coaching, learning and remembering

Keep revising basic skills with your child

Revise, revise, revise!

Over-learning, rote learning, practise, and revision are all words that have gone a little out of fashion the last years – to our children’s detriment. The longer I work with children, the more I become firmly convinced that regular revision and practise of basic skills enables children to easily master and use the more difficult skills they will be taught in the near future. Basic skills such as  knowing number facts such as tables and addition and subtraction facts, knowing how to add and subtract numbers mentally rather than using a calculator, understanding what a fraction, decimal and percentage is and how to add and subtract them, and having a good understanding of place-value.

I’m using Mathematics skills as my example of the importance of rote learning or over-learning basic skills, because to my indignation, I’ve been finding in my work as a coach that many children lack basic addition, subtraction, and multiplication knowledge, and that the adults around them, and the children themselves, believe that they are ‘slow learners’ when it comes to Maths. However, I have found that those same children when they are shown easy ways to learn and remember the basic Mathematics skills they lack, and are given the opportunity to practise until they master those skills, suddenly do very well in Mathematics and often fall in love with the subject!

You might find that your child dislikes Mathematics, makes simple mistakes, and/or takes a long time to complete work that you think is quite simple.   The adults around your child might even assume your child has mastered basic Maths skills – but if you carefully check, you might very well find they have not. If you regularly revise Mathematics skills or knowledge with your child at home, even when they seem to have understood what was taught, then they will can easily master Mathematics in the classroom.

Regular practice is especially important when the student has used an unhelpful strategy for a long time and it has become an ingrained habit. You might have noticed that younger children can often more easily learn and apply new skills than older children. As children get older it takes more practise to install new skills and knowledge in the place of unhelpful skills and knowledge, because when old unhelpful strategies are embedded in your child’s long-term memory, they are still the ones your child will automatically use when faced with a difficult problem, or when they are tired.

For example:- Many children count up or back to solve addition and subtraction Mathematics problems. they often count up and back so smoothly and quickly that their teachers don’t notice they are still counting rather than using number facts and strategies. Children who count up and back can begin to hate Mathematics because it is tiring and difficult, as it must be if they have to count all the time to get their answers, and if their answers can often be slightly wrong. Their teachers have most probably often taught the basic addition and subtraction facts such as 8-2=6 and 4+3=7 But these particular children didn’t get quite enough practice to hard-wire basic addition and subtraction number fact into their brain. This means that when they have to solve a difficult problem, or are tired, they automatically revert to counting up or back again, and solving Mathematics problems continues to be difficult and slow for them.

Keep at it. Older children often need a little more regular practice than younger children to consistently use useful Mathematics strategies. For example, older children who have the habit of counting up or back to get their answers seem to take longer to automatically use number facts and strategies when solving problems, even when they seem to know them well. This can be because the brain patterns of the other strategy of counting up or back and/or guessing are more established in the brain than the new ones. Think about how you yourself revert back to tried and true strategies even if they are slower or less effective when you are tired or rushed, or feeling pressured because you are presented with a more challenging problem. The new more useful strategies haven’t as yet become deeply embedded or hard-wired into your brain’s long-term memory, so you go to the memory you can more easily access. That is why you might have found that it takes a while to change habits, and why it is important you keep practicing the new habit until it has become the default habit, even when you are under pressure. So it is for your children.

I know that it seems logical that when a child understands an idea or pattern or skill, they will remember and use it the next week. That is not always so.The new information is only in their short-term memory and will only become ‘hard-wired’ into the long-term memory with more practice. Look in for more ideas on how you can work with your child so that Mathematics ideas become hard-wired into their long-term memory. Particularly check out Stage Five of the number framework described in the link, when children are expected to move past counting up or back and use number facts and strategies to solve problems.

Good coaches always checks ‘how’ their student completes their task, or in other words, the strategies they use to get their answer. Remember that whether your child gets the right or wrong answer is secondary to ‘how’ they do it. If they consistently use the most useful strategies when doing something, they will, over time, become very good at doing it. I say to my students, whatever their age, that practicing a skill is the same as walking regularly down a pathway so that any weeds are trampled under and the path becomes broad and easy to walk on.

Don’t blindly rely on schools to give your child enough practise in basic skills. When you think your child could be doing better with Mathematics or any other subject, set up regular coaching situations with your child at home. Remember to keep the practice times short and sharp, and light and fun, then you and your child will always enjoy working together when there is a need for some extra practice. Good luck, and remember that I’m only an email away from you.

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