Tag Archives: Tapestry Tips

How to Organize Your Tapestry Books

Here is how I organize all my homeschooling books that I use with Tapestry of GraceOne of my favorite things about Tapestry is the whole-book education that delights my children. There are so many wonderful books to read!

But, this also means that I need to organize all the books so I know where to find them. I am sure you can sympathize with how frustrating it is to finally get everyone gathered for history reading only to realize that you can’t find the book. The system I use has helped with that immensely.

We have an odd little room in our basement that divides the guest room from the back office space. It would be an awkward arrangement for most uses, but it fits bookshelves perfectly! I store all the books that are not in the unit we are currently using on those bookshelves. To keep track of which books go where, I label the books and divide them up by year and unit.

To label the books I ordered Avery 0.75 circle labels in red, yellow, green and blue. Then, looking at the books on a shelf, I can easily see which year and level they are.Avery stickers

Unfortunately, the labels don’t stick to the spines of books well, so I put clear packing tape over top of them and now they look nice and professional.Stickers on books

I also made myself a handy cheat sheet so that I wouldn’t forget what the colors meant. The following is the color chart that I use, which I stuck on the wall next to the bookshelves.Sticker chart

Top sticker is year:

Year 1: Red

Year 2: Yellow

Year 3: Green

Year 4: Blue

Bottom sticker is level

Lower Grammar: Red

Upper Grammar: Yellow

Dialectic: Green

Rhetoric: Blue

Then I divide the books up by unit and use binders with the unit number to create a simple break.File dividers

Since I use Tapestry Digital Edition, I print up the Reading assignment chart for each week. Then I highlight each book I have on the chart and make any notes I might need. This helps when I update my DE, so I can get the current books for the new levels my children are on, but I can still remember which books I have for previous levels.


I love all the books I have to use with Tapestry, and it fills me with such joy when I see one of my kids pull a book off the Tapestry shelves, just because it looks interesting to them. But I am so glad for a simple organization system since, inevitably, they forget where the books go when they are done!

Customize Tapestry: “I Use Traditional Course Titles”


This is the fourth post in a series. If you wonder why we are writing about how to customize Tapestry, you can read the introductory post here.

At Lampstand Press, we dearly value the integrated learning experience. So do our Tapestry alumni. They were taught what was going on in Europe during the American Civil War, and they got to study World War I in History while also reading All Quiet on the Western Front in Literature. They tell us that integrated studies gave them a unique edge in some of their college classes. Even more importantly, integrated studies are valuable to them as people and as adults.

However, as teachers who favor integrated learning, course titles and descriptions on high school transcripts can be difficult. We know that Tapestry students are getting a great Christian classical humanities education, but if we don’t call it American History, American Literature, etc., then what do we call it? Does “Tapestry, Year 1″ cut it? How will colleges recognize what our students have accomplished?

We decided to ask our company attorney about this problem. Scott Somerville, a Harvard Lawyer, is also a former lawyer for HSLDA. He has fourteen years of experience in answering just this kind of question. More that that, Scott himself has put six homeschooled kids through colleges of several kinds: both private and state, both Christian and secular, both four-year and two-year. We figured he could help, and he did!

Scott says that although state laws vary and colleges vary in what they want to see, there is no law or college anywhere (caveat: none that he knows about!) that says you have to do all the material for a given course title in a single year. If you do the material for a given course over two or three years, you still get the high school credit.

What exactly does this mean? It means that you can use traditional course titles and descriptions on your Tapestry student’s high school transcripts! If your student has done all four years (or in several cases less) of Tapestry at the rhetoric level, then you can legitimately record the following course titles:

History Course Titles

  • American History
  • European History I
  • European History II
  • World History I (or call it Ancient World History)
  • World History II (half-credit here)

Literature Course Titles

  • American Literature
  • British Literature I
  • British Literature II (half-credit here too)
  • World Literature I (or call it Ancient World Literature)
  • World Literature II

Are you still having trouble visualizing it?  Check out this document! We took materials from our Scope and Sequence documents in History and Literature, then combined them as they would appear in traditional course descriptions for those subjects. Also, as we saw in last week’s article, some of our Tapestry teachers are giving credits for Government (or Social Studies) and Philosophy as well.

