Taking charge

Assuming ownership of learning helps students of all ages create good study habits for life


The past couple of years have been trying, both for students and teachers. At least, that is what Bruno J. Riel, PhD, has noticed.

But if there is anything positive coming out of the pandemic, says Riel, “it’s that children — especially [ones in] the older grades — have realized that they have to identify what they need to learn, find the resources and self-learn.”

For Riel, the academic advisor at Académie de la Capital, it’s about ownership over learning. “At our school we emphasize how to learn,” says Riel. “And parents can be a tremendous help in this.” For parents to help their children learn good study habits, he advises parents to look at what they do. “How would you approach a problem? Where would you look for resources? Would you ask a colleague? You go through a process. You can help your child do the same thing.” Riel says this method works for younger children as well. “Even younger children are computer-savvy. They know how to look things up and where to find information,” says Riel. “And parents can encourage those skills.” Riel says this will pay off in higher grades and will instill that sense of ownership over learning.

“Have the right tools,” says Kate Wigston, head of student services and guidance for high school at St-Laurent Academy. “And by that, I mean a calendar, so you can write your projects down and block out chunks of time to do them. And put the screen away.” Wigston says study habits are very individualized and a student should analyze what they do. “Older students, especially, should look at how they study, what their work habits [are] and how to know when to stop,” says Wigston. “There has to be balance.” She encourages students to take a break to help their learning and to put a fresh perspective on their studies. “At St-Laurent, we foster independence,” says Wigston. “It’s a big world out there. So when they leave Grade 12 and head to university, they’ll be self-aware to know that they are doing OK.”

It’s about creating confident, self-aware, independent learners at an early age, says Tara Doherty, head of student services and guidance (elementary) at St-Laurent Academy. “It’s also about children understanding how they learn and having the opportunity to explore and discover the tools, strategies and accommodations that work best for them,” says Doherty.

“Another key piece in a child’s success at school is creating a strong relationship with the family as a whole, in order to ensure consistency and collaboration as a team,” she adds. At home, Doherty says children need to have time to explore their areas of interest, passions, and strength, as well as continue to practice good study skills and work habits. There needs to be a balance. In school and at home, we as educators and parents need to ensure children have opportunities to be curious, ask questions, and explore. “Keep your child curious,” says Doherty. “Read aloud as much as you can, on a wide variety of topics.” And keep the learning going outside of the classroom. “Visit a museum, an art gallery or a science centre. Go for a walk in the woods or conduct your own science experiment at home. “Developing and maintaining a love for learning is all about balance.”

Although she acknowledges that it’s “kind of ‘old-school’,” Ioana Teodorescu says that “there is no good habit without proper discipline and sticking to a schedule.”

Even though Triangle School Ottawa — where Teodorescu is owner — focuses on math, Teodorescu says children must cover and study all subjects, including science, history, and geography, at an age-appropriate level. “Studying is all about getting a rounded view of the world,” says Teodorescu, “and homework is a ‘must-do,’ especially for older children. Independent study will help them fix concepts.” Teodorescu suggests children learn an instrument or study painting or sculpting. “Learning how to play an instrument and play it well takes perseverance and goal setting,” says Teodorescu, “both good habits to develop. And even doing painting helps in developing the brain in other areas.” But play and leisure are essential as well. “Getting outside and doing something active like skating or skiing can really help get rid of cobwebs and can help you refocus,” says Teodorescu. “And playing logic games is not only fun but can really help to develop critical thinking.” Teodorescu says parents are key in making sure their child develops good study habits. “Having those habits instilled at an early age will benefit them greatly in the real world.”