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Blog Post

Student Doesn’t Need Occupational Skills - Yet

Disorganized child has not been taught the skills needed to become organized.

Dear Dr. Fournier:

My child is the most disorganized human being on the planet! I try to get her to write her homework and other assignments down in her notebook and to put all her handouts in one place and that has not worked. I've bought books, pads, special notebooks, trappers, calendars and planners for her, all to no avail. She doesn't use them to get organized. If anything, she uses them to become a bigger mess. Is there any hope for us or am I expecting too much?

Katie W.

Pensacola, FL

Dear Katie:

Do parents expect too much if they ask their child to go to work and do their job? Probably not. But do parents ask too much if they confuse teaching with telling? Definitely.

When we select a new dentist, we assume that if the person has the title of dentist, he or she must have the occupational skills that go with it. We do not arrive at the dentist's office and demand, "Let me see you hold the drill," or, "Let me watch you mix a filling to see if you do it right."

The occupational title makes us feel secure that the dentist has been told, taught, mastered what was taught, passed state boards, and practiced the trade. The dentist has a major advantage over a child who, at the age of five or sooner, begins the 12-year occupation of student. The dentist goes to school to learn the occupational skills required. But when our children arrive at their workplace (school), they are expected to have many of their work skills already in place.

ASSESSMENT

When our children don't have the occupational skills of being a student (and these increase in amount and complexity for each grade), we use the quick fix, ­"I'll tell them what they have to do." Apply this theory to your dentist. Would you want to be examined by someone who was only told how to drill a cavity?

For students, it takes more than telling for your child to learn important occupational skills, such as organization, time management, task analysis, completion of commitments, prioritizing, self-assessment, recognition of positive and negative consequences, independent learning, and planning for achievement with responsibility.

These are not topics of courses taught in school, but each skill is essential for children who are growing up in a world where what they learn is quickly eclipsed by new knowledge. Unfortunately, at times we are so intent on giving our children current knowledge that the essential task of teaching them how to be independent, self-directed and continuous learners for the grade they are in and to build on later, is glossed over.

WHAT TO DO

Katie, a memo pad or a calendar with a day or a week-at-a-glance feature are the precise ways to tell children what they must do without teaching them skills that will make them lifetime learners. It is no wonder that so many children say "no" to a technique that makes no sense for their lives.

A memo pad or a day-at-a-glance calendar is a technique many adults use. However, through experience these adults have incidentally learned pre-skills for the larger tasks. We can't assume a child has mastered the skills of task analysis with appropriate logic and sequencing, time management, resource assessment, prioritizing and forecasting, to name a few.

Statistically, 25 percent of all children can innately carry out this kind of adult organizational skill. But that also means that 75 percent cannot! Yet they could if they were taught with the same expectations and effort that we place on mastering reading or math. So, when your child doesn't do what you have "told" her to do, ask yourself, "What am I assuming my child knows how to do that she probably doesn't?"

Many times, I have found the problem to be in my assumption rather than in the child's desire to please.

All children need to, grade by grade, learn what ultimately will be the full array of these adult techniques. To accomplish this, however, they simply need parents who can recognize their child's age and their non-negotiable need to be taught. Parents do not necessarily ask too much of their children, but sometimes they just ask for what a child cannot learn by just being told.

More Stories By Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dr. Yvonne Fournier is Founder and President of Fournier Learning Strategies. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework" was published by the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. Dr. Fournier, arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today, has followed her own roadmap, calling not just for change or improvement in education but for an entirely new model.

She remains one of the most controversial opponents of the current education system in America.