Thursday, 17 May 2012

Seeing is believing

It took me a while to accept that I have a big part to play in the success of my child's formal education.

When he started school I was of the belief that I could leave the professionals to it.  

I saw my job - on the education front - to expand his experiences and show him why it may be worth putting in effort to learn at school.

Practically demonstrate to him the advantages of being good with numbers, or learning how to read.

"You could be writing the script for Star Wars VII if you knew how to."

"You wouldn't be hungry it you could actually read the menu."

That sort of thing.

I stuck to those guns despite various triggers and messages from the school to be more engaged with Max's learning.

"Max needs help with his such and such" or "Max needs to revisit x, y and z".

Instead I took these homework diary notes as people pointing out the obvious, rather than as prompting me to actually facilitate any extra learning.

I'm no teacher, I proved that by going back into the classroom.

Thing is my principle is that I want my son to enjoy school, not really caring too much about his academic performance, unless it starts to affect his enjoyment.

Something it did last year.

Due to the sometimes processional nature of learning, Max was being systematically put up reading levels as he had exhausted books at the previous level without enough regard  to the fact of if he was actually understanding them, and if his basics were strong enough for him to move on from.

"I think he needs to go back a level, not up one."  I said, when his step up meant he was just reading words out in order, rather than reading and understanding a story.

I think my attitude puzzled his educators, and I appreciate they are under pressure to ensure children reach certain levels, but the danger is broken learning, and teaching them to the tests, rather than giving them a sound overall basis to build upon.

At this point I accepted I needed to do something about it.

With the assistance of my lovely girlfriend (which if I'd written the blog pieces I really owe you about her, you'd know she is an early years teacher, and goes by the name of Helen) I took it upon myself to take Max right back to the beginning.

Directed by Helen, I was teaching Max how to blend his words and to look for the phonics sounds he so clearly understood.

It was immediately obvious he'd been listening at school, and knew all his sounds, letters and actions, it's just that no one had pointed out why, or how to look for them, and what to do when he found them.

After a couple of weeks it all clicked into place, his reading improved drastically, his confidence and attitude to school too.

We all learned something.

And then recently it was pointed out to me that my son is a visual learner.  He needs to see things to understand how they work.

A fact demonstrated well this week, when completing his latest homework on weights.

He observed that the Liquorice Allsorts I got for my birthday weighed 600g when I opened them, and he worked out how much they weighed now, clocking how many of them I'd eaten.  All the time seeing what these amounts looked liked (and tasted like).

We also used a bag of satsumas to represent units of ten.  He was quickly then able to interpret the measurements on our weighing scales, and split 100 into half.

It feels good to know I am understanding him better, and helping him to learn.

It was fun.

Thing is, I'm not sure that satsumas or Bertie's Bassets are an ideal long-term tool for our maths expansion (just our personal expansions), so as my girlfriend is too honest to even consider stealing learning aids I'm looking for other ideas.

I know people use marbles, and I may start there, but I wondered if there was anything else more novel I could use?

Think I have a set of pool balls somewhere.

They may work.

As long as we remember not to eat them.