October 9, 2020

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

I wrote last time about how it’s our job as parents to provide clear instruction – delivered calmly and methodically with an appropriate amount of practice and repetition – as we help our children to learn. This applies equally as much to academic content and what we might call life skills. Kids and teens need direct instruction and modeling.

They also need us to pay close attention to the processes in which they’re engaged as they learn, not just the final products. Let me once again return to writing to illustrate my point.

Too often with written composition, a student is given an assignment: “Write about xyz.” He’s generally given a few basic parameters – i.e., how long the essay should be, its due date – but rarely anything substantive, such as the piece’s intended audience or its purpose. And talking about the actual writing process - let alone walking a young person through it – is rarer still. Thus, all a kid knows is that he’s supposed to turn in three paragraphs or five pages about xyz in two weeks – oh, and to make sure it’s typed and double-spaced with one-inch margins. He has no clue about how to begin and then work his way through the several steps of a logical process to produce truly good writing. Instead, he guesses at how to throw together a product, then holds his breath until his classroom teacher or homeschool mom gives the paper back with a grade scrawled on top, often without any other feedback. And he deems himself to be “good” or “bad” writer based solely on those letter-grades.

But helping young people learn to communicate clearly in writing is too important a skill to treat so haphazardly. If we want good products, we must spend time working through the process together with a child or teen. We must shift our perspective as well – choose to see our child as a learner rather than an assembly line worker – so the process becomes more important to us than the grade on the final product. Of course, if we do that, the product will be better too. But our emphasis must be on helping with the process.

Take some time to replace writing with any other learning task we expect of any of our kids – anything from mastering algebra or spelling to cutting the grass or cleaning the cat boxes. If we focus on the product, we’ll see success based on a natural gift or a fluke some of the time – but failure and frustration most of the time. If we emphasize the process, though, we get to have our cake (a good product) and to eat it (spending meaningful time positively coaching our kids in something important) too.


Photo Credit: Mallory Matson

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