Saturday, November 07, 2015

How to utilise Aptitude tests to help your child

This blog is based on the article Dick Bolles has written about usefulness of vocational tests. He is the author of a best seller, "What color is your parachute". It is a good summary of the usefulness of aptitude tests and how to benefit from them. In an earlier blog, we had discussed the technical aspects of Aptitude tests.


Here are some of his key observations on the vocational tests:

1. Psychology Experts in “Testing and Measurement” know that tests are notoriously flawed, unscientific, and inaccurate. For instance, even if the test characterises you as 'left brained', you may still possess many of the characteristics of 'right brain' too.

2. No tests can measure a person; it measures the 'group' to which you belong to. This means that you 'may' be sharing some of the characteristics of the group. Sometimes you 'really' share most of the characteristics, sometimes you share very few. For instance, if your tests show that you are 'logical' person, you may share some of the traits of the 'logical person' such as analytical ability, left-brainness and so on. But you may not share other equally important characteristics.

3. Many vocational tests have an inbuilt algorithm to narrow down the option. Each time you answer a question, the tests narrow the option. For example, if you say, “I do not prefer to work with people,” the test will reduce and/or eliminate many of the jobs which are people-oriented. Or if you say that you are 'not interested in service jobs', it will remove the jobs in hospitality and other related industries, although not all the jobs in hospitality are 'service oriented'

How to therefore utilise aptitude tests

Given these drawback of tests, here are some of the smart suggestions that the author has made

1. Never use tests to 'confirm' a path

Because of the inherent unpredictability of tests, students should never use tests to 'narrow the choices', or to 'reduce the alternatives'. Many 10th class students in India, on the other hand, use tests to 'confirm' a selected path of Engineering or Commerce. 

2. Use tests instead to broaden the horizon

Because the tests cannot give a definite answer to the 'vocation', it is better to use them to generate more options before one arrives at a final decision. Infact, a good career planner uses more tests to explore more options. They look for clues or suggestions from the test results, rather than for a definitive answer . 

Because tests pigeon-hole a student in a family, it is important to use the clues of the 'family characteristics' that the test results offer.Tests offer therefore new ideas and suggestions to what one is. They point to some hidden clues which did not get surfaced earlier. 

3. Give tests in presence of an experienced counselor 

Because test results have to be interpreted and used to broaden the horizon, it is a better to give test in presence of an experienced counselor. An experienced counselor is more likely to give you more suggestions from the test results than an inexperienced counselor. 


Tests are good to increase the possibilities one has. And if one takes tests to increase the possibilities, one must be smart in using them. For instance, if one understands the native abilities one had, and the different work-environment they can be used, one is more prepared to explore different options. The author in the above mentioned article also mentions some of the tests that one can take.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Parents can really help their children in setting their future direction, if they negotiate these five common hurdles smartly

Compass is a direction-setter. At any time, when a student is confused, it helps him/her find the right direction and not get derailed from his chosen path. Like we said earlier, Compass has two functions. It helps us set What direction and How direction. In this blog, let us talk of the difficulties in setting the 'What direction' of compass.

Why students cannot set their 'What' direction?

Setting 'what' direction means using the knowledge of our self and our environment to set a 'North' direction. For instance, it means knowing that one's direction is 'Logical skills'. After knowing the 'logical' direction, one may still have to chose among the following 'destinations': Engineering, Medicine or Accounting. But setting the direction is important.

Primarily, students encounter eight hurdles in setting the what direction. First 3 hurdles are knowledge hurdles, while last 5 hurdles are developmental hurdles created by us.

Three Knowledge hurdles

One: Some students cannot set what direction, because they lack the knowledge of converting their 'Interest' into 'Compass direction'. For instance, students interested in Drawing cannot find a Compass direction because they are not aware of how interest in drawing can help them make a career which will utilise that interest.

Two: Some students cannot set what direction, because their 'visible' strengths are not aligned with the family's interest. For instance, I met a boy who wanted to become a 'cook'. His parents did not like the idea, and refused to support him. You will often observe many parents who want their children to become what they could not, instead of helping him find what he wants.

Three: Some students cannot set the 'what' direction because they do not possess sharp strengths. For instance, if a student is good in a subject , say mathematics, he can spend considerable time in building those strengths. Naturally, this helps the student in choosing the what direction. But many students are good in many subjects. They face a big dilemma: because they are good in many subjects, they are confused, because they lack the requisite skills to chose between the many options. Their problem is the problem of prosperity.

Five Developmental Hurdles created by us

One, wants of many students are never taken seriously by anyone. Therefore students do not know the difference between wants, needs, desires and just interests.  Throughout their life, they do what others want. Even if they pursue an interest in something, say painting, astronomy, or in dinosaurs, they are constantly reminded of not wasting too much time in it. Or they are discouraged in pursuing in-depth work in any hobby. For instance, even when they are interested in mobiles, they are discouraged in learning to repair the mobiles, because it is a considered as waste of time.

