CM 3 Episode #29 Exams in a CM education with Guest Shay Kemp

CM 3 Episode #29 Exams in a CM education with Guest Shay Kemp

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Show Notes:

Meet Julie :

Julie H Ross believes that every child needs a feast of living ideas to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. As a former school teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and Assistant Director of a Homeschool Academy, Julie Ross has worked with hundreds of students and parents over the past 20 years. She has also been homeschooling her own five children for over a decade. Julie Ross developed the Charlotte Mason curriculum, A Gentle Feast, to provide parents with the tools and resources needed to provide a rich and abundant educational feast full of books, beauty, and Biblical truth. Julie lives in South Carolina. When she’s not busy homeschooling, reading children’s books, hiking, or writing curriculum, you can find her taking a nap.

Show Transcript:

CM EP 29

Julie -

Welcome to the Charlotte Mason Show, a podcast dedicated to discussing Miss Mason's philosophy, principles, and methods. It is our hope that each episode will leave you inspired and offer practical wisdom on how to provide this rich living education in your modern homeschool. So, pull up a chair. We're glad you're here.

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Now on to the show.

Hello, welcome to the Charlotte Mason show. I'm your host Julie Ross. And in today's episode, it is just going to be me, and I'm going to be doing a little teaching on exams in a Charlotte Mason education. So, if you've been following along and listening to the three seasons that I've done, thank you so much. I'm just so honored that you take the time to listen to what I have to say about this wonderful way of educating our children, and I really...there's so many amazing podcasts out there, and the fact that you choose to listen to mine, I highly value that. So, thank you so much.

Thank you to all of you who have left a review in iTunes. I read them all and they have been so encouraging to me and just kind of give me the motivation to keep doing what I'm doing, and so thank you for taking the time to write those reviews. If you haven't done that already, I know we're all just so busy, but if you could take just 30 seconds and write a quick review in iTunes or, you know, just even leave some stars, that would be awesome.

And if you've been following along, you've realized that this method of education is very different than what most of us experienced if we went to a regular educational setting. And so, because this philosophy is so different, and what you're doing with your children on a daily basis is so different, the way that she did her exams is so different too. So, you can't, you know, be reading all these rich literature and narrating and discussing them and getting out in nature and doing these hands-on lessons, kind of object lessons outside, and then going in and doing like a multiple-choice test. It just doesn't work because they don't go together. And so, parents often wonder, okay, well, how do I kind of know what my child's learning? How do I see that? I'm worried that they're just, you know, saying these narrations to me and then this is being lost and...and if you feel that way, it's probably cause you don't really, kind of, firmly understand and have the faith in this narration process, which honestly just takes time. Because if a child is able to narrate, it means they do know it right? And we have to kind of get out of our mindset of, kind of pouring into a bucket of a child and getting information out on exams, which is what a traditional education model would entail.

So, I wanted to do this episode and kind of breakdown what Charlotte Mason hard to say about exams because it is so different. And hopefully, it will just give you a better understanding of that. If you would like some sample questions starters. If you would like a packet that has written out a lot of long, I'm gonna share with you today, I do sell an exams eBook. It is on and it is super reasonable, and just has these kinds of little exam starter questions, and, like, what each form, what kind of questions you want to have and what subjects you want to cover. So, it's only 4.99 for the eBook. If you want some more information about doing these exams.

But let me just jump in real quick here and just kind of break it down for you. So, it really is a paradigm shift from what most of us are used to. In volume six, on page 57, Charlotte Mason wrote, we all want knowledge just as much as we want bread. We know it is possible to cure the latter appetite by giving more stimulating food, in the worst of using other spurs to learning, is that a natural love of knowledge, which should carry us through eager school days, and give a spice of adventure till the duller days of mature life is effectually choked. And boys and girls cram to pass, but not to know. They do pass, but they don't know the divine curiosity which should have been an equipment for life, hardly survives early school days.

