Task Card Approach: Benefits and Distinctives
At times I have been asked why the Task Card Approach is better than simply reading a book and asking a child to provide a narration or summary. I cannot say that it is always better, as we use that approach as well depending on the subject and season of life. There are, however, great benefits to using the Task Card Approach.
To understand these benefits several things are necessary. First, one needs to understand that completing the tasks on the cards provides a fundamental shift in how the student interacts with learning material. The tasks are research oriented. The topic must first be named and then remembered as it is sought within a variety of resources. This research process requires that students imprint the terms they are seeking into their mind numerous times. The impression that is made facilitates ownership and interest in the material. Active learning is not optional with this approach.
The learning environment used within the Task Card Approach is another thing to consider. This learning environment builds interests in the learning material creating eagerness to study within the students. The Task Cards require work, but it is the sort of work that fully engages student efforts. This increases their sense of ease in work as well as their sense of accomplishment.
Beyond this, the tasks are open ended. They allow students to read with their individual experience of discovery in mind. In this high tech era of instant information, it is easy to forget that there is meaning within the process of discovery. At times, interest will take over and send students in a new direction within the material. This is ideal and you can trust that I included many 'sneaky' rabbit trails within the tasks for the benefit of my own children.
Alongside this element of freedom and exploration is the inherent direction that comes from the arrangement and specificity built into the topics covered. The logical, topical, and/or chronological progression of the cards serve to reinforce the student's learning of standard content and vocabulary while your student interacts directly with the material in a way that balances freedom, exploration, and direction.
Other key elements of The Task Card Approach are the use of a prepared environment, a block of time set aside for their use, and acceptance of the student's work. The prepared environment is a space set aside to display the cards along with the books, supplemental materials, and supplies needed to complete the tasks. This could be a shelf, cupboard, or a cleaned out closet. (Pictures showing examples of a Prepared Environment for Task Card use are on display in the Gallery). The concept is to have everything necessary to complete the tasks prepared in advance. The Prepared Environment provides a space for students to enter and focus on their work and investigations. Even though I encourage Task Card families to attempt this, I understand that personalities are different and that the Task Cards are used in many ways. Some families prefer to use them when visiting the library while the younger children are attending story time. Others prefer to plan weekly. Let me encourage you to try to prepare the environment in as large a block as is possible for you as this provides the best environment for your student's interaction with the material.
In addition to a Prepared Environment, a block of time should be set aside for Task Card use. This would be something like Tuesday and Thursday from 1:00-2:00 or could be viewed more simply as 'an hour in the early afternoon.' We have frequently used a three hour morning block for our basic work. This includes: math, and language arts primarily, but also includes other subjects like Latin, music theory, or logic. A shorter afternoon block follows and includes our enrichment studies. These are: history, science, nature study, composers, and art done in rotation. Whatever you decide to do with your schedule, it is important to have a block of time set aside. Students enter their Task Card area and dig into the tasks. Mom can be nearby reading to younger children or tending other needs. If you find that the Task Card Approach is not working in your home, assess if your prepared the environment and evaluate your faithfulness to using a block of time as these are the keys to success with this approach.
Because one of the goals of the Task Card Approach is to engage the student directly with the material, their responses should be accepted 'as is.' This requires an element of trust in the learning process. At times, this can feel uncomfortable, especially for those who are coming from the paradigm of 'right or wrong.' The larger goal of facilitating a strong and interested learning process should be kept in mind.
That said, communicating a standard for work provides security for the child. I recommend large goals such as: read for detail, respond with detail, and do your work with care. If a child is struggling to meet your standards, ask them to evaluate their work in light of these three things daily. Increase the standard gradually. Focusing on one area of improvement at a time will bring greater success than trying to fix everything at once. Perhaps it would be good to ask for more care taken with spelling for one month and greater attention to detail in their sketches the next month. When the long view is kept in mind it is easy to see that four or five months of gradual increases in these areas will lead to improved focus, greater attention to detail, a high level of ownership in the process, and work that meets high standards.
