaced an entire American history unit with African history.

Is homeschooling growing in South Africa?

Yes, it’s definitely on the rise.  For many years we only had a couple of families in our co-op.  Now, homeschooling is getting bigger.  If you use the government system where you don’t have to pay fees, there will be at least 50 students in a class with very few resources.  Otherwise you have to send them to a private school with very high fees.  So, people are looking for a middle option and looking abroad quite widely.  Some do online options, some do other things, etc.

How do you make homeschooling work with such a big co-op, especially when you mentioned that you sometimes need to drop everything and help friends out in the bush?

Well, my older three children are independent.  My youngest three, including the one who is still learning to read, take up more of my time of course.

I think Tapestry actually saves me a lot of time, because I know that so much will be covered on co-op day.  For instance, we decided to do a D writing class as well, so it’s pretty much 6-9th in that class and it was hard for me to find the time to do writing assignments with my students, but because I teach that class I put a lot of effort into it.  However, other teachers cover other subjects, so I don’t have to do nearly as much of that.  On Thursdays I know that great parent-teachers who are gifted will do hands-on activities and maps and lap books and so on.

Has there been anything fun or weird or interesting that comes up in studying Tapestry as South Africans that wouldn’t necessarily come up in America?

Well, at dinner a little while ago with our co-op friends who are from Zambia and the Congo, we were discussing American politics and they were asking what we thought.  Socialism came up as a topic and they were asking us “What is that?”  Most of the liberation movements in South Africa were led by socialists, so they think socialism is good… and so do the people here of European descent who also have a more socialist background with free health care, etc.  So then one of my older sons jumped in and began to explain all about Socialism and Stalin and Mao and helping African adults to understand the dangers of the socialistic worldview.  At the end of that evening, my friend said, “We are homeschooling our children because we want them to have this; we want them to understand culture and vote well, etc.  But how are we going to reach the rest of the children in this country so that they understand and so that they can vote well?  That really challenged me to think beyond my own small family and group, so actually of late I have begun to think about trying to start a good Christian school for our area.

Is there anything you’d like to ask as a prayer request?

I’d like to ask for prayers that families in South Africa can keep homeschooling their children.  So far it is still legal, but the government is not supportive and we don’t know how long this privilege will last.  Also, we ask for prayer to persevere as the moms face some things that I think moms in America may soon be facing.  One wife has a husband who has been out of work for a year because he won’t pay bribes.  Another husband is in similar trouble because he wouldn’t tell a lie.  People are having to stand firm for their principles, with real financial costs, and they need prayer.  Finally, I’d ask that we be able to find a way to bless more families in this country with Christian education, because right now there is a very small minority who can.  When I was doing a women’s conference recently in an African township, I don’t think any of those women were able to stay home with their children.  They all had to work, because our liberal constitution makes it easier for women to get work than for men to get work, and so they wind up bearing the burden of being breadwinners.

Lampstand Learning Center

img-ocIn this post, we interview Barb Spanier, the director of Lampstand Learning Center, as she helps us understand what online education can offer the homeschooling family.

What is online education, exactly?

Online education choices run the gamut—from full blown online schools to online tutoring sessions and anything in-between. Parents who want their child’s entire educational journey to be conducted by a certified online school with official transcripts are able to find many options available to them.  Most homeschool families that I interact with, though, are looking for online classes as a supplement for their home education program

 What types of classes are there for online students?

There are two types of online classes, synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous classes meet in real time, and typically a live teacher either leads a discussion or lectures the students.  Asynchronous classes do not meet in real time, which allows students to do the work when it fits into their schedules. Such sessions are pre-recorded or use relatively static forum interactions.

Synchronous classes are great for families that want their students to have a set time each week to attend class.  You will find many different styles of synchronous classes online with most leaning toward either live lectures or discussions.  Class sizes also vary, with lecture classes having any number of students, and discussion classes being on the smaller size—typically 15 to 20 students.

Asynchronous classes work well for the busy homeschool family that is not able to fit a synchronous class into their schedule, as well as for overseas families whose time zones vary widely from those in which the classes are typically held. Asynchronous classes are typically lecture-based or forum-based with a larger number of students in each class.

What tools should a student expect to use with online classes?

The student should expect to use a class management system (CMS) if they are taking an online class. Class management systems are used by teachers to provide most, if not all, information that a student will need to be successful in class.  Online learning centers typically have one CMS for the center and then each class will have its own class page.  Students go to their class page to download assignments, watch lectures, take quizzes, upload homework, check grades, etc.  The CMS is the virtual “space” that hosts the online experience, and typically students will be checking their class page numerous times a week.

