WORDS: John and Kyle Hattie, Authors of 10 Steps to Develop Great Learners
The greatest non-school factor is the parent’s passion, ways of evaluative thinking, expectations, and what it means to learn. Of course, the same applies to the child – even more important than the parent and teacher is your child’s expectations about their learning, their skills to monitor their progress in learning, their willingness to invest and be motivated to learn, and their breadth of learning strategies (and at least have an alternative strategy to learn when the first did not work).
Mind frames for learning
The central message from teachers, parents, and children is that it is more how we think about what we do, than what we do. In a class, for example, give any two teachers a script of a lesson, and a high compared to low impact teacher will make different moment-by-moment decisions, take the lesson in directions to optimise the impact on students, and the high impact teacher will have more appropriate challenges for students in the class. Same with parents. We have termed these ways of thinking, Mind Frames.
Focusing on these ways of thinking is more powerful than offering the best ways to discipline, the right ways to bring up children, and tips and tricks to work closely with your child.
Parents are NOT first teachers, as this falsely implies it is simply teaching or telling your child what and how to do things. As well, it confuses the role with that of school teachers. We all saw during COVID at-home learning that we did not have the teacher’s skills of motivating, engaging, setting tasks that were not too hard, not too easy, or not too boring, and providing optimal feedback. We saw our children struggling, not necessarily knowing what to do, and forgot that these are skills that teachers develop. If your child keeps getting 100%, then the work is too easy; it is a delicate balance to teach them to deal with not knowing, struggle, and seeking help.
Parents as first learners
Instead, parents are first learners. They need to be models of being open to learning, talking the language of learning, and instilling the skills and thrills of learning with their children. We need to model how we react to error, not knowing, and struggle. We need to model the joys of discovery, the AHA moment, and the willingness to solve a problem even when the going gets tough. We can leave it to teachers to teach the school work, to develop skills of learning school work, but of course, the boundaries are blurred. As you will see, we expect much from teachers and will show how parents can complement making your child a great learner.
Some of the mind frames for parents are:
- I have appropriately high expectations
- I make reasonable demands and am highly responsive to my child
- I develop my child’s skill, will, and sense of thrill
- I love learning
- I know the power of feedback and success thrives on errors
- I expose my child to language, language, language
- I appreciate that my child is not perfect and nor am I
- I am an evaluator of my impact.
To become a first learner, parents need to have a balance of high expectations and encouragement, the power of listening, teach their children various coping strategies to stress (and focus less on the stress), understand why teenagers want to be with their friends more than with their parents, realise the role of play in learning (not as powerful as many have claimed), the diluting effects of praise, be informed when choosing a pre- and a school, become an open to learning parents, and know when and how to teach your child to say no and engage in the dignity of risk and making errors.
The nature of learning
One way to illustrate the nature of learning is by asking why many computer games are so attractive to our children. First, the developers know how to make the goals of the game very transparent (the aim is to get to the next level), whereas too often we focus on ensuring the child receives all the steps correct without necessarily knowing what success looks like (e.g., clean your room instead of when cleaning your room the floor should be clear, the clothes all put away, and the bed made). Second, they know to provide immediate feedback with no sense of affect (you are not a bad person if you fail, it is ok to fail many times as I will still provide feedback). Third, they know that the aim is to engage in even more challenging learning (moving to the next more difficult level) and not be rewarded when you reach the next target.
Yes, we all make errors and do not know everything when we approach a new task. However, how parents react to their child’s and their own errors profoundly impacts children’s learning.
For example, there is an excellent study comparing parents of 3-year-olds who intervene to correct mistakes in their playing and parents who encourage their children to see errors as opportunities (e.g., parents rebuilding a fallen block tower compared to parents encouraging students to see the fallen tower as an opportunity to rebuild). There were critical long-term implications on the learning, the willingness to take challenges in learning, and the love of learning – all in favour of parents who taught their children that errors were opportunities to learn.
We are both parents (and grandparents) and certainly made many errors in child rearing. We hope we have learned from our experiences, but more importantly we are heavily invested in the many research studies on parenting. Our work aims to bring these research studies to other parents, tell our stories to illustrate this research, and encourage parents to see one of their major missions as indulging in the beauty, fun, and challenge of developing great learners.
10 Steps to Develop Great Learners by John and Kyle Hattie is published by Routledge.