The key way to help your child attain academic excellence is by tweaking your approach to communicating with and guiding them.
Helping your children with their schoolwork throughout the distance learning periods of 2020 was an unprecedented challenge for most. But as a teacher, it was clear to me and my colleagues that your adaptability in becoming co-educators for your kids marked last year with a glimmer of positivity for the future.
While it may not currently feel like it was successful, I’m certain that this is how history will look back on the momentous year: A year in which parents and carers set up powerful connections with their children's schools and education.
Now that we have enjoyed a long and well-deserved summer break in the lead-up to what will (hopefully) be an uninterrupted school year, let’s take a moment to reflect on what has changed:
- You would have gained a far greater understanding of how your children learn, whether or not you felt they achieved under your guidance at home
- You now have more insight into twenty-first century teaching and learning approaches than any generation of parents before
- You would have created meaningful family relationship-building opportunities that would have dwarfed that of prior years, and these moments create the kinds of memories that will stay with your children.
As an educator who advocated for a tighter home-school connection prior to the pandemic, it is thrilling to see signs of schools rethinking how they can better include parents in their children's educational journeys in the 2021 school year.
The key way that you can continue on with your 2020 efforts is by tweaking your approach to communicating with and guiding your children in ways that educational research has established as best practice. This way, you can be confident that your child will receive a consistent message at home and at school, which is essential for learning growth. It's also a great formula to help your child achieve academic excellence.
3 ways to ensure your child achieves academic excellence
The great news is the following concepts can easily be put into place with a subtle shift in mindset. And because children are so adaptable, they will respond to your adjustments far quicker than you may expect.
1. Encourage your child to answer their own questions
It is far more desirable to respond to your curious child’s continual questioning than to ignore or dismiss them altogether. But always responding with detailed adult descriptions can get them too used to the idea that new knowledge is something to be received not discovered. Not to mention it will surely drive you mad after the thousandth “but why”!
Quality teachers know that new understanding is developed with a combination of explicit instruction (telling them), experiential learning (observing and trying things out) and social dialogue. Try asking your child if they might know the answer to their own question. You can help them get there by wondering aloud to encourage deep thought or by helping link it to a prior experience.
For example: “Good question . . . do you have any ideas why there are tiny flowers on this tree? Remember what we saw on the tree earlier in the year?”
2. Emphasise conceptual understanding over facts and procedures
Teachers of past generations who followed the outdated “empty vessel” approach often relied on loading up their students’ minds with facts and procedures (“do this, then that”). So it’s no surprise that many parents who learned under this model dedicate time to helping their children master word lists or teach them “short cuts” to solving maths problems.
Teaching in this way promotes a reliance on memory and may devalue authentic learning.
Quality teachers focus on supporting students’ capacity to understand and verbalise their ideas, so that they can develop essential higher-order skills like making connections and applying knowledge to new situations. Automatic recall of important facts and using procedures is important too, but only if the underlying concepts are fully understood.
To aid recall of new skills, always ask your child to reflect on what they did or read by explaining it to you or a sibling.
3. Celebrate “boring” day-to-day learning over milestones
Milestones (like first steps or eating independently) make for wonderful achievements when your baby develops into a toddler, so placing a focus on them as your child enters formal schooling feels like a natural extension. But giving more attention to milestones such as reading level attainment over less glamorous day-to-day learning creates artificial pressure. This is because normal learning growth is actually very unpredictable and inconsistent.
Quality teachers know that some kids will go on extended bursts of development and progress followed by plateaus and even dips where they can temporarily struggle to absorb new concepts. The milestones of achievement level that parents are accustomed to focusing on at reporting time don’t often account for these nuances.
Instead we can help our children thrive as learners by instilling in them that the journey is the important part, and that some skills develop slowly over many years. Also, don’t forget to celebrate the occasional minor success at a random moment, which will be just as delightful for your child as receiving a small present “just because”.
Empower yourself to make a difference for your child
You were absolutely thrown in the deep end with minimal preparation time when distance learning began last year, so a tinge of guilt for not already having supported your child in the above ways during distance learning is completely understandable. Prior to this, opportunities for parents to learn how quality teaching works were hard to come by.
But realise that you—when working in partnership with your children's school—are the best person to support the way your children learn and develop. You’ve spent thousands of hours learning with them, you know what engages or triggers them, and you’ve recently enjoyed an insider’s glimpse into a teacher’s world. It would be such an unfortunate waste to slip back to the old split-world perspective where “the teachers teach and the parents parent".
So rather than feel that your child missed out on a lot last year, or that you may have mistakenly answered too many questions, emphasised facts, procedures over everyday conceptual understanding, or paid too much attention to milestones, I encourage you to instead mark 2020 as the moment you took steps toward becoming an empowered and proactive learner yourself.
Adopting this mindset will allow you to set a strong example for your own young learners, and allow you to feel much more aligned with the way your school is operating. Leading your child with an easy confidence while ensuring consistency is key.
And remember, you don’t need to be an expert. All that’s needed is a belief that you can have an enormous impact on how your children learn and grow.
For related webinars and to download the free ebook, 7 Powerful Ways to Support Your Child's Learning in a Post-COVID World, go to https://www.edmentor.com.au/