So, exams. What image does that word conjure in your mind? How does your stomach feel? Do your palms feel clammy? I graduated from college 20 years ago and I still have a recurring dream where I show up for a final exam and I have no idea what the answers for any of the questions are. I'm starting to break out in sweat just thinking about it. The funny thing is that I actually really liked tests. I'm not naturally super smart or anything, but I am an excellent test taker. I can make flashcards and highlight notes like nobody's business, so for the most part in school, I would get super excited about tests. It felt so good to get that paper back with a big red A, and if my teacher was super cool, a scratch and sniff smelly sticker.

But sadly, that became the goal of my education. I didn't learn for the beauty and pleasure of knowing. I wanted to get the good grade and move on. As Charlotte Mason put the schoolboy, or in my case, schoolgirl crams for an examination, writes down what he has thus learned and behold, it is gone from his gaze forever. As Ruskin puts it, they cram to pass and not to know. They do pass and they don't know.

Y'all, I'm a terrible speller, but I would get 100% on every spelling test I took because I would cram and forget, cram and forget. Yep, sure, Mason was talking about me. As a former schoolteacher, I created many tests. True false, multiple-choice, essay questions, all to see what my students did or did not know. I would take out my red pen and stickers and circle all the students didn't know. This became their score, their evaluation, but really only showed me if they retained what I thought they should know.

Did what I put in through my instruction and activities stick? Was it measurable and reproducible? This form of assessment, pervasive throughout our modern educational system, turns children into products. Cogs in a machine. Put X in, and out should come Y. But if, as Charlotte Mason's first principle states, children are born persons, while this is true, can we expect all children to produce this same exact result? Is education an assembly line or a feast? Or we nourishing a life or merely filling a receptacle? In volume six, on page 109, Charlotte Mason wrote, education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are our spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony. But we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. Probably he will reject 9/10 of the ideas we offer as he makes only use of a small portion of his bodily food, rejecting the rest. He is an eclectic. I think it is vital to ask ourselves what education we want to give, as that will directly determine how we assess learning.

If we expect our children to obtain a set of information and facts, then we can logically assess whether or not they have assimilated this through a recall test. If, on the other hand, we seek to prepare a feast upon which our students can choose which living ideas they chew upon and that we trust the Holy Spirit to grow these ideas as our children make connections and gain new ideas, how do we gain insight into what our students know?

I think it's helpful to think of exams as extended narrations. The daily narrations are where the child takes the material and moves it to long-term memory by making it their own and sharing it with someone else. On exams, questions are asked that prompt the student to give a similar narration, reaching back into their memory and solidifying that information again. You may be surprised at what your child remembers. It may not be the detail that you think is important, just like in daily narrations. Keep in mind that this is the student's work of their own education.

The goal is for them to make the learning their own, not produce a certain result, or regurgitate a body of information. When I first heard about Miss Mason's approach to exams, I did a little cheer. Yes, this was what I was missing both in my years as a student and a teacher. I remember giving my first Charlotte Mason style exams to my children. It was relaxed, comfortable, and so insightful, as I got to hear them tell me all they knew. One of my daughters was in second grade for public school and she cried almost every day because she felt dumb and never could figure out what the teacher was asking on her four tests that she had per week. During her first Charlotte Mason style exam, she laughed and talked and told me this is fun.

In Volume six, on page 272, Charlotte Mason wrote, the terminal examinations are of great importance. They are not merely chiefly tested knowledge, but records which are likely to be permanent. So, what are these permanent records? No, I'm not talking about the kind that sits in a filing cabinet in a musty school basement. No, the end of term exams show us what the child knows. A permanent record in the structure of their mind. They remember this. They know it. This is vastly different for cramming for the tests and then forgetting about it. That pouting that a modern testing system encourages.

If we want to give our children a Charlotte Mason education, it is imperative that we shift our paradigm on assessments as well. In the parent review article, the Spirit of Competition, should it be encouraged? Volume twelve, 1901. This is what was written. To pass competitive examinations is rapidly becoming more and more the end an aim of education. There is hardly a form in any of our great schools in which you will not find some boys for whom extra tuition is provided in view of some competitive examination. And the one faculty which examinations force, I will not say developed for the effect is very temporary, is that of memory, and with regard to that every teacher knows that the great majority of children in board schools, in schools where the system of government education exists, would fail to pass in the work of a lower standard than that in which they had been temporarily coached.

