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Sunday, October 30, 2016

How To Study

My friend wrote this morning requesting that I teach people how to study. My first instinct was to think, "Why would anyone want to learn to study? Should we not learn how to learn?" Then, I thought about it further and asked, "What is the difference between study and learn? I googled and found the following...

This is a very interesting question, especially for those of you who are learning or studying English. So what are the differences?
Let’s start by looking at the definitions:
To Learn – to gain knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something.
To Study – to read, memorize facts, attend school, etc., in order to learn about a subject.
Therefore studying is one way to learn.
This is why we can say “I studied but I didn’t learn anything”. It means I memorized facts or read about a subject, but for some reason did not gain any new knowledge or skills.
So why is it important to know the difference? Because you, the student, must concentrate on the final objective: learning. You want to learn English. Therefore, you must find the best way to gain this goal; maybe studying grammar for hours will not work. So you will be studying but not learning. You must find which is the best way for you to learn!
Source HERE.
I thought the above expressed very well my disdain for studying. You can really study a lot and learn nothing. Conversely, you can learn a lot without studying. Isn't that infinitely more preferable?

After putting out my post on GE vs Hi-Po, a couple of GEP alumni from the early years of the program (before program expansion) got in touch with me. So started a mind-provoking conversation that ranged far and wide (in which I learnt much). One of the things I learnt related to "unschooling". Read THIS to understand unschooling.

I did not know that I had actually unschooled both my children. I only knew the term homeschooling.

The Daughter

The Daughter was in the bottom 25% of her cohort in P3. We sincerely believed that she was intellectually limited because she appeared to study so hard only to learn nothing at all. I was a young mother. Lost. Afraid. I prayed very hard and God moved.
Our family was sent to the USA for 1 year. The equivalent P4 classes were about 2 years behind the Singapore system. I decided to homeschool her. I downloaded the Singapore syllabus for each subject and filed them. I would tell her what topics we would cover that week and then, we would pick books from the library for her to read. We had 2 libraries within 5 minutes from our house. One of them was a central lending library (i.e., it was a library that lent to other libraries).
She would read the books and brief me. We would chat as I vacuumed the floor and made our beds. We worked intensively for 2 hours every morning and for the rest of the day, we went out. We chased ducks, went fishing, explored the herb garden, dug up ant hills (not recommended), scraped pollen off cars. We learnt that one should not pat baby goslings because the mother goose bites and she can run very fast too.
I fully expected The Daughter to stay in the bottom 25% of her cohort at the P5 mid-year exams. Till today, I have not got over the shock of her P5 mid-year results. She topped her class in all 4 subjects. Till today, The Daughter holds within her the scathing memory of me saying, "You must have topped because they were easy papers. The real PSLE will not be so easy."
Well... I suppose that is what I mean by learning a lot without studying.

The Son
In 2009, The Son brought home a report book that set off a nuclear explosion of negative emotion like a Hiroshima mushroom cloud hanging over our dining table. Desperate to help him, I did what I did with The Daughter. I unschooled him. I lied to his school about needing to go overseas. Yes, judge me if you will. I lied and lied and lied. I kept him home in 2010 (Primary 4) and unschooled him for 5 months, sending him back to school for SA1 and SA2. He ended P4 8th in class. In Primary 5, I unschooled him for 4 months. Again, I lied to the school. He ended Primary 5 2nd in class.

Unschooling Science
I bought a set of very well written Science guidebooks, now no longer in print. See photo below. These guidebooks are very interesting to read. If materials bored me, I assumed they would bore my kids and I would throw them away without asking my children to read. To me, their time was important and I did not want to waste their time doing boring things.

