Weekend learning from my teenage daughter

If you are a parent with teenage kids, you’ll instantly know what I’m referring to, the Sunday night panic and mayhem as the kids remember to do their homework.

So last night my eldest daughter dragged out the evening and raged against her teacher, who she said she hated because the homework she’d set didn’t make any sense.

Throughout my education, my parents had encouraged us to learn. They had in their education system learnt by rote everything their teachers had given them in their lessons.

Write this 100 times, practice this 100 or 1,000 times. Often the objective within these lessons were so that the child would be able to recite or write down the word or text without thinking.

At some point in my childhood, I must have rebelled against this regime, because I don’t recall anytime when I enjoyed home work or got anything of value from these type of learn by rote or had to memorise, the act of learning turned and homework became a chore.

The homework that I enjoyed, didn’t feel like homework, they were projects, endeavors which I found fascinating, like the time I wrote a mini biography on Danny Kaye (yep I had a thing for 50’s musicals, the local library — before Wikipedia meant I had to ask a librarian to help me find obscure text books to look up facts so I could piece together a timeline of his career) or the history of Computing from Milton Babbage to present day computer technology, which I got from visiting Bletchley park, libary and recollections from my English Teacher who worked at Bletchley Park during the 2nd world war. I loved these projects because I was on a quest to learn and discover something new.

And whilst that discovery wasn’t exactly new because someone else had already been there and done the work; it was new to me and my efforts were rewarded because I’d learnt something from the process.

So as I looked at my daughter’s homework and her rage, I asked her to rate the home work assignment. Was she going to find the homework of value? Did she think she would gain anything from completing the homework?

At that point, she stopped her rage and we could then figure out the homework together. I make a point not to work out the answers, but try and help her to find the answers for herself.

To a child who is 14, rules are are there to guide them, she had always been a stickler for rules. She was abject in her misery as she felt her teacher had given her an assignment that did not add any value to her learning, and yet she was not old enough or bold enough to challenge her teacher.

As luck would have it, my hubby had volunteered at the school and had been nominated as a school parent governor. His chief responsibility is going to be homework.

So we reassured our teenage girl that we would question this homework, it’s efficacy and question why the teacher had asked their class to “assess” their work and mark it, a lesson which my teenage daughter had said she had repeatedly given. What value could this add to the process of learning? how can the student assess and mark their own work, when they may not know how to assess the work? what should be gained from this process? and how should parents be involved. These are the questions we’ll raise with the school.

But in the meantime,I thought I’d share this bit of parental wisdom, learned I guess through learning the old fashioned way and now as I write, I am encouraging my kids to learn through discovery, for themselves, rather than expect a teacher to provide all the “learning” through their lessons.

I’m sharing this also, because, just last week a colleague asked me to review his work.

Same thing, he’d wanted to be taught, he felt that he would need a “teacher” to help him learn about strategy and user experience.

The thing is, as much as you can get a teacher to help you with the basics, the learning should be something you are prepared to do for yourself.

I reasoned with him, that he may not get everything he wanted from a “teacher” and in fact, everything he needed to understand about strategy and user experience was already there. He had a good grasp of Strategy already, and any theory was available anyway, waiting to be discovered. There is no right or wrong way to approach strategy.

In fact to set an exercise, a challenge for your self — such as creating a user experience for a brand that that’s interesting would be far more valuable. Because I felt he would get more value through discovering the elements he needed to define the task, than a teacher could by giving him a text book to read or to show him a theoretical exercise.

What do you think? Is theory and lessons taught by a teacher more valuable than learning through self discovery?