Susan C. Anthony

Principles of Good Teaching Transcript


This is Susan C. Anthony speaking. Welcome to my workshop, Principles of Good Teaching.  While the ten principles I talk about here apply to any teacher, this presentation was created for an audience of Christian homeschool moms and dads.

About Me

First, a little about me, so you know who’s talking.  I was born in Colorado and grew up in a rural area of the Rockies.  There were two other kids in my first grade class and 24 others in my high school graduating class.  I moved to Alaska in 1979 and taught for ten years in the Anchorage School District. I resigned in order to write, publish and consult, but in truth the main reason was I wanted to spend more time with my wonderful husband, Dennis, who was retired.

I never homeschooled but I have a really good excuse.  No kids.  I was intrigued from the beginning, though, at how many characteristics of effective schools are inherent in the home school model. 


Here are my goals for this hour.  I will have accomplished what I intend if you leave:

  • Aware of your strengths as a teacher, even if they're second nature to you and seem to be no big deal.
  • Determined to work toward at least one specific, achievable goal to improve your teaching.
  • Encouraged to engage in the ongoing process of improvement.

Back to the first item.  You’re probably not aware that you’re doing a lot of things well without realizing it, just by educating your kids at home. 

I read to my husband every night before bed. Just a side note here, I highly recommend reading books aloud as a family and discussing them as you go along.  You can read books that are at the upper limits of kids’ comprehension, teaching vocabulary as you go. Don’t interrupt the flow of the story too often, but use opportunities to ask kids what they would do if you were in the situation a character faces. Engage with the book and the characters.  By doing this, you are teaching kids to think.  A lot of kids stumble when it comes to reading comprehension because they never learned to think.

Anyway, one book I read to my husband was Eden’s Outcasts, about Louisa May Alcott’s father and family.  You might recognize Louisa May Alcott as the author of America’s first book for girls, Little Women.

Louisa’s father Bronson was a transcendentalist philosopher, a good friend of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  His interest was educating young minds and he believed that the ideal classroom should replicate the nurturing atmosphere of a loving family.

“Why replicate it?” I thought.  Just teach kids in at home to start with!

At the time, the early 1800s, most schooling did take place at home.  Alcott was a contemporary of Horace Mann, who started the movement toward public, non-sectarian (non religious) schools supported through taxation.  Mann was very progressive and secular.  He opposed corporal punishment and wanted schools to diversify and reduce or eliminate religious instruction.  You might be interested sometime in reading about the history of public schooling in America.

While you’re listening today, note what you’re already doing well, maybe without even knowing it.  Also, be on the lookout for one or two specific actions that you want to take to improve your own teaching. When you have those down, you can choose a new objective.  One thing at a time.  Don’t overload yourself or you’ll get discouraged.


A handout is available to download from the web site.  The first two pages have a list of the ten principles with a checklist of specifics.  You can check off the things that are already going well in your home school and use this as a source from which to choose one or two things at a time to improve.

The third page of the handout is Madeline Hunter’s Lesson Design.  I’ll show this to you later.  While preparing this workshop, I queried my teacher friends what one or two things they considered most valuable from their years of university and grad school.  This lesson design was mentioned a lot.

The last page has a couple of other things that teachers, including me, found useful and applicable.

Why this Session?

I have always been interested in why some schools and educational environments are so much better than others.  In excellent schools, all other things being equal, kids achieve more, like it better, are healthier and happier.  The atmosphere is relaxed, positive and productive.  "How do school leaders accomplish that?" I wondered.  "What can we learn from them?"

I have a degree in education.  Many of you do not.  I’ll have to say there are plusses and minuses to having a degree.  For one thing, I spent four years supposedly learning how to teach kids without spending very much time with kids!  I learned a lot of philosophy and theory but my feet weren’t on the ground.  In retrospect, I think I was brainwashed and it took years to recover from that.  I may never fully recover.  If you’re sensitive to the ebb and flow of kids’ learning, your kids will be your best teachers as to what works and what doesn’t work.

Nevertheless, some of what is taught in schools of education is very useful.  One example is what’s called “wait time.”  Especially in America, conversations proceed rapidly, like ping pong. Teachers ask questions and expect quick answers, but kids need time to think. I trained myself to bite my tongue and wait.  In a classroom, I didn’t call on the first child who raised her hand.  I silently acknowledged her and waited.  After several children had raised hands, I’d call on the first child or someone else.  After getting an answer, wait some more, to allow children to expound.  You help kids learn to think and express their thoughts when you bite your tongue and learn to utilize the “pregnant pause.” 

For some of you, wait time might be the one idea you take home to practice. But don’t check out!  There’s more. Even if you’ve chosen a goal, you want a sense of the big picture and maybe you’ll find something you want to work after you’ve incorporated “wait time.”

