News


Music and Memorization: Tried-and-True Methods

Recently the Imaginative Conservative published an article titled “How Music and Memorization Can Save Our Failing Schools.” The article, by Annie Holmquist, suggests that tried-and-true methods such as rote learning are a big part of the cure for what is ailing contemporary education. Indeed, classical Christian education goes “back to the future,” with its rediscovery of practices used for centuries but largely abandoned in most contemporary settings. Holmquist’s article is well worth your time.

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How Music and Memorization Can Save Our Failing Schools

By Annie Holmquist

We all want the best for our kids. Because of this desire, it’s quite discouraging to see when efforts to boost progress in reading, math, and other subjects flatline in schools across the country.

On the other hand, this perpetual stagnation causes us to sit up and notice when a school manages to boost its achievement in dramatic fashion.

Such is the case with Feversham Primary Academy in Great Britain. According to The Guardian, Feversham was a failure a few years ago. Achievement was low and seemed unlikely to improve given that many students hail from disadvantaged backgrounds or are English Language Learners.

But as The Guardian explains, the school began using the “Kodály approach, which involves teaching children to learn, subconsciously at first, through playing musical games.” By teaching these musical games and encouraging memorization of classic works such as Shakespeare, the school has experienced the following change:

Seven years ago Feversham was in special measures and making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Today it is rated ‘good’ by Ofsted and is in the top 10% nationally for pupil progress in reading, writing and maths, according to the most recent data. In 2011, the school was 3.2 percentage points behind the national average in English. This year 74% of its pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, against a national average of 53%. It is 7.1 points above the average for reading and 3.4 above for writing. In maths, the school was 2.4 points behind the national average in 2011 and is now 6.5 above it. Its results for disadvantaged pupils are well above average.

Such increases are quite impressive and appear to mirror the forty percent achievement gains another British school experienced after incorporating Shakespeare into lesson plans.

So why is it that these simple techniques appear to produce such stellar results?

The answer to that question may be found in what music and memorization appear to do the brain. Research suggests that exposing children to music fosters brain development and boosts their “vocabulary and reading ability.” Likewise, memorization “exercises” a child’s brain, training children to pay attention while also laying a foundation upon which they can build future facts and insights.

These components are core elements of classical education. In the grade school years, also known as the grammar stage, classical education capitalizes on the love children have for rote learning, using songs and rhymes to instill historical dates, scientific facts, and famous literature in their brains. When they move beyond these years, they find they have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips from which they can draw, make connections, and spin off new thoughts.

The funny thing is, while this common-sense approach to early childhood education was standard practice for centuries, it has been abandoned in recent years. Shunning rote learning, we have instead told young children to draw on their own (limited) experience or feelings when completing school assignments.

Classical education methods of music and rote learning have been experiencing a revival in many home and private schools in recent years and have enjoyed a good deal of success. The dramatic turnaround in the Feversham school suggests the success of these methods is not limited to those of a “privileged” status.

Is it time we ask ourselves if modern schools have been too hasty in tossing out the rote learning methods of music and memorization?


What’s Going On?

Let me brag on our school for a minute or two. God has blessed us in so many ways, and I am continually thankful for all the good gifts and wonderful people He has brought together at Regents Academy. Right now I’m thinking about the many extracurricular opportunities at our school these days. They are so much more than just extra stuff to do! Through our extracurriculars students’ abilities and gifts grow and develop, students find platforms to explore interests and passions, and students are given opportunities to be servant leaders.

What are these opportunities?

High School Clubs

The Regents chapters of the Key Club and the National Honor Society afford many opportunities for service, leadership, and academic recognition. These groups are active both within our school and also in the community.

Sports Programs

Regents has active teams in cross country, soccer, basketball, and track and field. Each team is led by a devoted volunteer coach, and our student athletes excel, even with a rigorous academic load and many other commitments. Students also participate in Volleyball Club and Golf Club.

Music Programs

The Regents Orchestra meets weekly and performs several times per year. Competitive choirs also meet weekly and compete through the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS). Many students also compete individually through TAPPS in piano, strings, guitar, and voice. In addition, three music teachers provide lessons on campus during the school day.

