Podcast: Supporting Your Child as a Learner - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Supporting Your Child as a Learner

Supporting Your Child as Learner

With many years of experience as a Success Coach supporting the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged students, Liz Keable provides concrete “do and don’t do” guidance for parents and caretakers.  Learn ways to build students’ understanding of their own role in the learning process, their belief in their capability as a learner, and the internal motivation to face challenges.

To receive a free copy of ‘The A-Z of Supporting Learner Achievement,” e-mail Liz at: success@lizkeable.com

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes! 

Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:00.730] – Steve [Intro]

Hello and welcome to the Parents as Learning Coaches Edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Parents and caregivers play many different roles and even sometimes conflicting roles as they support children’s development. The pandemic has shown a light on the importance of parents supporting learners. In this podcast, I’ll share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent and continuous learner that can support your coaching efforts.

[00:00:34.720] – Steve

Supporting your child as a learner. Today’s guest is Liz Keable. I follow Liz on a LinkedIn newsletter that she produces titled, “Metacognition in Practice.” After becoming interested in the learning brain when her daughter was born with differently wired brain, meaning higher functioning autism, Liz completed an honors degree in science and a postgraduate certificate in education to learn more. After teaching for a while and holding other leadership roles within education, Liz became a development manager for a parenting strategy, working to improve local services for parents and providing training courses for parenting practitioners. Returning to education, Liz focused on supporting the educational needs of young people in care and working with vulnerable or disadvantaged students as a success coach. Now, as a specialist in metacognition, she supports parents and schools to develop a more effective way of thinking in children so that they can become confident, independent learners. Liz, thanks for joining us.

[00:01:58.080] – Liz

You’re welcome, Steve.

[00:01:59.620] – Steve

So I think for starters, we need a little bit of a description of that term metacognition for parents and teachers alike.

[00:02:08.560] – Liz

Yeah. So just to put it into context, cognition is something that we’re all born with. It’s that natural ability to learn directly from our environment, and we do it in a relatively unconscious way. So any preschool child’s mind already contains a massive database of information that they’ve just soaked up before they ever start school. And that’s the result of cognition, which is kind of all the skills that are required to gain knowledge, understand it, and use it. So we know that that cognition is the natural, instinctive way to learn from birth onwards, if we put meta on the front, it just means going beyond or rising above the learning to consciously think about how you’re learning. So instead of just learning through soaking it up, it’s about having some conscious thoughts about how you’re doing that and to see if there’s a better way of doing things and then being able to change your mind in order to get a better result. That kicks in for children, obviously, cognition is from birth onwards, but the part of metacognition that is conscious obviously kicks in as the child’s reasoning skills become more relevant, which is usually average round about age seven.

[00:03:30.440] – Liz

So what’s needed in order to learn more successfully in formal education settings is the metacognition, because children are no longer learning from their own experiences, they’re being taught instead. So natural cognition is no longer enough. They need a more conscious way of engaging with a curriculum, and that’s when metacognition becomes more important.

[00:03:55.280] – Steve

So I need to do some learning. I’m thinking of a three or four year old who is attempting to do something, put something together, stack something up, cause something to open, and their first approach or strategy doesn’t work, and they go back to come up with another one, which may not work, and they come back maybe a fourth or fifth before it works. So how do you describe that learning process that they’re going through?

[00:04:27.420] – Liz

Yeah, some scientists would call that metacognition, but personally, I don’t, because metacognition was initially introduced as a way of students consciously changing the way they think.

[00:04:41.830] – Steve

That’s what I was wondering.

[00:04:43.000] – Liz

For me, that’s where the line is, is the unconscious versus the conscious. But those three and four year olds who are experimenting are using their cognition. They’re using their own curiosity, which, unfortunately, tends to lessen a lot once they get into school. They’re using that natural, inborn curiosity to learn, and we can encourage that. What I would suggest is that parents don’t intervene when a child is struggling with something, don’t stop and help them. Allow them to find out what works and what doesn’t, because if we keep interrupting that, then they will learn not to make the effort to think and to work things out for themselves. So just encourage that experimentation when they’re younger, and their metacognition will follow.

