Encouraging Effective Learning Strategies: Tips for Parents
We write many posts for teachers, many for students, and also some that will be of interest to researchers. But did you know that we also write posts specifically for parents? Today, I wanted to bring together some of the tips we've accumulated, and add a few more.
Manage expectations around homework
Homework is probably the first thing we think of as parents, when we think about how we might help our children succeed in school. Homework is a controversial subject, and we've published various posts about it on our blog (from researchers, teachers, and parents). Based on the scientific evidence, however, we can make 4 simple recommendations about how to handle homework:
- Quality is much more important than the quantity.
- The goal of homework completion shouldn't be to "get it all done" and/or “get everything right”, but to make a concerted effort to attempt the task at hand.
- When giving feedback on your children's homework focus on how to turn mistakes into learning experiences rather than punishments.
- Children should be doing roughly 10 mins of homework per night per grade (so a 3rd grade student might spend 30 minutes per night on homework). If your child is spending much more time than this recommended amount, you may want to speak to their teacher and ask about their reasons for assigning a heavy homework load – or whether your child might need some more support at school.
Help your children prepare for tests
At some point in your child's school career, they will come home and tell you that they have a test coming up. What can you do to help?
When to study
Often, we might try to remind/nag our children to study. Instead, we might help them plan out a study schedule as many days or even weeks ahead of the test as possible. This might seem counterintuitive to children who would rather only study for the test when it is imminent; but helping children get into the habit of spacing out their studying would be a valuable gift.
For more on encouraging spaced practice, see this post.
How to study
Do your children know what good "studying" actually involves? If not, you might suggest they start with retrieval practice. You can help facilitate this by quizzing your children from their notes or textbook. It's important to ensure that they know this is not just a check of how much they've learned - it's actually producing learning. If they'd rather practice on their own, you can show them simple retrieval practice techniques, such as putting away their notes and writing or drawing everything they know about a topic.
Create casual opportunities for spaced retrieval practice
You can help your child increase their learning by asking them what they learned or did at school. When your child is describing and explaining to you what they did in school and what they learned, they are actually reinforcing their learning. It’s ok if you don’t know much about the material they are describing – just let them do most of the talking! Sometimes, children won't want to answer such questions (ask me how I know). You may need to warm up a bit by talking about your own day, and giving them opportunities to ask you questions before you jump in with yours.
Balance intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
Ideally, we would want our children to be inherently (intrinsically) interested in their homework and their studies. That's the ideal, of course - but it's not always possible. For tasks or subjects that students are less interested in, small external rewards (extrinsic motivation) such as stickers won't hurt. However, be careful not to make those rewards too valuable, because disproportionately high rewards can actually decrease intrinsic motivation.
Model good learning strategies
One of the best things you can do for your children is to model effective learning strategies in your own behavior. If you're learning something right now (be it a language, a musical instrument, or perhaps a presentation for work), make sure you are practicing it in front of your children. For example, my husband is studying for a Japanese test that's a few months in the future, and modeling spaced retrieval practice by using a kanji app that's based on spaced retrieval practice and interleaving principles. This way, he's not forcing anyone to participate, but our children can see him practicing regularly and effectively.
Note: This post was based on a Facebook Live session sponsored by the Wellcome Trust. The session video was, unfortunately, removed by Facebook.