I asked not only experienced teachers, but experienced home schoolers to share their best advice for a new teacher, and I made a huge pile of cards that fit into the ten categories I’ll be talking about.

Just a few preliminary comments:

  • No school is perfect!  Don't strive for perfection.  Aim to do your very best and to keep improving.
  • Some teachers break all the "rules" and still do an incredible job.  The principles here are common to most effective schools.
  • Some of my strong recommendations may not be appropriate for you.
  • If you're happy with results you're getting, don't change.
  • Focus on your strengths.  Make a list of them.
  • Choose one or at most two goals at a time.

Ten Principles of Good Teaching

I wrote best advice and everything I learned about effective schools on index cards.  Here are ten categories into which my big pile of cards fell.  Good teaching requires:

  1. Vision and Goals
  2. Nurturing Relationships
  3. Structure
  4. Consistency
  5. Balance
  6. Communication
  7. Planning and Preparation
  8. Instruction
  9. Practice
  10. Evaluation / Accountability

This is a long list, but don’t panic.  Some of these won’t take much time to talk about.  Notice that the first six items on the list have to do with the CONTEXT in which learning takes place.

We'll talk about the ten things one at a time.  First, vision and goals.

1.  Vision and Goals

The principle is:  The success of any endeavor depends on the ability of its leaders to hold on to the vision and to set achievable goals that take them from the current reality to the realization of the vision.

Notice it says “any endeavor.”  When my husband started praying with me at the start of each day, I thought, “It’s amazing. Prayers actually help us hold on to our vision of the kind of people we want to be, or, more accurately for Christians, the kind of people God wants us to be."  Prayer includes asking God for assistance in the realization of that vision.

Both parents ideally share the vision for the home school.  This is a potential strength of home schooling.  In a public school, hundreds of teachers, parents, and students are involved.  They rarely share the same values and vision.  In a family, only Mom and Dad have to agree on a vision and goals.

A vision provides a source of inspiration when details become overwhelming.  It helps you pop your head above water occasionally and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.  A clearly stated vision helps you put first things first.  It’s easier to make decisions in the heat of action when you have a strong sense of priorities.

Post your vision statement or write it on the inside cover of your plan book.  Read it daily to maintain a long-term focus.  Revise your vision statement when you wish.  It’s yours.  You might end up refining it over time.

I’m going to read an example of a vision statement, just to give you an idea of what you might want to include.  If you like this one, if it makes your heart sing, feel free to copy it and tweak it to fit. 

Our vision for our children is that they will develop into well-rounded, academically sound, physically healthy, spiritually strong adults who value integrity and have the strength of character to stand for what is right.  We want them to internalize the virtues of humility, responsibility, gentleness, justice, self-discipline, resourcefulness and generosity.  We wish for them to enjoy learning, develop a strong work ethic, be confident of their ability to achieve and overcome obstacles, and have a good background of foundational knowledge and skills.  We want them to leave home with a sense of life’s transcendent purpose as well as vocational and entrepreneurial skills.  We wish for them to marry well, establish stable homes, and become mature, responsible, contributing citizens whose lives attract others to Jesus.

You want a vision statement that tugs at your heart.  You might say it helps you remember the grand view you saw on a clear day, so you can bring to mind why you set out on this journey and where you’re headed when it’s foggy.

Mt. McKinley is the biggest mountain in North America, but it’s often shrouded with clouds.  Visitors come from all over the world to see the mountain and only the lucky ones actually do.  But at the Eielson Visitor Center, from which you’ll get the closest view on a clear day, there’s a wall sized photo of the mountain.  If you can’t see the mountain itself, you can at least look at its image.  Your vision statement can serve the same purpose.

You’re probably heard the saying “The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.”  It actually begins with determining where you want to go and how you plan to get there.  If your steps aren’t going in the right direction, you’ll just end up lost.

So, the recommendation here is, If you haven’t put your vision into words, make it a topic of conversation with your spouse.  Verbalize it and read it frequently.

Speaking of a journey of 1000 miles.  We actually witnessed the first steps of a man who walked more than 1000 miles in a foot race on the Iditarod Trail.  He walked from Anchorage to Nome in a race called the Iditasport, towing a small sled.

His name is Roberto.  When we met him, he was 56.  He had one good eye, was 6’5” tall, and came from the mountains of Italy.  He’d won the race for several years.  He’s always in last place for the first few days, but in a long marathon, speed counts for a whole lot less than endurance.  He told us he focuses on only three hours at a time.  When three hours is over, he focuses on the next three hours.  He sets a long term goal, and achievable short term goals that take him toward it.  He walks on average 22 hours and 50 miles a day.  Wow!

