Educational theories; Past and Present

Teachers who develop active learners and who understand which approaches work for each child can create a room full of students who are engaged in the learning process, even if that process looks a bit different for every individual.

Over time, our understanding of the learning process has evolved, but many people can find it hard to break with the past. Using mathematics as an example, parents over the past half century have been lamenting changes in math curriculum aimed at helping students understand the meaning of their work and develop a deeper number sense. In curriculum evenings around the world, parents express struggles in helping their children with math concepts, claiming “This isn’t how I learned it.” This satirical song from the 1960s is a good reminder that the best practices in education are continuously changing: New Math. Rather than get frustrated, if we look at the hands-on learning practices now that promote deep learning and problem-solving, we can see how our developing understanding helps to serve all children where earlier practices often encouraged one type of student.

In the world of education, three schools of thought set the basis for the many current theories and practices that we use today: Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Constructivism. While each has relevance for explaining learning in certain situations, none captures the complexity of how students learn.

Behaviorism is best known because of B.F. Skinner, who researched stimulus and response in animals and people for many years. Behaviorism supports rote learning and drill practice as well as positive reinforcement for a job well done. While some aspects of Behaviorism may work in some cases, it does little to prepare students for new tasks and higher-level problem solving.

Cognitivism goes a bit deeper, looking at the way the brain processes information, but still focuses on memorization as a foundation of learning. Cognitive theorists believed there were two types of processing in the brain – visual and auditory. While these are two ways to process information, we now know that there are others paths to learning that build on this earlier understanding.

Lastly, Constructivism is an approach that promotes active learning and using prior knowledge to construct new knowledge. It is useful when the desired outcome is original work, as in a research project, but negates the importance of building a foundation of knowledge and skills for quick, predictable answers.

Looking at all three of these traditional approaches to learning, we can see how some of the leading educational theorists today have combined principles or expanded on the limited scope of each to create more comprehensive models of learning. Howard Gardner’s model of Multiple Intelligences, a widely accepted tool for identifying student strengths, challenges the two-pathway learning presented by the Cognitivists. Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, a model that brought us the concept of scaffolding student learning to get them to the next level, deepens our understanding of how Constructivism works by introducing a social aspect of learning from others. While there is a place for practicing facts and memorizing spelling patterns, classroom learning encompasses so much more than that. Teachers who develop active learners and who understand which approaches work for each child can create a room full of students who are engaged in the learning process, even if that process looks a bit different for every individual. Education is not one-size-fits-all.

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Back to School – One Day at a Time

Back to School – One Day at a Time

With a new year comes new opportunities. Welcome back to school!

Depending on a child’s personality and a variety of factors, back-to-school can be an exciting time full of smiles and anticipation or an overwhelming time marked by new challenges and changes. This is true for parents, too. While it might feel like your job to help your child solve each new problem that comes up, the best thing you can do for your child is to listen and take it one day at a time. Giving them a chance to process their emotions and validating them without overreacting or jumping to the rescue will provide them with skills that will serve them later in life.

Change and transitions can be difficult, but they also create new opportunities. As your child goes back to school, getting into the mindset that you are a supporter and listener will help your child identify these opportunities and make the most of them. This can be tricky, though, and not the automatic reaction of a parent. When your child says, “My best friend is not in my class” or “I miss my teacher from last year,” often our instinct is to help our child solve the problem by saying “You’ll make new friends” or “This teacher is so fantastic!” Chances are your child knows these things, but that doesn’t change their emotions, and they are coming to you for support, not to have those feelings minimized. By nodding or saying, “I understand,” without offering advice or solutions, our children know that their feelings matter. In times of transition, this is particularly important.

While back-to-school season can bring up emotions in children, it can do the same for parents who are also going from the less structured days of summer to a routine full of time management and activities. Many parents look forward to this, and children and families tend to thrive with the balance of structure and independence that school provides. The transition still exists, though, and while it can feel sudden, it helps to remember that a slow and steady approach can be beneficial to everyone in the family. Take it one day at a time, with small to-do lists and regular check-ins. Fall can be a time of uncertainty for everyone, and by creating small goals and managing tasks in a productive way, you are demonstrating problem-solving and life skills for your child.

Lastly, in this time of transition, it is okay to ask questions and make mistakes. You can model this for your children, too. Creating an environment where we work together and support each other in the classroom and at home is what makes a strong community. When children can express their feelings, whether they are nervous or excited, and they feel supported to try new things, they will feel safe to take risks, learn and grow.

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Summer Reading list for parents

Summer Reading list for parents

We have selected some of the most inspiring and helpful parenting and education books from the past few years and put together this list, covering a range of ages and topics.

Summer Reading for Parents

Parents are continuously learning and growing with their children, and sometimes in the moments when we most need new tools and techniques, we feel stuck. Using the extra family time in summer months to find resources and practice new strategies can help parents become more confident and capable, improving communication with children.  We have selected some of the most inspiring and helpful parenting and education books from the past few years and put together this list, covering a range of ages and topics. We hope you find something here that resonates with you!

How to Be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life and Loving (Almost) Every Minute by K. J. Dell’Antonia

K.J. Dell’Antonia is a writer who for many years wrote the column Motherlode in the New York Times. She recently published her book, an inspiring collection of relatable stories and tips for achieving a family/work/life balance where parents and children thrive.

Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschoolby Emily Oster

Emily Oster is an economist who looks at some of the trends in parenting from an analytical perspective. The outcome is a reassuring and extremely informative book that helps parents focus on the big picture rather than listening to all the noise about the many choices we make.

Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls by Lisa Damour

Lisa Damour’s new book is a beautifully-written toolkit for parenting through the pressure of modern-day childhood and adolescence. Rather than take the approach that our children are under too much pressure, she deconstructs stress and anxiety to help us understand what is healthy and expected. She provides tools for parenting to help our children manage stress and create growth. While Lisa Damour focuses her research on girls, most of the content applies to all children and families.

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims

One of the most popular parenting books in recent years, Julie Lythcott-Haims looks at how the helicopter and snow-plow parenting impacts our children and undermines their autonomy. She teaches us to offer opportunities to be independent and then step back and empower our children to develop their own abilities.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Susan Cain’s book is incredibly helpful for parents to better understand personality types and communication styles. Whether you are the introvert or your child is an introvert, this book offers insightful new ways of looking at people’s hidden gifts, and how we can unlock them to create better communication within our families and as we advocate for our children in the world.

Now Say This: The Right Words to Solve Every Parenting Dilemma by Julie Wright and Heather Turgeon

In those moments when we most need effective communication, we often lose our ability to find the right words. This leads to emotional outbursts and lost opportunities to build relationships and understanding. Julie Wright and Heather Turgeon break conflict and behavior into categories and provide a simple three-step approach to identify and consistently use effective language in each situation. This book is particularly helpful for parents of pre-school and early school-aged children to build a foundation that will help for years to come.

The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Livesby Ned Johnson and William Stixrud

With expertise in different age ranges, Johnson and Stixrud provide an outline for encouraging self-control and emotional regulation over the course of childhood. They demonstrate how developing trust rather than micromanaging decisions sets our children up for success.

The Good News About Bad Behavior: Why Kids Are Less Disciplined Than Ever-And What to Do About It by Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Journalist Katherine Reynolds-Lewis takes a societal view of discipline and parenting and identifies the problematic ways that we respond to issues with our children. By using stories to demonstrate outcomes, Reynolds-Lewis has written a relatable book with clear examples for parents to follow. Her model offers ways for parents and children to become more capable and have greater control over their actions and relationships

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The Ups and Downs of New Tech

At Clarion, teachers make every effort to use technology wisely and only when it enhances classroom learning.

Parents and teachers struggle constantly with how best to utilize and manage screentime with children. It is the result of a love/hate relationship that many adults, too, have with technology, and as the people who are tasked with helping our children develop good habits, we see the possibilities for learning but are wary of the drawbacks. Teachers are concerned that if children are learning from devices, they may be missing out on hands-on learning opportunities. Parents, who often use screentime at times when children are expected to entertain themselves, find their children watching visually engaging but purposeless videos or playing fast-paced games. What are the costs of technology for children, and what can we do better?

The mindless technology does the same thing to children that it does to us as adults. It sucks them in and does not let go until they are pulled off the device or something more exciting interferes. They are quite literally wasting time. This is fine ocassionally, if you need their attention to be focused on something distracting and engaging. It is perfect if a child is in the hospital or if you have an important phonecall and cannot be interrupted, but most often it is stealing time from much more productive and creative activities, the kinds of experiences that shaped our childhoods. Instead of assuming your child will watch a device on a plane, at a restaurant or during downtime indoors, try providing a pouch with drawing supplies, puzzles or magnetic games. With screentime becoming the go-to activity, children are missing opportunities to engage in the creative process. Giving children tools to work and a blank slate enables them to generate ideas from within rather than rely on external stimuli.

Children learn new skills through a variety of entry points, and technology can enhance their learning, if used properly. As with many things, quality is more important than quantity. When children engage with quality online teaching tools or apps that foster creative learning, they can unlock skills and learn new concepts. This takes guidance, however, and planning. If children are hoping to have screentime, make it a learning opportunity. Talk about what they can use their screentime to do. A research project? Make and edit videos? Practice a new language? There are limitless possibilities, but often the problem is that parents and children do not work together to focus screentime on productive activities.

At Clarion, teachers make every effort to use technology wisely and only when it enhances classroom learning. It is a resource for social studies projects in that it allows the teachers to go beyond the walls of the classroom and experience other parts of the world. In math, teachers can use technology to introduce children to new concepts, and then provide opportunities to practice these skills with interactive games. In these examples, teachers create a foundation of understanding using hands-on learning tools such as class discussions, math manipulatives and read-alouds with an eye for how technology can deepen understanding. Our innovative teachers thoughtfully and purposefully integrate technology into classroom learning.

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Importance of Reading

Importance of Reading

Why is reading at home an important aspect in child learning?

Recent research on the value of homework consistently shows that young children do not benefit from homework. In some cases, it can be detrimental because it takes away from play time and can create frustration. These may leave parents wondering what they can do to support learning at home. The best thing to do, and the only thing that is proven to have a positive impact on learning in the long term, is a regular reading routine.

Reading in the evening from a very young age serves many purposes, all of which are important in a child’s development. It strengthens the bond between parents and children, inspires curiosity, and builds early literacy skills. Children also learn social skills through the characters in their stories, and the content helps them build an understanding of the world around them.

Children receive these benefits with as little as twenty minutes dedicated to reading each night. The key is starting when they are young, and building a routine. Most parents or caregivers read to their children before bedtime as a way to unwind from the day. Once children are reading on their own, they can do a combination of independent reading and reading with their caregivers. They continue to enjoy having stories read to them, and it can enhance their skills to hear an adult read with expression and fluency. As children get older, bedtime is a natural time for them to set aside for reading, but many enjoy reading after school to relax.

Reading is a great way to build conversation with your children and form a home/school connection. Talk to your children about what they are reading in school, and take them to local libraries and book stores regularly to get a sense for the kind of books they like. Also, modeling reading skills in your own life will help them understand the importance of reading for everyone. Lifelong readers become lifelong learners!



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