Raising independent learners

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto - The Philippine Star

Subtitled “A Guide to Online and Offline Schooling,” this is the latest book by Ateneo professor Queena N. Lee-Chua from Anvil Publishing. With schools shifting to online classes and modules because of the global pandemic, education has become a more daunting task.

Students are lost and anxious. How can they truly learn without sacrificing their mental health? And their parents, unprepared for the task at hand, grow confused about the kind of parents they are expected to be in these unprecedented times. How do they tutor their kids effectively? What can they do to motivate kids, whom everyone thinks are far different from earlier generations of children? How do they instill the important value of discipline?

These are the concerns that are contained in this book by the author, who is also a mother, a professor and a psychologist. Dr. Lee-Chua goes to the heart of the matter: the answer to these concerns, she says in this helpful book, is for students to learn independently. This book contains the most relevant topics from the author’s books, webinars and columns, collated and updated to address the worries of parents and students. After all, with the right guidance, children should become independent learners– whether online or offline.

The book is divided into three chapters and in her Preface, the author notes: “The biggest problems that families face even in an online learning system stem from unresolved issues pre-pandemic, such as insufficient student motivation, children’s and teenager’s lack of focus in and out of class, parent-child conflict on discipline and communication, and so on.”

In “Resolutions for Parents,” she gave the following pointers for parents: be present for your child, especially in significant events, address academic difficulties early, help your child develop solid study habits, learn to let go and stop comparing your child to others.

Item number three is especially important. I’m teaching students in two universities and I keep on drilling into them the importance of solid study habits, even in this pandemic. The parents should establish a routine for their child: snack, bath, homework, play, then sleep. If needed, give the yaya enough authority to enforce.

On the other hand, there are also helicopter parents who are “too present” in their child’s life. They “hover over their children, micromanaging each and every second, questioning their children’s decisions and never letting them make mistakes. Worse still, these parents fix the mistakes for their children.” This is a recipe for disaster: the children will grow up weak and spineless, and ridden with anxieties and lack of self-confidence.

Conversely, “Resolutions for Students” tells students to prepare mentally, emotionally and physically. A long-term project like a term paper or a PowerPoint presentation needs to be divided into tasks. Treat separate tasks as chunks. One day can be spent doing research online, the next day making an outline: one step at a time, as in that famous line about 1,000 steps to take to reach your journey.

“Do not speed-read or skim through a book or webpage. Read in small parts, reflect on it and test yourself. If you do not grasp a new concept immediately, read it again and carefully, and consult your classmates or teacher if needed.” I gave this same reminder to my students in Cultural Studies this week. We are doing Critical Theory and I said you have to read slowly, and repeat reading if the passage is difficult. If it’s a no-go, you may email me and I can explain it during the lecture.

Procrastination is the thief of time, and the author says: “Resist the urge to do so. Procrastination may be the single biggest cause of academic failure.” As for health, sleep for at least seven hours, so the mind, like a battery, can work well again. Turn off your gadgets at least an hour before bed, since the blue light there interferes with the production of melatonin, which makes you sleepy.

Dr. Lee-Chua also issues a caveat about technology. “Many of our youth today demand instant gratification, instant learning. Used to getting instant answers through Google, they avoid reflection or deep learning. Used to having their problems solved quickly – outsourcing to technology or to parents (or tutors) – if for the first time in their privileged lives they encounter a problem they cannot readily solve, whether in academics or relationships, they give up.”

The author also cites Michael LeGault in his book, “Think.” LeGault rues the fact that many parents have chosen to be their child’s friend rather than their guide and mentor. LeGault gives parents a rallying cry: “Dare to try to let your kids fail. Dare to say no. Dare to use punishment when your child misbehaves. Dare to turn off the television (or social media). Dare to make them do chores. Dare to kick them off the computer. Dare to turn their world upside down. Dare to set the agenda.”

And now we enter the borderless world of the internet, which is both a blessing and a curse. A high-school student once told the author: “One reason we teens lack social skills and academic focus is the pull of online gaming and social networking, where we shield ourselves and create our own world in cyberspace. Having foreseen this problem, my parents implemented controls on net access to two hours a day and to be used for school work only. I was only allowed to use my game consoles on weekends. For online projects, I asked for additional computer time to finish my work. I found these restrictions fair enough since they taught me to manage my time. I might not be as actively involved as the others on social media, but a sacrifice is needed to achieve a goal, which is why these restrictions are really blessings in disguise.” These were words from Matthew Leland Gue, then a high-school student at Xavier School and now a college graduate from the highly-rated University of Southern California.

“Telos” is a Greek word meaning a noble goal. Choose your noble goal and choose well. The chariot of time passes by, on swiftest wings.

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Email: [email protected] Danton Remoto’s novel, “Riverrun,” has just been published by Penguin Books.

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