My daughter and I share the same office space. She attends her classes online while I teach for Edgenuity. One of the benefits I get from this experience is the opportunity to listen to her English lectures. Her teacher explained the difference between horror and terror, and later while watching a Halloween movie, I used this opportunity to segue into a discussion. Of course, we had to pause the film, but the experience strengthened her understanding of two very similar literary terms.
One of the disadvantages of online learning can be that students miss out on classroom discussions. According to Teaching on Purpose, teachers use conversations to help students “develop and strengthen interpersonal communication skills as well as analytical and critical thinking skills.” As a teacher and a parent, I highly recommend talking to your child about learning—group discussion is one of the ways that I check for understanding with my class. And now that I am teaching online, I continue asking questions to keep the conversation going with students and stimulate further thinking about the subject.
Initiating conversations with your child can be daunting, particularly if your child is a teenager. Often, they are quick to respond to questions with “I don’t know,” but don’t be discouraged, as communication skills develop over time.
So how can you get your child to open up about school? An article in The Conversation recommends avoiding closed-ended questions that can be answered with a single word, like “How was your day?” The authors suggest getting the discussion going with open-ended questions that are engaging and intentional. But what else can you do?
Tips for Talking to Your Child about Learning
While it may seem intimidating to begin an educational conversation with your child, it is easier than you think. Aha! Parenting.com suggests the following strategies:
- Ask good questions.
- Commit to listening and not lecturing.
- Enjoy the discussion and stay curious!
For me, one of the most challenging parts of classroom discussion was getting students to talk. Don’t feel intimidated because you are not Bill Nye the Science Guy or a subject-matter expert—talking to your child about learning is only as complicated as you make it. Suppose you want to encourage critical thinking and you are feeling adventurous. In that case, the Socratic Method (a teaching method developed by Socrates that uses thought-provoking questions and answers to promote learning) may be just the thing for you! Stanford University has in-depth instructions for using the method, and informED has a list of 30 thought-provoking questions to ask.
Or you could do as I did and watch or listen to your child’s lectures. Jot down any questions or comments you have as the lesson progresses, and then look for the appropriate moment to launch a discussion.
Another way to spark a conversation and make online learning more engaging is with a virtual field trip. I love virtual field trips because they enrich understanding and provide an interactive experience. If your child is learning about the Holocaust through The Diary of Anne Frank, a trip to the Secret Annex is a fantastic experience for the entire family. Students can explore just about anything on the Internet. Discovery Education offers virtual field trips filtered by subject area, including STEM events, and Good Housekeeping shared 41 virtual field trips. Best of all, the conversations that result from a virtual field trip are natural and spontaneous, making talking to your child about learning quite easy and maybe even fun!
Talking is essential for brain development, and according to an article in The Hechinger Report, “back-and-forth conversation is related to brain activity and verbal aptitude.” Sharing your thoughts and opinions with your child strengthens learning, further connects you to their education experience, and improves your bond and relationship (maybe even with your child’s teachers). And you might learn something along the way!
Aha! Parenting. (n.d.). 250 conversation starters for family discussions. https://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/communication/family-discussions
Barshay, J. (2018, March 12.). Why talking—and listening—to your child could be key to brain development. The Hechinger Report. https://hechingerreport.org/why-talking-and-listening-to-your-child-could-be-key-to-brain-development/
Cooke, J., & Madigan, S. (2019, September 2.). How to get kids talking about their school day. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/how-to-get-kids-talking-about-their-school-day-119837
Corcoran, S. (2016, February 22.). Discussion in the classroom: Why to do it, how to do it, and how to assess it. Teaching on Purpose. http://teachingonpurpose.org/journal/discussion-in-the-classroom-why-to-do-it-how-to-do-it-and-how-to-assess-it/
Professional Learning Board. (n.d.). The Socratic method in the classroom. https://k12teacherstaffdevelopment.com/tlb/the-socratic-method-in-the-classroom/