Thursday, September 20, 2012

Should I Let Them Do It On Their Own?

If you have ever undergone a major medical procedure or surgery, one of your first concerns was the surgeon’s experience. How many times has he done this surgery before, and how successful have his surgeries been? The diplomas hanging on his office wall and the style of his clothes don’t impress us when he has had minimal practice or poor performance with previous patients. Doctors, depending upon their specialty, spend 3 to 8 years in internships or residence after having spent 8 years in the classroom. You may wonder, “What’s going on during these years of internship and residency?” Supervised Practice. They are performing medical procedures and prescribing treatments as a doctor but under the supervision of a higher ranking doctor. And that’s an educational practice that can be applied to all students, at every age, and on every level.

It’s been said that a new skill must be practiced 24 times in order to accomplish 80% mastery. This emphasizes what teachers have always said, “Practice makes perfect” – at least, closer to perfect than no practice at all.  But there’s a requirement that cannot be overlooked. The student must practice it correctly. If a student practices doing something the wrong way, he’ll require even more time (and frustration) trying to correct the old way of thinking and making the right way the habitual way. This illustrates why students need to perform on their own, but with supervision. As you supervise your child’s homework and studying, consider a few factors.

1.  Students haven’t mastered a skill if they cannot think independently. Good parents have high expectations for their kids and want them to excel. Sometimes, a parent’s natural tendency is to offer a little too much instruction too early. Let them try the problem at first, seeing what they remember from the teacher’s instruction. When you feel like you must assert yourself, offer guidance by asking questions. “What’s the next step?” “Where should that comma go?” “How should you spell that word?” When students can deduce and answer on their own, they’re more likely to really “get it.”

2. Student work needs to be assessed often. As it was already mentioned, practicing the wrong way produces the wrong habits. We want students to learn to think and work independently, but the lack of supervision will be counterproductive. Time spent on task cannot be confused with quality work. Some parents have been surprised by their students’ poor grades after seeing them work diligently on their assignments. Unfortunately, they were diligent at practicing the wrong thing. We have to make sure their work is correct.

3. Students need to follow the teacher’s instructions regarding assignments. Generally, teachers assign homework practice so students can develop mastery in a skill, or teachers assign study requirements to prepare students for a test or quiz. Parental help is usually welcomed for these type of assignments. But on occasion, assignments are given to provide teachers an accurate picture of their students’ understanding. Teachers need to know how well students can perform independently. That’s the true sign of whether or not they are progressing academically. Parents should be careful to not incidentally hijack the task by offering “help.” Additionally, some assignments build critical thinking skills, and students need a chance to exercise their analytical skills. They need to find their own mistakes and correct them without a parent or teacher pointing out every one. For example, when a student must complete an assignment that requires research, the purpose of the assignment involves comprehension and reasoning skills. It might be helpful for the parent or teacher to recommend books and periodicals for the student to use, but if the student does not do the reading and writing alone, the purpose of the assignment has been defeated. Be careful to follow the teacher’s requirements that accompany specific assignments.

I have heard adults jokingly tell stories about their parents’ over involvement when they were in school. Their parents completed most of the project for them because of frustration over a difficult assignment or because the assignment was going to be late. The student is always the loser in that scenario. Students need practice to improve their skills, and they need to be practicing the right way. What they really need is supervised practice.

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