What a happy word that is, coached, and the picture it presents. The vehicle of knowledge, drawn by the children on from stage to stage. There is only one weakness in this simile. The horses are not changed at the end of each hour of toil an application. We change the coachman and the load instead, by giving them a new master and a new subject and drive on towards the next competition hill with fresh vigor to the whip.

Doesn't sound like the kind of education that I really want to get my children. I don't know about you.

Today's episode is brought to you by A Gentle Feast. A Gentle Feast is a complete curriculum for grades one through twelve that is family-centered. inspired by Miss Mason's programs and philosophy, and rooted in books, beauty, and Biblical truth. You can find out how smooth and easy days are closer than you think at

Alright, so let's get real practical here. So why do we give exams? First reason is they put the term's work in focus for the student. And then secondly, they give the teacher vital information on how to improve what they're offering to their students. And then encouragement on what went well as well.

So, when do you give these exams? So, in the Parents National Education Union, which Charlotte Mason founded, students were given their exams during the regular lesson time during week twelve. So, the PNEU had three twelve-week terms. They would bring in extra teachers to help give the exams, especially with the younger children, because most of their answers were gonna be done orally, and they would need to have someone write all those answers down. So, they would bring in extra teachers.

Well, I can't really do that in my house, so I usually give exams during week thirteen. We do exams two or three days and then we take the rest of the week off and kinda allows me some time to gather my books for the term that's coming up. It helps me finish up their exam questions. And let's just be honest. It gives me some time to take a nap too.

All right, so how do we give these exams? So, for form one children, so grades one through three, you will give exam questions over the course of a few days. I record my student's answers on my phone and then I type them up later. Or if you have, like, a voice to type app, that's super helpful. If you have more than one child in this form, I would alternate the time they're giving oral answers to you, and then give them some tasks they can do independently, like a drawing activity, copy work, some math problems.

In Form two, that's grades four through six, students can do a combo of oral and written exams. As your child has progressed with their written narrations, you can start to incorporate some of those in the exams. But just keep in mind that that's a gradual process and you'll get a much better answer from a form two student orally than you will written, cause they're still kind of learning all of the semantics and the grammar and spelling. All that writing process takes...their answers are usually a lot shorter for the written part.

And then for three and up, they can have written exams. About a page and answer will do. Their questions are much more detailed and specific. All students should answer their exam questions in the same timetable as the subject would normally occupy. So, you can't have all day to answer one question.

The PNEU exam regulation states the questions must not be right beforehand to the children. Therefore, for your older children, give them one subject's questions at a time instead of just handing them a packet with all the questions in it.

Yeah, the...we're not, again, trying to prep them for something or cram something in. Okay, this is just seeing what they already know. So how do you evaluate your child's exams? What about grades? So, in the story of Charlotte Mason, it is written, children come into the world with a few inherent desires. The desires for power, for praise, for wealth, for distinction, for society, and for knowledge. Education which appeals to the desire for wealth, marks, prizes, scholarships of the like, or the desire of excelling, as in the taking of places, etc. Or to any other of the natural desires except for knowledge, destroys the balance of character, and, what is even more fatal, destroys a nation that desire for and delight in knowledge, which is meant for our joy and enrichment.

So, the goal of the exam is not a grade, like I was super motivated for, as a kid. You may need to give a grade for your state, depending on where you live. You might need to give a great, especially for in high school and you're creating some kind of transcript for them. But these should not be shared with the child. That's not the goal, is I got a A, right? Or I got a smelly sticker. You can grade based on a rubric, and I do include these in the exam packet I told you about, or give a mastery type grade like, you know, high marks. They're below average, that kind of thing.

Evaluating exams are for your benefit. So, if your exam...if the answers your kids give you for an exam question isn't up to your expectations, there are several things I want you to consider. First of all, your questions may be just too vague, and they really weren't sure what you were really talking about or what you were asking about. You might need to kind of help them with their lessons a little bit more by writing down key names, places, on the board beforehand, so they're not just, like, he went to the place with the girl and they did that thing and wrote that paper. Like, you know, you want to get them, okay, it was George Washington with Martha, and they were at Virginia. You know you want to give them these names and things when they're doing their narrations. You can write them on the board ahead of time, or as there... after they gave their narration, so that when they have...they can make those names and terms part of their knowledge, and then when they do these exams and the end of the term, those things will come out as well.