If your student is enrolled in a synchronous class they will also have an online classroom, as well as their class page.  The online classroom is where they will go to listen to the lecture or participate in discussion.  Typical online classrooms offer text chat, live chat via a microphone or video, hand raising capability, and a whiteboard to display visual presentations. Students will need a computer with a microphone and camera, and a good connection to the internet to fully participate in synchronous classes.

What questions should parents ask as they explore online education?

Here are some good questions to ask if you’re considering online classes for yours student:

  • Is the class synchronous, or asynchronous?
  • What is the class size?
  • Is there daily/weekly homework assigned?
  • Do students turn in homework? If so, how do they turn it in and in what formats?
  • Are there assigned papers? Will you give quizzes and tests?
  • Are students graded by your teachers, or do we do it?
  • How do the students contact their teachers?
  • What equipment is needed? Do your students need a microphone and camera to participate?
  • What if we are traveling/sick/have a power outage and miss a class?

What kind of classes does the Lampstand Learning Center offer?

We offer small, synchronous discussion classes using the Tapestry of Grace curriculum. These classes are designed for dialectic and rhetoric students (of junior and senior high school ages).  Our classes are a bit different in that they will each focus on one “thread”. For example, we offer Year 1 Dialectic or Rhetoric classes in History, Literature, Writing, Bible/Church History, and Government. A student who wanted to use the Lampstand Learning Center for Literature and Writing would sign up for two online classes. Click here for the full list.

We strongly believe in Socratic discussion, as promoted in the Tapestry curriculum, and seek to create an environment that is conducive to offering the best chance possible for students to actively participate in each class discussion. Our classes provide a “flipped classroom” where the students are working through the assignments at home, and coming together virtually for guided explorations of the material.

We purposely keep an average of only 10 students per class (which is much lower than most online education options), because our desire is that each student will learn the skills necessary to participate well in a Socratic discussion.  We also offer writing classes that teach students the necessary writing skills to be successful in college, and in life.

Because we expect that each student is doing the assignments independently and coming together for discussion, we do require each family to own a Digital Edition of the Tapestry of Grace year plan that the class is using. We do this to ensure that each student is on the same page with the teacher and other classmates.

Do you have any examples of students’ work?

Whether in our discussion classes or our writing classes, our students are given opportunities to create presentations. Here are two you might enjoy watching.

Level 12 Writing Class Senior Thesis

Pride and Prejudice Literature Analysis

Does it work?

We think so. While many families love Tapestry of Grace and benefit from it without the online courses, our classes have been a great help for other families. Here are a few quotes from those currently using the Lampstand Learning Center:

I have been very happy with the writing class, and am quite pleased that you discuss history so much.  This class has helped remove some of the stress from homeschooling, and her [the student’s] writing is improving. ~ LLC parent

My student so enjoyed his lit-lite year 4 rhetoric class last year. He learned a lot – mostly that he can enjoy literature, “even poetry,” as he says! LOL! Seriously, though, this class was a real blessing for him and for me. I’m so glad you offer this resource. ~ LLC parent

I would just like to thank you for everything I have learned from you this past school year. You were an excellent teacher and I really enjoyed the classes that I took with you. ~ LLC student

Registration is currently open for the 2014- 2015 school year.  Please visit our site (Link:  http://www.lampstandbookshelf.com/llc/classes/) to see if what we have to offer would be a blessing for your family as you “love the journey.”

Clarifying Goals for Discussion Leaders

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-discussing-plot-image24514120Did you know that not all discussions in homeschools are conducted alike? You probably did, at least in some ways.

For instance, you probably know that discussing what she learned from dissecting a frog today with your high schooler is a different kind of thing than discussing why your second grader hasn’t yet cleaned up her room, which differs yet again from discussing your fifth grader’s history text readings on Christopher Columbus. These differences display the first point I’d like to make in this post: the word “discussion” is a pretty open-ended one for a lot of teaching parents.

For instance, what some people think of as discussion is really just a chat. It’s a conversation about that frog and how surprising it was that its brain was so small, or about what game we’ll play as a family after dinner tonight, or if we liked or didn’t like the latest movie, and why. These are all fine things to talk over, but it can clarify the specific academic nature of what we’re after in discussions within homeschooling to remind ourselves that academic discussions, such as we want to have over history or literature readings, especially in our student’s older years, is more purposeful and directive than a casual chat.

