10 Steps to Develop Great Learners: I Am a Parent Not a Teacher

10 Steps to Develop Great Learners: I Am a Parent Not a Teacher

The following is an excerpt from 10 Steps to Develop Great Learners.

Schooling was made compulsory in the 1800s based on a simple premise – experts (teachers) are more able to educate children in school-related topics that most parents can. And this has proved to be the case for 150 or so years since.

This is not saying parents are not able to teach their children many things – of course they can, do, and will continue to be most influential. But school learning requires specific skills to teach reading, numeracy, differential equations, filtrations, 5–4 rhythm in jazz, and so much more. Look through any country’s curriculum and it is soon overwhelming and outside the skills of most parents – even though many parents were exposed to this same curriculum.

Also, one skill often eludes adults: Adults forget how to think like a novice while still being an expert at knowing the subject matter – and this is a major skill of teachers. No teacher ever says ‘It is easy, it is obvious’ as for a novice it is not at all obvious or easy. Teachers have long debated the best scope and sequence to teach ideas; know how to motivate, assess, and evaluate; and are great at knowing how a child got something wrong so as to put them back on the right track. Such expertise is hard earned and requires many years of training, and teachers do it every day with 20–30 children at once.

So: You are not a school teacher. Understand the boundaries, be clear on the differing roles of parent and teacher, trust (but verify) the impact of your children’s teachers, and love your kids.

One of the best predictors of success at school, is whether your child makes a friend in the first month. Friendship plays an important role in the development of your child’s personal competence, identity, and can have long-term positive effects of how they interact with others, have respect for others, and have respect for themselves. Through friends they practice social support, social skills, learn how to empathize, and how to deal with conflict resolution.

Friendship groups can become intense social hubs, develop- ing a willingness to share and cooperate. Children learn social norms and can use friendships to challenge the boundaries of social norms. Friendships can lead to greater productivity in tasks and activities.

They are gender differences in patterns of friendship. Boys tend to have more interactions that are activity-based (such as sport) and to interact with multiple participants on social media. Girls are inclined to be more exclusive in their friendships, more likely to base them on intimacy and disclosure of personal thoughts and feelings, and more likely to interact in pairs or small groups of friends. For boys, friendship change can be often related to changes in the membership of these group activities, and for girls, change can happen when they perceive a violation of friendship norms. The message is to work hard to make your child’s friendship groups as diverse as possible to ensure that the pool of friends is not just ‘like them’; this is a good practice in teaching your child to welcome difference and diversity.

Friendships can be unstable until adolescence, and we have already seen the power friends have in enhancing reputation for adolescents (Chapter 4). In adolescence, about 50% to 80% of friendships remain intact more than a year, and increase in length until they leave high school.

The parent’s task is to encourage your child to talk about their friends, encourage them to invite friends for home play, consider extra-curricular activities to widen friendship groups, discuss what are and what are not secret messages (such messages can lead to bul- lying), encourage many friends (friendship at younger ages can be fickle, but losing best friends when older can be traumatic and often not discussed with parents). During adolescence, knowing your teen’s friends is among the more insightful ways to know your child. They do not, typically, want you to interact with their friends but this should not stop knowing them.

Homework is a subject that raises temperatures as parents struggle to find ways to ensure they (a) know there is homework, and (b) the child completes the homework. The effects of homework on achievement in elementary school are close to zero, but increases in high school. The reasons for this difference are important – too much homework in elementary school involves children at home learning new ideas whereas in high school it is more about the practice of something already taught at school. If your child cannot do the homework, the worst thing is to do it for them or to make them do it when they do not know how. It is better to communicate to the teacher that your child does not know how to do the homework. Remember, homework is school work done at home, so if it is not working at home, invite the teacher to deal with the issues. It would be wonderful if all homework was a chance to practice what has been already taught, and if only teachers realized the importance of such practice. The worst form of homework is a project – as it so often requires knowledge not yet taught at school and thus depends on parents to provide this project information.

Professor John Hattie is a renowned researcher in education. His research interests include performance indicators, models of measurement and evaluation of teaching and learning. 

Kyle Hattie is a Year 6 Teacher working in a Primary School in the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. Over his 10-year career, he has taught at many year levels, from Prep to Year 6 in both Australia and New Zealand. 

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