Introduction to every day learning part 3: Reasoning, teamwork, mind and body
Why do we as a society tend to focus so much on measuring things that aren't accurate predictions of a child’s future well-being and success?
There are articles in the news nearly every day about the need for more academic rigor, more ways to assess learning, more standardization so no child is left behind. As parents, we have tied our children's academic success with their feelings of self worth, and then hitched that to our own desire to be a successful parent.
Note how very little of this treats children as unique individuals with needs and desires of their own.
Sometimes I wonder if our obsession with testing is just pure laziness. If we can put kids in a box and weigh it, we feel like we've accomplished the task of assessing our children's progress efficiently. The reason this isn't efficient is because it isn't accurate, and it is disrespectful and demeaning to children.
It's time we view education as part of nurturing our children. We should also change the parameters of our assessments to measure the things we value, and use methods that provide us with an accurate picture of a child's unique strengths and weaknesses.
Every Day Learning: Measure What Matters is a short series of posts about my recommendations for encouraging and measuring important characteristics and skills that children need to be happy and successful:
Critical thinking skills are difficult to assess, but one of the ways we see our children using reason is if they learn to approach problem solving in a variety of ways. Thinking skills are developed along with freedom to imagine and exercise creativity.
There are workbooks that help with verbal, figural, mathematical, pattern recognition skills. It's perfectly fine to use these, but don't depend on them as the primary manner in which your children develops logical thinking skills.
For instance, when you give your child a task, see if they can relate the instructions back to you accurately and in logical order. Or use something they already know how to do, and ask them to explain, either orally or in writing, step-by-step instructions.
Use books and other media for discussion and debate. Can your child analyze and explain other points of view? Are they able to discern themes, and do they grasp the use of metaphor and symbols in stories from literature, television, and movies? Try not to lecture when talking about the things that characters do and say, but help your children interpret plot, subplot, character arcs, conflicts, and resolutions. If a book or show is well-written and realistic in character portrayal, then your children will understand how certain actions result in repercussions and consequences that are often unexpected and far-reaching.
Can students use different methods to solve problems, like drawing pictures and diagrams, or using manipulatives? This is a great way to use games, puzzles, and experimentation. While you should absolutely do science experiments by-the-book, sometimes it's OK to put the book aside and 'free' experiment, such as physics experiments with scale models of machines and structures.
In this area, parents are the primary teachers. Children mimic the behaviors they see. If they observe kindness, respect, collaboration, and compromise, they are much more likely to develop healthy habits of cooperation and partnership.
Teamwork is not forced sharing. Cooperation is when people work together for the same purpose or to accomplish a shared goal, and it needs to be a willing endeavor.
Have the kids work together on chores like laundry, house cleaning, or yard work. Divide into teams for games from Scrabble to Tug-of-War. Some methods are self-fulfilling and the reward is the accomplishment, while other tasks are sweetened with a prize or compensation.
Mind and Body
A child's health and sense of well-being is linked to their ability to learn. Don't just ask questions about facts they are learning - ask them what they think, and how they feel.
I've never been described as someone preoccupied with feelings. As a matter of fact, sometimes feelings really annoy me, but we all have feelings, and we need to learn how to deal with them in a manner beneficial to ourselves and those around us. Helping children process their emotions should be taken into account when learning new skills and absorbing new information.
Are they interested in the topic? Why or why not? What specific aspects of the subject they are studying to they find appealing, or confusing, or frustrating? Let them express their likes, dislikes, and even annoyances about the subjects they are learning. Maybe they think Napoleon was stupid, or they wonder why illnesses were thought of as the influence of evil spirits, 'cause that just sounds crazy. Perhaps they don't know how learning ancient history will help them in their future career, or they've decided Algebra was invented by someone who liked to torture children. Don't you sometimes feel angry or inferior when faced with a new or complicated situation, and does it ever help you to just vent about it? Give your kids the kind of space you give yourself to express unpleasant feelings. Help them pinpoint the source of their displeasure, and adopt healthy ways to deal with them.
Have they had adequate rest, water, and nutritious food? How about hygiene, and proper exercise? When your body feels icky or is lacking hydration and important nutrients, it is difficult to function, much less focus on learning. Work toward a schedule that helps your children be as physically healthy as possible.
What is going on with the family that they need to talk about? Are they having any problems with their friends? Kids will be just as distracted as we are when they have unresolved issues nagging at them. Don’t get so hung up on lesson plans that you ignore signs that your children need to talk and receive comfort and counsel from you.
Evaluate their learning environment - are they comfortable with the location, curriculum, and methods chosen? Whether it's a co-op or your living room, their surroundings have an impact on learning. It may be inspiring, or it may be distracting. You may be making education choices based on pressure from others, or the promise of an amazing new educational program, or your own convenience, instead of what works best for them. Take some time to watch them while they learn, and assess whether or not their learning environment is truly beneficial.