Words Make all the difference in Education

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Your child will be learning three different things throughout their years at school:

1. They will be learning knowledge: Facts that we think they need to know. This is information that we know is true, and the way we answer a knowledge question will be either right or wrong. For example: Paris is the capital of France.

2. They will be learning skills: Finding out how to do things. Skills are practical and can be described as ‘being able’ to do something. For example: being able to tie shoe laces, being able to read a map, being able to perform an operation. There are skills within every subject that children study at school; from maths to art to history to science to music. Skills take time to develop and as we learn skills in small, progressive steps.

3. They will be learning understanding: Developing a sense of the meaning behind why we know and do things. Understanding involves a combination of accumulated knowledge, practised skills and repetition over time. At the end of the school day when you talk to your child about their learning, here are some things to bear in mind that might help you both:

When your child says they’ve learned some facts in school, say “Wow. Tell me what you know about that.” This is how you help your child acquire and retain knowledge.

When your child says they’ve learned how to do something in school, say “Wow. Show me how to do that.” This is how you help your child reinforce a skill.

Don’t forget, they might be at the very beginning stage of learning that skill. No one can master a skill overnight. It takes thousands of hours of practise to truly master any skill, so being patient and encouraging practice of any skill is important.

When your child says they now understand something, say “Wow. Talk to me about that.” This helps your child develop a deeper sense of understanding, but again, you must remember that your child will be in the early stages of understanding. The more you can both talk about understanding something, the more your child expands on the related knowledge.

Use the word “yet” as often as you can. For example, when your child says “I can’t do fractions,” correct them: “you can’t do fractions yet”. Help them to see the possibility that they will be able to achieve it in the future.

Tell your child “you’re getting better” whenever the opportunity allows. Learning is all about improvement, and obtaining a skill requires patience and practice and practice and practice to improve. Your child needs lots of support along the way.


Ask your child: “what have you learned today?” This question is a lot more specific than “what did you do today?”

Say encouraging things as often as you can when your child is beginning to learn something new and encourage them when something still isn’t perfect. Remember how much encouragement you gave your child when they took their first wobbly steps? Children need that same encouragement whenever they start

learning something new. Learning is always harder at the beginning.

Say things to your child to show you can see that there’s improvement, however small. Compare ‘then’ and ‘now’ and praise the difference. Learning is about getting better, one small step at a time.

Say to your child: “of course you’ve made a mistake, but keep going, you’re learning.” Every child needs to know that making mistakes is all part of the learning process. You never really learn something well if you don’t make mistakes along the way. Make sure your child knows that mistakes are OK.

Say to your child: “your brain is wired in lots of different ways, some ways are better than others. Let’s try to make each part work as well as it can.” Few of us will be brilliant at everything but we can get better at everything.

Say to your child: “take a break, do some exercise, and then start learning again.” The brain needs blood, oxygen and rest to keep going. If it doesn’t get them, it doesn’t keep going.

Say to your child: “if you find facts difficult to remember then its ok to use a ‘hook’ to help.” There are just too many facts to remember so your child should only worry about remembering the ones that really matter. For those, it’s perfectly fine to give their brain some help. For example VIGBYOR spells out all the colours of the rainbow. So does the rhyme Richard Of York Goes By In Violet; anything to trigger the brain to remember is good.

Say to your child: “I found x easy to learn, but I had to work harder at y.”

Make sure your child knows you went through similar learning struggles as they are going through. Show your child realistic models of learning; don’t fake your own excellence. On the other hand don’t promote inabilities either – unless you are promoting how much better you could have been if only you’d kept trying. BY MARYBETH RAMEY


Learning: 25 Buckingham Gate,
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This article was written by Marybeth Ramey for The Expat magazine.
Source: The Expat July 2012

Read more: Helen Olds Discusses Her Educational Visions and Beliefs

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