4-H

The brand new Regents chapter of 4-H has gotten off to a strong start, with much interest among students and parents, and a new grant for gardens that will be tended by students. A dedicated group of student officers is doing a great job leading the club.

Speech and Academics Team

Also competing through TAPPS, our high school team meets weekly, with students preparing to compete in tests (math, current events, literary criticism, etc.) and speaking events (solo and duet acting, prose and poetry, extemporaneous speaking, etc.). Our team has had a lot of success in recent years, winning several state championships.

Spelling Club

A number of excited students gather frequently to prepare for the spelling bee, which is coming up in late November.

And remember – all of this is in addition to classes, field trips, music, art, drama, and plentiful activities that fill our halls and classrooms during the school day!

Our school’s mission is, in part, to “equip students to lead lives of virtue, display mature character, love learning, and serve the Triune God.” Extracurricular activities are one important avenue for students to benefit from this great purpose. There’s a place for every student to get involved and grow into the man or woman God wants them to become.


Scrubbing Up and Stepping In

Regents Academy seniors Grace DeKerlegand and Lindley Bryant recently had the privilege of scrubbing up and observing several surgical procedures at a local hospital. Trying to determine their post-high school options, both young ladies wondered about the possibility of observing an actual surgery to see if working in the medical field might be of interest to them. They got their chance last week, and both students believe it helped them refine their career interests.

Without naming names (you know who you are!), we are thankful for our friends in the medical community who helped to make this possible.

Most Needful for a Child’s Education

If you think of a school as a machine, then you have to conclude that every part of a school is necessary. A car with all its parts except for a radiator hose is not going far. Likewise, a school without, say, books or desks won’t get very far either. But what is the most important part of a school? What is most needful for a child’s education to be successful?

Is it technology? Maybe if we put a computer in every classroom, teach students to be computer-savvy, and connect every school to the internet, then education will be effective.

Is it money? One might be led to conclude so based on the headlines. Spending on education in our country has grown exponentially in recent decades, even while student performance has steadily declined.

Is it teachers? Again, if you follow the nightly news, you might conclude that teachers are the sine qua non of a successful education. Many educational policy makers are advocating that teacher pay be based on student outcomes. Poor teachers, then, get washed out of the system, and what is broken gets fixed (or test scores rise, at least).

Or is it facilities? Opportunities for students to escape failing schools? New methods and progressive curriculum? Government-mandated standards?

Possibilities could be multiplied ad nauseam. But ask teachers who are actually in the classroom day by day. They will tell you what theorists and politicians may very well have missed: what is most needful for a successful education is committed parents. A class could meet under a shade tree on a picnic table with nothing but a teacher and a shared book, but if the students have parents who are involved in their children’s learning, motivated to excellence, and committed to holding their children accountable, then that education will still be effective.

A Christian worldview teaches that God governs mankind through several overlapping realms: the church, the civil magistrate, and the family. And it is the family – parents, not governments – that is tasked with educating children (see Deuteronomy 6). So parents are called by the Lord God to educate their children for Him, and good schools know that they educate children in loco parentis, in the place of parents. Schools don’t replace parents; rather, they partner with parents to aid them in their responsibility under God to train their children.

Therefore, parents should recognize this responsibility. Parents should see that their part in the educational machine is essential and irreplaceable. And more: parents should embrace a vision for their children’s education. So look carefully at your own attitudes about reading, math, Latin, and writing. Your children share your attitude about these things. If you think a subject is a waste of time, your children will, too. If you love to read, fill your home with books and ideas, and let your imagination spill over to your children, you are doing something that teachers, curricula, and computers can never accomplish alone.

God has created you, parents, to educate your children. It is the most important business you can engage in. We can praise God for excellent teachers at Regents Academy, for the riches of classical Christian education, and for wonderful books and buildings. But we must remember that visionary and dedicated parents are what is most needful for a child’s education to be successful.


