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Good Learners Are Made, Not Born

You can develop these skills along with your children

Dear Dr. Fournier:

I want you to know how much I appreciate your columns - I suspect you have quite a large following of secret "adult-kids" out there. I know I missed the boat on many of the skills you talk about in your articles, but hope that I can develop these skills in myself as well as in my children as they get older.

Jerry H.

Seattle, WA

Dear Jerry:

ASSESSMENT:

As many children continue to slip through the cracks school, I can't help but wonder how many of them are destined to become disillusioned "adult-kids" a few decades from now.

Parents and teachers often seem preoccupied with a child's brain - how much can be learned, how fast and how that knowledge can be measured. Knowing that our children must have a good education to survive, we worry about the information that needs to be in their heads without thinking about the spirit that must remain in their hearts. Unfortunately, I believe this is more true of students proclaimed to be "at risk" or "low achieving.''

I remember the· experience of one third-grade child - a bilingual girl with a speech impediment for whom reading was a chore. Teachers insisted on oral reading, regardless of her painful humiliation, and parents believed that anything less than excellence amounted to disobedience. The child eventually conquered reading and what was the reward? The teacher said for all to hear: “If she can do it, anybody can.”

Perhaps the teacher's intention was good, but what the child heard was: “If someone with so little ability could do this, anyone could.” For years, that statement replaced the joy of success with the fear of failure. Only years later did that “adult-kid” begin a new journey of self-recognition.

WHAT TO DO

The kids in us - no matter what our current age - need a learning experience that is based on respect and the nurturing of each individual's strengths. Parents and teachers should keep in mind three basic “dos” and “don’ts”:

1. DON'T key in on what's missing in a child. DO make the most of what's there! I call this the Swiss cheese approach to learning: when our focus is on the holes in the cheese instead of the flavorful substance that is there. When children and adults come to me to help them learn how to learn, I look for their individual strengths and use those to overcome weaknesses. So if your child brings home a progress report, from day care on, you will of course see the weaknesses noted, but instead of ignoring all the strengths or treating them as though they are just “par for the course.” Celebrate and use them!

2. DON'T assume that strategies are in place for learning just because an individual has reached a certain grade or a certain age. DO teach them! Skills such as organization and time management are essential to learning, but they are not innate. When you go to that first open house for your children, listen for the teachers who say: “By this grade, we expect the children to be organized and keep up with their papers” At this point, please ask whether these skills have been taught in school. If the teacher is merely assuming, replace that with teaching!

3. DON'T become so preoccupied with a child's brain that you forget about his heart! A child's spirit –often called “self-esteem” though I prefer the term “self-worth”– is essential to successful learning. It needs nurturing and respect from both parents and teachers.

As your children enter school, you as an "adult-kid" need to reaffirm the need for mind and spirit in any learning situation, whether it’s elementary school, college or in the workplace. You must assure that a spirit of learning remains alive in our children through your actions, words and expectations as they develop their own minds.

For "adult-kids" with unresolved grief, it may be the time to overcome fear as a foe and seek your unique spirit of learning again as you seek to develop these skills in your children.

CONTACT DR. FOURNIER

Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at [email protected].

 

More Stories By Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dr. Yvonne Fournier is Founder and President of Fournier Learning Strategies. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework" was published by the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. Dr. Fournier, arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today, has followed her own roadmap, calling not just for change or improvement in education but for an entirely new model.

She remains one of the most controversial opponents of the current education system in America.

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