Introduction to Every Day Learning part 1: Language Skills
Why do we as a society tend to focus so much on measuring things that aren't accurate predictions of a child’s future well-being and success?
There are articles in the news nearly every day about the need for more academic rigor, more ways to assess learning, more standardization so no child is left behind. As parents, we have tied our children's academic success with their feelings of self worth, and then hitched that to our own desire to be a successful parent.
Note how very little of this treats children as unique individuals with needs and desires of their own.
Sometimes I wonder if our obsession with testing is just pure laziness. If we can put kids in a box and weigh it, we feel like we've accomplished the task of assessing our children's progress efficiently. The reason this isn't efficient is because it isn't accurate, and it is disrespectful and demeaning to children.
It's time we view education as part of nurturing our children. We should also change the parameters of our assessments to measure the things we value, and use methods that provide us with an accurate picture of a child's unique strengths and weaknesses.
Every Day Learning: Measure What Matters is a short series of posts about my recommendations for encouraging and measuring important characteristics and skills that children need to be happy and successful:
Language is necessary for communicating; which is a masterful statement of the obvious, and yet we often fail to nurture communication skills in our children until they are much older. Memorizing grammar rules and word lists are no more beneficial to a child's language skills than watching exercise shows is for losing weight. You may learn stuff, but it isn't connected to anything tangible.
Children need to view language as their window to the world around them. They speak to express their thoughts, interests, and feelings, and ask questions. They listen to gather information, gain understanding, and satisfy their curiosity.
We've reduced reading to simple decoding of phonics rules, filling out blanks in spelling workbooks, and checking off age-graded books lists. But reading is also about communication, as well as exploring new ideas and experiences. We can read for information, and we can read for pleasure. We need books to discover people and places beyond our scope, outside of our communities.
In all that we learn through the process of communication, we also need to be able to apply it. At some point our children have to step out from behind the desk, leave the classroom, and interact with real people in the real world. The sooner we give them that opportunity, the more firmly rooted their language skills will be.
This is not just important for early learning and elementary age, but for older children - even high schoolers. It's never too late to learn, so don't stop teaching and reinforcing language skills with your teens
How to encourage and assess language skills:
- Children learn speech patterns from those with whom they spend the most time, so think about what you say and how you say it. This means using proper grammar. I know what you're thinking, but suck it up and deal with reality here. If you don't model good behavior, why would you expect your kids to do what you won't?
- Help your children not only learn new words in their reading, spelling, and vocabulary lists, but give them incentives to use new words properly. Never talk down to them. Go ahead and use words that are way above their pay grade - and yours for that matter. See if they are able to discern meaning from context.
- Listen to their speech patterns. As children mature, their sentences become more complex, and they will be able to maintain a train of thought for longer periods of time. Again - don't talk down to them. Baby talk is only cute for a little while; like, when they're babies.
- Ask them open-ended questions about what they see, hear, and read. Then shut up and let them speak their minds. Instead of correcting their notions and opinions, keep asking questions about their sources of information and how they draw their conclusions.
- By spending time in lively conversation, children learn the natural back-and-forth of conversation. If you don't hog the mic, they will also understand how enjoyable it is to exchange ideas and avoid monopolizing a discussion.
- Let your children tell stories to see if they can relate events accurately and in order. Unless they are saying something truly objectionable, keep your comments short and questions open-ended. This gives you a clearer window into their thought processes and how they channel information.
- Encourage them to express curiosity about other people and places. This falls under the There Are No Stupid Questions category. If your response to their ignorance or confusion is disdain, your children will fear to ask about what they don't understand, and they will get their information elsewhere. And admit it when you don't know the answer - use the opportunity to learn together, and give them a wonderful example of how learning is a joy forever.
- Applaud your child's use of imagination to invent characters and settings, and create their own stories. Einstein once said,
"When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing absolute knowledge." (The Ultimate Quotable Einstein)
In our obsession with academics, we've neglected to include imagination is an important skill in and of itself.
The foundation and core of every day education is the building of skill upon skill in real world situations and applications, and our assessment methods should reflect those goals.