You may need to work on certain skill-based lessons a little bit more. Grammar, math, copy work, their map skills, those kinds of things. Those might be lacking in their exams if you haven't spent a lot of time on them. And how are your child's narrations normally? Like, is that a weakness that they normally have every day? Well, of course, it's going to be a weakness on the exam too, if they're just learning this skill, right? You know, have some grace with their exam questions. It will come.

You might need to focus on progress over perfection, and that's what's really helpful about having several exams to compare to, so, you know at the end of the year, on term three, you can look back at their term one questions. Have they grown in their ability to narrate and put these ideas together? Yes, then great. That's awesome. You're making this progress that we're talking about. In the Parents Review article called School Examination Regulations, it says, their examinations should afford moral training to the children and should be conducted with absolute probity. Worry, and excitement should be discouraged. Order, quietness, and cheerfulness should be maintained.

So, the goal is for this experience to be a positive one for you and for your children. Okay? It is not, oh, today we had to do exams and we don't want to have that atmosphere of worry and fear. We want it to be like a party. We're going to get to see all that you've learned this term. I'm so excited. I know we have read so many great books. And you have done so many amazing things. I can't wait for you to talk to me about them. I made cookies. We have hot chocolate. Like, this is supposed to be this, like, woohoo, I've learned all this stuff feeling. It's so different from what we typically think of when we think of exams, right?

So how do I come up with exam questions? So, go through your schedule and subject by subject, create question or a couple and this is why that exams book with the question prompts can be really helpful. But if you have volume three, School Education, in the appendix, to give sample questions there as well. I do caution you, though, not to compare your children's answers to the answers that are given in that appendix because, well, I mean those students were amazing. You know each of your children are going to be unique, so just take that, you know, in mind as well. So your children were're not living in the same time period.

So just to give you some examples of some questions that would have been used in the PNEU. So, write an essay or a poem on the bread of life. Describe the condition of the A, clergy, B, Army, C, Navy. In about 1685 trace the rise of Prussia before Frederick the Great. Describe the rise of Russia and its conditions at the opening of the 18th century. Write some lines in blank verse. Write a ballad. Write a letter in the manner of Gray on any modern topic. Write a scene between Mr. Woodhouse of today and a neighbor of his. Tell the story of Naaman. What have you noticed about a spider? Tell all you know about Saint Patrick. What did you see in the seagull sailing up the Firth of Forth? How many kinds of bees are there in a hive? What does each one do? Tell how they build a...tell how they build the comb. And then, how are the following seeds dispersed? Birch, pine, dandelion, balsam? Describe your favorite scene in Waverly.

And then some other assessments would be foreign language. They might be asked, like, to translate a passage, or copy a passage, or sing one of the songs that they've learned. Copy work. So, copy that passage and you just handwriting and if need to select one of the passages they've already done or come up with a new one. Recitation. So, if they've been, you know, reading a poem in morning time, if they've been learning a Bible verse or hymn. Again, the goal is not memorizing those things, it's to recite them clearly and with a lot of dictation and emotion. Grammar, they might be asked to identify the parts of speech in a passage. They'd be asked to do a drawing or singing. Some math problems. You can just go through your math book and pick a couple from each different chapter that you've been working on. They might have a sample of their handicrafts, a sample of their nature notebook.

You can also see some example exam questions on Ambleside Online, and I will link to that in the show notes. You can also go online at and you can see sample exam questions from the Parents National Education Union that Charlotte Mason came up with. So, it's pretty cool. So, in the PNEU School Teacher's Handbook, it says this. A system of continuous assessment is an essential part of the PNEU Home Education Division. Its purpose for the pupil is to give him an opportunity to show what he has learned and what progress has been made. The extent of progress in the syllabus contained in the PNEU programs will be recorded by the teacher on the assessment form, which also contains a section for comments on special features, such as specific educational difficulties or achievements. One of the uses of assessment over a period is for diagnostic purposes and the teacher will refer to earlier entries in order to bring to our attention any particular points which require explanation. Specimens of current work will accompany the form as specified below. Personal development will also be recorded.

