The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

August 23, 2008

Prepare your children to succeed in class

Published Sun., Aug. 24, 2008

When the tardy bell rings Monday morning around 8 a.m. in schools around the area, the game clock begins ticking on a new season of learning.

While some may find it odd to refer to learning — a lifelong pursuit — in terms of a scholastic competition, we see parallels between athletic competition and the way our country measures academic achievement. As we live in a society that has elevated sports to hero-worship status, perhaps we should explain the value of education in terms those otherwise uninterested may understand.

Every game has rules and education is no different. Rookie students and players start off with the basics of what to do to become a successful student or player. In football, players are taught how to behave on the field — not to begin a play before the ball is snapped, not to hit out of bounds, to stop when the whistle blows. In the classroom, our children are taught how to behave in the classroom — when to sit quietly at the desks, how to react when someone makes you mad and to put up the books and supplies for one subject when it’s time for another.

As our students and athletes advance, the efforts necessary to hone their knowledge and skills increase. Coaches subdivide the game into different aspects — special teams, offense, defense, running game, passing game, line play, secondary, and so on. Techniques are taught for proper tackling, blocking and footwork, and a new language of sport-specific terms emerges. Opponents are analyzed through video and through hands-on practice on the field before ever donning helmets for the actual battle.

Likewise, the coaches in the classroom — the teachers and aides — prepare their students for mastery of particular subjects. The game of learning breaks down into math, science, language arts, reading, social studies, technology, and fine and vocational arts. Teachers strive to not only instill essential knowledge and skills from each subject but also to hone the study techniques necessary to ensure that knowledge advances from mere rote memorization of facts to comprehension of concepts, to applying those concepts in new situations, analyzing the parts of each for deeper understanding, synthesizing elements of different concepts to create something new and then evaluating the outcome.

Teachers move students into each phase of learning through classroom discussion, hands-on in-class assignments to assist and gauge the learning taking place, research to see what others have done and their outcomes, projects to challenge students’ abilities to grasp a concept and make it their own, and post-assignment discussion to talk about the results and why ideas succeeded or failed.

Why? In football, the goal is to win games, to set your team apart as successful enough for post-season play, to prove yourself most able to meet any challenge and claim the title of champion for that season, to earn the right to call yourself the best of the best. The outcome is measured in points, by games won and lost, and comparing your team’s scores and won-lost record against others.

In the classroom, the goal is to learn and master educational material deemed appropriate and necessary for the student’s age, grade and mental abilities, and to lay the brickwork necessary for future success — in the classroom and in life — as students build their knowledge base. The outcome is measured in grades, and for schools, by comparing the numbers of passing students against other schools.

So what can those in the stands do to improve the chances of success for their children in the classroom? Send them ready to succeed — tell them your expectations for their success in the classroom just as you would if they were headed to practice, that you as a parent expect to see them try hard, listen to what their teacher tells them and put out the extra effort to win. Emphasize that just as athletes need their rest and good meals before a big game, so do they to get the most from their minds and bodies in the classroom. Encourage them when they struggle to grasp a concept being taught. Just as you might watch the Minnesota Vikings and point out how Adrian Peterson makes defenders miss, sit down with your children and go over their homework and point out clues and tendencies in the textbook to help them find the answers. Cheer them on. Make them realize through your attention and actions that seeing them succeed in school is just as important as seeing the Dallas Cowboys win Super Bowls.