We all know that the industrial revolution model of large group instruction of students is failing our children. There are some confused and unstructured attempts within schools to respond to this failure, some are not altogether without merit. While our failing system may still be a matter of debate in some academic and political circles, it is a daily reality at the coal face of tuition services. The main focus of our work with students during tuition is in unravelling the unproductive and unhelpful learning behaviours students have often developed at school. These behaviours become habits through daily rehearsal and repetition during school hours as students are instructed en masse and subtle errors and behaviours go unnoticed and uncorrected.
Based on our experience in responding to these unhelpful behaviours, this is our top 6 bad habits your child may be learning and rehearsing every day at school.
How to guess the right answer – No one wants to look silly, and kids with learning challenges aren’t stupid. Children learn at a young age what the micro expressions for approval look like on a parent or teacher’s face. They learn how to read body language and they are fantastic mimics. These are biologically hardwired social survival skills in most humans. I see students bluff their way through oral responses to questions all the time and watch time-poor teachers walk away seemingly satisfied with the answer. It only takes a quick rephrasing of the question to reveal that the very clever child just made a very good guess and doesn’t really know the answer with any confidence at all.
How to be a good boy/girl - Being a good boy or girl, that is a cooperative and for the most part, quiet boy or girl, is the quality most celebrated by teachers in school and it is doing damage to your child. Children who have the capacity to self regulate learn very quickly that simply by being complicit and "good" they can not only fly under the radar of the teacher's questioning, but they can also be praised for their silence and perceived cooperation. These are the kids that nod and smile all day even when they don't understand at all. Often with little knowledge of what they are actually learning and too busy being "good" to ask questions that may cause inconvenience to their busy teacher.
How to follow the crowd – We’ve all seen the social experiments where a person switches direction and the queue of people behind them all mindlessly follow.
Welcome to school. If you are unsure of what to do or where to go next, follow the crowd. It’s a great way to avoid standing out, being yelled at or otherwise looking silly. School systems are set up to encourage crowd following behaviour from assembly, through whole class learning plans and right up until when the final school bell rings.
How to function on autopilot – School routines can be very positive and powerful structures to work within when they are effectively and vigilantly managed. But if left unquestioned and unsupervised, students will fall into habits of behaviour that are void of any mindful engagement or consciousness. We often observe students going through the motions of various tasks during tuition and have to stop them and ask, “What are you doing and why?”. Too often the answer is “I don’t know, this is just the way we do it at school.”
How to not finish what they started – I’m sure many teachers will argue that this is what they strive to achieve every day with their students, but task completion isn’t the only thing that is left incomplete at school. Very few students are given the opportunity to master the foundation skills of learning during the school day - from pencil grip to handwriting, maths facts and spelling - the pace of learning moves on regardless of completion or mastery. Accepting incomplete tasks and underdeveloped skills as the “best they can do” and not allowing students the opportunity to improve on or even to finish what they started in the time they need to do so, is leaving many skills vastly underdeveloped and incomplete.
How to accept mediocrity – By all means celebrate the mundanity of life and the simple pleasures of being human, there is authentic beauty in the ordinary. What I cannot celebrate is the daily rehearsal and repetition of low expectations for behaviour, manners and performance that we place on otherwise capable, pleasant and willing students. Students will rise to your high expectations if you scaffold these with reasonable and fair accommodations and adjustments. If you communicate directly with them as individuals respectfully and clearly they will reciprocate with respect. They will relish in the daily formalities and courtesies of human interaction if they are taught how and why such behaviours exist and get to experience first-hand the pleasure of good manners.