Following on from our show with Ian Gilbert he received a number of emails from people who wanted to know how to navigate the education system. We asked Ian to share his insights with us.
It’s so easy to be educated but not really know anything. I was certainly like that. And yes, the system is set up for compliance so we do well in it by ‘doing what we’re told and doing it to the best of our abilities’.
For some people that’s their entire life but it is always good to hear from someone who has discovered there is more to it than that and done something about it.
I was approached by a parent of a young child who asked for my advice when it came to supporting their child’s learning. It’s not the finished product but it’s a start:
1. Self-esteem is the number one thing you can do for your child. A child who knows they can even if they don’t yet know how has a chance. The child who thinks they can’t because they don’t yet know how will always be in trouble.
2. The best learning is multi-sensory and the younger the child, the more multi-sensory they are naturally (‘Don’t put that in your mouth!’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Because hamsters don’t like it!’) so when it comes to learning, make sure they touch it, smell it, see it, taste it, hear it.
3. Young children and scientists have more than poor social skills in common. They have a passion for the ‘why?’ word. Encourage this.
4. Building on that, scientists work by formulating hypotheses about the way things are before trying to prove themselves right. This is a ‘thinking to knowing’ process. Encourage the same for children. Encourage them to put forward their own possible reasons as to why things are like they are and then to think about how they could be tested.
5. Linked to that is Socratic Dialogue. Socrates got his students to think by constantly challenging their assertions with questions. Do the same with children in a way that is encouraging and fun (yet that never undermines their self-confidence – remember self-esteem is key). This also encourages those all-important attributes resilience and concentration, sticking with an idea and not just giving up ‘coz it’s hard’
6. The best learners are the ones who are interested in the world and one of the best ways to encourage this is to model it. Be interested yourself in everything around you and let your child see that.
7. Look for natural, every-day opportunities to do basic literacy and numeracy work – street signs, advertising hoardings, shops, TV. There are opportunities everywhere. Encourage word games, tongue-twisters, puns, rhymes, number puzzles, counting games, anything that helps children learn that words and numbers are endlessly interesting.
8. Keep it light. Make it fun. Celebrate achievement (celebrating with a high five ritual is much better than bribing them with sweets).
9. School homework can be the death of family learning so handle with extreme caution. If you think it’s rubbish and doing more harm than good then tell the teacher but also tell them what you are going to do instead. You won’t be very popular but then the school should be trying harder.
10. Did we mention self-esteem?
As for schools, the main question to ask (especially at primary school) is if the children are happy there? Ask other parents and look at the faces of the kids and teachers on the way in and out. Look at how the tables are arranged. That gives you an indicator of the sort of pedagogy the children are receiving. Ask how important the SATS and other base-line tests are to the headteacher. Are they ‘using the children to improve the data or using the data to improve the children’? And of course, how do they develop critical, reflective questioning and thinking in their children (or even do they do Thunks!).
My view is that you can learn lots without thinking very much and you can think lots without learning very much. It’s important to differentiate between the two.
Ian Gilbert / Founder, Independent Thinking – Renegade Inc. contributor
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