So, I really love that they made this, you know, super, even though these questions would have been given to the whole, you know, Parents National Education Union, the people that had subscribed to Charlotte Mason's program, they would have gotten the book list. They would be doing the same book. So, these questions would be the same. But they take into account that every child is different, so they could parents could write notes about any learning difficulties a child might have. They can talk about how the child is grown as a person, what areas they've seen growing as well? And you know what else is amazing to me? Is, when Charlotte Mason was alive, she would read these exam questions and write comments. I don't know. I mean, I was a teacher. The most kids I ever had in one class was 29. I can't imagine the hundreds of students in these exams that she wrote on over her lifetime. It's just incredible to me.

In that exams packet that I was telling you about, I do have a assessment form for the teacher to kinda self-evaluate. I think it's a really important pause, which I really love these three twelve-week terms that are in her schedule because it allows you to kind of take a pause. So, you're can hide these little finish lines throughout your year. It's not like, oh, I gotta make it to May or June. Like, no, like, I wanna make it to Thanksgiving. And then I'm gonna take a break and I'm gonna assess how things have been going here. It gives you an opportunity for your children as well. I encourage them to self-assess. Like, okay, what if... what has been going well? What areas do you feel like you still need to work on and grow? How can we improve our education for next year? Set some goals at the end of the term. You know, praise your child, talk about what went well. I like to have a party. Like I said, this is supposed to be this fun atmosphere and you can invite...cause for her exams, Miss Mason would dictate several things that were supposed to be done with Father. So, in her exams, it would write like, have Father pick a poem for recitation. Show Father an example of your work. Have Father pick a passage from a book for you to read to them.

So, you know, it's a great thing to do if you, you know wanna include dad or you wanna include extended family members. You wanna include neighbors. If you have any other people in your community who are using A Gentle Feast, you could make an end of the term party with everybody. But some things you might want to include would be, again, reciting poetry, sharing their Bible memory verse, singing some songs. They could show some of their nature journals, their handicrafts. If you do a narration notebook, they can show some of their narration drawings and writings. You can have a special dessert. You might wanna watch a movie that goes along with one of the books that you've read, or the Shakespeare play that you've been doing. You know, give your kids a card, or sometimes I've given them, like, special gifts. I remember one year we did Little House. I got one of my daughters, like, a set of Little House paper dolls. You can get them new art supplies, new books, I mean notebooks. I mean, it's a great way to kind of like, oh, pencil's, you know?

Shower them with kind of these things that you probably would get them anyway, but it's just more special when it's seen as that. And it's not a reward for, like, oh, you got nine out of ten, right? Here's your special pencil. It's, no, here's...we're celebrating the fact that you have learned all the things that you've been sharing with me this whole week. And I want to do this because I love you. Like's not...the prize is ??? talk about.

And last but not least, y'all, Moms, give yourself a break, okay? Use this end of term. Give yourself a week in between terms, if you can, if it lines up with their schedule. But even a day. Go take a bath. Go put your feet up. Go reward yourself for a job well done. And in volume three, Charlotte Mason writes, if mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when they are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out and play. If she would only have the courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense and just take a day or half a day out in the fields with their favorite book or in a picture gallery, looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life ago and far more happier for both children and parents. Mothers would be able to hold herself in wise passiveness. It would not fret her children by continual interference, even of hand or eye, she would let them be.

So, I hope this was super helpful just to kind of wrap your brain around how exams in Charlotte Mason education are different, and how you can practically implement them in your home. And if you want to check out this eBook and get some of those sample question prompts and have the information that I shared with you today written out and have those assessment forms, go to And thanks again for supporting me with this podcast. It has just been such a delight for me to interview all these amazing people and just to be able to reach out to you all so thank you again and I hope you all are staying healthy and are able to find the joy even in these crazy days.

Thanks for listening.

Thank you for joining us today on the Charlotte Mason Show. I'm your host, Julie Ross, and I would love to meet you in person. All of the Great Homeschool Conventions have been rescheduled to 2021. Go to to find a convention near you.

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