There are many factors involved in determining educational outcomes. Most children who do well academically have several of those determinants working in their favor. On the other hand, poor performance is often linked with adverse influences such as medical conditions, emotional issues, malnutrition, or negative relationships at home or among peers.
Some of these factors are beyond the control of the various stakeholders in a child’s education and development. But given what’s at stake, we can all do more to help the children in our lives become better at learning.
Doing so calls for a focus on something every student can control: their study habits. Despite individual circumstances or inherent aptitude levels, every child can choose to put forth more effort and be more effective in this regard. If that’s not working out, we can guide them towards better outcomes through proper root cause analysis.
A matter of agency
When you cut down a tree during home landscaping, you might be inclined to leave the remainder in the ground. After all, clearing the roots takes a lot more work, and you’ve already done the job of protecting your roof from falling branches.
But leaving the root system intact can lead to further problems. New shoots can form, or honey fungus might spread from diseased roots. A stump removal service is well worth the extra cost.
The same principle applies to many behavioral issues. Try to solve problems by addressing symptoms, and you’ll find that they might subside, only to rise again after a time, possibly in a more complex form.
Human behaviors are the result of many interacting influences, but they can all be modified. We need to exercise our sense of agency in doing so. And a child’s study habits are no different.
The five ‘whys’
Anyone who’s spent time talking to a child will know that they can be full of questions. They have no prior knowledge of the world. The more you attempt to explain something to them, the more they ask, until the limits of your own knowledge are reached.
This can get frustrating at times. What parent hasn’t told their kid to go look it up in the encyclopedia or Wikipedia in this digital age?
But it’s also an effective technique that you can apply in reverse when figuring out why children aren’t demonstrating the positive behaviors they’ve been taught to follow. In the Six Sigma methodology for business management, it’s known as the ‘Five Whys.’
The premise is simple. If you notice an issue, ask the people involved why it’s happening. They will usually offer up a superficial explanation, so probe further and ask why that’s the case. There can be more or less than five such stages, but the objective is the same. You stop only when you’ve found the root of the problem.
Root cause analysis should lead you to one of two kinds of challenges: skill or will. Either way, they must be addressed through actionable feedback.
If a child was never taught effective study habits or advised to remove distractions or manage their time properly, it’s an opportunity to teach them and improve their skills. Once the skill transfer has been completed, all that remains is monitoring and following-up on whether they’ve made the change and improved outcomes.
But if they already know what needs to be done and just aren’t doing it, you need to address the lack of will. What is driving that behavior? Devise a plan to improve upon that. It could be curtailing screen time, avoiding friends who are bad influences, or chaining better habits to existing ones.
We have a say in our own behavior. Teaching children early on to improve their study habits is one way of giving them the keys to better education.