On the other hand, a discussion in the context of school subjects should also not be merely a lecture: a one-sided talk by an authority who provides an organized, linear, tidy presentation to one who may or may not be listening with rapt attention. True discussions are far messier: they have no preset agenda and–in their mature state–should feel more like voyages of exploration than scripted plays where all the lines are predetermined. It’s not that there’s never a place for lecturing in home teaching; it’s just that we shouldn’t confuse lecturing with discussion. Whether you lecture your second grader on the state of her room or your high school student on the state of the presidency, you’ll do all the talking and your student will not get a chance to voice opinions, much less questions or dissents related to what you’re communicating. This is why lecture isn’t really the same as discussion.

Neither is a discussion just a debate, though there are times when elements of debate may become part of a discussion. Generally speaking, debates involve parties taking adversarial positions that become more and more entrenched as the combatants hold their positions against all arguments and persuasion. Mature discussions, by contrast, should be mostly collaborative. Participants should be seeking truth together, exploring topics, and looking for solutions to complex problems with the idea that all options are on the table, at least until any of them is proven unworthy or unworkable. Sometimes we do debate a sub-point of a discussion in order to prove (or disprove) its merits but, overall, a discussion is (or should be) different from a debate.

Finally, I would argue most strenuously that discussion is not the same as a Question and Answer (Q & A) session, wherein the teacher’s goal is to go over what the student has learned independently, so as to make sure that he’s understood the main points of his reading and understands what information the teacher thinks is important (and will thus be on the test). In a majority of traditional, grade-school classrooms, this is the working paradigm what passes for “discussion.” And thus, it’s the mental picture that parents who are new to homeschooling bring to their academic discussion times. They believe that their role is to reinforce the independent learning, cement comprehension, and highlight the important information that the student should retain. But this format leaves no room for inquiry by the student, for independent thought, or for the collaborative exploration that are the keys to learning to think, to parse, and to reason for oneself.

So… if I’m saying that all of the above is not what we mean (or should mean) by the word “discussion” then–what is “discussion”? As above mentioned: it is (or should be) a collaborative, free-flowing exploration of ideas, of facts, and of possible solutions to complex issues or problems. It involves conversation, which means that the leader doesn’t do all the talking. Neither is the leader the “expert,” though s/he is usually the mentor and facilitator. It includes questions that are posed by both the leader and the participants. The leader need not–in fact, should not–pre-plan each phase of the discussion. S/he should have a general idea of where the discussion is headed at the outset–about key concepts to be explored–and s/he can share that direction with the participants, but a mature discussion will be a bit messy, and hardly linear. It will follow the questions, thoughts, flashes of insight, and the collaborative offerings of its participants–leaders and students–not to mention the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Now, I want to emphasize that this picture of “discussion” that I’ve just been describing by contrasts is of a mature discussion. It’s what we look for when working with high schoolers who have been prepared through years of practice. In earlier, pre-discussion phases that build specific discussion skills, discussions have differing formats. For younger children (K-6), for instance, practice with narration (as popularized by Charlotte Mason) is a major tool in the teacher’s arsenal. Along with other verbal exercises, the goal of the teacher is to build habits of verbal exchange and expression over academic content. In dialectic (junior high) years, the focus is on developing and populating mental categories with information that is gleaned from independent readings. Students at this age need practice with forming and using such categories before they’ll be ready for mature discussions. In the rhetoric stage (high school), students who are thus prepared can enter into the exploratory and collaborative mature discussion which centers on the analysis of complex issues and the synthesis of solutions and worldview.

In my two-part Sessions 5-6, that are part of our Master Teacher Training series, I’ve discussed not only the distinctions outlined above that become clarifying elements to help parents set reasonable goals for discussion, but also gone into a lot of detail about the ways that parent-educators can work in younger years to build key skills that allow older students to reach their full potential as mature discussion participants. If you feel that you need help with leading better discussions in your home or co-op group, why not check out these webinars and see if they might not serve you?

Lampstand Learning Center: Meeting needs!

Recently on our Yahoogroups, someone asked for feedback on experiences with our new Lampstand Learning Center (LLC) online classes.My mission has always been to encourage and enable full-family learning with parents as the primary teachers to the glory of God. When three individuals from different parts of the country approached us last fall with essentially the same request (to sponsor or allow them to teach online classes using Tapestry of Grace–which would constitute derivative works), we went to prayer! What emerged very quickly was the faith and vision to conduct a Beta year for a new initiative: the LLC.

