Monday, September 14, 2009

How Can My Kid Succeed in School? Part Three

Editor's note: This is the third of a four part series from Dr. Pohlman's new book, How Can My Kid Succeed in School? which arrives in bookstores in two weeks. Today he talks about two kinds of questions kids ask when learning that may give parents insight into what might be going on with their child.

How-to Questions
Kids often fire some other kinds of questions at parents when doing their homework, and each can provide clues about their learning. Two such question categories are how-to and what’s up? How-to questions relate to the various procedures and rules that kids need to access when doing their homework. Asking these questions is a tip-off that long-term memory isn’t working well, especially if the student can readily use the procedure or rule once prompted (which suggests he understands it). Examples include the following:

• How do I borrow a number?
• How do you spell summary when there’s more than one summary?
• Do you put the period before or after the quotation mark at the end of the sentence?
• How would I solve for n in this problem?

Sometimes, however, how-to questions result from something other than memory problems, such as how well the student can reason through a problem. Applied reasoning refers to the use of logic to solve problems and tackle challenging situations. A student who asks a lot of deep how-to questions, such as, “How would I figure out the amount of water in this canister if this cube is submerged in it?" or “How could I show that climate change is affecting this habitat?” likely has shaky reasoning.

What’s-up Questions
These often reveal shaky understanding of the material and of important concepts. They are often accompanied by complaints such as “I don’t get it!” or pleas such as “Explain this to me.” What’s-up questions take many forms, but they all boil down to a less-than-firm grasp of a concept. A concept is a set of critical features of a group of ideas or objects that define that group, determine group membership, and connect it to other groups. Some of the many concepts taught in school are freedom of speech, integers, and symbiosis. Here are some example questions that relate to concepts:

• What’s the difference between a cold-blooded animal and a warm-blooded animal?
• What does extremism mean?
• Can I just add the tops and bottoms of these two fractions?
• Aren’t a phrase and a clause pretty much the same thing?

Dr. Pohlman conducts and supervises learning assessments for Southeast Psych and is available to present on learning issues. Feel free to contact him at 704-552-0116 or His new book is due out in stores Sept. 28th and can be pre-ordered online now.