What Did You Learn in School Today?

This is a bad question to ask a child after a day at school, for a multitude of reasons.

Firstly, a day in school is a pretty emotional and draining experience for many children. As a result, by the time the school day gets over the child is mentally frazzled and needs time, space and ideally sleep, to enable them to mentally process al the knowledge and information they’ve taken in.

It’s commonly a frustration to parents that their child seems to remember more about the social aspects of what happened in school, than the academic learning. it may even cause some parents to fear that academically their child isn’t learning very much. He or she can tell you lots about who did what to whom, who said what to a teacher and got away with it, who got punished for what etc. The plain reality is that the social elements and aspects of school are incredibly important to our children. We shouldn’t underestimate how many important skills are being developed through these social interactions – skills that will be vital in adulthood.

Another problem with the question is that the learning experiences of the day are so broad and various that the child is hard pressed to figure out which bits, which elements we the adults might consider most important or want us to share with them. Plainly, the child knows that they’re not expected to give a verbatim report of everything they saw, heard, felt or experienced (and all their judgements and reflections) during the day.

It’s known that a lot of learning isn’t really ‘mine’ until I’ve slept to process it and take full ownership of the memories. This is another reason why such a question can prove challenging.

For many parents, so far, this will all be very unsatisfying. As attentive, keen and diligent parents they want to know that they can show an interest in their child’s learning, ensure their child is maintaining focus and effort and check that their educators are doing their job.

The question becomes – “Well, if that’s not the right question, then what is?”

The following article may contain the germ of an answer.

The British Psychological Society Digest – Could the Way we Talk to Children Help Them Remember Their Science Lessons?

This makes a lot of sense to me. Intuitively, it’s what I often tended to do with my own son when he was younger. It also, as a generalisation, is a line of questioning taken more often by mothers than fathers. I wonder whether the nature of the questions asked, the child’s vocalisation of the answers all serve to provide extra focus for when the child sleeps, enabling better absorption of the learning and greater access for recall later.

Whatever the explanation, I believe this merits more research and in the meantime is a habit worth adopting by parents.

Moving Learning Forward

Here’s a great new TED talk that will particularly appeal to anyone who’s bought in to the ideas and concepts of growth mindset. Whilst the headline and the promotion of the video may be focused on adults who want to get ‘unstuck’ in making progress in the things that matter to them in their lives, I believe it also carries some important and valuable lessons for education.

When planning for lessons and supporting children’s learning, it’s vitally that educators have clarity in their intent about when an activity is geared to learning and acquiring knowledge or competency and when it’s designed for practice. Too often, there’s a muddy vagueness about which we’re trying to achieve and a belief that if they’re merged together there will be discernible progress.

This process can also be made more overt and transparent with the young learners – so that they understand at any point in time whether they’re engaged in a learning activity or a practice activity.

The Harm Done By Tuitions

ivod-tuitions-article

Here’s an article I wrote that has been published in this month’s edition of Ipoh Valley of Dreams magazine.

With apologies to Jane Kuok – I’ve got no idea why i look so white in the photo, or where the full stop went at the end of the article – but well spotted!

Learning to Learn

Becoming a lifelong learner works best when educators ensure that every pupil acquires the skills and competencies of learning – the ‘how’, as well as teaching them stuff. In fact, i could even suggest that a lot of the stuff has little use or purpose other than as a vehicle for the acquisition of learning skills, practice and honing those skills.

With this in mind, I wanted to share this really useful link for educators, parents and students;

Learning Scientists – Downloadable Materials

The page provides six very good, downloadable posters specifically related to building and strengthening study (learning) skills. There are also some links to stickers.

It’s important to remember something critical with this kind of material, especially when sharing the concepts and ideas with a class of students. The experience was really brought home for me in relation to mind mapping. This is a wonderful set of techniques that I personally use very frequently and value a lot. In one school group, I remember a very enthusiastic teacher telling me that she was introducing mind mapping to her class six classes. She took a couple of special sessions with them and came back to tell me that they loved it, were very excited and confirmed they could really see the learning and creativity benefits.

So, she taught them the techniques and had a few projects and exercises where the outputs for all pupils were to be as mind maps. A few months later I met this teacher and asked her, “how are your classes progressing with their mindmapping?” After a moment’s hesitation she looked shocked. “Oh, I’ll need to check, but i haven’t seen any of them doing it for a few weeks.” She came back the next day, having checked and confirmed that she could only find one child in three classes who said they were still using mindmapping at all.

