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Lies about Learning

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Here’s some irony: Much of what we’ve “learned” about learning just isn’t true. So, what fiction is still circulating?

Doing specific movements while learning helps to keep the brain alert.

Lie #1: We learn best when we’re still.

While all of us need to move to keep our brain alert, we absolutely need to move if we have a sluggish vestibular and proprioceptive system.

Lie #2: We can choose to pay attention.

Even though the brain is amazing, we already know it can only focus on so much at any given time.

For example, think how our concentration becomes impaired whenever we have the flu or a pounding headache.

And that’s similar to what’s going on with people who haven’t completed their lower brain development. When the lower centers aren’t fully developed, the brain is intently focused on basic survival needs—morning, noon, and night—which then makes it very challenging to pay attention to just about anything else. In fact, one could make the case that these people actually concentrate more than those who are viewed as attentive. 

Lie #3: IQ does not change.

Suppose we’re given an IQ test after we’ve been up all night and are on a medication with a side effect that makes us dizzy. Do you think our IQ score will be influenced by such variables?
Well, when we administer IQ tests to people who have not completed their lower brain development, we may also not get an accurate score. That’s because such people’s brains are already distracted—only in this case, the cortex is preoccupied by trying to figure out how to compensate for missing automatic brain functions.

Yet, without this understanding, people may believe their IQ scores are etched in stone. For example, at Brain Highways, we’ve worked with many parents who were devastated when they learned their child’s IQ was so low. But when those same kids completed their lower brain development and were re-tested, their IQ scores were now higher—sometimes increasing even as much as 30 points!

Lie #4: Learning thresholds don’t vary among people.

Not only do we have different learning thresholds—where we truly can’t absorb one more piece of information without taking a break—but some of us may hit that wall within minutes of information being presented. Yet, those who do easily concentrate for long blocks of time just can’t seem to fathom how someone could run out of gas so quickly. However, if we’re trying to learn with incomplete lower brain development and retained primitive reflexes, that’s what typically happens.

Lie #5: Learning is linear.

Most curriculums are designed with an assumption that students first learn “A,” then move to “B,” and then to “C,” and so on. Those who do not move forward this way are often viewed as failing.

Yet, in truth, learning is an upward spiral, where we all periodically return to where we’ve been before. This retraceable part of our learning spiral is actually very important. This is where we’re given a chance to either learn previously presented information at an even deeper level, or we’re given an opportunity to absorb something we may have missed altogether at the first pass.

Lie #6: Mistakes are bad.

Whoever initially gave mistakes a bad rap clearly didn’t understand how the brain learns. For example, the brain wraps the most myelin (a fatty substance that covers neurons to help to increase the speed at which information can travel) when it’s actually struggling a bit. And, yes, during that phase of learning, mistakes may appear. But that just means mistakes are an integral part of true learning.

Well, what’s the fallout if we believe one or more of these lies? Plenty. For example, if we think we’re lazy or dumb or unfocused, then we may conclude we’re not capable of great learning—even though we are. In such case, we may stop dreaming of what we might accomplish. And once we stop dreaming, we stop creating. And once we stop creating, we’re no longer able to share our innate gifts with others.

So, maybe it’s time to debunk the lies about learning, and let the world know the truth. Who knows how many brilliant minds may be unleashed?

When Parents Do Kids’ Homework

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Are parents really helping their kids when  they’re so involved with homework?
Are parents really helping their kids when
they’re so involved with homework?

Some parents sit right next to their children when it’s time to do homework, overseeing every detail of the assignment.  Others take it further.  If the child procrastinates and resists long enough, the parent actually ends up doing most or all of the work.

But why are parents so involved? Many say their kids aren’t able to complete the work without their help, and teachers don’t have time to give their children individual attention.

Yet there’s a downside to being so actively involved in homework. First, it takes the teacher out of the loop so she’s unable to make changes. When the assignment is turned in the next day, she doesn’t know that it took nearly three hours (with a lot of fighting) to complete, so she can’t modify future assignments to match the child’s needs.

Second, if kids count on their parents to explain everything when they’re at home, they won’t ask the teacher to clarify assignments or to re-teach concepts that are not yet understood.  In fact, such an arrangement actually discourages kids from taking initiative, being responsible, and working independently—even though such skills are highly valued in the workforce.

Still, parents won’t likely back off so long as they believe that other parents are helping their kids. They just don’t want to be judged as non-involved, uncaring parents.

I can understand that feeling. When my daughter was in fourth grade, there was an evening event where all the fourth graders displayed their brilliantly crafted pirate boats—and trust me, those ships definitely surpassed anything one would expect from 9-year-olds.  That is, all but one boat—our daughter’s.

I remember thinking how the other parents probably thought my husband and I were too busy to get involved. Yet I also remember what my daughter said.  Yes, she was embarrassed by her measly boat among all the impressive galleons. But she stated with confidence, “At least I made my boat by myself.”

What will it take to return homework to something that encourages and ensures independent learners?

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