The Tyranny of Grades
I encourage homeschoolers to shake off the constraints that standard classrooms impose on learning. You have so much more freedom than can be granted in a classroom setting, and you should take advantage of it. The main constraint of a standard school is that schools have to generate grades because that, in effect, is their product (and not necessarily the actual learning you hope is achieved). A teacher needs enough grades to be able to give an accurate picture of the student’s performance. That means testing and having kids spend a lot of time doing work that can be graded and not doing things that are more conducive to learning. Grading a book discussion is much harder than grading a test.
Making the Great Books Delicious
While some subjects lend themselves to the do-and-grade approach, such as math, others suffer from this approach. One subject in which I think the grading paradigm does actual damage is in literature and reading. In high school, I was surprised to learn that people had at one time in the past actually paid money to read David Copperfield (Puffin Classics). I thought it had been written to give English teachers something to make us write about.
I am not opposed to making writing assignments on literature, but I am opposed to making every literature assignment come with some penalty attached, such as a writing assignment or test. (I know in public schools you also get to make PowerPoint presentations and do interpretive dances about literature, but even so.)
The point is schools assign the bulk of the reading that young people do, and they make it a chore. They introduce some of the Great Books (and some of the Crummy Books) and make them seem like a dose of castor oil instead of the wonderful experience that readers and hearers once craved. Instead of the books being a stimulus for discussion, they are fodder for generating grades.
But a homeschooling teacher does not have to generate grades in the same way. Your emphasis should be on achieving the learning goals for your kids. Want to enlarge vocabulary, improve reading comprehension and stimulate critical thinking? Try having students read while taking notes and follow that with a book discussion. A homeschooling teacher can be concerned about the actual results instead of the cumulative indicators of the results (i.e., grades). Such freedom allows you to pursue these results in unorthodox ways that are unavailable to the classroom teacher.
Dare to just read Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (Bilingual Edition) aloud to your high schooler and then talk about how it is related to some of the themes in The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary, One Vol. Edition. (Check it out. Tolkien was a Beowulf scholar and wrote a transformative essay on its origins).
Take turns reading The Odyssey aloud, as it was meant to be heard, rather than read.
Start a book discussion group and ask interpretive questions.
And then don’t assign a paper. Dare to do things differently than Woodrow Wilson Junior High.