The idea was that experienced Tapestry moms could serve as supplemental teachers to strengthen home teaching through this Internet. Beyond these classes, we also wanted to host independently run, virtual co-ops for a small fee by offering an online meeting place in which they can conduct their own classes. Additionally, we hoped to provide local co-ops with support sessions and documents that ease their organizational loads.  Finally, we had vision to offer ongoing teacher training sessions with a variety of speakers that benefit all homeschooling parents using our online classrooms.

We started this year by locating a handful of willing teachers for the paid classes, and offering online classroom space to a handful of co-ops. So far, it’s going really well.  One of the best moves that I made was to make one of the inquiring moms, Barb Spanier, the Director of the LLC. Barb has done hours and hours of work to make the launch of the LLC a success, and continues to work daily to improve it. We owe her far more than money or thanks could ever do to adequately compensate her. What comforts me is that her reward in Heaven will be sufficient!

The open-ended appeal for feedback on the Yahoogroup interested me! I was curious to know, seven weeks into the term, how the experiment was proceeding.  Imagine my joy when two moms immediately piped up with positive accolades!  The following one really thrilled us, because it so captures our original vision:

My daughter has been taking the Y4 Rhetoric Lit and History classes–and I can not say enough great things about her experience!! She is thoroughly enjoying the classes! I am so impressed with how the classes are structured, and how her teachers are always reinforcing a biblical worldview through the Y4 curriculum. As we walk out this year (Y4 — with all of the wars and horrors against humanity) it would easy to get depressed and wonder where God was/is. Her teachers have done such a wonderful job of bringing it all back to Scripture.

The Moodle site [used to administer the classes, and Elluminate, the online classroom software] work like a dream throughout the class. The teacher can offer multiple choice questions, put up maps and slides for their students to view, and they can even break out into other “classrooms” to plan debates. We have been excited about how well Moodle works and fulfills the needs of the students. With a computer and a microphone – you are ready to “plug into” the sessions.

The kids are graded on their performance and preparedness, and I have loved this feature. It has spurned my daughter to dig deeper, reach farther, and give more. Why is it that our kids always seem to want to do more for others? I sit back and I see my daughter growing in leaps and bounds in her study skills, in her communication, and in her Lit and History knowledge.

I can not say enough great things about the program, and I do pray that it continues on through the years, as I think we have stumbled upon a gem in the Homeschool world – and it is called LLC!!

If you have any specific questions I can help you with, please email – I would love to try and help out. I do not know when the next registration is- sorry!!If I could give three “thumbs up” – I would!

Thanks, Lisa, for that feedback. We have not yet opened registration for next year, and we’re not fully operational with all the aspects of the LLC that we have in mind, but we are grateful that we are meeting needs. We know that many parents will be just fine on their own, or have the joy of local co-ops where their teens can attend classes with other peers. The LLC isn’t a need for everyone, but if we can fill a need for some who don’t have the ability to cover certain subjects at home or who cannot get their teens to a local discussion group, we’re thrilled that the LLC can help meet some of these needs.

Please pray for Barb and her LLC team of teachers and co-op parents, as the Lord gives you unction. She is working to His glory and deserves our support! If you have questions, please visit the LLC online. If you have suggestions or comments, please feel free to post here!

Socratic Discussions

Last week, we put up Session 7 of our summer-long Tapestry Teacher Training (TTT) webinar series, entitled “Holding Socratic Discussions.” This was a particularly fun webinar to produce, because I partnered up with some good friends here in Frederick and we did some videotaping of mock demonstrations using kids in our local co-op. While the Internet-delivered version of this website is a little grainy (’cause we couldn’t use the hi-res versions of the videotape and not crash the system), the DVD version is crisp and beautiful! I’m excited about this series, called “The Foundational Series” because the feedback that we’ve been getting lets me know that they are truly helping moms be better homeschoolers, and that was (and always is) our goal!Below is an excerpt from the opening of Session 7, just to whet your interest! In 2011, during the conference season, you can get the Foundation Series FREE with the purchase of a year-plan as our Conference Special!

What IS Socratic discussion?

