The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

Cultivating a Partnership between School and Parents

It is common to hear parents say, "I want to help my son learn and be involved in his education but I don't know how."

This is an interesting question that perhaps highlights the change in today's educational model versus the education we were afforded. What teachers are teaching in the classroom is no longer as simple as opening a textbook and directing students to learn the content. Equally, for parents, the task of being involved in their child's education is not just as simple as sitting beside them and helping to locate the answers. So, what is our role as parents and how do we best support our boys?

In the not too distant past, the focus for educators was on assisting students to develop functional skills in remembering facts, perfecting grammar, improving spelling and performing complex mental arithmetic. However, increasingly, these skills are losing their position of importance as technology finds new ways to bridge the divide between those who are highly skilled in these areas, and those who are not. For example, the skill of spelling no longer holds equal position with one's ability to convey meaning through language. In other words, if you cannot spell 'cantankerous', you are probably still going to get by in life, however, using it in the wrong context might not end so well!

In schools now, we are increasingly shifting the focus of our teaching towards concept learning where educators aim for a level of comprehension that moves beyond simple memorisation. For concepts to be developed, they must begin from the basis of some acquired knowledge or skill, which is why the Australian Curriculum of today does not look too dissimilar to that of 30 years ago. The difference is in the way we deliver the curriculum. Conceptual understanding has to be driven by a desire to think deeply about that knowledge and question how it came to be. Concepts are universal, timeless and abstract and when students make genuine connections between concepts, they provide the "Aha!" moments that make learning so engaging and allows our boys to feel a sense of ownership over how they construct knowledge. It is those conceptual understandings, which allow boys to take action as a result of their learning rather than holding it as a meaningless memory.

From a parent's perspective, conceptual learning can occur anywhere, anytime. This sounds similar to how the internet was 'sold' in education 10 years ago. The difference is that one is a second storage device for our memory, which is indeed useful, while the other is the art of conversation. The human element is the essential factor that young minds require to broaden their thinking. Conceptual learning occurs when we invite our boys into a conversation that allows them to be curious, inquisitive and provides a safe place to test assumptions.

"Can you explain to me a rule that you have learned recently?"

"Does that rule always work or can you think of an exception?"

"Do all subjects have rules?"

"What is the difference between a rule in Mathematics and a rule in Science?"

"Why do we create rules?"

"How do you know that, can you give me another example?"

Although having these conversations might seem odd at first, it will no doubt be interesting to see how your sons tackles them. At the very least, this will be a better conversation than, "Have you done your homework?"