Today in the Star Tribune, Asha Anchan examines the approach of some home-schoolers to “unschool” in her article, “The DIY Approach to Education” It’s an interesting look at the idea that children do not need a set curriculum to be able to “learn”.

As a public school teacher, I recognize that the reason we work with a curriculum is to be sure that we have met the needs of all students through exposure to key concepts the powers that be have deemed important for future success. Remember, in the public arena, teachers are no longer in charge of their curriculum. Instead state standards and common core standards dictate what we need to teach and curriculum companies put together books to ensure that we teach these concepts.  Then students are tested to be sure teachers have taught these concepts to our classrooms full of 30 – 40 students… but I digress.

As a tutor for students who are homeschooled, I do not work through a set curriculum. I basically use the technique of”unschooling” my pupils. Does this mean I let them write what they want? Of course. As a writer myself, I get to write what I want. Granted, sometimes what I want to write is something that will earn me money – and it’s important for students to write sometimes for a grade, but still, I tailor all my writing to projects I want to complete, money or no money.

Yet, I do have goals in mind. As a trained public school teacher, I know that if my home-schooled pupils ever transfer to the public school, there will be certain expectations for them. I also can’t shake the notion that all students should have certain aptitudes, especially when it comes to writing.

So, how does this translate into “unschooling.” The student and I discuss what he or she is interested in and then we craft a writing project geared toward helping the student further explore the topic. I set up the parameters by guiding the student to selecting the type of writing which would best fit his or her interest and skill level.

One of the key elements of making a writing project successful is choosing the right genre for the project. The expectation is that younger students understand narratives (stories) because they are used in so many other genres of writing. Writing a narrative requires that students be able to summarize and describe, both essential elements of all other genres.

Once the student has mastered narrative, we work toward mastering persuasion and compare/contrast essays. These types of essays require that students analyze subjects and explain their ideas. Finally, we move onto complex essays which include literary or research analysis.

And this is where a writing curriculum fits in. Following a curriculum for writing a persuasive essay is so much easier than attempting to muddle your way through it. Setting up clear expectations for the assignment using a grading rubric, using specific examples for models, providing ways of thinking about drafting an essay with graphic organizers or outlines, and reviewing key transition words or vocabulary used in the genre is the curriculum. It’s possible for anyone to hobble together this curriculum, but it makes more sense to use one already thoughtfully put together – hopefully by an expert.

Does using a curriculum contradict the idea of unschooling? That’s like saying using a GPS contradicts driving.