How often, really, do we get to keep our cake and eat it too? It turns out that Tapestry families do study the traditional course materials (and can arrange them on our transcripts under traditional course titles), but we do them in an integrated way which allows our students to connect America to Europe, history to literature, geography to fine arts, philosophy to church history, and so on across the whole Map of the Humanities


Customize Tapestry: “I Blaze A New Pathway”

new-pathWelcome to the third installment of this blog series! This is the fourth post in a series. If you wonder why we are writing about how to customize Tapestry, you can read the introductory post here.

This article is devoted to examples of parent-teachers who have been thinking outside the box. They may seem to be far off the beaten  paths of the Tapestry map, but actually they are just applying the principle of the Homeschool Three-Step (remember your goals, assess your resources, adjust your course) to their journeys.

Karen blazes a new path when she realizes that her younger students might like something unusual as a read-aloud. “We do the dialectic Worldview books as read alouds for grammar students,” she says. Also, Karen sometimes creates a shortcut: “Some weeks I have to pick between sanity & Literature discussions. Sanity wins. I just have to trust God that they got what they needed without me.”

Becca does not use her dialectic Worldview books as read-alouds for her grammar students, but she does build a bridge between learning levels. “I never have done lower grammar with our lower grammar kids,” she says. “They join in with the upper grammar kids.”

Becca also charts a new course through her school schedule. She says, “If we don’t finish by the end of June, we take July and most of August off anyway, and pick-up where we left off when we get back in mid-August.”

Finally, Becca isn’t afraid to turn down a different path when it comes to class discussion and Teacher’s Notes: “If I know my daughter is not going to be ready for our Saturday discussion because of a busy week, I put together a Power Point presentation and talk through the information with her [instead of having her do the reading]. We still have good discussion because she asks questions.” Jennifer does the same, and Karen chimes in, “I like this idea! I”m going to do this wrong too!”

Even when rhetoric students are doing the reading and answer their Student Activity Pages questions, teachers sometimes let them read from the Teacher’s Notes during class. Christy Somerville, in her classes on teaching rhetoric Literature, encourages teachers to occasionally (emphasis on “occasionally”!) allow students to read the discussion outline with their teacher in class. You can read more about that in “Teaching Rhetoric Literature” on the Loom!

Danielle definitely reroutes when she is preparing for Literature class. She says, “We were in Year 2 when my youngest two reached rhetoric level, so we read almost all of the literature books out loud together that year instead of them reading independently. It was one of my favorite things we’ve ever done.”

Jennifer sees a way out of the traffic surrounding high school credits. She realized that there is no rule that a credit has to be earned in a single year, so her rhetoric student is covering Philosophy and Government from Years 3 and 4. Jennifer deleted some weeks and condensed to allow for other subjects, but still her student will receive full credits in Philosophy and Government over the course of the 2 years.

What Jennifer does for Philosophy and Government can also be done for History and Literature. If your student has completed the full four-year rotation at the rhetoric level, he can earn credits like “World History,” “European History,” “American History,” “World Literature,” “British Literature I & II,” and “American Literature” by simply combining the appropriate sections of each year plan into the course description for each credit. If your student did the work for the full credit, he has it, regardless of whether the different parts of the credit were all completed in the same year.

Each of these ladies is certainly blazing a new pathway, but each of them is also reaching her desired destination. We love the way they adapt Tapestry so that it truly serves their journey!

Customize Tapestry: Skipping Subjects

skipping-subjectsWelcome to the second installment of this blog series! If you wonder why we are writing about how to customize Tapestry, you can read the introductory post here.

