Education Hits Home
Mollie Shipley ’13 and Kathleen Larkin ’13 have been in plenty of classrooms before; they’ve seen, heard, and felt the rumpus and energy of two-dozen eight-year-olds excited by the school day. But it was their Senior Capstone Experience with a single homeschooler that really opened their eyes to different possibilities in teaching. The two recent Washington College grads, who majored in human development, are passionate about teaching, says Professor Robert Siudzinski, the Education Department’s coordinator of secondary education. But both chose the academic route that doesn’t lead to state teacher certification, opting instead to explore alternative forms of education.
When it came time to frame their Senior Capstone Experience, Siudzinski suggested that they team up with a local Chestertown family who had a gifted and talented eight-year-old boy. His parents had recently started homeschooling him using the established Baltimore-based Calvert School curriculum. Twice a week from January to May, the boy came to Washington College’s campus and worked for one hour with Shipley and Larkin on his reading and writing assignments. The two worked together to develop instruction to complement the Calvert assignments and pique the student’s particular interests. They analyzed poetry and prose with him, and graded his analyses of the stories and poems, as well as his journal entries. Using research-based strategies for writing revision, they often assigned him the task of finding and correcting his own mistakes. The boy, his mother reported, couldn’t wait to head for campus—enthusiasm she says was tough to generate when she was teaching. She was stunned to see how quickly he progressed through his reading assignments. “She said, ‘You’ve read that many stories?’ ’’ Shipley says. “But he understood and could comprehend everything.”
The teachers, too, learned from the experience. Initially they had thought that homeschooling was a choice made mostly by extremely religious parents and caregivers, but while researching material for their SCE they realized that many families from a wide diversity of backgrounds choose the option for a variety of reasons. They could see immediately how the intense one-on-one nature of homeschool can accelerate a child’s education. And, they realized that while Calvert’s curriculum is highly structured, the school itself encouraged creative exploration with it. “We’d come up with what we thought was an amazing plan,” Shipley says. “And then we’d be teaching the student and he’d say, ‘Oh! This is fun!’ And we’d high-five each other—yes! We can do this!”
“The whole game-changer for me was just the freedom with the lesson plans, using your creativity,” she says. “I could see myself making a difference in his academics. I could see if he didn’t get something and I would say, ‘OK, we’re going to go back, and this is a little trick I used to do.’ And the next time we’d do a lesson you’d see him doing it.”
Shipley and Larkin coupled their experience with research to create a Senior Capstone that’s a step-by-step guide for potential homeschoolers. Complete with the benefits, challenges, and suggestions for ways to go about it, the project includes journals from other parents who’ve homeschooled, as well as articles that discuss the trend and the process. And they came away from the experience realizing that they don’t have to go the traditional route in education if they choose not to. “I would definitely be open to working with another homeschool student especially if I could work with the parents and the family,” Larkin says.