2. Nurturing Relationships

Now we'll talk about #2, nurturing relationships.  The principle is: The best learning happens within a context of caring.  Ideally, students feel they are an important part of a group.

You might have heard the saying “children don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”  No one cares more about your kids than you do.  This is an inherent strength of home schooling.  There are many caring teachers, but no matter how much they care, that relationship can never be a deep or significant as the parent-child relationship.  Friends and teachers come and go, but family is forever.

A few years ago, Fortune magazine reported a research study concluding that the #1 indicator of success for a child is a good relationship with a nurturing adult.  NUMBER ONE!

Touching is one of the best ways to communicate caring.  Even a light touch can be incredibly powerful.  I learned this by experience in a university class I took.  As we students were working, the teacher walked around the room monitoring.  At one point she lightly touched me on the shoulder and said “good job.”  I’ll never forget how much more powerful an effect those words had when accompanied by that light touch.

It has been known for years that babies who are not touched will die.  Most people in this high-tech world are starving for touch.  Teachers are discouraged or even prohibited from touching their students.  You have no such restrictions.  Use the power of touch to show your kids how much you care about them, and your teaching will be more effective.

A recommendation here is:  If you were reared in a family that didn’t hug or touch, make it a goal to change that.

In the best schools, kids have a sense of what we used to call “school spirit.”  They identify themselves with the school culture and are proud to be part of it.

Families also have a culture.  It consists of family history, special stories, the jokes you like, the games you play, the way you do things, your customs and traditions.  It’s everything that distinguishes you as a family.  You may not be consciously aware of it, but it exists.

A recommendation is:  You can change and enhance your family culture by choice.  Get together to choose a motto, make a flag, write a family history, or start a new custom.

I stayed with a homeschooling family in Kodiak some years ago that had a tradition they called “Fun Food Friday.”  No one ate ice cream, sweet treats or junk food the other six days of the week, but on Fun Food Friday, the little ones got to choose the menu for the family and it always included something decadent. 

You’ve probably known of homeschooling families where everyone dresses the same.  This is another way of enhancing kids’ identification with family culture.  American culture emphasizes individualism almost to a fault, and one result is a lot of lonely, alienated young people who struggle with who they are and long for a group with which to identify, even if it’s a gang.

3.  Structure

#1, vision and goals, is a potential strength of homeschooling.  #2, nurturing relationships, is an inherent strength of homeschooling.  Now we're going to talk about something that is NOT a strength of homeschooling.  We’ll spend a little time on this one because if you can MAKE it a strength of your homeschool, you’ll reap the rewards for years.

The principle is:  The most effective schools are well-organized and structured.

It is possible to have an unstructured environment where children learn effectively, but it is unusual. Structure can be a big challenge for homeschoolers, especially if there are babies in the house.  Without some structure, days fly by and nothing gets done. 

Routine is an element of long-lasting and healthy marriages.  I read a book years ago entitled Lucky in Love. The authors investigated numerous happy, long-term marriages to see what they had in common.  One commonality was they all had comfortable routines for starting the day, ending the day, taking care of chores, etc.  Here’s an excerpt from that book:

The stable family begins each morning with a cherished pattern of waking, rising, greeting the day.  One partner always makes the coffee, one partner always walks the dog, both partners read the paper over breakfast. All of the happy couples as well as most of the not-so-happy but stable couples with whom I spoke led married lives kept on track by various daily routines.

A daily routine works by making life predictable. Family members know what they are supposed to be doing and when; life makes sense. The routine reinforces their sense of family reality, allowing people to take their families for granted, to believe without question that when they wake up in the morning the family will still be there.  Routines, in short, promote confidence; they promote trust in the natural and inevitable existence of the marriage.  They do not in and of themselves produce happiness, but they underlie and support the blessing; they are a necessary if far from sufficient condition for the thriving marriage.

In practice, this means that those of us who feel our marriages (or in this case our home schools) to be adrift would do well to set about creating routine where there has been none before.  Establishing a family dinner hour, setting a time at which both partners put work papers aside to concentrate on each other, brewing each other a fresh cup of coffee each morning: all of these small, routinized gestures strengthen a marriage much more than one might think.  In the happiest of marriages such small, repeated detail becomes a source of enduring pleasure and strength.  Routine is also of crucial importance to children:  One study of National Merit Scholarship finalists found that the ONLY factor these high achievers had in common was that all of them ate dinner together with their families nightly!

Since microwaves were invented, it’s harder to find families that eat dinner together every night. Family discussions over dinner are one of the best ways to teach kids how to think. Dad can lead these discussions, and through them keep in touch with what kids are learning, help them learn to apply what they’ve learned as they ponder real situations, and hold them accountable in a loving way.

