The Tough Stuff: Equipping Kids for Deep Learning
No child has ever been deeply, passionately and personally invested in a worksheet. They never have been and they never will be. Children become deeply, passionately and personally invested when they are given deep and authentic learning opportunities.
Deep learning is the sort that sets students alight. It happens when kids are asked to use knowledge rather than just learn it. They are asked to make connections and solve problems. It requires students to understand how they learn. This sort of learning is made more likely by a great relationship with their teacher or a mentor.
Deep learning is often messy and slow and sometimes it’s uncomfortable. But when a child comes to an understanding of a really difficult concept, or creates a meaningful piece of work, it’s a beautiful thing. Their sense of their own power and capacity glows out of them. That feeling builds life-long learners and that’s our end game.
The emotional aspect of deep learning is recognised in the Australian Curriculum. Personal and Social Capability is one of the General Capabilities that has to be embedded in all subject areas. It’s obvious. It’s important. At home and at school we need to make sure that we are equipping kids for learning emotionally. The emotional is indivisible from the academic.
The two key elements of personal and social capacity that need to be explored with deep learning are self-management and self-awareness. ACARA says that:
A student who is self-aware is able to:
- recognise emotions
- recognise personal qualities and achievements
- understand themselves as learners
- develop reflective practice.
A student who is self-managing is able to:
- express emotions appropriately
- develop self-discipline and set goals
- work independently and show initiative
- become confident, resilient and adaptable.
This emotional element of the curriculum is unique in that teachers receive no university training in the area. They are expected to intuitively know how to foster these elements which essentially come from a psychology framework. Parents are also largely unaware of the sorts of skills they need to be developing in order to help their kids succeed.
So what can we do to develop the emotional skills of learning?
In teaching and learning, relationship is key. We all know that kids perform better for teachers they like. But it isn’t as simple as that. A relationship is, by nature, a two-way street. Teachers and students have to get to know one another and allow themselves to be known.
Kids like teachers they can trust and whose reactions are predictable. When a trusting relationship exists, students feel as though they can take risks in their learning. They can try things and they can experiment. Without this trust true creativity and mental risk taking is difficult.
You may perceive some teachers as better than others. If given a choice, you may not have chosen a particular teacher for your child. That said, any teacher-child relationship can be supported and nurtured. Often the most unlikely combinations are the most effective. Your child is in the relationship, not you. Your role is to support it.
Parents and teachers require a clear understanding of emotional regulation and how it develops. Emotional regulation is the ability to recognise, manage and soothe emotions effectively. Many people never achieve an adult state of regulation but most take until their early to mid twenties.
Adults often forget how hard learning can be as a child. Imagine dealing with new and challenging tasks if you don’t have control of frustration, fear, anxiety and the ability to delay gratification? If you think about that, arguments between kids and their parents at homework time become much more understandable. For more about emotional regulation, click here.
Understanding and Respecting Failure
Culturally we reject failure. This is despite the fact that some of the greatest minds in history and some of the most successful people of our time advocate embracing failure. It is a tool in learning, particularly in deep learning where knowledge is constantly being built upon.
I think our biggest problem with failure is that we perceive it as a feeling instead of an experience. We are overwhelmed by failure as we think it helps determine our worth. We need to normalise failure; stop reacting as though it is something to be afraid of. It is one of the many facets of life we experience on a regular basis. It can be a set back but it can also be an incredibly useful learning tool.
What skills do adults need to help us build emotional learning in kids?
The ability to build trust. We should never assume that we are trusted just because we are adults. Children do not trust teachers purely because of their position. That trust must be earned. Likewise, parents may think, “Of course my child trusts me.” Probably, but not necessarily in these circumstances. A parent-child relationship is laden with a lot of expectation and emotion around education. Does your child feel completely happy going slowly and making mistakes in front of you?
We have to have honest conversations. It is easier to have lots of shallow conversations about trying hard and doing your best than it is to have open, truthful conversations about strengths and weaknesses.
We need to sit with discomfort. It isn’t easy to watch a student struggle and feel frustrated, but we have to let them. Rescuing a child from those feelings robs them of the opportunity to learn.
Reward process, not product. When kids see that how they learn is as important as what they learn, they become grittier.
We need to model learning, including failing. It is very, very powerful as an adult to be able to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question. Let’s find out together.”
We should be able to articulate the process of emotional learning. If you can help a child understand why they feel the way they do, and why it is important that they struggle, they will better cope and they will value the experience.
Conversations we can have with kids to direct their emotional responses in deep learning.
Please keep in mind these are not just throw away lines but topics for meaningful discussion.
- Be aware of the power of your self-talk
- Keep the big picture in your sights, keep your focus on the steps to get there
- Make use of mentors, Experts, teachers and peers
- Ask specific questions and lots of them
- Set small, realistic, measurable goals
- Plan – how will you tackle this task?
- Listen to feedback
- Failure is an experience, not a feeling – use the experience
- Practise practise practise. It’s as essential here as with any other skill
- Notice how you’re feeling. Notice your emotions, your strengths and challenges
And finally……Breathe Breathe Breathe
Linda Stade has worked in various teaching and management roles in education for twenty-five years. She has worked in government and private schools, country and city, single-sex and co-ed. Currently, she is the Research Officer at Santa Maria College, Western Australia. She has a Facebook page here