Everyone can do maths – the research proves it
By Dr Lieb Liebenberg, CEO, ITSI
Recently, a parent complained to me about the fact that the school her kid is attending was taking itself way too seriously and putting enormous pressure on students.
As a parent, it appeared to her that there was absolutely no coordination among same grade teachers in terms of assessment and assignment schedules, which resulted in extreme stress for students. She wanted some advice about how to help her children see their school for what it is – just part of a bigger picture and not THE picture.
One way of doing this is to teach them to stand back for a moment and critically look at what is required of them and the rationale behind it.
This is called metacognition. You may have heard about metacognition before – research has shown that it is an extremely strong indicator for academic success and refers to the ability to reflect on one’s learning, the process it involves and where it fits into the bigger picture. It helps students become aware of how their schoolwork – at any given moment – fits into their “own life project”.
The Limitations of “Curriculum” as a Term
Most students are at school for a period of 12 years, during which they are expected to master a curriculum that will enable them to study further, or start their adult and working life in a meaningful way.
It is, therefore, no accident that most of our language regarding school focuses on the curriculum which must be adhered to by teachers and mastered by students. This is reflected in educators’ language about homework, tests, and exams – when they point out what work will be covered, what topics are important for tests and exams, etc.
There is nothing wrong with that, but in order to prepare students for their adult lives (and also put school demands in perspective), we need to teach them to look at the bigger picture, and to have long-term rather than short-term goals. An immediate benefit of this is that it helps them set their own priorities rather than necessarily accepting those of the teacher/school without question.
In that respect, school should be about much more than just the curriculum. It should also be about preparing students for the future and their place in it. And in order to achieve this, we need to help them look at the curriculum from the “context” of life – from outside the borders and walls of their schools.
This ties in quite closely with what is intended when people talk about the 6 Cs in education (collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, character, and citizenship).
Helping students master these skills during their school years ultimately enables them to step back from the details of the curriculum and start asking questions about how things tie together and what this means for them – not only now, but also in the future. Linking the curriculum to our widespread view of “life as a journey” will provide students with a tool to see their schooling years as part of a bigger picture rather than just a series of loosely related curriculum events that they have to suffer through.
If we only focus on school as curriculum mastery and we do not stand back and point out the life journey to our kids, they will likely never realise this for themselves.
And in failing to do so, they will keep focussing on the details of the curriculum and not see tests as stepping stones, exams as steps and school years as milestones – often not a means in themselves but a means to an end.
They will fail to realise that in passing their grades they are gaining so much more than just “the curriculum” – they are also gaining skills for the rest of their journey. Some of these, such as resilience and discipline, will be tacit, others such as maths skills or critical thinking may be more explicit, but all will contribute meaningfully to their progress.
Curriculum as Learning Paths
If we were to think of the life journey metaphor as a useful metacognitive tool for helping our kids think about their learning – what can we do as parents?
One way is for parents to become more involved with their children’s learning journey by helping them think about their school work as Learning Paths rather than a static curriculum.
The use of this metaphor will enable us to map all their school activities to various stages of a year-long school journey, while our kids will be able to relate to this without any problem and, more importantly, be able to make the connection to their life as a journey and the role that this particular learning path plays in preparing them for what lies ahead.
Let’s teach our kids to see their schooling as part of their own unique life-journey, refraining from an overemphasis on isolated events such as assessments and assignments, and in doing so, assist them in finding their place in the bigger picture. That bigger picture may also help them navigate the stress that comes from unrealistic academic schedules.