Most of us with children have no doubt looked at their work and realised that far more of what is taught is done so from a problem-solving point of view than when we were at school. And yet too often we (parents and teachers alike) still insist on getting straight to the answer.
Now, of course a correct answer is important, but if this is the only focus then the danger is that the concept or process may not be understood well enough to be placed in the long-term memory box and so it might very well be forgotten. This means that when it comes to revisiting the same topic the following year at a harder level, the child has to start from scratch all over again.
Many modern classrooms use an open plan, incorporate student-driven learning or use different buzzwords for new ideas, but essentially the goal is to get students engaged in their learning instead of just being sponges. This might all seem great, until it comes to trying to support this style of learning at home. How can we help as parents? It’s actually not as hard as you might think.
If you are reading a book or discussing a topic, try asking your child how it would seem from a different point of view. Talking about how one of the minor characters might feel will involve some thinking and judgement. For older students, rewriting the story from a different viewpoint is an exercise that does not need too much storyline planning and yet requires the student to demonstrate an understanding of the motivation and personalities of the characters.
If your child is reading a book, at the end of a chapter ask them what they think might happen next and why. This will demonstrate whether they have understood the events that have taken place so far. You can do the same thing when talking about general topics, too. Focussing on cause and effect rather than just the outcome helps foster deeper thinking and understanding. To mix things up a little, you might then ask, “What do you think might happen if … had happened differently?
Ask what your child liked best about an activity. Which character did they like most in the story? What was their favourite part of the movie? You can even ask them about why they like doing whatever it is they enjoy in their free time. This engages your child and may even open a channel for building a closer relationship. You may be surprised at some of the responses you get!
Thinking about engaged learning and putting it into place takes time but it doesn’t have to involve any fancy catchphrases. In much the same way as we understand that getting to know what makes your child ‘tick’ helps with general parenting, finding out how they process information and asking questions about this can enable you to foster a healthy mindset when it comes to learning.