One reason some of you are homeschooling is you feel stifled by structure and don’t want to stifle your kids.  While too much structure constrains flexibility, without some structure, nothing gets accomplished. 

In my experience, most children crave structure and are very unproductive without it.  Structure increases what is called “time on task.”  "Time on task" is another concept I found very useful.  In any school, a certain amount of time is taken up with mundane tasks—going to the bathroom, getting books and materials out and ready, eating lunch, and so on.  “Time on task” is the amount of time spent actually studying and learning.  The most effective schools streamline routines to maximize “time on task”.

Schedules and norms help people make sense of a chaotic, distracting world.  Have a norm from which to vary. I read an article in a homeschooling magazine a while back called “A Day at Our House.”  I was impressed by how the kids knew there is a schedule or structure, even when it’s not followed.  Here’s a quote, “Normally, we practice piano at 10:00 but Dad is on a midnight schedule this week so we’ll wait until later.”  A NORM existed from which the family could deviate as needed.

A daily schedule gives kids and adults a sense of direction, improves communication, prevents misunderstanding.  My husband told me that the single most important thing he learned in his student teaching was to write the day’s schedule on the board each day before the kids came in.  A schedule gives the teacher as well as the kids a sense of security and direction.  It’s a means of communication that prevents misunderstanding. 

I have several recommendations related to structuring your learning environment.  Decide for yourself which might work in your family.  Some recommendations are:

  1. Write the daily schedule where everyone can see it.
  2. Give each individual a checklist of tasks and assignments for the day.
  3. Limit outside activities to certain days.
  4. Don't answer calls between certain hours.
  5. Use Dad to set up "fences" to protect time.
  6. Train the baby to sit quietly in your lap.
  7. Set up routines and systems for housework.

A comment about #5.  One of Dad’s roles in the homeschool can be principal or administrator.  He can work outside the home and not participate in teaching the actual lessons, yet fulfill a a critical role in backing his wife by setting up what I call “fences” to shield the homeschool from unnecessary pressures and distractions.  When I taught, I didn’t always appreciate the importance of good administrators.  They hold the vision, set long-range goals, and ensure that people doing the actual work have the resources and time they need to do the job they’ve been assigned.

And a comment about #6. A homeschool mom told me how she did this.  She wanted to keep her baby with her in church, not put him in the nursery, so she taught him to sit quietly for an hour without fussing.  She trained him toward this goal a little at a time, by holding him a certain way for five quiet minutes, then paying him lots of attention.  When he did well with that, she expanded it to ten quiet minutes, followed by lots of attention.  Gradually, she increased the time to 60 quiet minutes, at the end of which he’d get 100% of mom’s attention.  If the baby knows 100% of mom’s attention will soon be coming his way, he has less need to compete for her attention.  Theoretically....

4.  Consistency

So far we've talked about vision and goals, nurturing relationships, and structure.  #4, consistency, is closely related to structure.

The principle is:  When it comes to behavior management, consistency beats severity every time.

Here are some points to consider.

  1. Classroom management takes a lot of teacher time.  Remember we were talking about “time on task”.  If kids’ behavior isn’t under control, not much gets done. 
  2. Small but consistent consequences for minor misbehavior pay big dividends in the long run. 
  3. Kids need to trust you!  They need to know that you mean what you say.  Psychologists have determined that the most damaging aspect of being a child in an alcoholic family is the lack of consistency.  Kids don’t know what to expect. Promises are not kept. Kids can’t depend on their parents for stability.  Adult children raised in homes where parents were inconsistent often have the same psychological symptoms as adult children of alcoholics, even if the parents didn’t drink at all!
  4. You owe it to your kids to do what you promise, good and bad.  If you tell your kids they must observe a rule or standard of behavior and they don’t, you owe it to them to enforce the rule. You’re doing them a favor by enforcing it.  It’s our tendency as adults to overlook minor misbehavior until it becomes major or we have a headache one day, then come down with a big consequence, like grounding kids for a month.  Often, after the crisis passes, we relent and renege on the consequence.  That is NOT a good idea.  It’s inconsistent.
  5. Don't threaten.  Follow through.
  6. Don't lie to kids. Do what you say you’re going to do, even if you don’t feel like doing it.
  7. Take time to train children in good habits, one step at a time.  It’s just as hard to break a good habit as a bad one, but good ones make life better instead of worse.  Good habits are gifts that keep on giving through a person’s entire life. Training is distinct in some ways from teaching.  It requires day after day of consistency and reinforcement. 
          A few years ago I attended a home church in Indiana.  After church, a young mother of twins asked the older mothers for advice in how to deal with her increasingly rebellious two-year-old twins.  One mom said she starts when babies are very small to train them so that when she gives a command and it counts, they respond automatically.  She said, “For example, several times a day I say, 'Jennifer, come to Mommy,' and then I reward her when she comes."  At that moment, Jennifer, who was playing with the other babies on the floor, lifted her head, looked at her mother, and crawled to her.  Even though the words were in the middle of an otherwise unintelligible sentence, the baby responded. It was a habit.
  8. When children are defiant, punishment may be necessary.  Although a lot of training can be done with positive reinforcement, you can’t always avoid the need for punishment.  Be consistent and unemotional.  Be the grown-up.

