Friday, September 24, 2021

Giving roots and wings to independent learners

AROUND the time first grading report cards were distributed during the pandemic, two viral photos circulated online.

One was a candid photo of a mom and dad sitting on the table busy answering school modules while their young son was sitting doing nothing. A different social media post flashed a “report card” with made-up “grades” for various family members who contributed to the students’ academic achievements. Although the latter was meant to be a joke, it is an amusing but sad reality.

“In online learning now, teachers complain of parents sitting beside their children and answering the tests for them,” says Dr. Queena N. Lee-Chua, PhD, award-winning educator, psychologist, and bestselling author coincidentally echoing the same sentiment poignantly.

Instead of focusing on just getting high grades, the esteemed mother of one underscores that it is more crucial for parents to guide their children to become independent learners, whether online or off.

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of attending Dr. Queena’s virtual launch for her newest book “Raising Independent Learners: A Guide to Online and Offline Schooling” which was organized by Anvil Publishing and National Bookstore.

Discipline is not a ‘bad’ word

“Discipline is the top factor in student achievement. It is not a ‘bad’ word. It means “to instruct” -so that our children will become effective members of society,” explains Dr. Queena.

According to her, discipline is developmental and mainly depends on age. For kids 1 to 7 years old (age of regulation), parents should be clear on what a child must do - like telling them about the hours they can use the Wi-Fi and the period when they should work offline, or even just to take a walk to rest their eyes.

On the other hand, for 8-12 years old (age of imitation), parents must practice what they preach, i.e. responsible use of gadgets. Lastly, for 13 years old and up (age of inspiration), sharing motivating stories of her most memorable students turned out to be a worthwhile strategy for the well-loved professor.

One such student was Roselle Ambubuyog. Despite being blind, she would always rise to the challenge and do what was more than required. Roselle graduated summa cum laude and valedictorian in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics, minor in Actuarial Science from the Ateneo de Manila University.

“We, her teachers, are proud of her, not mainly because she excelled academically, but more because Roselle demonstrated grit and growth up to today,” enthuses the supportive mentor.

Effort more important than talent

During the webinar, Dr. Queena shared many other fascinating tales of independent learners such as eleven-year-old Teddy Chua Tan, the son of family friends. She related that the quarantine allowed Teddy to sharpen his coding skills that he was able to create useful home projects. He also repaired gadgets by watching YouTube and did household chores regularly.

“Because independent and capable learners manage time well, they don’t stress out, and even have the time and energy to go beyond academics,” observes Dr. Queena.

“Teddy self-studies the things that interest him. His mind is like a sponge. It reminded me of my son Scott. People think that he was born smart. But friends know the truth. Effort is more important than talent,” she emphasizes.

Scott learned well because of structure and habits developed early on. After he finished homework in Xavier School, he tinkered with experiments, wrote stories, and designed an Escape room. He did a graphic novel with his best friend Ethan Chua and the two of them found a publisher on their own.

In May this year, Scott graduated summa cum laude from Yale-National University of Singapore (NUS) with a major in Economics, minor in Mathematical, Computational and Statistical Sciences (MCS). He likewise served as the Student Government president and was the commencement speaker during his graduation.

Make glorious mistakes

Dr. Queena advises her students to focus on growth rather than grades. She explains that learning anything worthwhile is not easy. Growth requires taking reasonable risks and learning from mistakes. It is uncomfortable and yes, sometimes, painful.

Fr. Bienvenido “Ben” Nebres, S.J., national scientist and former ADMU president, who also spoke during the webinar wholeheartedly agrees with Dr. Queena.

“An A is fine, but it is not the most important thing. Focusing on A for its own sake paralyzes you. Fear of failure is very deadly. I’ve certainly seen incredibly talented people in my life who don’t achieve their full potential because they don’t want to fail,” he warns.

“Try to find joy in your studies and in doing well. And later, try to find satisfaction in a good job done not necessarily because of a salary raise or praise. Intrinsic motivation is what will help you achieve in life,” discloses Fr. Ben.

Both Fr. Ben and Dr. Queena believe that it is important to cultivate resilient independent learners because they will develop the mindset, attitudes, and skills that our society desperately needs.

Photos courtesy of Anvil Publishing, Yale-National University of Singapore (NUS), and Ateneo de Manila University. Roots and wings digital artwork by Chelsea Teves.

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