How to Grow a Lifelong Learner
When we talk about what K-12 education is supposed to accomplish, we tend to center the conversation almost exclusively around two issues: College admission and job readiness.
There’s no doubt that both are very important education outcomes that should be among the goals of a top-tier K-12 experience. But, in our eagerness to make sure that all young people are ready to successfully apply for college or employment, we often lose sight of the fact that a child’s education is supposed to further the development of other characteristics that indicate a well-rounded adult, such as:
The ability to envision and pursue goals,
The ability to collaborate and cooperate with others,
And, the ability to cope with loss and setbacks.
At the school I lead, we understand that adults who possess these highly desirable assets tend to have one more shared trait: they never stop learning, even when they’ve long since taken their last exam or written their last paper. That’s why we work daily to create an education experience that celebrates the joy of learning, instead of one that simply focuses on getting assignments and tests ticked off a checklist.
As a parent, I also work to inspire a habit of lifelong learning with my own child, and you can, too. The first step is to place your child in a school setting that offers challenge, stimulation and instructors that are passionate about helping kids learn. The next step is to re-think some of your ongoing interactions with your child and consider how you might shake things up in a way that makes learning a central part of family life. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Foster a sense of curiosity.
Do you ever talk to your child about your family tree, the origins of your city’s name, why you chose your career, life before computers, or what he/she likes most about their favorite band?
If the answer is “not really”, you’re in good company with most busy parents. But, you’re also missing out on some golden opportunities to encourage the habit of examination—which, along with its first cousin curiosity, is a common characteristic of people who are lifelong learners. Try a few interesting conversational prompts this month and see what happens– you may be surprised at how much you end up learning yourself!
Connect the dots.
Even high-performing students need a little help understanding the relationship of the subjects they study to each other, or the relevance of a particular subject in “real life”.
So, instead of just asking if your child’s finished with an assignment covering “The Hunger Games”, talk to your child about how the dystopian elements of Katniss and Peeta’s world is reflected in ours. Instead of ignoring your child’s constant grumbling that “algebra is useless” (tempting though that option is), you can talk about how you use logic and problem-solving in your career, or in the management of the household.
Remind your child that it isn’t all about grades.
Boy, is this ever a tricky topic. Students – and more than a few parents– will likely roll their eyes at the notion of a teacher or anyone else suggesting that grades aren’t the end all, be all. And the fact is that no one can deny that grades matter. If they didn’t, teachers wouldn’t assign them, nor would they be used as criteria for things like scholarships and college admission.
But, don’t forget that grades aren’t just about deciding who goes to the best colleges, they’re assessments of the extent to which students have mastered subject matter. Whether kids make good grades or bad, we tend to respond with praise or admonishment and leave it at that— and doing so keeps the focus on performance, not learning.
The next time your child brings you a test or a report card to sign, try something along these lines: “I’m so proud of you for getting an ‘A’! I’m also curious to know what you learned on this project and how you’ll use that knowledge down the road. Let’s talk about it tonight.” Or: “I’m concerned that you only got a 72 on this test. Not just because that’s close to failing, but because I’m worried you aren’t learning enough. Let’s sit down and see if we can figure out what concepts you’re having trouble with.”
Weave learning into your family routines.
As a busy parent, I know that too often my engagements with my kids tend to be heavily transactional, rather than interactional (or even better, inspirational). In other words, we find ourselves trapped in the routine of getting lunches packed, people off to school and jobs, kids off to soccer practice, homework finished and household chores. But take heart – with a little creativity, you can stem the all-about-transactions tide by looking for opportunities to weave learning moments into your family’s regular programming. Here are a few ideas:
Educational cooking: Ask your kids to research a few dinner recipes they would like you to make (or that they’d like to make themselves). Give them a budget and a challenge to acquire all of the items without going a dime over the limit on your next grocery trip.
Plan a virtual vacation. Fill the time spent together in cars or at the dinner table planning a fantasy vacation somewhere fabulous. Ask your child to research transportation, lodging and things-to-do options and report back a few big ideas to discuss over the next meal or on the way back from ball practice. Or better yet, if you are planning a few days away, set a budget and have all members of the family create a presentation on where you should go and see who wins.
Re-frame the way you discuss your child’s aspirations.
Parents and kids tend to talk about subjects like college and career choices in the context of the requirements necessary to gain admission. Those are important conversations, but it’s also equally important to discuss the experiential aspects of your child’s dreams and ambitions.
If he/she wants to be a doctor, for example, you might facilitate some conversations about the qualities that a good doctor possesses, or help your child line up an “informational interview” with a working doctor who can speak candidly about his/her own experiences and insights. If your child wants to be a professional dancer, you can enlarge the conversation beyond the usual topics of talent and drive and also discuss the business and health management aspects of a dancer’s career, the types of jobs your child aspires to, and so forth.
This type of expanded dialogue encourages your child to engage in critical thinking and objective analysis, all centered around a real-life topic of personal interest. The next thing you know—you’ll have a lifelong learner on your hands!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Kaye Rogers received her Ph.D. in Educational Administration with a minor in Statistics from the University of North Texas. She earned her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Tarleton State University. A life-long Texan, she has taught math and science in public schools and also in Spain. She has worked in public education for over 18 years where she is committed to innovation and choice for families. She has opened three choice schools and is currently the Director of Virtual Learning at Grapevine-Colleyville ISD where she oversees their state-wide virtual school and blended schools program.
Learn more about iUniversity Prep and see if online learning is right for your child. Check us out at www.iuniversityprep.org or give us a call at 817-305-4895.
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