[00:05:29.820] – Steve

Yeah. I find that my greatest challenge with my youngest grandkids, I have this need to get out of the chair and go help them with what they’re doing. But the educator in me is telling me that as long as he’s not giving up, let him hang in there with.

[00:05:47.240] – Liz

You’re doing them a big favor just leaving them be. Yeah.

[00:05:51.880] – Steve

In the introduction, you talked about being a success coach, and I’m wondering if you’d talk to people a little bit about what that role was.

[00:06:02.920] – Liz

Yeah. The schools were asking me to work with students who they were most concerned about because they weren’t making progress, and no one could kind of work out why, and they had all kinds of issues. But what I found was that I didn’t go backwards. I didn’t try and find out what the issue was or what their past had been. I worked from where they are now because what they needed was the ability to move forward, to change the way they were thinking about themselves and about the learning process so that they could move forward from where they were. And it’s not boasting, but I have to say that there was not a single child that didn’t make progress when I worked with them by using that method.

[00:06:45.560] – Steve

What is the thought process you went through as you tackled that? It sounds like you must have been doing some awesome metacognition yourself.

[00:06:51.980] – Liz

Well, yes, it was from that that I came to talk more about metacognition because I wasn’t using the word at that point. But then every time I was talking to staff in schools about the changes that these students were making, the word metacognition kept coming up. So in the end, I stopped avoiding using it and started kind of using it as the focus from which to start working.

[00:07:18.240] – Steve

So I pulled this quote from your website that I thought would be a powerful one for us to break apart for parents. You make this statement: “Success in learning comes from having a full appreciation of your own role in that process, a belief that you’re capable of engaging with it, and the internal motivation to face challenges with resilience.” So it looks to me like you’ve laid out three big areas there for parents to be exploring. Okay if we take them one at a time?

[00:07:55.530] – Liz

Yeah, sure. The first one is from a parent’s perspective – what’s important is not to focus on the child’s education and not to worry about the fact that we don’t know very much about the curriculum or that we don’t know very much about modern teaching methods. That’s not important. What we actually need to focus on as parents is our child’s ability to learn, and that starts with the child’s self concept. So the view they hold of themselves as a learner is really important. So as parents, we want to make sure that the view that our child holds of themselves as a learner is a positive one, because the beliefs that they hold about themselves will have a massive impact on what they do or don’t achieve, because they will only achieve what they think they can. So I always say to parents, it’s not just their lunchbox and their book bag that you prepare for them to go off to school in. You want to prepare them for what they carry with them in their heads as well as what they’ve got in their lunchbox and their book bag. And we don’t want them going to school with self limiting beliefs about what’s possible for them.

[00:09:04.100] – Liz

So that’s the first thing we need to be aware of, is that self concept.

[00:09:08.820] – Steve

So can I check then the fact that my parent believes in me having that potential is another important part of it.

[00:09:20.220] – Liz

Yeah, exactly. The next thing, once they believe in themselves, it’s really important that they appreciate that the learning is going to change from that unconscious experiential learning that they use with their natural curiosity before they start school, will change completely, almost to the opposite, which is a conscious focus on what a teacher is expecting from them. They’re two very different things. And some children have a real difficulty in stepping over that gap, if you like, or bridging that gap between the two. So just helping them to know that it will be different. And we need to think about whether they know how to learn in that way. Schools don’t teach children how to learn when they get into school. So one of the things that we can help them with is the process starts with the belief, but then the next step is a challenge, something new and different, which, as you pointed out, when they’re younger, they will automatically just trial it out, they’ll go for it and see what happens. But as they get older, school is not conducive to that. So we’ve got children who run away from challenge. So we want to see work out if our child is up to facing challenges.

[00:10:34.360] – Liz

And we need to model that way of working so that they see challenge as something that’s a positive thing and not something to run away from. And also the idea of making mistakes. The next stage in the learning process is to trial and error around that challenge, to work out what works and what doesn’t. So we need to make sure that our child is comfortable with the idea of making mistakes and they don’t run away from it. And then also that they are prepared to practice at something. When they learn to swim or they learn to ride a bike, or if they carry out a sport or play a musical instrument, the idea of practice is an important part of it. And yet, when it comes to academic activities, for some reason or other, even when we’re children ourselves, we expect to get it right first time, and that really isn’t helpful. So the idea of practice is important. So it’s about children appreciating what the learning process looks like, which is believing in themselves, facing the challenge, making the mistakes, and then practicing in order to master it. And then the third thing is that the school system tends to turn students into passive learners.

