There are several important reason why parents cannot just sit back and expect teachers to do the job of training children in the all-important skills that lead to school success.
A great deal of research has been done about learning styles (strengths and weaknesses). Researchers know much more than they did even 10 years ago about the relative effectiveness of different teaching styles. We now know, in theory, how to help every child to achieve his potential! But it can take a long time for research findings to become a reality in the classroom.
Teachers are exposed to new teaching methods mostly through in-service training. This is often delivered by lecturers who have not had recent experience of the harsh realities of the classroom. Without intending to, these lecturers may paint an unrealistically rosy picture of the school system, implying that new strategies will be easy to put into practice.
The initial response of teachers to hearing about new strategies may be enthusiasm and excitement. But this can quickly sour because they are often expected to implement new ideas based only on a one-day course, and without effective, consistent support from their senior leadership team. Because of this, many useful strategies fall by the wayside, and teachers often end up feeling disillusioned.
Even when teachers do understand what a particular child needs in order to fulfil his potential, schools may not be able to provide what is needed, due to a shortage of funding.
For example, in almost every classroom there will be a few children who need a very different kind of learning environment. They need individualised, skilled instruction and very quiet, purposeful, calm surroundings.
These children may be too distractible, too self-conscious or too easily upset to stay focused on their work in a busy, noisy classroom.
Even children with an acknowledged, assessed learning disability and an official statement of special educational needs are likely to be receiving only a small fraction of what they would need in order to really achieve what they are capable of achieving.
Any child who is experiencing difficulties will learn more successfully and will feel more confident (and as a consequence will also behave more maturely) when he is given plenty of time to master a topic or skill before being expected to move on to the next level of difficulty.
A great deal of schoolwork is sequential. Each new skill or topic is most easily learned and remembered when it is sitting on a solid foundation of previously mastered skills and information. When a child has not mastered certain basic skills and facts, any subsequent learning will be like building on sand. The structure is bound to be shaky.
But in the classroom more time is often not available to the child who needs it. It is easy to understand why teachers move the whole class on as soon as the majority of the children have shown that they are ready. The needs of the majority who are coping and learning seem to outweigh the needs of the few who are struggling. But the inescapable fact is that in every class there will be some children who need lessons that progress at a much slower pace and that include much more repetition and more hands-on, active participation at each stage of learning.
A national policy of differentiation attempts to ensure that all children are always working at the level that is just right for them. Differentiation means adjusting the work so that each child can learn. Schoolwork and homework can be differentiated in numerous ways – by level, by the amount a child is expected to do, by the time allowed, or by how the work is presented.
Effective differentiation is often not easy to implement. It can take a lot of the teacher’s time and requires good organization. The support available to recognized differentiation effectively varies from school to school.
Differentiation solves some problems, but, like most solutions, it often creates a new set of problems. Some children feel embarrassed and demoralized when given obviously easier work. And sadly, even with conscientious differentiation, significant minorities of children are still left behind, not quite understanding, not quite remembering, and definitely not fulfilling their potential. Over time the gap in attainment among children in the same year continues to widen.
No teacher, no matter how gifted or dedicated, will ever care about a particular child’s success as much as the parents of that child will. Most schools accept that in any given classroom most children will perform adequately, a few children will excel, and a few children will continually struggle with learning.
A child who rarely experiences success will, over time, lose confidence and enthusiasm. He may begin to think of himself as a failure and a disappointment. Eventually he may even give up trying. So it is not at all surprising that these same children continue to scrape along the bottom, just getting by, year after year. No parents are happy for their child to be among the group of children who continue to feel unsuccessful.
Teachers may have a one-sided view of a child who is experiencing problems at school. They are not able to see all the areas, outside of school, where this child functions adequately continually struggles with school learning may conclude that the child is in fact achieving his potential, but that unfortunately his potential is quite low.
Living with their child and seeing him in many different situations, parents are in a much better position to see his true potential. They are also in an ideal position to guide their child to do his best and be his best. These children need what schools often cannot provide:
- More individual instruction from an adult who understands about learning differences
- More time to take in and absorb the information they need to learn
- More frequent feedback, especially feedback about what they are doing right, so that they can build on their strengths
- More practice (including practice at evaluating their own work)
- A calmer, quieter, more orderly learning environment
The solution is not to waste time complaining or blaming the school, but to take charge and provide at home what your child needs but may not be getting from school.
We will discuss this more and how we as a parent can take charge of our children’s education and help our children excel at their learning on next article….
Further Reference: Calmer Easier Happier Homework By Noel Janis-Norton, 2011