Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Learning to Learn: Helping Parents Understand Cognitive Assets

This is one of my favorite subjects to talk about…helping learners become better learners. This is a true “big picture” strategy because if you become a better learner, you’ll improve in EVERYTHING, and that provides cognitive mental return on our learning investment.

I’ve mentioned in other posts how intelligence is dynamic. This is something every parent needs to understand. There is nothing static about a learner’s potential. There never comes a point where you can say “well, that’s it…job well done…you’ve learned all you’re gonna learn!” The human brain is malleable. Simply stated, when you put your brain to work, it physically upgrades. It doesn’t fill up, rather it physically changes its structure. As the parent of two children with special needs, this is particularly uplifting. They may not learn as fast or as easily, but a world of discovery is still open to them.

This is a fact that I constantly repeat to them. You don’t keep this type of info to yourself. My kids are fully aware of their own struggles, but understanding how learning happens has given them a leg up on equipping themselves with the means to persevere. What do I equip them with you may be asking? Cognitive assets…the simple strategies and practices that make them more efficient THINKERS!

Learning is hard work and hard work is good, but the stumbling block for so many learners is that we sometimes make it harder than it has to be. I love to learn and the more efficient I am at it, the more of it I can do. Time is the most precious commodity. I could get to work taking an unnecessarily long and complex route that hits every traffic bottleneck, but that isn’t the best use of my time, energy, and effort. Now, I could drive faster (not recommended), but why chance the increase risk of accidents, traffic tickets, or suffer extra fuel costs associated with that poor choice?

Yet upon reflection, that is exactly what we sometimes tell our learners to do. Oh, this isn’t helping you learn? Well then…just do it more often…do it faster…and do it again. The worst part is that when a learner struggles, they may start believing that it is because they didn’t try hard enough or weren’t capable in the first place. We’ve got to put our learners in a position to win as well as teach them how to put themselves in a position to win.

“When every physical and mental resource is focused, one's power to solve a problem multiplies tremendously.” 
- Norman Vincent Peale

Just take a quick inventory of the things in your life that make you more efficient...vehicles, modern housing, appliances, indoor plumbing (big fan), etc. Imagine not having some of those things (try to think of the nearest stream you could do laundry at for starters)? That is what learning is like for someone who hasn’t acquired the essential cognitive assets that many of us take for granted.

Now taking it a step forward, it is easier to understand how potential can be greatly impacted by the addition of these assets or the lack of them. As a parent, making sure my children have these tools is imperative. I’m their learning coach and I’m going to put my kids in a position, not just to play, but to win! The best part about this is how easy and practical these assets are. Many of them are likely to be incredibly familiar, but their incredible value may not.

The most interesting thing I’ve read in this past year was a book on “creating” genius. In account after account chronicling the most celebrated intellects known throughout history, it was the use of cognitive assets that set them apart. It wasn’t natural genius that made them special, rather how they squeezed out every last ounce of potential. It was their ability to magnify their strengths that catapulted them to amazing heights.

An asset is something that helps you get a job or task done. It doesn’t do it for you, but it makes the process more efficient. I purposely say efficient, because the term easier doesn’t always truly apply. I go to work every day. I could walk, ride a bike, take the bus, get a ride, car pool, or drive myself. Each one of those is an asset that is available to me, but due to the distance, some are better than others. I choose the best fit and then put it to use to accomplish my goal….gainful employment (I’m very attached to this…right up there with indoor plumbing). Now some other folks may have additional assets available to them, if for example they have unlimited finances. They can take a limo, fly by helicopter, or just rough it and drive their luxury car. Simply put, more assets…more choices…greater efficiency….SAME objective (they’ve got to pay for that helicopter somehow).

Cognitive assets are the exact same thing, but they apply to learning. No matter what, you’ve got a journey ahead of you, but how you get there can make a big difference. Ever come across a person that loves to learn? I guarantee it is partly because they’ve learned to utilize assets that make the journey an adventure! I will be sharing several assets in future posts, but before I go today, I wanted to share two simple, yet extremely effective cognitive assets that are favorites of mine and work SO well together. I’ve had the pleasure of learning so many of these while getting my degree in brain-based teaching through the BrainSMART program created by Dr. Donna Wilson and Dr. Marcus Conyers. I’ve even invented one myself that I hope to share with you all someday, but in the meantime here are two awesome assets to get your children thinking intensely, critically, and efficiently.

80/20 PRINCIPLEThe first is the 80/20 principle. Many in the business world may already be familiar with this, but our children should be too. Think about the following:
20% of the food you eat probably provides 80% of the most important nutrients
  • 20% of your exercises provide 80% of the results
  • 20% of the game on TV is responsible for 80% of the fun!
  • 20% of what you study is the important stuff that makes up 80% of the test
  • 20% of your time is responsible for 80% of your productivity
  • 20% of what my kids do is responsible for 80% of my gray hair (I’m just guessing)
…and so on
You get the idea. Why is this important for kids to understand this? You need to get them looking at that 20% as much as possible. When my kids are in a learning situation, I do NOT want to miss that 20%. I want them in the habit of finding this on their own. This is an asset, that if practice, can provide incredible returns on your learning investment and it’s obvious to see why.

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
- Prime Minister Winston Churchill
My mom is not an expert in brain-based teaching, but she taught me an incredibly important cognitive asset at a very young age without realizing it. I was six years old and we were driving on I-95 in Miami when I noticed a rugged biker on a chopper go cruising past us (this may have been where my motorcycle love affair first began). Then I noticed something shocking! This guy had one leg! I turned to my mom and mentioned how I felt sorry for that poor man with only one leg. My mom turned to me suddenly and in a surprisingly forceful tone said “Poor man? Poor man?!?! More like LUCKY MAN!” 
Thoroughly confused as I was, she continued “Don’t be sad that he has only one leg. He should be THANKFUL to God for the leg he has! Look at him riding that motorcycle. What if he had NO legs?” I’ll never forget my mom saying that to me. No matter what my situation…no matter what I face or my family faces, I never stop searching for the blessing in it. This must be taught to our children. Be realists and face the fight without misconceptions, but always look for what can be learned especially in failure or disappointment.

In future posts I hope to share other cognitive assets with you and how they’ve impacted my life, both personally and professionally, as well as the lives of my family. If you can’t wait, I highly recommend the book BrainSMART in the House: The Family Guide to Helping Children Succeed in School and in Life. The information is some of the best I’ve ever come across in regards to equipping parents to help their children become world class thinkers. Also check out some of their other books as well. Donna and Marcus are both on my short list of people I would love to sit down with for a deep and compelling conversation (no joke…I have an actual list).

In the meantime my fellow learners, just remember this as you continue your own journey of discovery and learning in your efforts to help the children you cherish…

“Every child deserves a champion — an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”
- Rita F. Pierson