30 Nov 2017

Strategies to help kids learn

From Nine To Noon, 11:24 am on 30 November 2017

Speech and language therapist Christian Wright discussed how stress impacts children's learning a couple of months ago. He's back to talk about some concrete strategies that help.

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Photo: supplied

The learning process can be understood as a Venn diagram comprised of three circles – learning ability, thoughts and feelings about learning and motivation to learn, Wright says.

For children who struggle to learn, the second circle – their emotional response – tends to run the show.

Many of these kids are quick to feel bad and exit the process, he says.

"They go 'I can't do this, I suck at this, I'm terrible at it'.

"They've actually come to an agreement in their mind – I don't write or I don't read or I can't talk properly.'

So what can parents do?

Help your child believe and understand that we all get smarter by failing, Wright says.

He explains this upfront to the children he works with: "I'm going to help you to do a whole bunch of getting it wrong so that you can get it right – and that's okay."

The process is the same for children and adults and equally applicable in the classroom and on the sports field, he says.

Recently, Wright learnt to play cricket for the first time in his life because his son wanted to take it up.

"He's arrived at cricket at the age of 11. Everyone else has been playing for 4 or 5 years. He has the potential to fail and feel pretty bad about himself."

Wright used the following strategies to encourage his son:

  • Notice the little

His son learnt within a week to put on his cricket pads – he noticed and praised him.

  • Strike a balance between what they can and cannot do (aka the zone of proximal development)

Wright was told a drive would be a helpful shot for his son to learn.

Although his son can't yet hit the ball, he's been a dancer all his life so has good form, Wright says.

"We took what he can do – form good shapes – and connected it to what he can't yet do – strike the ball.

"Structure the learning so there's lots of success."

  • Apply the 90/ 10 rule

To maximise the ability of a child who struggles to learn, they should already know 90 percent of what you present to them.

  • Praise effort over accuracy

When Wright's son misses the ball, he praises his style.

"I often will say things like 'I don't even care if you hit the ball. I just want to see you've got good technique. Hitting the ball will come'."

  • Praise more than correct

Wright uses an 8-to-1 praise to correction ratio.

  • 'Fake it so they make it'

Wright sometimes pretends to do "the worst shot ever", then talk to his son in neurology terms, i.e. "It's okay for me to make mistakes because I'm working towards forming a bridge that will mean I can do this."

He'll then ask his son to talk him through hitting the ball.

"As far as he's concerned I've just positioned him as the teacher. And what he's learning is I've just made a mistake so I'm vulnerable. And when I'm vulnerable, I'm fallible – and that makes me relatable."

If a child sees you make mistakes they'll sense it's also okay for them to make them and see you as less of a threat, Wright says.

Building a relationship which includes 'learning together' will shift a child's learning experience more than content can.

Don't meet the child's expectations that those in positions of power will always tell them they're wrong, he says. 

Instead, show them a more 'real-world' perspective of 'Everyone makes mistakes, no-one has it all together'.