One of the principles we believe at Lampstand Press is that God has chosen (crafted, even) specific parents for specific children. While parent-teachers aren’t infallible, they are empowered to (and should) make educational choices for their children. God gives parents both responsibility and authority to do this, in order that they might succeed.

In light of this, we have always designed Tapestry guides as a buffet of good choices for educational content, rather than a single plate of cafeteria food that some distant nutritionist has determined to be best for all children. With Tapestry, there are too many “foods” offered each week. You will have to pick and choose. Fortunately, we are confident that God is able to equip parents to make good choices, and to correct their choices if they make mistakes.

Based on these principles, this article in our series about ways to do Tapestry that might at first seem “wrong” will give examples of how you might load your students’ plates with only the assignments that you consider best for them. . . which necessarily means skipping options!

Becca told us that she doesn’t do any of Tapestry‘s recommended crafts with her younger students. Her reason? She is homeschooling five children at once (her sixth is graduated) and there simply isn’t enough time in the day for everything. Also, Becca is “not crafty unless I can plan way in advance,” so she wisely recognizes that she “just can’t pull it off.” Here is a parent-teacher who has realistically assessed her goals and resources, and decided to skip an option.

Karen, another Tapestry teacher, is right there with Becca: she says “I used to tell people I was allergic to schoolroom craft supplies. I’m not allergic to adult craft supplies but my schedule is.” Karen also recognizes that crafts are not her strength and that they do not fit her schedule. Some parent-teachers who still want to give their children crafts are able to overcome this problem by joining a co-op where other, more “crafty” parent-teachers prepare the weekly craft. For those who do not have that option, however, skipping is a good choice!

Sheri, who teaches for both a co-op and the Lampstand Learning Center, and has even been invited to teach at Tapestry University because of her excellence, cheerfully admits that she doesn’t do philosophy, worldview, vocabulary, church history, or most crafts with her children. Even though she doesn’t have to do every discussion with her students because of her co-op involvement, Sheri still prefers to keep their schedule simple. “I do maps,” says Sheri, “but [I] just give them the blank map and the teacher map to copy.” Also, Sheri says, “I’ve never done a unit celebration.”

That may seem like a lot to leave out, but Sheri’s students are well-fed from the plate she has put together for them. First of all, as another parent named Michelle pointed out, “there is enough worldview training in History and Literature discussions that I don’t miss not using those [assignments].” True! Also, some of the most important weeks of Church History are incorporated into the History discussions. Philosophy has always been an elective that can be saved for the college years. Also, because it is important to Sheri and her husband, she does teach the optional elective of Government to her students. Clearly, Sheri is mapping a good route for her family’s journey, based on the stops they want to make as they go.

Michelle does maps just the way Sheri does and like Sheri, she also disregards the vocabulary. “[It’s] funny how important that [vocabulary] was to me when we started six years ago,” she says. For older children especially, vocabulary can be acquired simply by encouraging curious students to read their History and especially their Literature assignments with a dictionary nearby to look up unfamiliar words.

While of course we see value in each of the options offered in Tapestry, we know that no one can do it all. We also believe that God has perfectly matched teachers with their students. So, we applaud those who are able to cheerfully leave out options. They may do this in order to focus on student problem areas (such as writing or math or science), or to work with their own strengths and weaknesses as teachers, but the end goal of their rerouting efforts is the same destination: to provide an education for their children in which there can be enough time and energy for restful learning. They don’t overload the wagon with supplies for their journey, which means the students don’t strain as hard to pull the load.

In fact, as our lead author Marcia Somerville has emphasized, students need time not only to do all their schoolwork, but time to mull it over and internalize it. By not overfilling their students’ plates, these wise teachers have allowed room for digestion so that the educational food they have given their students will make them big and strong. It’s an added kindness from God that skipping options also saves us time and energy as teachers, so that we can enjoy the journey of homeschooling more!

