After a couple of decades of working with teenaged students, I’ve come to this conclusion. Every teen, no matter how they are doing in school and no matter what they say about school, knows that education is valuable and would like to be getting good grades. If this is so, you may ask, how do I explain why so many teens aren’t doing better in school? More importantly, you may be thinking, if that’s true, what can we parents do to help our teens do better?
In his best-selling book Drive, author Daniel Pink stresses that people are naturally motivated to explore, learn, and experiment. Sounds great, but maybe it seems as though your teen is discouraged or uninterested. Or perhaps your teen is doing pretty well but putting in more time than seems reasonable. Either way, here are some thoughts on learning that may help you help them.
Let’s begin with how teens learn? The answer is mostly by doing. That is, by practicing. When they listen and watch and read, they may understand. But only by doing something can they master it.
People learn at different rates depending on their current knowledge, interest, and learning skills. But learning rates can change. The more you know about a subject, the faster you can learn the next lesson, and usually, the more interested and willing you are to learn more. Moving on to new material before mastering current lessons slows your learning rate and decreases your motivation. In the same way, moving ahead without mastering the current lesson is also a problem week to week during a course. If you have ever fallen behind in a course you know how discouraging that feels.
So the secret sauce for big improvements in student performance is to get them to master each lesson in turn. What we have found works is to coach students in how to practice and to encourage and guide them to keep practicing until they have mastered the current lesson before going on to the next. They soon see that practicing to mastery works, even in subjects they previously found difficult. That causes their motivation and self-esteem to soar.
The usual study skills courses, books and videos present useful techniques but usually don’t provide the practice and application students need to develop skills and habits. In addition, as students are practicing new methods, individual attention is very helpful. So, if you can, coach your son or daughter to be a better learner. If you can’t do that or don’t know the subjects well enough, look to a tutor.