At the beginning of every school year, I always have parents asking, “How can I help my child at home?” Whether it is working with homework or following your child’s interests, there is a lot you can do. Don’t be afraid of “teaching your child” the wrong way. In fact, I suggest that you never teach your child. Instead, help them learn.
So many times when we think about helping someone to learn something new we fall back to how we were taught. As I teacher, I often did the same thing, and I am amazed at how much my students learned in spite of me. I remember also being a home school teacher, and would often go online for tips and hints and found posts from people who bragged about teaching just like it was done at school. They would sit down at the kitchen table, ring a bell, recite a pledge, pass out the workbooks to their kids, and then proceed to lecture about the daily lesson. They often spent the night before preparing, making sure that they knew their stuff so they could teach it to their kids. I had taught long enough by that point to wish I could tell them, “You’re crazy. Why teach that way when you have all the freedom in the world to teach what your kids want to learn and in ways that work best for them?”
Most of us grew up in a school system where the teacher was the imparter of knowledge. He or she (or a textbook) had the wisdom we needed, and to gain that wisdom all we had to do was pay attention. We could ask questions, but because our teacher that was well trained, she was already giving us the information in the way that would help us learn best. Some fine minds had studied learning, and the best of teachers kept their theories in mind when they taught.
For most of human history learning wasn’t understood, it was just done. When skills were more complex, sometimes apprentice training took place. People were guided by master skills-people until they were ready to handle a task on their own. Later, specific steps were developed to learning a task. It was kind of like making sure a student can read every note of music before they can even touch a piano. The process worked. However, what the student needed to know to be successful adults required low level of application. They need to read, write, and compute, and not much else.
In the 1950’s, humans finally began to think about learning. What is learning and how can be facilitate it.
In 1953 U.S. psychologist B.K. Skinner talked about learning in terms of behavior. He said that learning increases or change when we are rewarded or punishment. To Skinner learning was about breaking down tasks small enough and positively reinforcing desired behaviors. In 1978, psychologist Lev Vygotsky publishes his ideas about social cognition. He talks about the “zone of proximal development”. Learning, he says, occurs between at a point which is between what a child can do on his or her own, and what he or she can do with adult supervision. Learning occurs during interaction with others, and this interaction dictates what the child is learning. According to Lev, a child’s developmental stage determines the zone of proximal development.
In the 1970’s Jean Piaget was also thinking child development. He said that children learn differently depending on their stages of development, and children move through the stages of development because of experiences they have in life. This viewpoint wasn’t much different from Vygotsky’s. Finally we come to Albert Bandura, a psychologist whose theory was called, “Observational learning theory”. He suggested that learning occurs through observing others, and that reward and punishment don’t directly affect a student’s behavior. A student’s perception of the reward or punishment is what affects the behavior. He also said that four things have to be present in order for someone to learn… the learner must pay attention, remember what they learned, be able to reproduce it, and must want to do so.
These days we talk a lot about how much kids can learn. Think about your kids. Do they have to have direct experiences, to do something or act something out to learn something, or do they prefer to watch and analyze something first? And what do they do with what they have learned? Do they have to go out and try it immediately, or do they prefer to think about the information first? Now think about yourself. When you learn, what seems to work best for you? Do you have to see something first to understand it, or can you do well listening to an explanation of something. For some of us, we need to be able to touch and manipulate things in order to really learn. For me, it depends on what I am learning. For some things I can hear about them and understand them, but for others I have to see or touch to really understand.
Many of us have probably heard about Howard Garner’s multiple intellengences. It does a lot to explain why someone may be great at organizing people on a city-wide clean up day, but can’t balance their checkbook. Another thing we know from multiple intellegences is that it is a good idea when we want to help someone learn, that we try to address as many intellengences as possible to have a better chance of helping them understand.
Today, learning is complicated. We don’t only have to know how to calculate, read, and write, we also need to be able to think critically, solve problems, reason, and evaluate. Research has now turned from looking at behaviors to looking at brains. Now psychologists and scientists are coming together to not only explain how we learn, but what is happening in the brain when we learn.
Some term you may hear when we talk about how the brain learns are 1) Constructivism. Your child’s teacher may talk about this. It simply means we learn when we connect something to something we already know. For example, someone who is blind may have to understand colors by connecting them to the idea of textures or temperatures. 2) Transfer of learning means we use what we have learned in new situations. For instance, if you learned how to figure out area, you might use that to figure out how much paint you will need to paint your bathroom. 3) Memory is another big area of study these days. We know that memories are build by making connections between neurons in the brain and the more connections we make the stronger a memory becomes. It might not be any surprise, but when we have emotions attached to a memory, those memories are even stronger. In fact, emotions and using different senses help us build more pathways to remembering something. 4) Metacognition is simply thinking about how we think and process. This is a vital skill if we are going to analyze what we did and how we can improve on it or change it. 5) Finally, and this one probably is very obvious, but we learn better when we are motivated.