[00:11:46.580] – Liz

They’re told to sit still, be quiet, do as I say, do it this way. They’re kind of controlled all the time. So not all students actually appreciate that they have a role to play, that they need to be an active part of the learning in order to learn effectively. So those are the three things that we can do to help our children learn whatever it is, is to believe in themselves, to know what that learning process looks like, that it involves challenge and mistakes and practice, and then help them appreciate that they need to have an active role in that learning process. And it’s really easy to criticize the education system. And, yes, it’s not ideal by any means, but we don’t want our children to become a victim of that system. If we all start complaining about the system and how it’s not fit for purpose, et cetera, et cetera, our children are in that system so we can help them to become independent learners who take responsibility for their own progress despite that system. And focusing on those three things will help make that happen.

[00:12:58.160] – Steve

As I was hearing you describe those three issues, it struck me that one of the things that gets in the way is the word, smart. The concept that if you’re smart, it means you learned it quickly. So therefore, if you didn’t learn it quickly, you aren’t smart. Somehow we don’t carry that over. If you didn’t learn to swing the bat fast or if you didn’t learn the instrument fast, nobody’s saying you’re not smart, but we make that connection over. And as parents, it’s one of the easiest ones. When our kids do something well, oh, man, you’re really smart, and we really should be able to describe it as you’re really good at learning.

[00:13:45.070] – Liz


[00:13:46.380] – Steve

You mapped out a plan, you worked the plan and it delivered, so you’ve got the confidence to learn when the next challenge faces you.

[00:13:56.500] – Liz

Yeah. And it’s about praising the right thing as well. We need to praise the effort. If they’re putting the effort in, if they’re trialing things, even if they’re not getting to the end result yet, they need to understand that it comes from the effort and that they’re doing that they’re getting that, that makes them smart.

[00:14:17.000] – Steve

Yeah. So before we close out, any additional understandings or strategies that you think would be good for parents to have to be supporters and coaches? I like to use the term for parents as learning coach. So success coach almost fit in there. You got a couple of ideas you’d offer up for us?

[00:14:40.270] – Liz

Yeah, I’ve got six here. Have we got time for six?

[00:14:42.770] – Steve

You got it. Go ahead.

[00:14:45.680] – Liz

When I work with parents, webinars or conferences or whatever. I have a set of 18 suggestions that I share with them to help with this. So I’ve picked out six. So the first one is always verbalize a positive view of school and demonstrate your belief in a child’s ability as a learner. Because when we send children to school, we might be unhappy with the way that our school is working and what they’re doing for our child. But if we say that in front of the child and then we send them to that school, that kind of clash for the child is really difficult. So whatever we feel about it, always verbalize a positive view of the school so that the child is comfortable about going there. And then a really important one is don’t accept perceived limitations and provide plenty of opportunities for a learner to develop the skills needed to overcome them. So some children do have limitations. We’re talking about – some limitations are just perceived. They’re kind of blocks to the child’s progress. But others that literally have some kind of limitation that makes it difficult for them.

[00:16:00.140] – Liz

But we don’t accept either of those. It’s about saying, yes, okay, this is the case. How are we going to overcome that? What are we going to do to help you achieve this? So they get this positive idea of constantly moving forward and achieving whatever kind of difficulties they may face that you don’t just sit there and give up. That has to come from the parents to model that.

[00:16:24.020] – Steve

My phrasing of that as a teacher was the realization that I never knew a child’s potential.

[00:16:31.000] – Liz


[00:16:32.340] – Steve

Study all I want, examine all I want, look at all the research I want, there’s going to be a kid who goes beyond whatever potential somebody else put down there.

[00:16:43.030] – Liz

Yeah, exactly.

[00:16:44.260] – Steve

We all get that out of our minds.

