3 Things to Look Out For to Help Kids Understand How They Learn!
I played baseball for over 16 years, mostly as a catcher. Throughout my playing career, I was often successful because I was able to quickly recognize my strengths and, more importantly, my weaknesses. For example, I may not have been able to hit a home run, but I knew how to get on a base. A high level of self-awareness as an athlete allowed me to get the most out of my limited athleticism.
As a student, however, I wasn’t quite so lucky. It wasn’t until I was finishing teacher’s college that I learned how I learn. My memory for information that I heard or read was weak, but if I wrote it down, I could process ideas quickly. Finally, I realized that a picture or diagram of a big idea really helped me understand the information being presented. I wish I had known this about myself earlier, which is why this is part of my mission now.
As a teacher and as Senior Division Vice Principal at Bialik, I have made it my objective to help our students understand the blueprints of their own brains. Learning four languages and taking thirteen subjects can be challenging. It becomes even more challenging when a child is unaware of how their own brain works. It can be truly liberating for a struggling student to understand why something might be difficult for them. Do they require a few more seconds to understand something due to slow processing speed? Is a student relatively strong visually, but finds oral comprehension to be difficult? These are the questions that our teachers are helping our students to ask themselves, so that they can better understand the way they learn and therefore be better learners.
So how can we start to recognize these challenges, both as parents and educators? Well, we can start with the list below. Here are some common challenges that students face, some questions to ask your child and possible solutions!
- “The teacher moves too quickly”
Bialik’s dual-language curriculum often means that the learning pace is high, and students with lower processing speeds can find this frustrating and tiring. If your child finds things moving too quickly, encourage them to ask for class texts and material in advance for pre-reading or watch a YouTube or Khan Academy video of the content a day earlier. This initial exposure to the content will allow for their brains to have additional context for the learning that takes place in the classroom, making it easier to make connections between existing and new knowledge. Essentially, we learn things that we know a little bit about more easily than things that are brand new.
- “I can’t seem to remember anything”
Memory plays a significant role in almost every type of task students take on. What many students don’t recognize is that memory can be broken down into different inputs, specifically auditory memory and visual memory. If a child feels that they’re having difficulty remembering something they’ve learned, help them convert their learning to a different type of input. For example, students with strong auditory memories can use conversations to help move information into their long-term memory. Don’t have a study buddy? Children can use a recording device to record the verbalization of their understanding and play it back to themselves. Children with strong visual memories can create images and diagrams of what they’ve learned. This will allow them to visualize their learning when they need to recall information later on.
- “I don’t know where to start”
Executive function (EF) skills are a set of higher-order thinking skills that allow us to complete complex multi-step tasks. Children with weak EF skills can find it difficult to know where to begin. I highly recommend checking out Peg Dawson and Richard Guare’s book, Smart but Scattered, which outlines a number of easy-to-implement strategies to support the development of children’s EF skills. Dawson & Guare recommend that children with difficulties initiating tasks can co-create a visual to-do list with their parents in order to establish a routine for getting started. For example, a laminated checklist of each step required to get started on homework (take out your binder, find a pencil, make a list of homework to be completed that evening, etc.) will provide a child with the first few steps. They can also check off each step as they progress through it, adding a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
A great coach puts their players in the best position to succeed, and our teaching team, in partnership with our families, aims to do the same. By helping students understand the way they learn best, they can develop the autonomy and confidence they need to navigate any kind of academic challenge. The three areas described above are just some of the cognitive skills that impact the way we learn.
A question as simple as, “What did you find challenging at school today?” can lead to terrific conversations about the best way that your child learns at school. It is this partnership between school and home that will help students recognize their learning skills and styles and find greater success!