Wednesday 20 July 2011

Finding A Love for Learning

As the school year ends and my children’s days of learning turn into a final week of parties and play-days at school, my attention has been turned back to their learning and education.

Two weeks ago I had school reports for all three of my children and the difference in them surprised me and has given me real food for thought for many days now.

Gorgeous got the usual nursery report which generally summed up said “Good start, behaving better, learning to share and take turns, keep practising with the numbers and sounds”. Nothing unexpected at all. Little Man has always loved school, his friends and his teachers. His report made my day describing him as the most serious boy in the class, trying his best every day and a model student. His teacher picked up on something that I had noticed too; that he tries very hard to please. A sweet trait, but one which I am trying to discourage in my children, telling them that they need to please Allah (SWT) first and foremost and then do what they believe is the right thing, not what will make others like them or approve of them.

It was Little Ladies report that worried me. It indicated that she had fallen to barely an acceptable level of achievement in all of her subject areas and was spending time in her class daydreaming, completing work slowly, forgetting her glasses and generally lacking in enthusiasm, often “engrossed in her deep thoughts and needs reminding to stay alert and participate”.

I am aware of the stereotype of the mother who cannot accept that her child is anything less than THE brightest child on earth. I don’t think that about my kids, they are ordinary kids with, like all children, their own individual gifts and endless potential if we help them to tap into it. Little ladies teachers description worried me and does not describe the busy, engaged girl she is at home.

I can excuse the daydreaming, it has also been my favourite pastime for my entire life and I can hardly begrudge her having the same habit, but not speaking in class? Last year her teacher told me that she was good at science as she understood the ideas, her reading is above average (she demolishes every book I buy her so I know this is true) and her maths needs work. She also described her as confident and engaged, always with something to say in class discussion.

The change in a year worried me. I know that each of my children has a different learning style. Gorgeous is very physical and likes to try things out. Little Man likes to be guided through things with lots of praise. Little Lady likes to take things away and think about them, she also needs to be motivated by making learning fun, interesting and relevant.

Her report made her sad and so we discussed over the days what worked for her and what didn’t – her current teachers very traditional approach (i.e. rote learning of times tables) didn’t, practical application of subjects did. She gave me an example where a maths lesson had been about working out the costs of building materials for the three houses in the Three Little Pigs. I suggested I create some fairy tale maths pages of this kind for her and we see if she enjoys them.

The other thing we have been doing is small projects every day of her choosing. These have included:
  • Reseraching Amazon rainforests
  • Researching Ancient Egypt
  • An essay on Islam with Q&A
  • A 100 word story (she decide to write about the conversion of Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA))
  • A 50 word “flash story” (which I liked – she gave me role in it)
She enjoys these and they are gratifying for me to see. It also means she is empowered and taking the initiative regarding her learning and during the holidays is in a position to guide me towards an understanding of how to support her learning.

Two things that helped me in coming to a conclusion about how I should respond to Little Lady’s report. One was this article in Sisters magazine called “For the Love of Learning: Don’t Mind the Grades” by Juli Herman:

Don’t allow grades to define your child’s sense of success and failure. Treat them not as a determinant of your child’s present and future success but simply as one of the requirements your child has to fulfill to get through the system, that is, if your child is in the system. Instead of asking your child, “So how did you do in your math test?” ask, “So what was the most interesting thing you did in math today?” Ask questions like, “What did you learn in history today?” and “What do you think about the English-French wars?” There’s no one right answer to questions like these.

The objective is to emphasize the thought process in the various stages of learning instead of on the results of a performance. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care about how the child does in school (if this becomes a problems with the teachers), but it just shows that you care more about him engaging in learning. After all, learning is a life process. Any performance that is demanded of something that is still in progress will always be lacking. If it is not, then something has gone awry. This kind of thinking requires stepping out of the box, zooming out, and looking at the bigger picture. It’s not going to be easy, because grades are such a dominant part of the school’s culture.”

The second was this talk by Sir Ken Robinson entitled “Why schools kill creativity”

 I don’t want to denigrate teachers as a whole (for starters Fashionista Sister is a teacher and a very good one at that) and my children have had some fabulous teachers, but having one whose approach was at odds with Little Ladies learning style has caused her to stop enjoying school (I recall on parents day, the teacher giving another parent a lecture about school not being a place for her daughter to come to socialise). I hope during the holidays Little Lady gets to find the fun in learning and next year at school is more positive for her insh’Allah.

P.S – This week is the last week at school before summer holidays for many children. I always think it is a nice way if making Dawah, and also good manners, to take a gift or card for your child’s teacher to thank them for their hard work throughout the year


  1. subhanAllah yeah every person learns in a different way and different teachers appeal to these learning styles. It is usually not that the teacher is bad, but more that their style of teaching does not match certain kids. I know some kids who learn really well by rote but I wasn't really one of those that could memorize stuff that way. unfortunately this is not one of the criteria for sorting classes :-/ but i think if it was, it would really help a lot of students.

    i always think that the most feasible solution for these problems is for the teacher to learn to recognize different styles of learning and try to vary her teaching method to help all of the students. However, this is really difficult to do since many teachers have a hard time stepping out of their comfort zones, or just aren't well equipped to do so.

    I think what you are doing with her, in giving her opportunities to learn at home about things that interest her is a great way to help your child when the system isn't really working for her mashaAllah. Allah make it easy for you and her ameen!!

  2. I am sorry your girl has had "problems" in school. You know my oldest boy and Peruvian school methodology did not mix. I really try to encourage him to do the things he is good at, and to work harder at the things he is not. He has ADD, so it is easy for him to get distracted. The surprising thing is, he appears not to pay attention, but he absorbs everything. He recently went to a Boy Scout camp, and his leader was surprised how much he remembered when it appeared that he wasn't even paying attention.

    And I feel sorry for your kids still in school. My boys got out in June, go back in August. When do your kids go back to school?

  3. Assalam-alaikam Sis Never-Ever,
    I agree, Little Lady's teachers style was not bad, just not the right one for my daughter. I initially thought her teacehr would be ideal because she is tsrit and has high standards and LL sometimes doen't like to finish things or follow them through if they are hard so needs a little push, but I am realising the carrot rather than stick approach is going to work better.

    Hi Elizabeth dear,
    Schools ends this week and they go back in September after six weeks off - how I wish I got six weeks of holidays too!! They also have my mum-in-law coming to stay during the holidays so are all very happy.

  4. My dear friend, I hope next year your lovely daughter gets to be with a teacher that matches her learning style. And I am sorry they only get six the boys get about 2 1/2 months. When I was younger, we got closer to three. I love having my boys home in summer. Number 3 son loves to help with my garden. We clean together and try for play time every day. Six weeks just seems so short.

  5. Three months!!
    I love the idea, but I think parents here would be in uproar at the thought. I remember my mum and her friends relief when we all used to go back to school after the summer holidays.

    It's a nice amount of time for children to play and explore though isn't it?

  6. Anonymous21 July, 2011

    Ahh reports are nothing to get worried/sad over. Seriously, LL is a bright girl and i'm sure next year will be a good one for her, it's difficult for teachers to properly portray a child to how a parent see's it, i'm sure she is at the expected age level. As for presents, you would think some parent's would have a clue! my hijabi friend got a bottle of wine and a half eaten pringle box along with a £5, and i got a 'best teaching assistant' mug along some very nice gifts (must be cos i look so young...) - Fashionista

  7. رمضان مبارك |
    Ramadan Mubarak
    اللهم بلغنا رمضان |
    Oh Allah, allow us to witness the month of Ramadan