A recommendation here is:  Take time to communicate with your spouse and formulate a system for dealing with behavior.  Be accountable to each other for consistency.

Consistency is not natural for most people, especially creative types.  Work toward constant improvement, not an absolute standard.

5.  Balance

The fifth principle concerns balance.  Strive for balance in everything.

You might have heard of what’s called the Golden Mean.  In philosophy, especially that of Aristotle, the golden mean is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency.  Here are some examples of things you should strive to keep in balance.

  • Balance between being too permissive and too strict.
  • Balance between bookwork and hands-on activities.
  • Balance between focused time and free time.
  • Balance between work, study and play.
  • Balance between mind, body and spirit.
  • Balance between feeling and thinking.
  • Balance between routine and special activities.
  • Balance between talking and listening.
  • Balance between individual and group activities.
  • Balance between indoor and outdoor activities.
  • Balance between academic learning and art, music, drama.

And here's the recommendation:  Look over your long-term and weekly plans to evaluate whether anything is seriously out of balance.  Work to rectify that.

6.  Communication

The last principle related to the context of education is communication.  The principle is:  Good communication is an essential component of good education.

Communication is an inherent strength of the home schooling model because, usually, there are fewer children per adult in homeschools than in classrooms.  Not always.  I met a young, energetic homeschool mom in Colorado years ago who had 23 kids. At least half of them were adopted and she was homeschooling them all.  I was in awe!

Two-way communication is important.  Kids need time to talk as well as listen, and adults need to listen attentively and respectfully as well as talk.

Here are some recommendations:

  1. Use "wait time."  Give kids time to think.  We talked about "wait time" earlier.
  2. Discuss ideas and current events as a family.  Remember, the only thing all National Merit Scholars were found by researchers to have in common was they ate dinner with their families around a table! It's not the dinner, it's the discussion that makes the difference.
  3. Talk slightly above the child's level. I talked earlier about reading aloud to kids from books that are slightly above their reading level.  It’s the same with talking.  Use big words when you’re talking and define them.  Research shows that mothers have an almost innate ability to talk just enough above the kids’ level that they’re constantly stretching their store of vocabulary and concepts.
  4. Praise children honestly.  Make sure they know what's expected.  Praise them immediately and specifically.  Use character words such as "kind, courageous."  When you talk to your child, use praise more often than criticism.  Research shows that most people need to hear about nine positive things for every negative thing in order to stay encouraged and be open to constructive criticism.  Remember I said you must tell your kids the truth. They need to know they can trust you.  Don’t make up good things to say in order to enhance their self esteem.  Be truthful with them.  Always be on the lookout for truthful positive things to say.  Look for demonstrations of good character and be specific about what you saw. It’s quite all right to say the same positive thing again and again.  “You were kind.  You showed persistence.  You demonstrated courage in that situation.”
  5. Schedule a "listening time" for each child.  I heard the idea of “listening time” in a graduate class.  The teacher and her husband had two kids.  They didn’t want the kids to drift away during adolescence like so many kids do, so they started a “listening time” every Sunday after church. She’d take one child and he’d take the other.  They switched off periodically so each of them had time with each child.  The goal was to give the kids 100% of their attention and just let the kids talk about whatever they chose.  No lectures or advice, just listening.  She said it was hard to bite her tongue and just listen to her child for an hour, especially at first, but after "listening time" became routine, the kids actually saved up things to talk about during that time, things that were important to them but maybe a little scary to broach.  "Listening time" continued all the way through high school.  When their daughter graduated and went off to college, they thought, “Whew. Now one of us will have a break from listening time.”  But no, the first Sunday at the customary time, the phone rang. The daughter was calling from college for listening time.  The parents complied and by this kept in close touch with their daughter all the way through her college years.  Eventually, when she got married, they thought, “Finally we’re done with listening time.”  But no.  The Sunday after her wedding at the customary time, BOTH she and her husband were on the phone for listening time.  Eventually the young couple was weaned so they became each other’s best listeners.

7.  Planning and Preparation

Now we’ll address some things that apply directly to teaching itself, as distinct from the context in which teaching occurs. Don’t ever forget though, that the context is extremely important.  The very best teaching in a poor context is less effective than average teaching in a good context.

