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Unschooling, Assessing Learning, and Character Charts

The eight year old kid—No. One—leaned in,  “I think Mary has a really good idea about character charts.  I’ve got two books going, and I’m stuck on both of them, and I think that would really help.”  I quietly shushed her because Mary was still presenting her thoughts on outlining novels to the room of assembled writers at one of our favorite libraries, but my mind was reeling.  So many things had just happened!

First, I didn’t know One was working on two books.  I knew she was working on one book, but not two.  The kid had started a second book, and I didn’t even know.  Cool!

Second, she was paying complete, and rapt attention to the presentation.  I ususally get some kind of indication from the gang they heard what was being said when they attend talks with me, but that indication usually comes days or week later out of the blue.  Not today.  Today, the kid was clearly latching onto every word. 

We’ve attended writing lunches since the kid developed an interest in writing—not too long after she learned to write, around the time I started finding My Little Ponies copy books she’d made laying around her room.  I knew One liked going to writing lunch presentations, but I suspected her interest might be significantly influenced by the snacks at the meetings.  (I knew the snacks hadn’t hurt my dedication.)  And in fact, just a few hours before One had mentioned Mary’s great idea, I’d asked the kid if she’d rather hangout with her younger sibs, pointing out that they’d—frankly—get a better lunch than us.  I was wrong in my suppositions, and One had just shown me how wrong I was.

Third, the kid had picked up on the speaker’s name, and was using it!  She and I frequently discuss how important it is to use people’s name—OK, I discuss it, One listens.  Still, she hadn’t perfected the skill yet.  The kid’s gregarious as all get out, but only manages to get her new friends’ names about half the time.  Here she was talking about the speaker by her first name.  I have to admit, that I rarely keep the speaker’s name straight until I remind myself three or four times.

Just like that, I’d received three updates on the kid’s learning progress.  All in the space of about 5 seconds while both sat there attending a talk we we interested in, munching on free snacks.

***
Mary as it turned out was a great public speaker.  The kid and I listened to the rest of her presentation—each of us enthralled. When Mary wrapped up, the kid went wandered up to meet her and talk to her a bit more.

Me?  I sat back thinking about what had just happened.  In unschooling, learning assessments—tests—aren’t a thing.  Consequently, lots of people ask how it is we know the kids are learning things.  This is how.  Every now again, the kids themselves demonstrate a thing they’ve learned all on their own, a thing they’re passionate about.  That’s how unschooling parents know what kids are up to, and what they’re learning.  To use a writing phrase, the kids don’t tell us, they show us.


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