Attitudes and learning

2008-09-11 00:00

What differentiates academic achievement among pupils learning under similar circumstances is attitudes and motivation. The key to helping children with motivational and attitudinal problems lies with parents, teachers and caregivers. If we constantly tell the child that he or she cannot learn, the child will quickly learn to believe it.

Educators and parents can help create an environment that encourages learning at school and at home. However, it is still up to the child to have the self-motivation to study, to develop his or her own study method, to set targets and eventually realise his or her goals.

It is important to note that adults’ attitudes have the potential to impact negatively on children’s academic performance. More often than not, as parents or educators, we express our frustration by labelling children “lazy”, having a “bad attitude” or “dull” when they do not perform to expectation. However, we must not confuse the issue by labelling “bad attitude” for “poor attitude”.

Poor attitude suggests that a child needs help and support while a bad attitude implies that the child does not want to learn and persistence in trying to change him or her is futile. Often, a bad attitude is a result of frustrations in the social environment rather than the child’s innate lack of interest. Having good adult role models can help children with attitudinal problems.

Adults play an important role in the child’s learning. Even if an adult is not academically inclined, his or her willingness to learn and cultivate in children inquisitiveness about current issues and developments will help them develop the right attitude towards learning.

Peer attitude can also affect learning. If a child has a friend who likes to learn, he or she will develop a good attitude towards learning. It is important for parents to get to know their children’s peers and encourage interaction that is oriented towards learning.

Teachers are often seen as role models and their attitude towards learning is just as important. Most teachers do have a good attitude because this is their calling. However, sometimes, because of abnormal class loads and the fact that they may be unaware of a child’s specific needs, teachers may perceive a child as having a poor attitude. It is, therefore, important for parents to communicate regularly with the teacher. This is essential because this exchange of information will make teachers aware of the child’s strengths and weaknesses and moreable to shape the child’s attitude towards learning.

The following are some of the signs of a poor attitude in children. Teachers and parents can identify these symptoms and create a constructive relationship based on mutual trust. Signs to look out for are, when the child:

• constantly and continuously absents himself or herself from school for no apparent reason;

• has a record of bullying other children at school;

• occasionally displays aggressive behavior towards teachers;

• rarely does the homework exercises or assignments required by the class or subject teacher;

• is unwilling and/or reluctant to accomplish classroom tasks given as part of the learning process;

• comes to school late almost every day;

• disrupts learning activities by displaying unruly behaviour and manifests dishonest tendencies to parents and teachers.

Teachers and parents can use the following guidelines to motivate their children to learn.

• Use rewards actively.

If you work with young children, you will notice that they function largely on a reward system. There is a difference between bribery and rewards. Bribery means that the child is in control. For example, the child may say, “If you want me to do something, give me something I want.”

On the other hand, parents determine rewards. For instance, “Do the thing I ask you to do and you will get your present.”

Choose a reward on the basis of not more than two achievable targets. For teenage children, let them have a choice of rewards within acceptable limits. Rewards can also be non-materialistic in nature, for example, a trip to a wildlife sanctuary or the beach.

• Build on success.

As parents and teachers, you can help the child gain confidence by setting tasks that are age-appropriate and achievable. You can break up a task into a series of steps. Success in the first few steps will motivate a child to take more challenging steps.

• Develop passion.

If your child is interested in playing video games, do not kill the interest. Instead, give him or her the opportunity to develop this interest but balance it with other pursuits. If this remains true, he or she will start exploring games as a whole and may even be interested in how they work or how they are programmed.

Parents and teachers can act as catalysts in bringing about positive attitudes towards learning in children.

• Alois Nzembe has several years teaching experience at primary and high schools. Currently he teaches geography at Icesa College.

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