The principle is simple:  Good teaching depends upon good planning.

Here’s is one very worthwhile thing I learned at college.  These are aspects of planning.

Diagnosis / Prescription.  Know what kids know.  Know what they need to know.  Teach the difference.  As a parent, you know a lot more about what your kids know than any teacher could.  You know where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.  You may not have as good an idea of what they need to know as a teacher might, but you can rectify that.  There are lots of lists and books to help you.

Assess readiness.  Assessing kids’ readiness is pretty simple to do.  You guess and try something.  If their eyes glaze over, it’s too hard.  Back off. Don’t push on until they're in tears!  Regroup. If it’s too simple, move on quickly.  Don’t skip steps, just don’t spend as much time on it.  Aim for at least an 80 – 90% success rate on exercises while they’re learning something new.  Be careful not to allow them to practice errors.

Task analysis. This is what makes a good teacher as opposed to a well-educated person.  Task analysis means breaking a large chunk of learning into small sequential steps. Some very well educated people are terrible teachers. They’ve mastered their subject and moved on. They have no memory of the step-by-step process by which they learned and no patience to recreate it.

Some people who had trouble learning themselves become excellent teachers because they do a better job of task analysis.  The smaller and better sequenced chunks of learning are, the easier it is for learners of all abilities to progress through them.

I want to emphasize here the importance of making sure kids MASTER early foundational steps in a course of learning.  This applies especially to math.  A lot of problems kids have with math in junior or senior high school go back to the fact that their primary grade teachers introduced foundational concepts, had the kids practice a little, then moved on, assuming that what they didn’t learn this year they’d get the next year.  Not good.  Especially in math, mastering early steps makes later ones much easier.

Even virtuoso pianists regularly practice scales, and it’s not because don’t know them. They realize that mastery involves building and maintaining strong foundations.

Assess prerequisites. Decide what kids need to know in order to be able to do what you’re asking of them.  Teach or review prerequisites first.  Reteach and review as often as necessary.  Patience will pay.

Recommendations for planning include:

  1. Schedule uninterrupted planning time.  Get help from Dad or someone else.
  2. Guard your planning time.  No housework or phone calls.
  3. Formulate long-term plans once a year; short-term plans once a week.
  4. Use pencil and alter plans as needed.

You need both long-term and short-term plans, like Roberto who we talked about before.  His long term plan was to walk 1000 miles.  His short term plan was to walk three hours, then another three hours. 

You can’t neglect planning for long without paying a price.  Discipline yourself to schedule time and use it to plan.  Don’t allow yourself to be distracted.

8.  Instruction

Here we are finally, to actual TEACHING!  Everything so far has pertained to the foundation for good teaching.  The foundation is critically important.

Just a little story here.  We have a house in Anchorage with a lovely artesian well.  Some years ago, a friend who lived in our basement complained about water on the floor of the garage outside her door.  We searched for the problem and it appeared the foundation was leaking a small steady stream of water coming from the artesian well.

We tried everything to stop the leak, without success.  We used a sump pump but that wasn’t a long-term solution.  Finally we had to hire someone to dig to the base of the foundation, seal the wall from outside, and install a drainage system.  That solved the problem but it was a big expensive deal that ripped up our whole lawn and garden.  All this to say that foundations are very important.

The principle is simple:  Quality instruction is a key component of quality education.

Madeline Hunter Lesson DesignA wonderful teacher named Madeline Hunter spent a lot of time thinking about what makes for a good, effective lesson.  She came up with a lesson design format that many teachers mentioned as one of the most valuable things they learned in college.

Not everything teachers do involves teaching “lessons” per se. Kids need lots of review and practice.  Don’t string lesson after lesson after lesson without allowing time for review and practice toward mastery.

First lessons in any new area of study are especially important.  If a child succeeds in a first lesson, he thinks, “This is easy. I can do this.”  If a child fails in a first lesson, he might think, “This is too hard for me. I can’t do it.”  Those thoughts are powerful and affect a child’s motivation to apply himself.  If you carefully construct first lessons, you can lighten up later on. 

The first thing Dr. Hunter listed was “Standards”, including structure, efficient routines, materials ready, behavior, and expectations.  We’ve spent most of the time so far in this workshop talking about what I called the “context” for learning.  That’s where standards reside.

When introducing a lesson, the teacher first sets the stage.  Dr. Hunter called this the “anticipatory set.”  Basically, you tell kids what you’re going to tell them.  That’s the anticipatory set. 

Setting the Stage.  I’m going to model setting the stage for a lesson on fractions.  Teacher talk will be in green:

(Objective)  Today you will learn how to tell which of two fractional pieces is larger.  What will you learn? 

