Archive | June, 2012

Dad – an important co-creator of academic success

17 Jun

Researchers at Brigham Young University[1] have found how dads are in a unique position to help their adolescent children develop persistence, which is seen as one factor for academic success. I am not surprised – tapping into dads’ (or another significant adult’s) life experience helps children to understand how the real world works. Persistence also relates to the “growth mindset”[2] which is Carol Dweck’s concept of becoming successful with hard work, instead of solely relying on basic qualities of being talented.

In their study researchers viewed persistence as a teachable trait, and explained how father’s involvement in good quality interactions increased the academic success:

The key is for dads to practice what’s called “authoritative” parenting – not to be confused with authoritarian. Here are the three basic ingredients:

  • Children feel warmth and love from their father
  • Accountability and the reasons behind rules are emphasized
  • Children are granted an appropriate level of autonomy

Authoritative parenting and teaching employ the very best strategies which, of course, from my point of view look very similar to the 3Cs: co-operation in the form of acceptance (warmth and love), cognitive learning tools in emphasizing reasons and accountability, and constructive upbringing – or teaching- in trusting children with age appropriate level of autonomy.

There are many other studies showing how authoritative parenting style significantly predicts academic performance, while no relations can be found for permissive or authoritarian styles (Turner, Chandler et al 2009)[3]. In teaching profession we don’t usually speak about authoritative, permissive or authoritarian teaching styles – but maybe we should?

Children, whose dads employ the “basic ingredients” of authoritative parenting, become more successful in their learning. In the same way students, who are treated at school with co-operative, cognitive and constructive principles, are more likely to grow to become respectful, accountable and determined adults.

What happens to learning when school year ends?

10 Jun

In an ideal situation?  Nothing – learning goes on because students are curious about their physical and social environment and want to keep on interacting with it.  Of course we don’t call it formally “learning” when they are exploring the shores, forests, parks, malls or streets of their hometown or holiday destination.  We call it free time or vacation. Yet, if your students have learned how appropriate and important the question Why? is, they will make the most of their free time as well and keep on learning while wondering and reflecting upon the things they notice. (Please, read more about Why? in this excellent post:

In a less than ideal situation students refuse to wonder or ask questions about anything.  These students are so fed up with school that they try to avoid all learning activities at any cost when they get out of school. Why does education do that?! How does education do that? John Holt (American author and educator had fairly strong ideas about how this disconnect happens:

“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”  — John Holt

Killing the intrinsic curiosity children are born with is the worst side effect of an educational system.  This is no news, scientists and educators have known that for decades. Learning starts from wondering.  Science is all about wondering, and asking questions why and how.  As long as you know how to wonder, you are also learning as you go.

“Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.”  — Carl Sagan

We adults as parents and teachers can prevent the worst from happening by communicating the expectations of education with our students, and also verbalizing how learning does not only happen in school. Every child knows that games have rules, and that the rules must be obeyed so that everybody can play. So, instead of automatically trying to instill into students the idea of school being for fun, we probably should have a very honest talk with kids, and explain how school may not be fun – but how learning certainly is – and help them to understand the difference between learning and  going to school. Learning is what you do for yourself. Graduating is what you do for the society/culture as a part of the game of life.

Detaching learning from going to school and restoring the intrinsic curiosity by encouraging the question Why? is the first step on building autonomy as a learner. This also helps children to take a personal approach to their learning, and also assume more responsibility over it.

The question for you as a parent or teacher is: Do you want your student to be tricked into learning involuntarily (or because of the extrinsic rewards), or do you want them to choose  learning as their own choice?