Written by Hao Le
Edited by Grace Brnjac
In today’s classrooms, there is no doubt that schools want to ensure that their students have all the tools they need in order to succeed. Whether it be through recreational activities, life-skills, or even field trips, every initiative taken by parents, teachers, and administration comes from years of research on how best to help students. Although the majority of students will come to learn how to transfer learning skills across subjects, what can parents do to help continue this process in their children when they come home from school? How can parents and teachers work together to help struggling students manage their learning, while at the same time ensuring that the skills students learn help them in the workforce?
One way parents and educators can help children learn to critically solve problems and apply their skills to real-life scenarios can be found in the use of graphic organizers; more specifically, a KWL chart. In reading and language arts, the KWL chart helps students who would normally struggle make connections within early reading. These charts teach children to apply inference techniques (the ability to make connections between known and implied facts within a text) that are necessary to expand their comprehension of a text and help them understand how the text itself can become a mirror into their own lives and/or society.
In order to explain each section of the KWL chart, the story of Little Red-Riding Hood will be used to illustrate how to break down a whole story into manageable sections for children. First, K represents prior knowledge in a subject/topic; for example, teachers and/or parents can have children look at the cover of Little Red-Riding Hood and verbally explain (or write) what they know. Next, W represents what could possibly happen next in the story. At this point, children can be asked to write down or discuss with their friends what they think could happen in the story in order to help teach them to anticipate what will happen. Then, as students read the text of Little Red, they would start to get clues and/or answers to their anticipated questions, or they may discover new questions or facts they had not noticed before. Once the story is done, children would be encouraged to share what they learned (the L section in the chart). At this stage, students learn how to develop the habit of retaining information, summarizing key points, and learning to comprehend what they learned, all while providing examples and explanations.
As kids learn to read and dig into the texts, connections are bound to be made between the K and W sections of their charts (whether they naturally develop this ability in their minds, or they have the help of an actual KWL chart), because the middle section helps build their anticipation. Many studies have shown that, by reading more books, students will learn to break down information they see/hear, draw out important facts, and come to a conclusion. Not only does this graphic organizer help students struggling with big concepts in language and reading, but it can also be applied within other subjects (such as math and science). Just like how the chart can break down a story, it can also break down concepts students may otherwise not understand within their other subjects. In these other subjects, students/parents/teachers can activate students’ existing knowledge within the general subject area. This acts as the first stage, known as the Knowledge (K) section. Secondly, the child/adult must anticipate what (the W section) they will learn from the topic(s) they are starting. Finally, the learner can auto-reflect, assess, or even discuss with peers what they learned (the L section) from the topic.
If a person is able to possess this ability to learn and comprehend abstract or difficult topics, they will find it easier to learn new topics or skills within a job that requires the same types of cognitive skills, as learning is not only limited to academics and classroom settings. For example, if an engineer has difficulty learning skills quickly on the job, they can learn faster by applying the same techniques used when completing a KWL chart. The learner will simply need to auto-reflect and ask what they knew (K) beforehand, what they think (W) they may/will learn from this challenge, and how their knowledge has changed (L) since the process began. By doing this, a person who has the ability to critically think and learn new things will stand out amongst their peers, as it signals to administration and/or employers that the individual is not afraid of challenges. This mindset is very beneficial not only for children, but even society as a whole. This mindset helps people expand their abilities in order to ensure further progression in their lives.
As with any skill or concept, true knowledge and application of this KWL mindset for struggling individuals (in this case a student) will take time and patience from the student, teacher, and parents. When children are at home, some challenges involving learning may arise. Studies show that, in certain cases, kids born into a turbulent home life may face challenges in their ability to learn. However, if the student is motivated, that can be all it takes to continue their learning outside of school. Nevertheless, this may not always work, and parents too must then find a way to help instill and foster learning skills within their children. If parents have these same skills developed in their own lives and make a conscious effort to help their kids at home, these children will be able to further develop outside of school, regardless of the potential turbulence in their home life. However, the same can be said of a stable home in which parents may not have fully developed inference and problem-solving skills themselves. If parents have not developed these life skills in their development, this may cause struggles within themselves and the lives of their children.
In conclusion, the ability to think critically, to understand, and to infer meanings is not limited to students’ reading and language skills. Students who struggle naturally with developing cognitive learning skills and application can use these same skills in many subjects and disciplines, even when they are an older student or an adult in the workforce. With help from teachers, tutors, educators, and parents, these skills can be nurtured outside the walls of a classroom, and help set students onto success in their respective career paths and future ambitions.