Most simply put Socratic discussion is teaching others by asking leading questions that are asked not only to draw individual answers, but also to encourage fundamental insight into the issue at hand.This form of discussion is named for the Greek philosopher, Socrates. Socrates lived and taught in Athens, Greece during its golden age, in the late fifth century before Christ. He was actually one of the founders of Western philosophy. Socrates went around Athens during his life and asked questions of others. When they answered, he asked another question. When they answered that, he followed up with yet another question. In each interchange, the one being questioned had to reconsider his last point in light of a new vantage that the next question gave him. As I said in my definition, the purpose of Socrates’ questions was not only to draw out individual answers, but to encourage fundamental insights into issues under discussion. This is the essence of Socratic discussion when properly done.

What Socratic Discussion is Not

Let me further define for you what Socratic discussion is by contrasting it with other forms of discussion.

  • Socratic discussion is NOT lecturing. In a lecture, the expert speaks for long periods of time, and the student listens. The lecturer may use slides, a white board, or other aids, but his basic mode is to teach by means of presenting, and there is typically no active part for the student to play.
  • Socratic discussion is also not simply a conversation among peers. It’s not a wandering talk with no predetermined sense of direction. It’s not an “open forum” where equals all throw into the ring what they think on an issue.
  • Socratic discussion is not a panel discussion, where three to five experts give their opinions on an issue, and children watch.
  • It’s not a debate, where two teams argue a series of points, and a judge (as well as the audience) decide the outcome of the encounter.
  • Finally, it’s not “educational ping-pong.” By this I mean the kind of “discussion” – though this is hardly a worthy name for what I’m describing—wherein the teacher has an answer book and the student has a series of questions to answer at the end of the text book and now the teacher and student have a session wherein they go over this material.

Socratic discussion is none of the above: rather, it’s the intentional questioning of a teacher (you) that leads the student through an ordered series of thoughts and ideas. The point of the exercise is to cause him to think about his opinions and ideas more deeply and to give reasons for them. By adopting the Socratic approach, we arm ourselves with a powerful tool for equipping our students to explain to a dying world the hope to which they have been called.

Socratic Discussions within Tapestry

Socratic discussions form the centerpiece of our “READ—THINK—WRITE” approach when teaching older students with Tapestry of Grace. What we encourage is that your dialectic and rhetoric students read independently for information first. Then, they think about what they have read by having you lead them through a Socratic discussion. For dialectics, your goal is to help them see and form new connections. For rhetorics, your goal is to help them analyze the issue at hand and then synthesize their own views on the issue and, ultimately, to form biblically informed opinions and worldviews from these discussions. They then write about what they’ve read and thought about, so that they interact again with the material, and crystallize their own opinions about matters they’ve studied.

Why do we make such a point of helping you to become a Socratic discussion leader?

Well, first, it’s just straight up good teaching. It is effective because questioning retains focus of student. Unlike such methods as lecturing, there is no ohming out while a teacher drones on. Think of yourself during Sunday sermons: unless the preacher’s subject or delivery are of immense interest to you, chances are that during his 45 minute presentation, your mind will wander.  And, even if it doesn’t, how much did you retain from the sermon you heard two weeks ago? While I’m not knocking sermons in any way, most lecturing is not a highly effective method  for teaching content that you wish the students to retain for long periods of time.

Socratic discussion, by contrast, engages the students constantly. Think of your last conversation: you probably remained far more engaged in it (unless you were multitasking) than you did in the sermon two weeks ago, and I’ll take a guess that you retained more of the content, too.Beyond simply paying attention, people remember conclusions they draw for themselves.  For this, I’ll offer the analogy of four women going together to a location that’s new to them all: say, to a bridal shower. Let us say that the subsequent rehearsal dinner is in the same location. The woman who drove the four ladies to the shower will remember how to get there far more readily than the other three. Why? She was paying attention, remembering the turns and landmarks, while the other three were enjoying uninterrupted conversation. Similarly, the student who is skillfully led through a series of questions that cause him to think about the issue at hand and about his opinions of that issue will remember the insights and conclusions that he draws far more readily than a student who has sat in a lecture and heard the professor’s brilliant insights and conclusions. It’s just how we work: we remember how we got there if we participate actively in finding the way.

Finally, and especially with youths, the Bible tells us that fools delight in airing their own opinions. Well, I’m not calling your student a fool, but young people seem to delight more in airing their own opinions than in getting wisdom from their elders. This being true, Socratic discussion is tailor-made to harness this tendency. Socratic questioning encourages your youth to express his opinions, and then questions those opinions so that he can examine and modify them to more biblical ones—and then remember and own them once the process is done!

Now, in Tapestry, we use Socratic questioning in different ways depending on the learning level, and maturity of the student.


Here, I begin to go into detail. Want to learn more? Go and watch the webinar!