Role of Family


What are children learning? I can assure you, after administering and evaluating thousands of tests, too little in the way of actual facts, figures and skills -- even after hours of instruction.

What they are learning is often more profound:


"I am smart. My teacher likes me."
"I can read well. I understand."
"I'm a fast learner. I'm smart."
"I'm of great worth."
"I have a good memory."
"I can do it." "I am sexy. I can manipulate with hormones."
"I can't read well. I might as well act the fool."
"I'm a slow learner. I'm stupid."
"I'm worthless."
"I have a learning disorder."
"No, I can't."

What is being taught is not necessarily what is being learned. After 120 hours (the approximate length of a one-year course), MOST students (at all grade levels including post-graduate university) demonstrate only an incremental increase in their knowledge of the subject. And this on tests that are, for the most part, rudimentary.

While all of this school instruction is not without value (it does slowly accumulate and may provide contexts for future learning and skill development) the question must be asked, "What is the role of the parent in optimizing their children's learning?" How much must be done outside the school?

THE 40/90 RULE

Forty percent of the students use 90% of the teacher's time:

* The top 20% seem to succeed no matter what. They get plenty of teacher attention because they are rewarding to work with. They are the ones who raise their hands and tend to dominate discussions. The teacher can count on them.
* Another 20% are off task no matter what. These students get their teacher attention by consistently taking others of task. They are the ones who wait patiently until the teacher's back is turned. These students become known as the class clowns.

Unless your child is a member of this 40%, he or she is not likely to get much personal attention or time throughout the school day.

The additional 60% of the class gets 10% of the teachers time:

* The 60% in the middle are rather quiet and make few demands.

The most important job a parent can undertake is to create a safe environment at home where their children are insured the time to develop the academic self-confidence required to continue their educations. Providing your children with time translates directly to, "I must be important. Mom/Dad is willing to spend time with me."

After being buffeted by the million vagaries that stalk the schoolyard, children need to be able to walk in their front doors without fear of further recrimination, criticism, admonitions for better living, anger, sarcasm or self-righteousness. Children need the security of knowing that at least for one hour a day, their needs are paramount, that they can succeed academically, that they can earn for demonstrating the three primary behaviors of academic achievement: starting on time, staying on task, completing assignments (see "Contracts" that put your child in charge of winning,


To accomplish this goal parents need to commit themselves:

A) Negotiate sound contracts;
B) Remind the child it's time to begin, "It's almost time. Don't forget to earn your points;"
C) Delay negative responses;
D) Stop threatening with "take-aways;"
E) Record points earned on a daily report card;
F) Catch the child doing something right, reward immediately;
G) Allow plenty of opportunities for self-correction;
H) Control behavior with listening and taking notes;
I) Make sure answers are provided before questions are asked;
J) Ask only winning questions. Stop asking, "Why?"
K) Stop making excuses;
L) Eliminate all competing reward systems;
M) Provide clear instructions;
N) Break down complex instructions into achievable parts;
O) Pay off immediately;
P) And above all: Hugs, Kisses, and plenty of Love.

How can parents demonstrate to their children the value of learning, reading, communication, character?

"Please" and "Thank you" are a good place to start.

"Ask" your children rather than "Tell" your children. Nobody likes to be told what to do.

Offer your children choices, both of which are acceptable, "You can earn your points by starting with your math or your history. Which would you prefer?"

When there is no assigned homework, children may still earn their points by "Copying."

Post Contracts and Daily Report Cards on the refrigerator door.

Take notes during important conversations and keep them in a parent's portfolio.

Attend meetings on time.

Read out-loud to your children, 15 minutes, four or five evenings a week.

Stop asking questions that force the child to guess. Provide answers first.

Stop catching your children failing.

Reward immediately and consistently. The best rewards look like eye contact, thumbs up, a touch on the shoulder, a hug, a smile (don't get rewards confused with candy).

Exhibit self-control by refusing to engage every argument. Turn your back, lower your eyes and ignore hostile eye contact. Walk out of the room. Go to your bedroom and shut the door. Tell the child, "I need a time out."

Delay all responses that aren't positive. All the negatives have been expressed and heard a thousand times. If they worked I'd suggest using them again. The problem is, they rarely work.


During the Homework Hour the role of the parent should be: listener, note-taker, evaluator, tracker of points, planner.

Insure there is always plenty of notebook paper and sharp pencils at hand. Don't allow children to go off task for lack of paper and pencils. You provide the pencil sharpening (take away as many procrastinating excuses as possible).

Can you imagine homework where every child knows exactly, "Here's what I'm going to earn." "Here's the behavior I need to exhibit to earn it." "When I succeed, I am rewarded."

How much would this contribute to productivity and satisfaction?

In education we have largely taken the emphasis off of the behavior we want and tend to emphasize the behavior we don't want.

It is more helpful to the child to say, for instance, "Bill, please shut the door quietly," than to scream, "How many times have I told you not to slam that door?" Yet, as a parent and teacher, I can testify to which approach is more common.

During homework, the emphasis is usually on the content of the assignment, not on the objective behaviors directly related to academic success: beginning on time, staying on task, completing the assignment. These behaviors can be measured and tracked and rewarded. It's very difficult to judge how much history is being learned.

Continually emphasizes the responsibility of the child to make choices, this is not a simple swim or sink approach to the child's success. This is why there are ongoing family meetings and opportunities for contract renegotiation.

Sometimes I am asked what I mean by the phrase "staying on task." I explain without saying a word. I pick up a pen, open a book and start copying. "This is what staying on task looks like." It's the opposite of taking a snack break, going to the bathroom, arguing with a brother or sister, whining and making excuses.

Children very regularly need to be shown what good behavior looks like and how to do their assignments and projects. If they don't know how to bake a cake, they learn by baking a cake with Dad. If they don't know how to hammer a nail they learn by hammering a nail with Mom. If they don't know how to write a book report or use a word processor, Mom and Dad can help. It is not helpful for a parent to believe, "The teacher made the assignment, it's up to the child to do it."

Children are regularly assigned projects and homework at school that have never received any clear instruction. In order for their children to look as though they are succeeding, some parents cross every "t" and dot every "i." Other parents refuse to lift a finger, believing it's the child's project. As with all truths, between these two extremes is wisdom. Wisdom is discovered through ongoing practice and involvement with the child. When in doubt about how much help is appropriate, ask the child.

Projects, special reports and long-term assignments offer a perfect opportunity for negotiating Five-Minute Contracts.

The goal is not to create "bubble" environments in which the student may achieve. The goal is to develop behaviors and skills that allow children to successfully continue their educations. With these skills and behaviors, opportunities expand. Without them, opportunities shrink to virtually zero.


A critical role for parents is to publicize heroes. Our lexicon is sadly bereft of heroes. Make up a list. Stick it on the refrigerator door along with your other papers and decorations. Let your child know you have some heroes. Check out some biographies and books on tape about these men and women. Leave them lying around the house. Use your reading out-loud time to read about men and women who achieved.

It's essential for children to know that there are real heroes in the world. Some are very famous people, others are your neighbors.

By filbert Tan 10s16

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