Parents, teachers learn to help students at workshop |

Parents, teachers learn to help students at workshop

Linda Hiller

How do you teach parents to help their children learn to learn better?

Parents of middle school students spent two hours at Carson Valley Middle School last Thursday night learning just that.

The workshop was presented by Dr. Meggin McIntosh, professor with the College of Education, University of Nevada, Reno as part of a Nevada 2000 grant-funded project.

“The grant is for professional development,” said Janice Florey, Douglas County School District coordinator of grants and assessments, who organized the workshop.

“Kids have lost sight of the learning,” McIntosh began, explaining that students are in a hurry to find answers today instead of “learning for the sake of learning.”

“We need to reward learning with the opportunity to learn more,” she said. “Right now that may sound strange to you, but we want to get kids to the point where they think that learning is just about the coolest thing, because it is.”

Parents and teachers in attendance at the workshop became part of a number of demonstrations aimed at illustrating the learning process in their children and students.

One such example of how ready a person’s brain is to take in and process certain information involved a velcro ball, a velcro paddle and a foam paddle.

Two volunteers from the audience of aproximately 40 people were asked to participate. One held the foam paddle and one held the velcro paddle.

McIntosh then tossed the velcro ball to the person holding the foam paddle. The ball didn’t stick and repeatedly fell to the floor.

“You’re not trying!” she kidded the volunteer as audience members laughed. “The truth is, no matter how hard he tries, this ball isn’t going to stick to that paddle.”

However, when she threw the velcro ball to the velcro paddle, it stuck immediately.

“What this illustrates to kids – they love this demonstration, by the way – is that sometimes our brains just don’t have the velcro to “catch” the information being taught,” McIntosh said. “They are so relieved when they realize it’s not their fault they don’t get a certain concept.”

She used the example of an adult going to a lecture on a subject they know nothing about and have had no experience with, and coming out feeling like they hadn’t learned a thing.

“You might go to a lecture on, say, physics and come out feeling like you’d totally wasted your time,” she said. “It’s not that you aren’t smart, it’s just that because new learning is shaped by the learner’s prior knowledge. In other words, your brain doesn’t have the ‘velcro’ to catch and hold that particular new information.”

McIntosh said parents should continue to be an active part of their children’s schooling for as long as possible.

“Just because teenagers tell you they don’t need any help, don’t back off,” she said. “They can always use your input. They need it.”

If you as a parent think your children’s education is important, they will too, she said. If you set high goals and make education a priority, you can transform children into what she called “strategic learners.”

“I tell kids they have control over their brains, about what they do and don’t learn, and that empowers them,” she said.

Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals is something McIntosh heartily recommends.

“Did you know that less than two percent of adults in the United States set goals?” she asked.

SMART stands for goals that are “specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and trackable.” McIntosh recommends starting goal-setting habits in both children and adults with a short-term easy goal.

“Have them set one that they can reach in a week,” she said. Improving spelling skills could be a beginning goal.

“Have them write down the goal and keep track of reaching it. When they realize how powerful goal-setting can be, they’ll want to do it more and more.” Many parents said they planned to start setting goals themselves.

McIntosh recommended three books for further study: “Success is a Choice,” by Rick Pitino, “Successful Intelligence,” by Robert J. Sternberg and “Emotional Intelligence,” by Daniel Goleman.

McIntosh said parents can do the most for their children by giving them encouragement and the confidence to succeed in school.

“Tell them, ‘This is important, you can do it, I won’t give up on you,'” she said. “And don’t do their work for them, because when you do that they get the message ‘you must not think I can do this.'”

Most importantly, she said, never say anything to your child about their learning that you don’t want to be true.

“It sounds complicated, but think about it. If you say to your child, ‘math is hard for you,’ is this something you really want to be true for them?” she asked. “Try to be positive. Instead, you can say ‘math was hard for you, but now you’re doing better.'”

In the “head game” called learning, McIntosh said parents can have more power over their children than they ever thought possible.

Three more learning workshops by McIntosh will be offered to Douglas County parents and teachers this month.

n Thursday, Sept. 18, the 7-9 p.m. session will be held at Whittell High School for parents of WHS and Kingsbury Middle School students.

n Thursday, Sept. 25, parents of Douglas High School students will meet at the DHS library from 7-9 p.m. Middle school parents who were unable to attend last Thursday’s class are also welcome.

n Thursday, Oct. 9, Part 2 of the previous workshops will take place in the DHS library from 7-9 p.m. This is only for parents and teachers who have attended one of the Sept. classes to “take them to the next level,” Florey said.

Call 782-5160 to reserve your spot for any of the free workshops.