(Purpose)  Being able to tell which of two fractional pieces is larger is a lot different than knowing which of two whole numbers is larger.  Because of the difference, a lot of students become very confused in later lessons.  If you learn this concept now, later lessons in fractions will be easier for you.  When things are easier, they’re a lot more fun.  Why is it important to know how to tell which of two fractional pieces is larger? 

(Transfer)  You’ll be using fraction kits and pieces just like you did yesterday.

(Motivation)  Tomorrow there will be a quiz on everything you’ve learned so far:  identifying fractions, naming fractions, labeling the numerator and denominator, telling how many parts are in a whole and telling which fractional part is larger, which you’ll be learning today.

(Check for Understanding)  What will you learn today?  Why is it important to know?  When will the quiz be given?

Notice that I incorporated questions to check for understanding throughout. Checks for understanding should be woven into every step of instruction.  Doing this keeps kids engaged and on their toes.

Instruction.  Now we'll move to instruction, beginning with review.

(Review)  In review, what is a fraction?  In a fraction, where is the numerator?  Where is the denominator?  What does the denominator tell us?  What does the numerator tell us?  Yesterday, you learned how many parts are in a whole.  How many halves are in a whole?  (2/2)  Fraction pieces sorted and laid out.Teacher writes 2/2 = 1.  How many sixths are in  whole?  Twelfths, hundredths.  How do you know?  (If you cut something into six equal parts and you have all six of them, you have the whole thing.)

(Input Information)  You will use the symbols for greater than and less than.  (Teacher writes them for kids to see) Which side will will be toward the larger value?  (greater than, the open side).  Which fraction will the point point to?  The smaller value.  Lay out your fraction pieces like you did yesterday. 

While kids are doing this, pass out the worksheets.  The illustration shows what their desktop might look like.  The PDF worksheet can be downloaded from the website.

(Model)  The first problem on your worksheet asks you to compare ½ and 1/3.  Pick up the two and look at them, like this.  (Hold up pieces for ½ and 1/3.)  Which is larger?  Then write the symbol for “greater than” between ½ and 1/3.  ½ is greater than 1/3. 

Be sure to use pieces for all the problems until you get to the dotted line.  By that time you should know the pattern and be able to answer the rest of the problems using just your head, without pieces. 

Even though you may see the pattern right away, please hold up the pieces and look at them anyway until you reach the dotted line.  The reason for this is that you’re training your mind.  Even years from now, after you haven’t thought about fractions for a long time, I want you to be able to visualize the pieces in your mind.  That will help you remember how to add and subtract them.  Actually holding them up and looking at them will make an impression on your mind.

(Check for Understanding)  What are you supposed to do on the problems above the dotted line?  How about the problems below the dotted line? 

When teaching, Remember to regularly check for understanding.

Guided Practice.  By now, the kids should know what you’re asking them to do and how to do it.  Guided practice gives them the chance to actually DO it.  We’ll talk more about practice later.  The teacher should supervise closely until it's clear the kids understand what to do and how to do it.  Ask children to tell you the pattern as soon as they figure it out and congratulate them.  Even if they see the pattern immediately, they should hold up the pieces to compare until they reach the dotted line, then apply the rule without using pieces.

Closure.  When most children have finished or nearly finished the worksheet, ask:  What is the rule?  (Larger denominator = smaller piece)  Why a half is larger than a third, even though 2 is smaller than 3?  (The denominator stands for how many equal pieces a whole has been cut into.  If I share a candy bar with one other friend, we each get more than if I share it with two other friends.  ½ is more than 1/3.)  Why is a fourth larger than an eighth?  (etc.)

Good job!  I think you have a good grasp of the basic concepts of fractions.  Tomorrow will be the quiz and I think you’ll do well.  Any questions?

Independent Practice.  Independent practice is otherwise known as homework.  As I said, we’ll talk more about practice in a minute.

So that’s it, a Madeline Hunter lesson.  To summarize lesson design:

  • Tell them what you're going to tell them.  (Anticipatory set, setting the stage)
  • Tell them.  (Instruction)
  • Tell them what you told them.  (Closure)

The recommendation is:  Learn Madeline Hunter's lesson design format and keep it in mind as you plan and teach.  Not all lessons need have all elements, but know when you leave something out and do it on purpose.  Work to improve one aspect of your instruction at a time.  Don't overwhelm yourself.

9.  Practice

I said we’d talk about practice.  It’s Principle #9.  The principle is simple, with compliments to Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi:  Practice doesn't make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.

When I first started teaching, I thought I was supposed to teach, assign and grade.  I thought it was my job to grade everything.  The idea of practice without penalty was a breakthrough idea for me.  Once I was complaining about all the papers I had to check in the teacher’s lounge and another teacher said, “You might actually be doing kids a disservice by doing all the checking for them.” 

