Have many times have you asked your child after he comes home from school, “How was your day?” The typical answer you usually get is “Goood!” You are relieved that your child didn't have a terrible day, and your child is glad that he doesn't have to explain what he did in school. Unfortunately, the only way you are really going to find out how good your child is doing in school is when he gets his report card or when you meet with his teachers during the parent-teacher conference. It is too late.
I had the same problem with my son. How do I get him to learn, think, and do? How do I get him to improve his performance in school? Instead of getting angry with him for not doing his homework or not doing well on tests or procrastinating on his school projects, how can I get him to become more responsible, accountable and confident? How can I prevent him from being indifferent toward school? How can I make school fun for him? It is something a lot of parents can relate to and leads to arguments with their spouse and children without any effective long-term practical solution. To feel good, parents throw money at the problem through all kinds of tutoring and assistance, but the results are often no better than not doing anything. Money is not the solution; yelling at your kids is not the solution; lecturing them about the merits of education is not the solution. Parents are simply stressed out and often just give up and resort to hope and pray. But it doesn't have to be this way.
You need to come up with something that Charles Duhigg describes in his book “The Power of Habit” called the keystone habit. Keystone habit by itself may not seem like it will achieve much, but gradually it will lead to improvement in other areas that you were not targeting o even thinking about. For your child, instead of targeting their academic performance, focus on a keystone habit that will result in improvement in your child’s academic performance.
What is a keystone habit?
The thing to do is develop a keystone habit that I developed for my son called the 2/20 method. Believe it or not, I got this idea from how a typical hedge fund companies get compensated. They get 2% of the clients’ investments they manage and 20% of the profits those investments earn. I took the percentages and turned them into minutes; hence, I take 2 minutes of their time at the beginning of the day and 20 minutes of their time after school. Parents can look at it as a way they can get rewarded of their childrens’ investment in school. It’s a stretch but you get the idea.
How does 2/20 work?
The 2/20 method is very simple. You spend two minutes in the morning before your child goes to school to get a quick update on what your child is expected to do such as submit his homework, take tests and what he plans to learn during his school day. The purpose of this is to get your child focused on his day rather than having him go through the motion of taking the bus and going to school and taking the bus to come home. In a sense you are creating a purpose for the day for him. The important thing is that this should be only two minutes in the morning since the kids don’t have much time and you probably don’t have much time too. Also you don’t want to exhaust your child before he heads to school. The purpose is to get them focused, motivated and purposeful. Your job is to just listen and let your child do all the talking. Do not make a mistake of lecturing to them since they will just tune you out.
When your child gets back from school and after he has had some time (no more than 30 minutes) to settle down, you want to spend twenty minutes getting an update on what he learned, what homework he has been assigned, whether he has to prepare for any tests that are coming up and get a progress report on any projects that are due. (For some this may work after the child has already completed his school wok. You will know what is effective for your child.) Ask him if he needs any help with anything and then leave him alone. Now if both you and your wife are working, then allocate this time before your child goes to sleep, but it has to be done everyday. If you are on the road, then do it by phone, but it has to be done. You want to turn this into a habit.
What I discovered is that just showing interest for 20 minutes is sufficient for your child to communicate with you on what he did in school, what he has to do and it provides you with all the information you need so there are no surprises.
By having your child talk to you he will understand what he is learning a little better. By getting him to talk through his school day, he will know what he knows well and what he needs to focus on. This exercise will make him pay more attention in school since he knows that he will have to explain it to you later. What he is learning is not learn and done, but learn and talk. By talking through it he will become a better communicator; he will commit to what he has to work on; he will know that you care; it will make school more enjoyable. By talking through his day, he will become more responsible, accountable and confident. Most important, by talking through his school day, it will improve his academic performance.
In the blog in Business Insider titled "7 Memory Skills That Make You Way Smarter," it mentions some of the techniques that are indirectly occurring with the 2/20 method, such as retrieval, elaboration, interleaving, generation, and reflection. The method allows your child to take control of his learning instead of passively just absorbing information as they do in school all day.
Bob Sutton, Stanford Professor, writes in this blog "Our Scaling MOOC: The Latest Chapter in a 'Teach to Learn' Adventure" that the best way that he learns is through teaching. Let your child learn by teaching you.
Another famous person who used this technique of teaching to learn was Richard Feynman, Nobel prize winning scientist in physics. This Feynman Technique is explained well by Scott Young in this video titled "Learning Faster with The Feynman Technique":
1) Have your child choose a concept that he has to understand and ask him to prepare a 20 minute presentation.
2) Have him explain it to you as if you don't understand it; he will gain a better understanding of the concept and it will pinpoint what he does not know well. He may need to refer to the material later. I suggest you record the session so he can review it.
3) Urge your child to simplify the language so he can explain it to someone so it is understandable.
By having your child talk about what he learned, you are making him think. Daniel T. Willingham, professor, writes in his book "Why Don't Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom." that "Learning is influenced by many factors, but one factor trumps the others: students remember what they think about." Through thinking they can put meaning to what they are learning in the classroom and will remember it longer.
Note you are not going to be critical, but just let them talk. At the end of twenty minutes, ask him how he plans to solve a problem and if he needs any help. That’s it.
In the beginning they will try to resist, but if you persist with interest then they will realize that you are not there to treat them like a baby but interested in what they learned in school. Your child will be more forthcoming and willing to share more than the perfunctory “good” for all your questions. You will be having a conversation with your child and sometimes that is all the encouragement they need to excel.
I have found this exercise very helpful since it has allowed me to quickly discover what my son is learning in school and can guide him to better focus on areas where he is having some difficulties. Also, it allows him to explain what he has done and develop good habit of communicating as to what he is doing in school. Though he may not like this exercise in the beginning, but after a while he will like it knowing that I care about his education and I take it seriously.
After I started this, I do not have to spend much time with my son with his homeowrk, tests or even projects. He is responsible, accountable and confident. In fact, I saw a big improvement in his performance in fifth grade and even a bigger improvement in sixth grade. He now is independent and lets me know when he needs help. Learning is fun and interactive. All I did was institute the 2/20 method.
Has this method made my son a straight A students? No, that was not the point. He has made incremental improvements and is more purposeful about his learning than before. My goal is to focus on the process and not worry about the results. Also what I discovered with my two children is that kids want parents to be interested in their academics every day not when they get their report cards. The 2/20 method does err on quantity over quality. I think this is what kids want though they may not say it since they often feel that their parents will end up lecturing more than listening.
It does require patience
I do have to warn you that you will get a lot of resistance the first two weeks but stick to it and be patient of the results. If 20 minutes seem long, then start with ten minutes the first couple of weeks and then increase it to 15 minutes and then settle on 20 minutes. Note, you don’t want to exceed more than 20 minutes so your child knows how to cover everything in 20 minutes. Once you start you will know how to manage the time and come up with your own approach that works for you and your child. The one thing you don’t want to do is to give up. Even if you get them to do all the talking that is a big win since kids today do not engage in any kind of constructive conversation that are of any substance.
I stumbled into this totally by accident and since it has worked for me I think it may help you if you are having difficulty with your child. This does however require your time of approximately 20 minutes where you will be mostly sitting and listening and letting your child stand and move around and do most of the talking and perhaps even some teaching. To make it fun, you may want to ask to mimic their teachers.
This method is hard for parents so you have to get interested in learning too. It is time for you to become a student and let your child be the teacher. You both will have to give a little; it will require both of you to change your mindset so there will be no more arguments about school performance anymore in your house and not waste time on things that does not achieve excellence.