Customize Tapestry: Creative Uses for Supplements

creative-uses-for-tapestryAs Tapestry teachers, we have bought into the principle that integrated studies multiply learning. We find that it is good for our students to read history and literature, draw maps, do activities, hear music, look at art, and consider worldviews and church history, all from the same time period… and then have a chance to talk and write about what they studied. We’ve seen how integrated learning enriches our students’ lives: in fact, practically every Tapestry alumni that we’ve interviewed has mentioned it!

But did you know that some of us have taken this principle and figured out how to integrate subjects in ways that simplify our lives as teachers? To do this, we use some of our materials not quite as originally intended! Gasp!

For example, coming up with your own dictation sentences can be an extra chore. So, Michelle gets her dictation for Lower Grammar and Upper Grammar students from our Evaluations package. That’s right! She uses quiz questions and answers to help her students work on writing (though sometimes, she says, she needs to simplify them). Students at the lower learning levels don’t necessarily need weekly quizzes, but they do need dictation exercises. One could even use the time spent giving dictation to serve as a little review of what was learned that week, too. What a great “misuse” of materials!

Tapestry teacher Jessica does something similar. Pageant of Philosophy scripts serve for “read aloud” and for dictation exercises in her home (presumably for Dialectic students). This solves three problems at once (how to do Philosophy, do read aloud, and get dictation sentences) and it doesn’t cost her a dime extra, because the Pageant comes with Tapestry!

Melissa sometimes chooses an assigned Literature book to read aloud instead of adding the extra suggested one. She says she hears from other parent-teachers that our read-aloud selections are “awesome,” but for her homeschool, it’s better to have fewer books and get to all the Literature reading. She understand the principle and is making an intentional detour, but it’s still getting her to the same place: integration of History and Literature. Also, she hasn’t cut all the read-aloud options: just some of them. She is making a small detour that works well for her journey. Good job, Melissa!

Leah discovered the same misuse of materials as Melissa, but she added a couple of twists. For some read aloud options, she uses audio books with her younger children (incidentally switching the modality from visual to auditory, which is a great variation). Also, she sometimes uses audio versions for her Dialectic students’ Literature assignments. She says this makes it more like theater for them. Again, Leah doesn’t do this with every assignment, but such small course corrections can bring a freshness to the homeschool day.

Last but not least, Jennifer shared with us one of the best and fastest-growing misuses of Tapestry materials–she stole her husband’s copy of Pop Quiz! Jennifer uses the Pop Quiz audio overview as a preview for her students at the beginning of the week. I’ve also heard of other parent-teachers use it as a review at the end  of the week. Alternatively, Pop Quiz makes a great cheat sheet for the busy teacher who can listen while driving but has trouble making time to read history background information. That is a fantastic way to misuse materials, because it still gets us to a destination: learning about and loving History!

So you see, even though we’ve been talking tongue-in-cheek about “misusing” materials, what we really should have said is that these ladies are “repurposing” them or “creatively applying” them. Having understood where they want to wind up on the map, they are taking detours and shortcuts that still get them there. We think that’s excellent!

Introducing “How to Customize Tapestry”


year_4_map_of_the_humanitiesIt’s October, which means that many of us are nearing the end of our first unit. Possibly this is your first year with Tapestry and you have a steep New Curriculum learning curve. Perhaps you’ve used Tapestry for awhile but are now tackling a new learning level. Maybe the activities that seemed like such a great idea when you signed your student up for them in the summer are now taking far more of your time than you budgeted. Maybe you’ve just hit high school (gulp). Or maybe everything is going just fine!

Whatever your situation, October is a fine time to pause and think about how the school year is going. Do you remember what your original goals were? Are you satisfied that you’re meeting them? Also, did you wind up with as much or as little time as you thought you would? How’s the schedule? Do you need to make any adjustments? We affectionally call this the “Homeschool Three-Step” (remember goals, assess resources, make adjustments).

We value the opportunity in October to make small course adjustments on the journey so that we won’t find ourselves exhausted, discouraged, and way behind when the holidays are over.

