In the previous post I argued that the shift to online learning during the Covid-19 lockdown revealed where the faults lie in the education system. It made me question once again the value of schooling. Effective learning will only take place when students are engaged with and curious about the teaching on offer. To achieve this teachers need to fulfill a number of requirements. They need to 1. design learning opportunities that are relevant and invite engagement, 2. reflect on how well the learning is happening, and 3. modify the learning programme based on the evidence – connect the teaching with the learning. And on top of that, it all needs to happen for all students of all abilities and all dispositions.
Unfortunately, this way of teaching is far from the current reality and I see little evidence of any significant progress of making this a reality.
So rather than being despondent and disempowered about the current state of education, I recommend that individuals become better informed about what good learning looks like and, learn how to navigate the system. It is possible that some parents have potential to play a bigger role in their child’s education than they realise. For that to happen, they need to identify the core aspects of effective learning and child development. With that knowledge it will be possible to identify the value that schooling is offering and contribute in the areas that are not being fulfilled. Here are some key considerations that could be useful.
How do I help my child learn?
The good news is that the average child’s learning will grow as they mature. This will happen without any input by you. But by exposing them to a range of positive and constructive life experiences and interactions you will improve that learning growth. And those experiences are readily available and within your reach. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. If you are looking for guidance, it may help to recall the key learning moments in your life – that internalised feeling of success and steps towards independence.
That is what you are trying to replicate for your child. Learning is the residue of thinking and manipulating and testing and problem solving. Learning can happen anywhere. Life doesn’t operate in a silo and neither should education. Make it known to your child that learning is all around us. Numeracy and literacy are practical applications not abstract concepts. “Hot housing” your child is unlikely to bring long term benefits to your child’s well-being or success.
What should my child be learning?
The NZ curriculum is a thin and non-prescriptive document and is accessible to anyone. It covers all subjects and all levels – from new entrant to the end of secondary school. It describes the content to be covered in general terms. It doesn’t prescribe how this content should be taught. It also has a “key competencies” section that advocates for social and emotional learning.
To help you decide what your child should be learning, look forward into the future and think of the knowledge and learning opportunities that will help your child to get to that future and be successful in life. Focus on the skills and knowledge that are transferable. But keep in mind that we are adults for a long time. The best learning takes time and is not forced. The kind of learning being described here and the “traditional” school experience (of getting good grades in order to enter university) do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Choose learning opportunities that provoke your child’s curiosity and invite exploration. Provide the essential knowledge that feeds that curiosity rather than force feed it. Trust them. Think back to how you learned best when you were at school. What would you like for your child to achieve and be able to do as an adult? What social and emotional competencies do you value?
How do I know if my child is learning?
Schools can provide standardised assessments in literacy and numeracy that they can share with you. But the best assessments are informal and achieved through interactions. Listen to your child. Get accustomed to finding out what is important to them. Develop a culture of honesty in which they feel invited to share the things they care about. Encourage them to open up. This may take time because they will be so used to feeling the need to respond to the prevailing expectations of education.
It is possible that the culture of learning that they have experienced is one based on fear of failure and motivated by threats and punishment. Provoke and observe how they respond and where their enthusiasm lies. The process is more important than the product. Encourage talking out loud rather than quiet reproduction. You will know your child is learning when you observe them growing in confidence, independence and curiosity.
How do I help my child enjoy learning?
You may need to free your child from the shackles of the schooling system slowly. So keep the learning time short. Or at least, ensure the time you spend transmitting knowledge is kept short. You may want to teach numeracy facts, spelling words and abstract problem solving, but keep it short and positive. Better still, connect that knowledge based learning with a practical activity. A positive learning relationship is an essential foundation of effective learning. You may need to manage behaviour by using rewards but if direct instruction time is short and positive, this may not be necessary.
The best learning is self generated. There is no need for a child to be working at levels above their chronological age. If your child is acing the numeracy tests, use it as a cue to go broader and deeper. Don’t be surprised that your child can achieve sufficient learning in a much shorter time frame than the typical six hour school day. Unfortunately, the reality of the typical classroom means that the amount of actual teaching time can be counted in minutes on one hand. Seriously.
Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.
Check out the links below for some personal experiences of how people managed the education of their children under lockdown and how it exposed the flaws in how we currently perceive “best education practice”.