That sentence changed my approach to teaching.  I didn’t want to do kids a disservice!   I began to understand that kids need to practice new skills without worrying about grades or evaluation.

For guided practice, be right there.  Supervise closely.  Don't allow kids to practice mistakes.  Give immediate positive or corrective feedback.  Encourage kids.  Touch them.  Ensure the concept is understood. 

After ten or more problems have been done correctly and it's clear the child understands, you can gradually disengage and leave the child more on his own.  That's independent practice.  Continue to monitor periodically even then.

The purpose of practice is to strengthen and reinforce learning.  If new learning is not recalled or used within 24 hours, the recall drops to 75%.  If it's not used within 48 hours, recall drops to 25%.  If not used within 72 hours, your wasted time teaching it in the first place! 

Extended and Mixed Practice.  Even after kids have really learned something, provide for extended and mixed practice.  You don’t want kids to get the idea that once they’ve learned something and passed a test on it, they can delete it from their minds and move to something else. 

Students must not only get concepts IN to their minds, they must be able to get them OUT when required.  Practice a new fact or skill intensely the first few days.  When they seem to know it, mix in something new and fade back on the first, but keep it going.  Review and reteach as often as needed.  Hold kids accountable for remembering what you’ve taught.  If they don’t remember, reteach, review and keep practicing until they eventually do.

Here are some recommendations related to practice:

  1. Allow for practice without penalty.
  2. Carefully plan first lessons in any new area.
  3. Incorporate frequent checks for understanding during which students repeat directions, summarize what they're supposed to do, verbalize what they learned, etc.

10.  Evaluation / Accountability

We’re to the last principle now, evaluation and accountability.

Here's the principle:  Both teachers and students are much more focused and productive when they feel accountable to someone else.

A strength of home schooling is that you are close to the kids.  You evaluate their progress informally all the time to see if they’re “getting it.”  The area of accountability is a potential weakness in the home school model, but it can become a strength.

I once had a friend confide that he wanted to compete in a fencing competition but he couldn’t get motivated to practice on a daily basis.  I offered to call him each day and ask if he’d practiced yet.  It made a huge difference for him.  Knowing I was going to call was that little extra push he needed.  He won the competition and gave me part of the credit, even though I did almost nothing.  All I did was hold him accountable to his own goal.  That helped a lot.

  • Find someone who cares that you accomplish your goals and who is willing to support and encourage you.  That might be Dad. 
  • Hold students accountable for being cooperative and diligent, for putting forth their best effort.
  • Grades are punitive by nature.  Better to track goals and accomplishments.
  • If students don't learn something right away, keep working on it until they do.  If you decide they're not ready for it, drop it and come back later.
  • Hold students accountable for completing work on time, especially as they reach high school age.

And here are a few recommendations:

  1. As a teacher, find someone to support and encourage you, to hold you accountable.
  2. Hold kids accountable.  Dads ask, "What did you learn today?"  Insist on an answer.  If kids know the question is coming every day, they'll be ready.
  3. Celebrate when you reach a goal!

Well, I talked about a lot in one hour, but we’re done and I hope you learned something. I hope you’re more aware of what you’re doing well, of the strengths that just come along with the home schooling model. 

I also hope you have chosen at least one specific, achievable goal to work on and let me encourage you now to engage in an ongoing process of improvement.  Don’t aim for perfection, aim to improve.  Focus on ONE thing at a time.  Take ONE step at a time.  It's a PROCESS.  Begin now and keep on keeping on.  Celebrate success.  How do you eat an elephant?  ONE bite at a time.

I want to make one final observation.  Long ago, families were the central economic units in society.  Most productive work took place at home or on the farm.  In towns and cities, fathers might travel to a place of employment to earn money to support the family.  The important stuff was still happening at home, though, and the excursions from the home were for the purpose of nurturing and supporting the home.  During the Industrial Revolution, that began to change.  More and more people of all ages left home to go to work and returned home tired.  The center of life migrated to the workplace.  Later, when public schools began, the center of kids’ lives migrated to school.  Home became mainly a place to rest and refuel to head back out to where the important stuff was happening, at work and school.  The concept of HOME began to fade.

Yet every person longs for a place to call home.  In the TV Sit-Com Cheers, the theme song said, “Where everybody knows your name, and it’s always just the same.”  That song expresses the longing in a human heart for home.

I found the following quote posted on the wall of a friend’s house years ago and it expresses my vision for home:  Home is where you can be silent and still be heard, where you can ask, and find out who you are, where people laugh with you about yourself, where sorrow is divided and joy is multiplied, where we share and love, and grow.

My very best to you as you build a home and a school on the only lasting foundation, Jesus Christ.

Source:, ©Susan C. Anthony