REASONING ABILITIES OF HOME-EDUCATED CHILDREN
Much of the literature on home education centers either on reasons why parents should choose this form of education over the conventional classroom or the resource materials available to parents of home educated children (Pitman, 1986; Lines, 1987). However, little has been written about the children themselves –specifically about the intellectual development of home-taught children. An exploratory investigation was designed and the following question posed: How is the development of cognitive intellect affected by non-conventional schooling with children aged 6 to 13?
Four years ago a unique concept in schooling was proposed whereby home instruction and school instruction was integrated. Forming a partnership with the parents of the home educated children, the Pathways School emerged with the following characteristics:
1. Classes met for two days per week.
2. Each class period was 2 1/2 hours in duration.
3. Instruction was in math and science.
4. All other instruction was provided by the parents at home.
5. Children’s ages ranged from 6 to 13 years.
The central purpose of this school was the promotion of maximum intellectual growth. Intellectual growth for this experiment was operationally defined as the development of cognition from preoperational thought through concrete and formal operational thought (Inhelder and Piaget, 1958). In a study of intellectual growth of students in small rural schools, Simpson and Marek (1958) described concrete operational thinking as students who can reason logically but do not extend this reasoning beyond the perception of direct or concrete experiences, events and/or objects. Formal thinkers can reason beyond perception, but stay in the bounds of logic, and use postulatory-deductive systems.
The Pathways School incorporated a teaching procedure which was developed from this model of intellectual development. This teaching procedure, which engages children in the active exercise of the rational powers of thinking, is called the learning cycle (Karplus and Thier, 1967). The student first explores the concept to be learned using materials and basic directions provided by the instructor. That learning-cycle phase is called exploration. Next, the students, under the guidance of the instructor, combine their ideas, data and observations which the exploration produced and identify the concept which is inherent in the data. That learning-cycle phase is referred to as conceptual invention. During the conceptual invention phase the language of the concept is introduced. The students next use the newly invented concept in several different ways. They might engage in additional activities, work problems, answer questions, pursue individual investigations and/or read about the uses and further descriptions of the concept. This phase leads the students to expand the concept–or idea–they have just met and is called the expansion of the idea. It has been shown that with such student-centered experiences children move through each level of intellectual development at a faster rate than children exposed to expositional instruction (Renner and Marek, 1988).
Pathways School was founded upon the Piagetian Model. Therefore, of great concern were two major questions about the intellectual development of it’s students:
1) How do the children in attendance at The Pathways School compare with other home-taught children with regard to intellectual development?
2) How do these two groups compare with their age-mates, who are in attendance in conventional classrooms, with regard to intellectual development?
The experimental group was composed of 19 students from the Pathways School, and therefore was an intact group. The 11 students from the control group were volunteers. Selection from the latter group was dependent upon a corresponding age/sex match with the experimental group. After pretest analysis, it was also learned that the two groups were matched on intellectual development.
Data were obtained from the described sample of 30 students who ranged in age from 72 to 131 months. Pretests and posttests of nine Piagetian tasks (Inhelder & Piaget, 1958) which were developed to measure reasoning abilities were administered to each child. This design allowed for comparisons in reasoning scores. Individual clinical interviews of the 30 students included: 1) Conservation of Number, Solid Amount, Liquid Amount, Length, Weight, Area and Volume; 2) Equilibrium in a Balance; and, 3) Combinations of Colored Beads. Student’s responses to these tasks demonstrated their: 1) conservation reasoning, 2) ability to do ratios and 3) combinational logic, respectively. This combination of tasks provided us with a representative, cross-section of reasoning abilities and therefore each student’s developmental level. A complete explanation and discussion of these tasks can be found in The Learning Cycle and Elementary School Science Teaching (Renner and Marek, 1988). Each task was scored in the standard manner (Renner and Marek, 1988) and responses were classified as pre-concrete (I); early concrete (IIA); concrete (IIB) early formal (IIIA); or formal (IIIB). A composite score for each child’s pretest determined his/her intellectual developmental level as either concrete operational, transitional, or formal operational. Because of the small sample sizes in this study some of the findings were collapsed into two categories: concrete and post-concrete (transitional and formal).