These are some factors that also influence learning. As parents I think we know where threats and punishments get us. Although they seem to work when we to change some behaviors, when it comes to learning they cause stress and stress actually makes learning harder. Environments that challenge us without overwhelming us are also conducive to learning. Just think about when you learned to ride a bike. It was probably a challenge, and if it was too hard, you probably gave up. But when you were ready, and it was just hard enough to be a challenge, you probably kept trying until you were able to do it. I’ve already talked about how emotions effect learning. Think back to emotional occasions you have had in your life. Chances are you remember them very well. Of course, we tend to remember things that have meaning and are not just relevant in our lives. For instance, I might need to know about the civil war to pass an exam. So that information is relevant. But the information is bound to stay with me longer if I know that I had a direct relative who fought and whose survival made my life possible. Finally, when it comes to attention, we may think that we need to pay attention closely to learn something. While that is true, we also have to remember that it often helps us learn better when we switch attention. We may just have to stop paying attention to external sources of information and spend some time thinking internally.
Computers have made it possible to do a lot of tedious study in more interesting ways. We now can play games that help us study our spelling words or math, and there are programs that will not only keep up with our skill levels, but will decide when we are ready to move ahead to more challenging things. This is a very limited way to use technology. I challenge you to stretch your child’s horizons when it comes to using technology. Today your kids can contact scientists about their work. They can find original documents when they are researching something. They can wear special heart rate monitors and then download the information onto the internet, and graphs of their progress when learning to do aerobic exercise will be kept. They can also work to keep data and add to global databases. There are groups that love having weather reporters and bird spotters from all corners of the globe. There is so much out there. Become familiar with the possibilities. Use technology to expand your knowledge too.
Teachers don’t have the monopoly on helping children learn. There is a lot you can do, whether it is helping with homework, or just following your child’s interests. Brain research and research by psychologists can guide you in become the best learning facilitator you child can have. Here are five easy things you as a parent can do everyday to help your child learn. First, remember the role that emotions plays in learning.
Rote learning, which is memorizing the steps of something, is good for driving. If you want your child to spell better or add better, try making it into a game. Or a song. Or just throw in some silliness. If you don’t feel creative enough, look online. There are a lot of good ideas out there of ways to make these tasks fun. While you are at it, take your children places, or figure out ways, for your child learn something hands on. Again, the internet has a million ideas to help you with this. If your child is learning about deciduous trees in science, go out and collect leaves and take pictures of the different trees you see and then make them into an album. A passage read in a science text book is much more easily forgotten than a nature hike with a parent.
And while you are hiking, touch things. Smell things. Listen. Taste if possible. Brain research shows us that the more connections we make in our brains, the stronger the memories of something are. I still remember what my grandmother smelled like, and she passed away more than thirty years ago. Using our senses helps create more pathways for memories. Finally, the use of technology and computers is here to stay, and our children will probably find their future careers dominated by technology. Computers, iPods, telephone applications… they can all be used to learn about things in new and different ways. A little drill and practice is necessary sometimes, but don’t forget the amazing world that computers allow us to bring into our lives. It is all at your (and your child’s) fingertips.
No More Teaching
A guide for families;
helping kids learn!
By. L. Valerie Allyse
Mr. Collins. Emma is
learning in spite of
Sure, it’s easy.
This is so boring. All he
does is lecture. I don’t
get it at all, do you?
Once learning was simple…
First it was all about watching
Then it was about following
a strict process. After all, it
Then things got more complicated….
Once Upon a Time…
Behaviorism- Learning happens through
conditioning, and increases or decreases
because of reward or punishment.
Social Cognition- Learning occurs in context
with the cultural environment of the learner.
Developmental Stages and Cognitive
Sensorimotor (0-2 years),
Preoperational (2-7 years)
Concrete Operational(7-12 years)
Formal Operational (12-15 years)
Social Learning theory
For learning to occur the learner must pay attention,
remember what they saw/heard, must be capable of copying
the behavior, and must want to do so.
Perceivers, concrete and abstract
Processors, active and reflective
Approaches Students Take to Learning
Current Ideas in Learning
How about “Intelligences”
Constructivism: We construct meaning about
the world by connection it to something we
Transfer of Learning: Using what we know to
figure something else out.
Memory: There are different types of memory
and different ways to both put information in
memory and to retrieve it. Emotion plays a big
part on how memories are stored and recalled.
Metacognition: Setting own goals and reflecting
on own progress. Active learning.
Motivation: Affects the amount of attention the
student gives to the situation.
• (Beers, 2006)
Individual And Social Factors That
• Threats and punishment
• Environment that challenges
• Meaning and Relevance
• Attention Cycles
Technology in Learning
Moving beyond drill and practice.
More is possible now than ever
before. Today you child can…
Talk directly to people doing relevant work in different
areas of study
Get most up to date information
Get information directly from it’s source
Be an active participator in research
Use technology to graph and chart data
Interact with others around the globe
And that is just the beginning…
( Leu, Leu, & Coiro, 2004)
1 ) Remember emotions can impede or enhance
2) Rote learning is for
driving, not for
spelling. 3) Make learning
4) Include more senses
5) Use technology in ways
beyond drill and practice.
Beers, B. (2006). Learning driven schools; practical guide for teachers and
principals. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
(ASCD), Alexandria, VA
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2008). Program four: Brain
Research and Learning. [Motion picture]. In Teacher leadership in the
classroom: Increasing learning and achievement. Los Angeles:
Laureate Education, Inc.
Leu, D. J., Leu, D. D. , & Coiro, J. ( 2004). Teaching with the internet k-12; New
literacies for new times. (4th ed). Christpher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.:
Original music by C. Natayla Allyse.