Pray for Susanna

Please pray for Regents Academy second grade student Susanna Ketchen, who underwent surgery on Tuesday to remove a tumor from her spine.  Susanna and her parents are in Houston at Texas Children’s Hospital.  Please join our school family in praying for this little girl and her family.  Susanna’s mother, Melissa Ketchen, is our first grade teacher.

Please visit Susanna’s CaringBridge site for updates on this precious little girl.

If you’ve never used CaringBridge, go to www.caringbridge.org and enter Susanna’s name in the search box to navigate to her page. You will need to create a username and password in order to visit her site.


A Trip to See C.S. Lewis on Stage

On Saturday, September 30, nine Regents juniors and seniors traveled to Richardson’s Eisemann Center to see “The Most Reluctant Convert,” a powerful one-man stage performance by Max McLean depicting the story of C.S. Lewis’s conversion to Christ. Throw in a sumptuous lunch at Buca di Beppo, visits to two bookstores, and ice cream at the end of the day, and the group had a fantastic day!


In Loco Parentis

Regents Academy fosters a unique relationship between parents and educators that is summarized in the Latin phrase in loco parentis. While the phrase means literally “in the place of parents,” the best English word to render this phrase is “partnership.” At classical Christian schools, there is a meaningful partnership between the parents, who have the primary responsibility under God to educate their children, and the school, which assists the parents in their job. The practical implications of this partnership are many; teachers and parents work together each day to fulfill our lofty classical Christian vision for students through a lot of communication, hard work, and understanding.

Christopher Perrin, in his booklet An Introduction to Classical Education: A Guide for Parents, does a great job explaining the in loco parentis partnership. The following excerpt is from that booklet, which briefly and cogently explains this thing we call classical Christian education. I recommend it to you wholeheartedly.

Partnership with Parents

Classical schools work with and for parents. Since we believe that it is the parent’s responsibility (not the state’s) to educate their children, it cannot be otherwise. Our authority over children is delegated to us from parents who have enlisted us to help them in their educational task. We see ourselves as in loco parentis?in the place of the parents. This does not mean that parents dictate the curriculum or pedagogy; it does mean that teachers serve the parents, listen carefully to their feedback about child and curricula, and seek to forge true relationships with parents in order to best understand and educate their children. It usually means that parents are welcome in the classroom; it means that parents take their responsibility seriously by reviewing and helping with homework, encouraging their child to be disciplined and diligent and generally supporting the teachers and staff of the school.

When parents abdicate their responsibility to educate their children, it is inevitable that some other institution will step in to take over. T. S. Eliot warned that as parents become passive, the schools would increasingly replace parental roles and responsibilities:

Instead of congratulating ourselves on our progress, whenever the school assumes another responsibility hitherto left to parents, we might do better to admit that we have arrived at a stage of civilization at which the family is irresponsible, or incompetent, or helpless; at which parents cannot be expected to train their children properly; at which many parents cannot afford to feed them properly, and would not know how, even if they had the means; and that Education must step in and make the best of a bad job.

Parents at classical schools do not assume that education is the school’s responsibility. They understand that the school is assisting them to fulfill their responsibility. Many parents choose to classically educate their children at home; these parents are certainly taking their education responsibility to heart. However, most parents have themselves not been classically educated. We are, after all, recovering something that has been neglected for at least two generations. So parents are learning along with their children. Many a parent at our school is studying Latin along with his or her third grader; many parents are finally learning English grammar, or studying logic. As you can imagine, this kind of collaboration and commitment among parents, teachers and students involves a good bit of hard work. Parents in our schools think this labor is worth the prize, not only for their children but for themselves. To varying degrees, we are all trying to get the education we were not given.

On any given night, parents are encouraging children as they do homework. They are checking homework, reading notes from teachers, writing or calling teachers, helping students stay organized and ready for what lies ahead. Beyond this, they are reading to their children, praying with them, instructing them in a myriad of ways around the house and the dinner table, discussing books, field trips and the experience of the day, counseling and exhorting them regarding peer relationships, school work, homework, chores and play. They are parenting. The school helps them parent, but does not become the parent. Parents come onto campus and into classes as they wish; they assist in classes, substitute, come on field trips, help serve lunch, coach a team. Many teachers are parents with their own children in the school; board members are parents, administrators are parents. Parenting and educating, in such a school, are not easily distinguished.