Some of us will assess our school year and be greatly encouraged. We are following the map; we are on schedule; we are loving this journey! But others of us feel that we’ve gotten lost or fallen behind. We might think, “I’m doing Tapestry WRONG!!”

There are various reasons for this. Sometimes unexpected life events or circumstances that have derailed the fall school schedule. Sometimes it’s just the difference between what we imagined and the reality that we confront. Whatever the reason, we recognize that a course correction is needed.

There are many different ways to make adjustments to Tapestry. Some involve understanding the program better: learning its goals and principles, as well as its design and intended function. Some adjustments have to do with making a decision to let some things go so that we can do the more important things well. Other adjustments are about doing things that might seem “wrong,” but are actually just applying Tapestry to our home school so that it fulfills the same goals in different ways.

Just as you wear your hair up on some days or down around your shoulders on others, so Tapestry can be worn in a number of different ‘do’s’ that all work—as long as they do help you on the journey of a great education! Here at Lampstand Press, we want both to help you understand how to do Tapestry “as written” and to help you explore Tapestry “as applied” in a variety of creative ways. One of the wonderful things about Tapestry is its design; another is its flexibility! Detours are fine if they still get you to the destination.

For the next few weeks, we will be doing a series where we will share some of our favorite ways in which experienced teachers have been happily “doing Tapestry wrong” in a way that gets them to the same destination. In each, we will point out the underlying goals or principles of the Tapestry program and show how these parents are actually using the curriculum to meet their families’ needs. Where appropriate, we may point out what we originally intended, as well as provide tips and other resources.

We hope it will be fun and helpful for you! Keep an eye out for our first article on the goals and different ‘do’s of how to integrate Tapestry subjects, called “Creative Uses for Supplements.”

Tales from Tapestry University: “I’m Going to Need a Bigger Toolbag”

51YFCZSDgAL._SY355_ In Tapestry University summer classes, parent-teacher Martha Kedrovsky felt that she was being handed a whole new array of teaching tools that help her to apply Tapestry to her students’ education. Martha will need a bigger toolbag after this!

Martha explained that, “I felt like in both classes (‘Socratic Discussion Practicum’ with Sheri Payne, and ‘Teaching the Tough Books: Year 4’ with Christy Somerville) I was learning concrete tools to work on something subjective, because each student is different and so I need tools that allow me to evaluate them as individuals.”

For instance, said Martha, “It’s one thing to lead a class in Socratic discussion, but implementing discussion for a struggling student, for example, is different.  What if your student struggles to take good notes? That question and several others were answered in the Socratic class, where I learned that I need to be very specific in teaching my students how to look for answers.   Checking their notes before discussion may be necessary, so that I have time to address problems.  I can also evaluate who the real culprit is when I see poor answers.  Is it a lack of understanding the question, or is something else going on?  Are they focused on main facts or minutia?  Are the facts correct?  Are they learning what’s important?  As you can see, Socratic questioning isn’t just for them!”

“The fact that Socratic discussion is a process means that it will take time and repetition, which I find is a crucial thing for me to remember. Also, this kind of discussion may even require my physical presence alongside my student until they grasp it. My goal needs to be training them so they gain confidence in these skills, not just checking off that we completed a week’s class plan.”

“With my Rhetoric level student, I learned that the goal of analysis involves her ability to understand and engage with the discussion. The goal of synthesis requires writing for full completion, because she should be able to state reasoned answers for her beliefs.”

“Another tool I was given is that of being able to understand for myself and explain to my students why the questions are asked in one order in their Student Activity Pages, but in a different order in the discussion script. My students appreciate knowing their questions are asked in order of their reading in the Student Activity Pages, but in order of the goals of the discussion in our class script.”