Following the pretests each group of students received nine months of instruction. The experimental group (Pathways School students) received intensive experiences using the learning cycle procedures and materials. The comparison group (parents without formal knowledge or education of the Piagetian Model or the learning cycle) was allowed to create a learning environment free from specified controls. In other words, parents within this group independently selected curricula materials and provided learning activities for their children according to their own choices (which may or may not have included science or math).
No attempt was made to regulate or specify how the learning environment was to be structured in the comparison group. The comparison and experimental groups were then posttested in individual “clinical” interviews with the same set of tasks used for the pretests. Again a composite score was used to assess developmental level.
Findings and Implications
Although the research design was sound and appropriate, we discovered that the students in the two groups were experiencing similar treatments. The students in the experimental group received instruction utilizing pre-written activities which promoted intellectual development and the students in the comparison group had the same type of experiences even though the activities were not pre-written learning cycles. The latter occurred since parents 1) redesigned traditional curriculum, 2) provided extensive field trip type learning experiences, and/or 3) allowed their children to explore their environment during extended free time. Obviously all of these children were given ample opportunities for intellectual growth.
Approximately half of each group began the investigation with a Piagetian classification of concrete operation. The experimental group (mean age=104 months) was composed of 10 concrete operational and 9 post concrete operational students. The comparison group (mean age=107 months) was proportionally similar with 6 concrete operational and 5 post concrete operational students. No statistical differences were found between the two groups regarding pretest means of either age or developmental level. After the nine months of “treatment”, pre/post test gains on intellectual development were measured with a t-test (Hays, 1973). The gain comparing the two groups was not statistically different (see Table 1).
Since group-gains for each group on intellectual development were parallel, the researchers wanted to know how these two groups, taken together, compared with Piaget’s original findings as well as current national averages. Piaget originally said that children began to move into the concrete operational stage between 6 and 7 years of age. he went on to say that children began to move out of this stage “…at about 11 or 12…”, (Piaget, 1963). In 1972, however, Piaget wrote an article in which he said that the students used in the original investigation were taken from “…the better schools in Geneva … a somewhat privileged population,” (Piaget, 1972). He suggested that the point at which the exit from concrete thought begins is “between 15 and 20 years and not 11 and 15 years.”
The data from this study seem to suggest that students taught at home move into formal thought between the ages of 10 to 11. These particular samples closely parallel Piaget’s original “privileged” group. As can be seen from Figure 1, both Piaget’s “privileged” group and the home schooled groups far surpass the “average child,” or what is referred to in the literature as national averages.
Interpretations of these comparisons are quite provocative: What does this say about: Conventional schools? Home schooling? The students in each school environment?
The data from this study suggest that the parents of the home educated students gave their children the right kinds of experiences to foster intellectual development. In other words, the parents in this sample, provided learning experiences similar to those suggested by Piaget as critical to intellectual development. From this study one could infer that the comparison group children had similar experiences to that of the experimental group even though the parents in the comparison group had no formal education in the Piagetian Model or its inherent teaching strategy — the learning cycle. Furthermore, this sample of home taught children (comparison and experimental groups) was in a learning environment that caused intellectual growth that actually exceeded Piaget’s original “privileged population.”
Hays, W.L. (1973). Statistics for the Social Sciences. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc.
Inhelder, B. & Piaget, J. (1958). The Growth of Logical Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence. New York, NY: Basic Books, Inc.
Karplus, R. & Thier, H.D. (1967). A New Look at Elementary School Science. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.
Lines, P.M. (1987). An Overview of Home Instruction. Phi Delta Kappan, 68, 510-517.
Piaget, J. (1972). Intellectual Evolution from Adolescence to Adulthood. Human Development, 15(1), 10-24.
Piaget, J. (1963). Psychology of Intelligence. Patterson, N.J.: Littlefield and Adams, p. 148.
Pitman, M.A. (1986). Home Schooling: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Thought, 21(4), 10-24.
Renner, J.W. & Marek, E.A. (1988). The Learning Cycle and Elementary School Science Teaching. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books, Inc.
Simpson, W.D. & Marek E.A. (1985). Cognitive Development of Students in Small Rural Schools. The Small School Forum, 6(2), 1-4.
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