[00:16:46.680] – Liz

Yeah. We don’t want to put the lid on them, as it were. Another one would be to help them to appreciate the purpose of their comfort zone and the need to learn it – sorry, need to leave it in order to learn, because we’ve got students who step out of their comfort zone and get scared at what faces them and then go back in again and don’t learn anything. So we need them to appreciate that the comfort zone is for when you don’t feel well or when you’re upset about something and you can turn in on yourself. That’s just a safety thing. That’s not a problem with that. But nothing new happens there. So if we stay there, we don’t learn anything. So we want them to learn to push out of their comfort zone and realize that it will feel uncomfortable by definition, to sit with that discomfort of being out of their comfort zone, knowing that they’re then going to learn something as a result of doing that. You need to teach how to cope with that.

[00:17:46.060] – Steve

The discomfort tells you learning is coming.

[00:17:48.460] – Liz

Exactly. And then another one is to emphasize the importance of practice to create stronger memory traces that make learning stick. So, literally, the repetition in the brain strengthens the neural pathways for that. And one thing that I always recommend to parents is don’t use the term practice makes perfect because you’re setting the child up to fail. They know that perfection doesn’t exist, so they’re never going to achieve it. Some experts refer to I haven’t learned it yet, but I would say that that still is the wrong message, that the idea is that if you practice, you can make it happen, and that’s what we want them to do. And then just a couple more. Allow students to see you change your mind sometimes and always explain how new information has led you to have a different view.

[00:18:50.080] – Steve

Biggie. Wow.

[00:18:50.670] – Liz

Yeah, exactly. Some children learn from us that it’s a weakness to change your mind about something, and so we have to demonstrate and model to them that it’s okay to change your mind in the light of new information. So that’s why we need to not only tell them we’ve changed our mind, but say, I used to think this, but now I know this, I’ve changed my mind and now I think that. So that they see that constant change in thought processes, that’s metacognition. Is that being willing to change your mind in order to get a better result because you’ve got new bits of information to go on.

[00:19:30.910] – Steve

I’m thinking that’s really a biggie for that middle school teenage kind of time, because, one, we should be changing our thinking as parents, but delighting in it. Becoming enlightened is a reward, and being able to share that to our child is a reward that they can look forward to as they are open and grow.

[00:19:55.480] – Liz

Very cool. Yeah. And as you say, it’s about modeling that for them, isn’t it? And then the last one, the subconscious brain believes everything it’s told. So help your learners remove the word “can’t” from their vocabulary. The subconscious literally doesn’t think for itself. But if we say, I can’t do this, then the subconscious brain will make sure that you can’t do it, because that’s the truth as far as it’s concerned. So one step further would be to say I can do this. But that still feels like a lie if the child is struggling. So they might be saying, I can do this, but the subconscious still realizes that there’s a struggle there. So the way to overcome that is to say, I can do this, I just need some help. So that way the subconscious hears I can rather than I can’t. It hears how that’s going to happen by getting the help. And then it’s satisfied and the brain will open up and allow progress to take place. So that’s another really important thing that parents can do is to help their child not to use that word, can’t.

[00:21:07.420] – Steve

Great list. Great list. I’m really glad you did it all six. Before we close out, tell listeners best way that parents might follow up with you with any questions that they have or read more of the things that you’ve got available.

[00:21:25.040] – Liz

Yeah, the easiest thing is to email me, which is success@lizkeable.com my surname is spelled keable, so success@lizkeable.com if people want to email me there, I will happily send them the full list of 18 suggestions that I’ve just read six from.

[00:21:45.240] – Steve

I was just going to ask about that.

[00:21:47.030] – Liz

Yeah, they’re welcome to that if they want to email me. The other thing that they could do is go on my website, lizkeable.com, and download a document that’s free there, the A to Z of supporting learner achievement, which has success stories, if you like, from my own career that might give them some more ideas that might be helpful.

[00:22:09.260] – Steve

Liz, I’m so glad that you joined us. I’m anxious to hear back from parents who get the support from listening to this. Thank you so much.

[00:22:20.560] – Liz

You’re welcome, Steve.

[00:22:24.240] – Steve [Outro]

Thanks for listening, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn at Steve Barkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.


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