Martha also mentioned the example of visual aids. “Both Christy and Sheri talked about using visual aids, and I hadn’t done that before because I only have two children: an eighth-grade daughter and a sophomore daughter.  I tried doing it for my daughter and at first I had technical problems, but I asked her if we could go to my computer and use my original version.  She said yes and we really enjoyed our time together. Since I only had two students (as opposed to a co-op or group class), I didn’t realize that visual aids could benefit us. However, they really do!”

“Preparing visual aids (with Google Slides) forced me to be prepared for discussion in advance, helped me understand the flow of discussion, and made it more stimulating because my students has something to look at besides me. It absolutely is an asset when discussing geography, as well. I’m a visual learner too, so I like having the slides. Overall, visual aids make discussions more enjoyable for all of us.” 

The tool of visual aids was new to Martha, and so was the tool of reorganizing information for class. She said, “I learned about new ways of organizing information, such as how to compare two people in history by using a chart. The use of a chart (instead of a list) helps students identify comparisons, or make connections, that they might have missed otherwise.”

Martha received tools not only for leading discussions, but also for documenting them. “Sheri provided a helpful grading rubric for evaluating individual students’ participation in discussion.  While there are several ways to determine a grade, Sheri uses a point system to that includes categories like how student questions were completed, quality and quantity of student comments,  and even if the students listen and respond with respect during discussion.  Sheri gave us a detailed chart for group discussions, and a much simpler format for a student or two.”

Martha also remarked that, “I felt like I learned specific tools for each class, but also all the aspects that come along with them.” Her Tapestry University teachers not only introduced tools, but explained some of their potential benefits and pitfalls, how they could be used with other tools, how some worked better for some students than others, etc. They also helped Martha to understand her own role, explaining that a teacher at the rhetoric level is like a mentor, a seasoned traveler on a journey of exploration with a younger person. The teacher in this context isn’t expected to have all the answers–which is good, because none of us do! Rather, the mentor is an older and wiser traveler, walking with the young adult who has begun to explore and join the Great Conversation.

Relating her new tools back to what she had shared in another post about being more sure of her overall goals for class, Martha said she also felt that now she is “able to be more specific in what I ask, because I’m now more sure of my objective expectations for my subjective, individual students.  Hopefully they also feel more confident that when they get to discussion, the tools I that I learned and am passing on to them will make it simpler to achieve those goals.”

As you can see, Martha’s toolbag has grown considerably. Thank you for your commitment to gain new teacher skills, Martha! It was our great pleasure and privilege to serve you this year at Tapestry University.

Tales from Tapestry University: “I Can’t Not Teach The Great Gatsby Now”

Gatsby_1925_jacket-2“You can’t pass on what you don’t understand, but you also can’t pass on passion if you don’t have it,” said Martha Kedrovsky. She came to her Tapestry University summer Literature course (Tough Books: Year 4 with Christy Somerville) looking for both understanding and passion to teach what is widely considered the “darkest” year of rhetoric Literature. Martha’s quest yielded some surprising results, to say the least!

“I found the Literature class, especially, a spiritual journey, and I always left it so refreshed,” Martha remarked. “I took Literature last year too (Pride and Prejudice, also with Christy) and in both classes I felt that we kept looking at God’s plan, looking at the Gospel.  I don’t know how you could leave one of those classes not feeling edified and encouraged and ready to go.”

Martha wasn’t sure what to think about 20th century Literature when she first arrived on Tapestry University’s online campus. “I came in with an open mind, never having read any of the books for that year, but knowing that some other parents have had reservations about them.” However, as Martha learned about the depressing worldview of Modernism and made her way through modernist poetry, World War I poetry, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Great Gatsby, and Fahrenheit 451, she made some surprising discoveries.

“I saw how important it is in studying literature to discuss not just literary analysis terms (what Christy calls ‘understanding’), but also the worldviews of the books, and to consider them through the lens of biblical principals (‘evaluating’).”

