How to Support your Child’s Learning – Even When They’re Teenagers!
As parents, we all want our children to learn effectively – and to enjoy learning. The ability to learn is a more important and fundamental consideration than specific exams such as school entrance exams, external exam results and even a university degree, because it is a lifelong asset. As it doesn’t come naturally to every child, how can we help them work out how they learn best and how to improve their learning ability? Although there is sometimes also a need for professional support, parents can be crucial in this process, and provide vital input and support.
OUR AMAZING BRAINS
To help your child learn, it is useful to know what is happening in the brain during learning. The brain has an incredible ability to adapt and change through practice and the environment it is exposed to – this is called neuroplasticity. It means that the brain develops over time, whether to learn a skill such as dancing, or to develop academic performance.
Extended practice and experience effects change to the brain, and the brain can be adapted through training, so good study habits such as repetition and practice train the brain so that it develops and learns effectively. It’s no coincidence that we always recommend lots of practice papers to develop automaticity in the run-up to any exams!
Psychological strategies can be applied to academic learning: using both motivational and instructional self-talk, using visualisation, controlling irrational thoughts and learning to accept and learn from mistakes. We can help students learn more effectively by helping them get into the ideal positive frame of mind. Encouraging self-reflection helps them to identify what they have learnt from their experience of previous exams, assignments and presentations and how that can be applied to their ongoing work.
STUDY METHODS THAT WORK
It’s quite rare for students to be able to approach their studies with a clear understanding of how their individual brain best absorbs and retains information. Revision skills are rarely taught effectively in schools and part of the problem is that it is such an individual thing. 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.
Another issue is the ubiquitous method of note taking by copying out information to learn by rote. This merely allows regurgitation of facts rather than an understanding and ability to explain the subject. Mistaking recognition for 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 know something but can’t get it down on paper in the allotted time, you may as well not know it.
A good way to help your child develop this knowledge is to teach them how to take notes in a meaningful way that makes sense to them as an individual. Ask them questions about how they remember things, what has worked in the past and whether they benefit from the use of colour, sound or 3-D representations. They need to work in a way that ensures understanding along every step of the way, building strong mental associations that can’t be easily forgotten. They need to use a method that is not only geared towards absorbing, understanding and memorising, but also trains them in the skill of proving it, by being able to answer questions. We can of course help you with this.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Motivation, a growth mindset and practice bring results. Encourage your child to be curious about everything around them from a young age; build on that curiosity as they get older, and their areas of study broaden and deepen. Help them to believe that if they work hard, they can achieve good results – this can be very powerful! Encourage them to do many practice papers until they don’t even have to think about how to approach the paper and they instinctively evaluate the range of questions before beginning to answer them in the most effective order and manner.
NEVER TOO LATE
It’s important to note that it’s never too late to enlist help with learning and study skills. It’s not unusual for GCSE and A Level students – and even undergraduates – to come to us for support with building effective study and revision skills to improve their learning techniques. We can arrange a short-term block of sessions with an experienced tutor who knows how to evaluate a child’s learning style and recommend learning methods to suit them. As students move through the school years, they need to develop their learning skills alongside the increasing complexity of the work they are covering, so it’s good idea to check that their learning style and skills are keeping pace with the level at which they are studying.
The impact of COVID and enforced home learning during successive Lockdowns has been to throw light on many students’ difficulties with independent learning. We have seen this with students of all ages and parents have been asking us to undertake some troubleshooting. Where there are learning gaps in missed curriculum content, targeted tutoring can fill the knowledge gaps, but we can also help improve learning skills through careful one-to-one work.
ASSESSING POTENTIAL AND TROUBLESHOOTING
For younger students, our academic assessments give an insight into how the child learns, as well as measuring a baseline level of intelligence. We can use the assessment to see what can be achieved given the right home conditions, teaching input and commitment to hard work and we make recommendations on how to improve their learning ability. Our assessments also help to guide future school choices. They identify a child’s potential to thrive in different types of school, with their varying pedagogies and attitudes to achievement. Once again, this is where parental involvement and care are required, to ensure that the choices made best suit the individual child and that school ambitions don’t out-strip their abilities.
HOW IMPORTANT ARE PARENTS?
Parents who actively support learning in the home have an important role to play in developing their children’s learning ability. Our experience tells us that parental involvement is significant in fostering a child’s love of learning and ultimately in helping children perform to the best of their academic ability. It can really make the difference between under-performance and success, even if much of a child’s learning is self-directed and driven by their own natural curiosity. Parents, other adults and other children can all play an important part in the development of learning, as well as other factors such as books, television and the internet.
You know your child best, and you can also help them learn by encouraging a growth mindset and building their resilience so that when mistakes and failures occur, they can learn from them and move on. You can be their support system, their cheerleader, their advisor – and maybe even their task master, when motivation is lacking. As you will now realise, there are myriad ways in which you can help your child to learn!