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Supporting boys' learning at home and school | Head of Middle School Rebecca Campbell

We often refer to the tripartite relationship between parents, teachers and students and the importance of forging strong partnerships between home and school to support boys’ learning.

Traditionally, as boys progress from primary school to middle school and into their senior years of schooling, the type and amount of support parents provide changes. This can be attributed to several factors.

Firstly, as the complexity of the subject matter increases, parents often find themselves unable to answer certain questions or access particular concepts. This is certainly no reflection on a parent’s intelligence; it’s simply a case of ‘use it or lose it’. For many of us, we have not had to solve quadratic equations or apply complex scientific theories for many years.

Another contributing factor is adolescent development. Typically, middle school aged boys are entering a phase where they rely less on parental support, view their peers as the most important people in their lives and crave independence. This can be a difficult time for parents as they want to support their son to achieve his best, take an interest in his learning, and provide moral support as he navigates this often tumultuous time of his development.

The 2020 MMG survey revealed that approximately one-third of Middle School parents surveyed felt they did not know how to support their son’s learning at home. While this may not be as straightforward or as easy as it was during his primary years, there are several ways parents can support their young tween or teen’s learning.

By the time a boy reaches Senior School, he should be taking full responsibility for his homework, revision and assignment completion. Throughout his Middle School years, it is imperative that we provide the opportunities for him to develop the mechanisms to reach this goal.

Deputy Headmaster Teaching and Learning Steve Uscinski recently encouraged students to prioritise progress rather than chasing perfection or focusing solely on achievement. This is equally, if not more, important for parents. It is critical to show our boys that we value the process of learning, recognise failure and productive struggle as part of this process, and are not entirely consumed or motivated by results.

Avoid promising elaborate rewards for academic prizes or an A on end of semester reports. This can be incredibly disheartening, especially for boys who have not attained these grades despite their best efforts. It also places much greater value on the product rather than the process. Instead, focus on encouraging the pursuit of personal best, the development of learning goals that support progress, and take time to acknowledge when progress is made or goals are achieved.

From Year 7, all boys at BGS develop a Learning Plan where they are encouraged to use feedback from their teachers and reflections on their own learning to identify growth areas.

In Middle School, boys are developing their ability to set targeted and specific learning goals. For example, ‘I can recall and accurately apply the correct formula when calculating the area of shapes.’ We aim to shift boys away from performance-oriented goal setting (e.g. ‘I want to achieve a B in Maths’) to ensure the onus remains on the learning process and allows boys to take greater ownership over their learning.

Parents should take time to regularly check in with their son to see how he is progressing with his goals, ask him about the strategies he is employing to achieve them and prompt him to consider ‘what’s next?’ to further support his learning.

Establishing regular home routines is one of the most effective ways to support learning. Help create a planner where cocurricular commitments are mapped out and an adequate amount of time is set aside each day to complete homework and revision.

Provide a space for homework completion where progress can be easily monitored, particularly when your son is working on a tablet and can be easily distracted.

Insist on certain expectations (e.g. ‘no computer games until homework is complete) to develop his motivation and self-regulation and to help negate the unnecessary arguments that sometimes ensue around homework. If he chooses not to do his homework, parents must allow their son to experience the school-based consequences that follow rather than engage in the ‘homework battle’.

Understanding the difference between ‘homework’ and ‘study’ and being cognisant of different revision techniques is also beneficial. Too often, boys view study as simply reading over the textbook or completing a few practice questions. In their book Understanding How We Learn, authors Yana Weinstein and Megan Sumeracki provide parents with a useful overview of effective revision techniques. Some are summarised below:

  • Spaced practice: Revising previously learned content, skills or topics, rather than focusing solely on the most recently learned information.
  • Retrieval practice: Recalling, describing and explaining what has been learned from memory.
  • Elaboration: Explaining how what is being learned now relates to or connects with what has been previously learned.
  • Dual coding: Representing concepts or ideas in different formats (i.e. visually, and verbally). For example, creating a concept map to illustrate what is being learned in Science or constructing a written paragraph to explain a particular diagram.

In Semester 2, our Year 8 students delve more deeply into these techniques through their participation in our Applied Thinking subject. Other Middle School boys will be increasingly exposed to various techniques through Consolidation and Preparation toolkit sessions.

At the start of this article, I referred to the tripartite relationship between parents, students and teachers. Parents are strongly encouraged to maintain open communication with our staff and seek feedback if they have any questions or concerns about their son’s progress and wellbeing. Establishing this important home-school connection is the first step parents can take to support their son’s learning at home.

BGS Publications

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