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The Dependent Learner: What Can I Do?

By Debra Bell | July 27, 2011 | by Debra Bell, The Science of Learning

All kids will be reluctant or resistent about academics at some point — some more than others.  What can we do to inspire a love for learning and promote independence?

Here are a three strategies that have worked for me with many different kinds of students:

1. Success: Start at the child’s level of success in that area.  Forget about grade levels and where you think your child should be — that’s not helpful if your child is not ready or interested in working at that level yet. We give time to things we feel successful at; we avoid areas where we feel doomed to fail.  Think about where you invest time and effort. Do you expect to be successful?  Would you invest the time and effort, if you expected to fail? That’s my point.   Until recently, I avoided cooking — I didn’t find it very rewarding because I have had too many disasters in the kitchen. All those cooking shows  mydaughter enjoys watching finally got me interested enough to put some time into meal preparation once again. With a lot of helpful sources online and reruns on Hulu, I learned enough of the basics to start turning out new dishes my family loves.  Now that I’m getting positive feedback, I keep putting more time into cooking. And I’m starting to think of cooking as something I enjoy — my intrinsic motivation is on the rise. 

Your kids are wired to learn just like you are. So figure out where you can start in math or science or reading that will prove successful.  Then make a big deal out of that success. I love that the word encouragement has the word courage in it.  That’s what it does — encouragement puts courage into your child. It fills them up with the boldness they need to persist.  And that’s what they need to combat their fear of failure.

2. Challenge: Once you have some success, then challenge your child to tackle a slightly more difficult book or task.  You challenge with encouragement and expressed confidence in your child’s ability to learn. Instead of thinking of yourself as a teacher, think of yourself as a personal coach or trainer. You are there to help your kid grow a brain and you aren’t going to let him or her fail or quit. But the trick is, the challenge has to be just right – not an over-challenging situation, but one in which they can use the new skills they are learning to achieve the very next level of success. Success will breed confidence and interest. And interest is especially keen when we think we have a knack for something that is difficult.  We get our greatest sense of accomplishment from tasks that require effort from us in order to be attained. Kids lose interest not just because they are over-challenged; but also, because they are under-challenged.

3. Novelty: Try a unique approach. We human beings get bored easily. We like novelty. There are endless ways to pique a child’s interest in math, science or reading — find an enthusiastic person who works in the field where your child is struggling. Figure out how your reluctant learner can spend some time around this person. Take a field trip or read a captivating book aloud that shows the benefits of working hard in this area. Just because your child thinks a subject is boring today, doesn’t mean interest can never be created. It certainly can — and novelty is one certain way to get that started.

What other ideas have you tried?

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