I gave The Son some post-its. He read the books and marked out with post-its all the sections that stimulated further questions that he was excited to learn about. He would then google to get answers to these questions. I didn't care that his self-derived questions were not strictly within the syllabus. It did not matter to me that when he was reading up on Forces, he had branched off into guns - flintlock guns, matchlock guns... different ways bullets exited guns. I didn't care that his self-derived questions touched on why birds could sit on live electrical wires without getting barbecued by the high voltage. Somehow and somewhere, I had faith that his curiosity would cover the whole PSLE domain. I also gave him free rein to conduct science experiments, limiting my involvement to purchasing the materials he needed, e.g, if he wanted to do a fish dissection, I would be in charge of buying the fish.
He was adamant to be the one to conduct these experiments. I was worried that he might cut himself with the knife for the fish dissection and I muscled him out of the way and did the dissection myself. This lead to a major meltdown and I capitulated. I went out the next morning to buy a new fish (a much bigger fish so that his clumsy hands could better dissect without danger to himself). The moment I came through the door, he grabbed the fish, ran to the toilet and locked the door. There was no way he was going to let me steal his joy of learning again.
On another occasion, he dismantled an old Ikea table and informed me that he wanted to conduct an experiment in fluid mechanics. It sounded impressive so I said "Ok!" He proceeded to have great fun rafting up and down the swimming pool.
Whatever it is, The Son subsequently went on to top just about every single Science exam that came his way... at least top 3. By P6, his thirst for knowledge was such that he was reading research papers downloaded from my university's research paper database.
So, there we have it... the mysterious power of unschooling reared its beautiful head again to bless The Son as it had blessed The Daughter.

How Does It Work?
I don't know.
What I do know is that both The Son and The Daughter have learnt how to learn. They don't need teachers to learn. They know how to follow their own curiosity (because I allowed them to do so) and their own passions. The Son has recently won a couple thousand dollars in this or that software coding competitions. He learnt to code programs from the internet and he infected his friends with his passion so he had people to discuss coding with and make apps together. I did not have to pay for a single day of coding class.

He failed Math early last year but had decided that it was a weakness he needed to shore up in view of his longer term life goals. I offered him Math tuition 3 times and he said, "No". This year has ended and he is near the top of his class in Math.
The Daughter too, having been unschooled, is adept at generating questions and looking for answers.

Can Children of All IQ Do This?
I don't know.
Conversations with GE Alumni throw up suggestions that The Son demonstrates the traits of a GE kid, and that my own refusal to conform and my outlandish oddball insights are also GE traits. Though I still doubt any of us are GE, I must admit that both my children are reasonably above average.

So, perhaps unschooling works for kids like mine but if you had a kid that needed to be told everything, then conventional school may give you better results. 
In our case, conventional school did not give us results but unschooling paid off spectacularly well.
I have no answers to the above questions but I am excited to test a few things out in my mixed ability classes when 2017 comes around.

Do As I Say, Don't Do What I Do

I would hate to be responsible for anything that may go wrong with children's academic journeys if parents followed my example in "unschooling". This blog has many posts that detail more conventional methods of teaching and learning. We used those methods too and I know and could explain why they worked.

I am not advocating unschooling as THE WAY, mostly because I haven't quite been able to articulate to myself why it worked. So please do not pull your children out of school to unschool them after reading this post.
Simply, just for fun, make time for children to do the things we did during unschooling. That way, you have the best of both worlds - (1) potential benefits from unschooling (2) the security of conventional methods.


Anonymous said...

Dr Pet:

Thanks for this post.

I applaud your efforts in treading the path less traveled (never mind about not being honest with the school lah =p) as you have identified what your children need at a particular point in time and catered to those specific needs. I still recall your efforts to help your son in Chinese.

It's so important for our children to know how to learn and enjoy the process of learning - and not simply *study* for the sake of exams.

Petunia Lee said...

Thank you for your kind words.

Lim said...

Hi Dr Pet,

Great post, as usual. I've never heard of unschooling till now and harnessing the kids curiosity towards self-directed learning is something i shall let my girl try.

Also, it would be of tremendous help if you could share in details how you teach your children to effectively plan their studies. My daughter is going to P4 and we tried to plan her work timetable with her but it always seem that i am the one who plan the bulk of it. I have no idea how much of the reins should be passed to her and i wouldnt want to spoon feed her either. Your wise words and ideas would really help!

