You Can’t Love Learning If You’re Not Good At It

April 21, 2015 by Geoffrey Nixon

Has Your Child Truly Mastered The Learning Fundamentals?

No question, learning is the ultimate life and career skill. Learning, not knowledge.

In today’s world, everything your new graduate needs to know is on his phone, on his computer, at his finger tips.  Knowledge is no longer a difference maker  — everybody has instantaneous access to knowledge.

It’s how you filter that knowledge and what you do with it that matters, day in and day out.  The world is in a state of constant and profound change. Your child needs to enter the workforce with an energetic and active mind, someone who loves learning new things and is always curious, always creative.

The pace of change is accelerating while getting more specialized and complex at the same time.  The most valuable employees are quick studies — they pick things up quickly — and they are energetically creative and able to maintain the pace of change.  Personal life is similarly complicated –think about the financial, healthcare, real estate, employment and other choices that face your child — these decisions are all better made if your child is willing to research and learn first.

However, lifelong learning will not develop if your child does not love learning.

A Love of Learning Requires Mastery of Learning Fundamentals

Unfortunately, these days the schools are no help in nurturing a love of learning.  In fact, since Ken Robinson’s famous TED Talk in 2006 which describes how schools are killing creativity, things have gotten decidedly worse in America.  Love of learning is not an educational priority.  The education reform movement has narrowed the focus of schools to outcomes that can be measured.

Outcomes that can be measured do not include love of learning.  There is no time for your child to experience the thrills of discovery and curiosity (quicker to lecture the class) or to wonder what if, why not or otherwise think creatively (can’t measure it).  We can’t blame teachers for this.  The fault lie in how educational advancement is now measured aka test scores.

Moreover, the burnout and stress created in schools and as outlined in the film, Race to Nowhere sets up the opposite of lifelong learning.  For many students school creates a connection to learning that is joyless and grinding, not one that is thrilling and filled with possibilities.

standards equate with failure for many childrenToday, negative connections with learning are even worse for struggling students

The low value placed on love of learning has even more consequences for the struggling learner.

Nobody likes to do things that they are not good at. The struggling young reader will resist reading at home and absolutely dread reading out loud in front of the class. Someone who cannot sing in tune (and who is aware of that fact!) will similarly avoid singing in public.

On top of the test-related pressures of the modern school, struggling learners face the humiliation of being “below standard” or “not achieving” in the new standards-based education system.  Learning is connected with failure in a clear and measurable way, leading to eroding confidence and low self-esteem issues for these children.

More than that, the relentless pressures of measurable outcomes and data mean there is less and less time for the struggling student to master the learning fundamentals — reading, listening in class, writing, and numeracy.

It used to be that elementary school was devoted to mastering learning fundamentals. These days though, ever-expanding curriculum (driven by competing Federal and State and District mandates) and escalating standards are pushing content into earlier and earlier grades thereby crowding out time for practicing the fundamentals.

Today, schools work around difficulties – they don’t treat them

Most schools in America take a child “as is.”  It has always been this way. The schools treat learning differences as fixed.  They work around them by providing resource room help coupled with added instruction and practice time.

Interventions to step-change or rewire a child’s learning — now commonplace using a variety of neuroscience-based methods — are beyond the scope of the schools. Moreover, they are reluctant to label children, with dyslexia for instance, due to the added liability and extra resources such a diagnosis can entail for the school.

The bottom line is that if your child falls behind in school, don’t count on the school to help.  They have too many other performance pressures to deal with now, while at the same time dealing with budget issues and reductions in support staff.

Worse than that, standards and other pressures are forcing band-aid teaching methods. For instance, in 2nd grade, under pressure to meet a reading words-per-minute standard teachers are encouraging students to memorize words to help them meet the standard, a method that will fall apart as the word list expands in later grades.  The better approach is phonics and phonemic awareness, which sets up reading automaticity.  This however, takes longer and has an uncertain timeline which makes it risky for the teacher and the school under pressure to get results in the current year as opposed to the next.

By 3rd or 4th grade, the curriculum has moved passed working on learning fundamentals and onto subject material, meaning your child is going to have to master reading and learning efficiency in his own time, i.e., after school.

Meanwhile his teachers (and/or school), who are paid based on the percentages who meet standard, may well be using your child’s disabilities to have him excluded from their measured student count so that his lack of success does not count against them. Again, we don’t fault our teachers.  It’s just the system.

How To Help Your Child Learn To Learn

If your child is a willing reader, albeit behind his class, he probably just needs more practice. Make reading at home a priority over everything else, including homework. If possible, keep updated with your child’s reading level and make sure he is reading “just right” books using a tool like Accelerated Reader which grades thousands of books for difficulty.  Protect him from books from school if they are above his level — difficult books will reduce reading confidence and spark a negative association with reading, something you want to avoid at all costs.

If your child is not a willing reader however, you need to act. A lack of mastery of reading and learning fundamentals is almost always due to a cognitive delay or glitch. And the best way to treat a glitch, or any problem, is to go after the cause, once and for all.
rewiring learning fundamentals

Brain plasticity offers new opportunities for struggling learners

The good news here is that reading and learning are not fixed.  Advances in neuroplasticity reveal that far from being fixed, the brain is constantly changing, endeavoring always to self-improve.  This means many, if not most, learning delays can be resolved with the appropriate treatment.

Programs that tap into this brain plasticity opportunity fall into two categories and go after the two main sources of learning difficultly which are auditory processing and sensory integration.

Your choice depending on the source of your child’s symptoms:

  • 85%+ of problems with reading, focus and listening are caused by delays in language processing, best helped with cognitive and reading software like Fast ForWord, offered by Gemm Learning online with remote supervision.
  • Behavioral and focus problems are often caused by sensory integration difficulties, best treated with physical exercise interventions that promote coordination and integration, such as Interactive Metronome.

Love of learning is a lifelong journey.  Relishing the thought of learning something new or having to rethink something old is the mark of success today.  If your child graduates either burnt out or not able to learn or think this way, life will be an uphill battle.

The sooner your child can overcome learning difficulties and lose the negative connection he currently has to learning and reading the better.

In our next blog, we explore the second love of learning requirement:  your child cannot love learning if it is connected to negative emotions such as stress, pressure and drudgery.

  • Trista Wilson

    This was such an informative read, too many times you see public schools pushing off children who learn at a different pace into another room. When I was in school this was called the “Special Education Class.” Talk about making a child feel segregated. I really feel if you want to help your child succeed you have to first know how their mind works. I really like the idea of the Accelerated Reader program, my son who is now 10 used that when he did attend public school and I think it was beneficial to him.

    • Thanks again Trista, please sign up for our blog. Stay in touch with current trends and news to offer support for your child.