Talking to our children about what matters with their learning
26 July 2018

Several of our teaching staff (including myself) have recently been attending conferences and sharing with their colleagues the most relevant aspects of their professional development. It is affirming that these fresh ideas are always aligned in some way with our basic beliefs as a school of what constitutes effective learning. I have made some suggestions for further reading with references at the end of this article.

For parents, one of the key messages is to talk to your children about the processes that underpin effective learning. It is also helpful to talk about learning behaviours and dispositions that don’t work and why that is the case. Students will benefit the most when they understand what leads to final outcomes, like an A grade on a test.

Carol Dweck refers to this as process praise and it is a key to growth mindset thinking. As an example, after attending the brilliant annual music concert at the Recital Centre last week, I asked a youngster present why they thought all those students had performed at such a high level. The answer was, ‘because they have a special talent at music’. The implication was that this was a special gift perhaps genetically bestowed by their parents. But in virtually every case these students had reached this performance peak after hours and hours (and years in many cases) of learning. This learning had included a lot of hard work and that is fundamental. It would also have included a lot of mistakes, frustrations, restarts, new strategies, feedback, help from experts, and quite possibly, a few tears along the way. According to Director of Music, Andrew Leach, the ensembles were given significant challenges which were constantly met with high expectations. They had to struggle together as a team and as individuals to meet the rigorous demands. The concert performance was just the final outcome.

As parents, we can choose to say ‘your final performance was amazing’ or we can focus on providing process praise that highlights the grit and perseverance and ‘work smarts’ that were really the heart of the learning. Our kids listen very closely to what we choose to value and praise. Angela Duckworth believes that ‘grit’ is an important personal trait and outweighs many others when it comes to predicting future learning success. Luke McKenna is another who seeks to unleash personal learning potential and his ideas include a mix of growth mindset, process praise and grit.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Dr Alan Finkel’s recent keynote address to Australian Science Teachers on Raising Twenty First Century Citizens. He argues strongly that teachers still have a fundamental responsibility to teach students lots of concepts, facts and principles. But then learning needs to be deeply challenging and students need the chance to solve complex, real world problems. He argues that after learning the principles students need are to practise, practise, practise. Then they need to apply this to a real-world concept. Then they need to apply it to something new. This is a direct alignment to our beliefs in the SOLO Taxonomy as a learning framework that leads to the extended abstract.

I loved his closing line: ‘Heroes learn hard content from fabulous teachers.’

Quick references to explore:

Andrew McGregor – Associate Principal