Martha said, “One tangible thing that I really liked and will use even more was when we talked about ‘Athenian literature’ and that helped me to solidify my own views about teaching students about ‘unbiblical’ literature and thinking with them about how they choose which books to read.  I learned about asking ‘why do you want to read it?’ and ‘can you thank God for this?’ as ways to clarify the difference of motives in choosing reading.  I just love being able to see that woven so well into the materials.”

“I would come out of class and tell others all about what I had learned and the specific reasons why I now found value in the books,” Martha remembered. “That definitely seemed to pique their interest, because the value was not just in literary terms but because of the spiritual discussions that I felt equipped to have now about really heavy things in a good way.  Even with Year 4 literature, which is gloomy, I learned how to bring the discussion of it back around to God.”

In Christy’s class, the parent-teachers discussed the effects of a worldview that denies God. They “got real” about the fear that students might turn away from God, but also looked ways in which 20th century literature accurately and unattractively portrays a life apart from God. In particular, they spoke about “misplaced hope” in The Great Gatsby. 

Martha felt that “The fruit of what’s going on in historical and literary worldviews can be seen in such an interesting way in these books, so it’s always exciting. I can’t not teach The Great Gatsby now, because I’m too excited about it!  Christy has such a passion that she transmits to me with many specifics details, and I just want to pass that on.  I did choose to do All Quiet on the Western Front, though some advised me not to, because now that I’ve read it, talked to my husband about it, and attended this class, I feel it is valuable and really want to discuss it with my daughters.”

Teaching the Tough Books: Year 4 wasn’t all about worldviews for Martha, however. She also got some practical help with literary analysis. She was relieved to discover that, “I would normally be petrified to teach poetry, but I now feel a little more confident in teaching it.” Also, Martha was able to understand finally the difference between analysis and synthesis, discussion and writing. Most of what she learned, she also discussed with others, thus passing on helpful teaching tips.

Martha found both new understanding and new passion in her Literature studies, but that’s not all! Stay tuned for our next installment of Tales from Tapestry University: “I’m Going to Need a Bigger Toolbag.”

Tales from Tapestry University: “Silence is Useful, and Other Revelations”

14796121-recycled-paper-craft-Human-Hands-raised-up-with-Speech-Bubbles-on-white-Stock-PhotoThis summer, parent-teacher Martha Kedrovsky entered the wild and wonderful world of Sheri Payne’s Socratic Discussion Practicum class at Tapestry University. There, she watched Sheri work her way through actual discussion scripts with four volunteer teenagers (in the dialectic and rhetoric learning levels). It gave her a taste of just how much silence or verbal fumbling there can be during a discussion.

Listening to them, Martha realized that, “When you read the teacher’s notes you conjure up in your mind ‘this is what it’s going to look like,’ and when you read the script you think, ‘this is how the students are going to answer.’ But when you are listening to Sheri lead a discussion live, you realize that in actual discussion it all goes quite differently—even for the skilled teachers! I guess I think that aspect is incredibly important because a teacher might feel that she cannot do justice to Tapestry … and as a result either do it feeling defeated, or just quit altogether.  Taking the class was a reality check for me.  Will good Socratic discussion take practice? Yes. Can I do it? Yes.”

Sheri Payne also taught the parent-teachers in her class to shift their thinking about silence from panic to pleasure. Sheri pointed out that when the student is silently framing a response to a question, he is learning a lot, and should not be rushed (at least, up to a point!). Mrs. Payne also taught teachers how to think about ways of framing (and re-wording, and if necessary re-re-wording) questions to help struggling students arrive at good answers for themselves.

One of the things that Martha appreciated most about the class was Sheri’s attention to goals. “I’m very goal-oriented,” Martha explained. “I liked that Sheri gave us specifics about how to look at the goals in the Threads to determine how to customize our scripts, and taught us how to make the scripts work for us.  Sheri also taught us how to highlight key words of questions in the script in one color, and key words in answers to the questions in another color.  That really helped me to tell when my students gave the right basic answer even if they didn’t use all the same words (as long as they used the key words).”