I asked if i could sit in on the next session with the pupils. She and i spoke with students in small groups, reminding them how enthusiastic they had been with the techniques when they were first introduced. Time after time the responses were similar and boiled down to a hesitant admission that it was good, that they had been excited, but that as others (especially key opinion shapers among the children – the cool kids?) stopped doing it, they had an increasing feeling that it wasn’t for them, even that it was a bit wierd. It boiled down to, “people like me don’t do stuff like this.” And we wonder why we’re so slow to bring about real lasting change in education?

The tough hard truth is that self identity, and especially identifying with others can override the very best of learning and opportunities for growth if not tackled adequately and in a sustained manner. This raises many more issues about how, as educators, we work to limit ‘group think’ and support/ encourage/ entice creativity, individuality and the confidence in our students to plough their own furrow, to believe that they are not obliged to meekly conform to fit in.

Younger Children and Play

Regular readers of my blog know that I’m a firm advocate of letting younger children play and not burdening them with academics too young or too early.

Well, here’s further evidence for why this matters. This research goes even further to highlight the importance not only of play, but the type of play and the types of toys used to facilitate that play;

Jama Pediatrics – Type of Toy Used – Research Findings

I have had concerns for a long time, that even when children are left and allowed to play, everything becomes way too literal. Each thing is exactly what it is, and nothing else, especially in the realm of online play or games which are electronically based. Earlier, an empty box or some blocks could perform multiple functions, depending on the child’s own creativity. Further, multiple chilren playing together, or a child playing with an adult bought in to common ideas of what each item represents (at least in that moment for that period of play).

This transcript from research suggests that not only does creativity suffer, but also communication skills. The expansion and ‘ownership’ of a varied vocabulary is a critical part of any child’s development in the early years.

More reasons to get out of their way, stop trying to make everything in their lives educational and just let them play!

Myths in Education

Every profession has its megaliths – giant great boulders that are considered immovable. These are beliefs or assumptions that have been accepted as truisms for so long that virtually all have ceased to question, challenge or at least ask for the evidence.

The education profession is no exception and one such belief is the one about ‘preferred learning styles’. There have been so many articles and books based upon this belief, sharing all sorts of ideas about how educators can ensure that they tailor the learning experience according to the preferred learning styles of the learners.

Here is an article that does question that belief, at least from the perspective that there is little or no scientific proof to substantiate it;

Quartz.com – One of the Greatest Neoroscience Myths

What’s quite startling is the massive level of belief in the significance of learning styles – evidence that very few educators have really been challenging the myth, or have been aware of the lack of scientific basis for it. The myth simply gets passed on from one to the next.

Ironically, I suspect that the effects of this myth have not been all bad. If it caused more to teachers to question the way they taught, to reflect on the learners’ experiences of their lessons and classes, to apply more different types of skills and to have lessons with greater variety of activities, then it probably contributed to better learning opportunities for all pupils.

There have been many who have sought to suggest that this visual, kinaesthetic, auditory split in learning styles was at the root of the purpose of differentiation. However, for those who’ve particularly studied the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson on the subject know this was always a gross simplification.

As I highlighted in an article yesterday, maybe of far greater importance is exposing students, as they get older, to the evidence of how we learn, what works for all (regardless of sensory preferences) and coaching them to refine their learning skills. Students with greater mastery of learning skills will extract and retain better learning from their school and college experiences.

Learning to Learn Well

If, in education, what we really care about is learning – then why do we spend so little time training, refining, giving feedback on and advancing the skills and techniques of learning? My suspicion has long been that when the early models of education were set up, it was meant to be a filtering system – and a filtering system that has everyone succeeding isn’t at all effective. So, if some accidentally had effective study and learning techniques, they succeeded. And, bad luck for the rest.

Whatever the reasons, they need no longer apply. This was actually one of the issues that motivated me to move in to the education field, based upon my own experiences in school and college when i was trying to figure out how to be an effective learner, largely without assistance. I believe today, we have a duty to share best practices and knowledge about the learning process with every student – ariming them with the skills to make themselves the best learners they can be.

Here’s an interesting, short article from Inc.com, written for adults, but setting out five practical steps that can be applied by learners of any age;

Inc.com – 5 Super Efficient Ways to Learn More in Less Time

I firmly believe that as students master the skills of learning effectively, they’re more likely to maintain interest and motivation, more likely to want to learn more and more likely to develop the habits that will see them become lifelong learners.

Happy Learning !!!

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