Homework Q & A

Homework. It’s something most families live with. For some families it feels burdensome while for others it is a welcome step in reaching their academic goals. Some children bring home more homework than others. Some parents are far more involved in their children’s homework than others. Every situation is different, but we all need wisdom to think through homework – how to keep it in proper bounds, how to use it well, and how to use it to help our children grow academically.

Our friends at the Ambrose School, a fellow-ACCS school in Boise, Idaho, published a series of questions and answers that addresses several homework-related issues. I hope it provides some food for thought and some clarification.

Q: I’m spending hours with my grammar school student doing homework. I don’t even know how to do some of this stuff! (Latin for example).

A: Throughout the 3rd, 4th or 5th grade, students should work toward independence. Parents often make students dependent by being too involved in their homework. While this may make one feel needed, depending on the student it can be counterproductive. We encourage parents to gradually but continually put pressure on students to do their own work.

Q: If I don’t check my student’s work, he makes lots of careless mistakes. What do I do?

A: On the contrary, if you continually prevent your children from turning in assignments with careless mistakes, they will not learn to be more careful. Let them make the mistakes and learn from their failures.

Q: My child gets very stressed if he or she doesn’t get high marks on every assignment. We spend hours trying to get everything “just right.”

A: This “perfectionism” is best addressed at a young age. Students develop healthier practices overall when they learn to do work that is less than “perfect.” If not addressed, your student will likely develop difficulties accepting their performance in many areas of life. No one is perfect. Students need to accept B’s and C’s when they have done their best in the allotted homework time. This is resolved best by through strictly limiting homework time. [Recommended reading here: Ending the Homework Hassle by John Rosemond]

Q: My older student spends between 4 and 6 hours every night doing homework. He is really frustrated, even to the point of sneaking time in the middle of the night to do homework. Sometimes he even cries. I’m not sure how long he can keep this up. What can we do?

A: 7th through 12th grade students are expected to do up to 3 hours of homework nightly. When students exceed this amount on a regular basis, a problem needs to be addressed or they will be overwhelmed. First, speak with the teacher to verify that the student is doing their work in class and is approaching it correctly. The most common reason for this problem is a lack of diligence, even if this does not seem to be the case. Many students are prone to distractions: they take breaks when the work becomes difficult; they rotate between activities (homework, practicing an instrument, eating, drinking, playing, etc.); or they rotate between subjects too frequently (although this can sometimes help when the student is stuck on a problem). Even when it appears that the student is working diligently, his concentration may be scattered. He may be putting a lot of energy in, but accomplishing very little. Diligence requires structure and self-discipline. In our experience, this is a gradual process that takes 2 to 3 months to develop. The key is not to allow the student to spend more than 3 or 3 ½ hours on homework during this adjustment time. The overall time restriction will help them budget their time and move more quickly. The pressure actually makes them more efficient. This prevents the “doldrums” that occur when a student labors without being productive. Students need a time incentive to “run for the prize” rather than just labor, seemingly in vain.

Q: My student seems to be doing well, but I’m not! He’s only in the 4th grade and he’s already asking questions I can’t answer, particularly in Latin, English grammar, Science, and Math.

A: Our curriculum challenges students, and often parents. Our teachers realize this and will gladly help with questions after school or on break. Encourage your student to plan their work so that they have time to ask questions of their teacher.

Q: My student has many activities that keep him from doing homework on certain nights. How can we manage this?

A: Many of our students have busy activities. This provides an opportunity for them to learn how to plan in advance. Teachers publish homework assignments on a weekly basis and in advance by several days (often over a week). These are available on Renweb, our internet parent information system. Students can also obtain these directly from teachers. Students should be encouraged on Friday or Saturday to plan the upcoming week. For example, if a student has activities on Tuesday and Thursday, they should plan on the previous Friday to get at least one of the assignments for each of those days done over the weekend.

If you have questions about the work your child is bringing home from school, please let me encourage you to go see your child’s teacher. He or she is ready to talk it out and provide the clarification or help that is needed.