Sheri also helped Martha to clarify her understanding of the goals of discussion itself: “For some reason,” said Martha, “I always thought of the major goal of socratic discussion as being making connections. That is a goal, but now I am aware of others, like finding the main idea and helping my students find the main facts, not just minutiae.”

Martha now realizes that these other goals are also important because of the time Sheri spent reviewing the purpose of socratic discussion for both dialectic and rhetoric levels. In fact, Sheri had her parent-teachers reiterate them at the beginning of each class!  These goals were always listed in the introductory material of Tapestry, but it helped Martha to have Sheri bring them front and center.

The Socratic Discussion Practicum obviously made a big difference in Martha’s thinking about how to lead discussions. But that wasn’t all! She learned a whole different set of new lessons in Christy’s “Teaching the Tough Books: Year 4” class. Be sure to check back in for our next in the series of Tales from Tapestry University: “I Can’t Not Teach The Great Gatsby Now.”

Tales from Tapestry University: “When It’s My Head on the Chopping Block”

chopping-blockA few weeks ago, I caught up with one of our Tapestry University summer school students, Martha Kedrovsky.  Martha, who has been homeschooling since 2004, lives in Kansas with her husband Karl and their two daughters (aged 15 and 13).      

I asked Martha, “what did you learn at Tapestry University this summer?”  She gave me so many great answers that I quickly realized this would be a five-part blog series, not just one blog post!

The first story Martha told me had to do with an in-joke from last summer, about the “chopping block.” It started this way. Last summer (2014), Martha was part of an online class for parent-teachers in which I was teaching Pride and Prejudice. It was early days for us as a group, maybe about ten minutes into the first class, when I first asked them to answer a question. In Tapestry terminology, you might call it a thinking question—the answer was not obvious from their reading.

I got silence. (Okay, maybe a cricket chirped.)


More silence.

There were at least twenty women in my online class and I knew they were paying attention. I also knew we would get  nowhere if nobody was willing to talk. (Did you know that human beings remember only about 10% of a lecture, but more like 50% of a discussion?) So, I decided to tell them a story.

Once upon a time, when I was in college, I said I had a professor who I believe is the kindliest, humblest man in the world. I painted a picture for them of my tall, angular, Dickens-loving doctor of literature.

Then I told them that he would walk into class, smack his papers happily down on the table, look around like a boy about to cast his first fishing line of the morning, and say, “All right, folks—whose head is first on the chopping block?”

Having your head on the chopping block is how students feel, and it isn’t a nice feeling. Martha said, “The head on the chopping block was a great analogy for how I felt in summer classes.  You sit there in class getting ready to answer a question, thinking about your answer, thinking ‘Is this right?  What if I’m wrong?’”

I remember that feeling in my own heart as a compound of anxiety and pride, laced with confusion, fumbling, and preemptive shame. Somehow it helped to have the matter put compassionately and yet very bluntly–“I know this feels like putting your head on the chopping block, and that is exactly what I’m asking you to do.”

After hearing my story last summer, Martha and the other parent-teachers responded with gracious humility. They began to fumble through their answers out loud. They made lots of mistakes, but that was all right. They were learning, and learning more than literature terms. They were becoming teachers who could truly say, “I am asking you to do a hard thing that I have done, because I have found it is worthwhile.”

Looking back on that in-joke a year later, with a new set of “chopping block” experiences under her belt from this summer’s classes, Martha said to me, ” Now I understand that this is how my children feel.” I knew, listening to her, that she now has a whole new capacity to locate herself “in the trenches” of education with her students, but also to lead them forward. She has done this hard thing, and she can set them an authentic example.

But that wasn’t the only insight Martha shared with me! As valuable as it is to walk a mile in her students’ shoes, Martha is also equipped with fresh tools to help them.  Stay tuned for more about that in our next Tales from Tapestry University entry: “Silence is Useful, and Other Revelations.”