Viola Deo said...

Your experience with your daughter reminds me of Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling. What you share really shows that spending two hours of effective learning will give better result compared to whole day schooling plus tuition which is tiring our students and may not necessarily be effective. I do wonder though if you have such a good result from homeschooling temporarily your children, why you didn't choose to homeschool them all the way, if you may share? Thanks a lot :)

Petunia Lee said...

Yes... 2 hours of effective learning VS whole day schooling plus tuition... (and if any of Dr. Pet's enrolled parents are reading this)... this is why I get very upset when parents coerce kids to NOT consume their SkipHWCoupons. You really want to focus on how much is learnt and not on how much HW is completed.

Homeschooling required me to be with my kids all day. I wanted my own life and so I sent them back to school to give me time to do MY OWN things. I tend to think that Laziness is a virtue, and do the minimum to get what I want. Kids were already kinda topping the class with partial unschooling, so I saw no point in doing more. Kinda top of class ok already.

It really is a balance too. Many homeschoolers look beyond the achievement rankings. I wanted the best of both worlds. I wanted to expose my kids to the cutthroat educational system and have them know that they do stand well in there, whilst also respecting my kids' passions... and training them to learn without having to resort to worksheet after worksheet.

The Daughter was also a social being. She thrives on the company of people. It seemed unfair to cut her off from her wide network of friends. When we came home from the USA, we had 3 days of peace. On Day 4, my daughter made ONE phone call and the phone rang of the hook for the next 2 days. The Daughter's gifting is her way with people. I needed conventional school to afford her the exposure to people in order to help her refine her gifting.

The Son was NOT a social being. He had only 1 friend in P1, P2 and P3 (who later left to go to GEP) and after that, he had no friends. After school daily, I would use the Mayer-Salovey model of emotional intelligence to walk him through the day's social quandaries and events. Today, he holds pinnacle leadership positions in 2 CCAs and 1 in class. To teach him EQ, I needed to immerse him in the bath of social interactions and from there to find teaching moments.

If I had envisaged education as purely and academic endeavour, then homeschooling would probably have made "geniuses" of my kids but I did not want that type of destiny for them. I did not want them to go to university before their time. I did not want them to be viewed as anything other than normal.

They may have been gifted (as some people say). I don't know. I don't care. Gifted children want to be loved over and beyond their giftings, and the best way to do that is to never explicitly state that they are geniuses so that the question of "Do you love me only because I am gifted?" does not even pop up. My kids know and believe they are normal kids who need to work hard for what academic success they have... and that if they did not work hard, they have no GE label to fall back on to get opportunities.

I subverted the educational system enough to get them somewhere interesting and then I wanted them to adapt to that system because my kids will grow up and work in a world that is a lot more conventional than their home environment. The only way to do that is to immerse them there so that my kids are bi-cultural and able to evolve in 2 worlds.

Petunia Lee said...

I am quite sure that if I had continued homeschooling, my kids would have entered uni before their age... but why? Why do that? Why expose them to situations where instead of being normal, they are strange (even if strange in a nice way)? Social capital is an enormous advantage in life. I don't want lonely kids.

Petunia Lee said...

Lim... I had 3 stages...

In P4, I plan and Son challenged and then we would discuss before fixing the schedule. The discussion trained her on how to plan.

in P5, Son planned and I challenged.... and we would discuss before fixing the schedule. The discussion refined his planning rationale.

in P6, he planned and I pretend to look, before I say nice things.

Our plans were not complicated. We did the same subject everyday for 2 weeks before we moved onto the next subject so it was not an unwieldy plan. most parents try to plan all 4 subjects into the same week and that makes it hard for the child to grasp planning.

Lim said...

Petunia, its such a great idea to do by subjects every fortnight. I'm one of those who tried to plan all 4 in a weak. Sometimes we tend to complicate things.

I'm going to try your would help me too with such a simple plan.

Thank you so much!