The Task Card Approach is a champion of independent learning, but only so far as it is beneficial for our students. This approach creates students who know how to learn and engage with material in a meaningful way, but the context of their use is of equal importance. The Task Card sets are not intended to be used by students in isolation. Younger students will need a tutor or a group environment for completing the tasks. Emergent readers will need direction. Older students will need oversight, preferably after the work period is over. Gradually, this oversight is lengthened to the ideal of once per week. Even so, the teacher or parent are watching and being aware of areas where the standard needs to be raised. Other areas of school and home life should certainly champion the relational.
For most children, entering the prepared environment and sensing ownership of their work is a joyful and fulfilling experience. For Moms who are home schooling, the benefits of a fully prepared environment and work done independently and well can't be overstated.
The Task Card Approach draws from the Classical, Charlotte Mason, and Montessori approaches to education and learning. An extensive discourse on each of these is not within the scope of this article. I would, however, like to provide you with a brief survey that shows how they relate to the Task Card Approach as well as a list of recommended reading. An understanding of the philosophy behind the Task Card Sets will optimize their use in your home.
Classical Education, for our purposes here, refers to the revitalization of classical education due to the work of Dorothy Sayers in her essay "The Lost Tools of Learning." In this essay she outlined and defined the three stages of the trivium – grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer's The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home is a work that translates the philosophy and methodology of classical education into a workable model for the modern home-school. The Task Card Approach supports the goals of grammar stage learning as outlined in these and similar works. The tasks on the cards present key vocabulary that will be encountered in future years of study. They are also organized by topic using a variation of the four year science and history cycles recommended in The Well Trained Mind.
Charlotte Mason's influence can also be seen in the tasks on these cards, especially in the areas of narration and habit formation. Her thoughts on narration as a means to teach a child to intentionally train his or her attention, to synthesize what has been read, to organize that material in his or her own mind, and to determine how to communicate these thoughts underscore the tasks that require a student to 'tell about' or 'summarize.' Her thoughts on the importance of habit formation are also supported by the Task Card Approach. She believed that a proper education included "the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully” and that habit training helped children take charge of their own education. She encouraged the development of a wide variety of good habits, but those of attention, neatness, and order are specifically supported by the Task Card Approach. Engaging books, often called living or twaddle-free books, can be used to form the foundation of study with all of the Task Card Sets.
A Montessori education includes three essential elements - independence, freedom within limits, and respect for each child's development. Students in a Montessori school are placed in mixed age classroom where they are given choices of activities within large blocks of time set aside for investigative work. This work is primarily discovery based and relies on specialized educational materials. Maria Montessori's philosophy and materials are readily adapted into the modern home school environment which naturally includes students of various ages. The prepared environment and independent learning appeals to Moms who are supervising several levels while tending to other needs within the home. The Task Card Approach supports many of Montessori's philosophies, but especially those of orientation to the environment, order, exploration, purposeful activity (work), communication, and exactness. The Task Card Approach relies on the use of a Prepared Environment within the home. This learning space is tailored to the size of the child, arranged to allow for freedom of movement, demonstrates beauty, reinforces a sense of order, and is limited to materials that support the child's development.
Purists may find that the Task Card Approach is not for them, but those who are comfortable with an eclectic approach will see how the Task Card Approach can be adapted to support a variety of specific educational paradigms. Those who want to emphasize Charlotte Mason's approach will naturally place their focus on living books and oral narrations. Those who want to build a Montessori atmosphere in their home will provide an extra shelf of self correcting materials from one of the Montessori educational catalogs. Families who want to build a grammar stage foundation that is rich in memory work will gravitate toward the tasks that ask for research, lists, and memorization. The ready-made cards and detailed Introduction pull the best of these approaches together in an engaging and practical way. The Task Card Approach has a level of malleability that allows it to go the distance in meeting your unique goals for your family.
Relational Learning: Overview
Recitation - Much has been written on the value of memory work and recitation, especially for children in the grammar stage. I want to touch on a few points as they relate to the Recitation and Enrichment Series.
An innovative tiered approach ensures that all grade levels are included and challenged while working together.
Enrichment - The Enrichment portion of this volume relies on the suggestions of Charlotte Mason. If you are unfamiliar with her work, I recommend spending time with her material. I'd like to share a few insights as they relate to the Recitation and Enrichment Series.
An innovative tiered approach allows all students to participate at their own level at the same time.