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How should I help my child to learn?

We’ve all been taught to sit in a classroom and passively acquire teachings from a teacher. However very few of us ever actively learn to be learners.

How often do you hear of a student who can self-motivate, organise themselves, schedule their days and approach their studies with an understanding of how their individual brain best absorbs and retains information? If they’re lucky, through trial and error, they might have found an effective study method by their second or third year of university. Or, they just won’t.

There are many obstacles in the way of a student finding revision methods that work, not least because it just isn’t something that schools teach. At best, they get a hand-me-down, one-size-fits-all method of mindlessly copying from books and re-reading notes.

What students need most when acquiring help with their studies, is a sensitivity to how they tick as an individual. Each human brain varies from the next, and yet this obvious point is easily forgotten when trying to help those brains learn. It’s not just the student who suffers. Exam periods can be the most stressful times for parents who, despite knowing their child better than anyone else, can feel helpless in advising them.

The facts are that the most popular method of revision is also the least effective. Copying out large chunks of information from an A4 page of textbook, word-for-word, straight onto a little flashcard is so common, and yet it doesn’t achieve much more than practising the pointless art of tiny handwriting. It’s the way that most students revise, without realising that it’s the least helpful method, wasting time, energy and paper. Regurgitation. Copying information parrot-fashion. Learning simply ‘by rote’. Students usually inherit these approaches without ever being offered an alternative. Copying paragraphs of jargon will effectively help you recognise the stuff if you ever see it again, but it doesn’t make it stick.

Methods like these fool students into a false sense of competence, which only serves to demoralise and drain confidence once exams come along. This is where bright kids start to develop the delusion that they are not ‘academic’. It comes from confusing recognition of information, with the ability to retrieve it. Any student who has ever said the phrase, “ah, yeah, I totally get it!” and then falls flat on their face when trying to explain it, knows this only too well. Mistaking recognition with retrieval is where most students go wrong when preparing for exams and, in a nutshell, a student needs to realise that exams do not test you on your knowledge; they test you on your ability to communicate your knowledge. As far as an examiner is concerned, if you think you know it but can’t get it down on paper, you may as well not know it.

A good way to help your child develop this knowledge is to teach them how to note-take in a meaningful way that ensures understanding along every step of the way; building strong mental associations that can’t be easily forgotten. A method that is not only geared towards absorbing, understanding and memorising, but also trains you in the skill of proving it.

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