Two, many students are unknowingly discouraged to become independent. Even while getting up in the morning, parents take the responsibility of waking them up. Their daily priorities are set by teachers and parents. Even their study-place is managed by parents. When the holidays set in, the parents prepare the schedule of their children. When students get used to this dependence, they often lack the energy to find what they want.

Three, most of the students do not learn to express their emotions freely. When they try something new, they naturally fail in first few attempts. But when they express their emotions of pain openly, they are told to be 'strong' and 'courageous'. When they get second rank in a subject, despite trying hard, they are told they trying hard is not 'good enough'. If they cry because of failing in new event like 'roller skating', they are told to avoid becoming 'sissy'. Even when they manage to get good marks and beat others, they do not feel good because beating competition only increases the fear of failing 'next time'. This generates envy and insecurities. But they cannot speak to anyone about these feelings, because these feelings are supposed to be 'wrong'.

Four: Many students do not like reading novels, seeing dramas, or watching movies as the families do not encourage these habits. These three habits are the sources of inspiration for us. When we read biographies and novels, we are inspired by the heroic acts. When we watch dramas, we are attracted to the struggle of 'good' versus 'bad'. When we watch movies, we get inspired by the struggle of hero who wins despite all the hiccups. This inspiration ( of what can be possible) guides our wants and desires unconsciously.

Five: many students to not get the real taste of what 'real work' is. Even when these students want to volunteer work in NGO's or public causes during holidays, they are not encouraged. Or if they do not work in NGO, they can work in Pizza centers. Or they can also volunteer to work in public festivals like Ganpati, Navratri, or other community festivals. Or they can volunteer in organising school work of Republic days, Visits to Astronomical labs, Annual Days. Because students have not worked, student's  awareness of the working world is bookish or incorrect. They are unable to find relevance of 'subject knowledge' with real-world problems or situations.

How do students behave when they lack the 'what' compass

Due to their inability to negotiate these developmental 5 hurdles, especially, many students become 'passive' receptors of information with no capacity to process the data about environment or data about Self. Their development is blocked. They get attracted to the glitter. Instead of asking what will help them lead to find meaningful work, they chase what others are doing. They have no practice or skills to find what they want. They are clueless.

They follow other students like a herd. If others are pursuing marks, they chase marks. If others are choosing Engineering, they chase Engineering. They rely on trophies and symbols. For instance, they may pursue degrees, one after another, and hope that career will take career of itself: They first finish Engineering, then MBA, then MPSC, then Banking exams.


Often students approach Counselors to help them set the 'destination' ( Engineering or medicine) without setting a 'direction' ( Logical Or Visual). Taking this kind of help from Counselors is not useful, because Counselors are ideal in tackling knowledge gaps. They are not trained to tackle the 'Developmental' gaps.

Instead, Parents should ideally approach Coaches in negotiating the five developmental hurdles created by environment. Coaches are trained to identify the development gap of a child and suggest options within the city or family to overcoming these gaps. If this help is taken at the right age of child, for instance when the child is in Vth class, your child is ready to tackle the challenges of latter years. When the child goes in 10th class, he is ready to tackle the challenge of setting his future direction. He may or may need a Counselor.

In next blog we shall understand how parents can help their children in setting 'how' direction. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

How to motivate your child?

I often meet parents who want me to talk to their children and 'motivate them'. They feel that their children have a drained battery that can be charged by some outside source of 'motivation'. True, sometimes we need a kick in our butts to do something. But that kind of external motivation works only for a short while and only for one-time tasks like preparing for a speech, or preparing for a difficult exam one day before the exam.

Map: To set the paths to reach next destination
To achieve our goals in life, we need an  internal motivation within ourselves. The key of motivation must be inside us. A student cannot remain motivated long by hearing a motivational speaker or by reading something inspiring. That motivation lasts for a day or a week at the most. To remain motivated, he requires much more preparation. He needs to get his mind focused.

To motivate his mind on a constant basis, a student must take two steps. He must determine the next destination and develop a map to reach it so that he is ready to traverse the important cross roads and hurdles that is expected on the chosen path. But this is not enough. He must also 'make' a compass that will guide him to the right direction when he is lost, confused, or faces unexpected hurdles ( or opportunities) on his path..

Why do you need both map and compass ?
Compass provides What and How direction

Imagine you are travelling from x to y. You need Map (coordinated set of actions) to help you prepare for crossing the inevitable & expected hurdles that may emerge on the path. But you also need Compass to act as North Star to find your path whenever you are lost. If, for instance, the student has set his direction of 'psychology', his Map should include a plan of which college to attend, why, what marks to get admission in the chosen college, how to get those marks and so on. Without a map, intentions cannot be converted into reality. But he also needs Compass to face unexpected hurdles and opportunities. Without the compass, one is likely to lose oneself on the path because one does not know how to react to the unexpected surprises. Let us understand how.

Compass provides 'what' direction ( of what to do) but it must be re-calibrated again and again

While travelling, the 'North' direction in compass is fixed. In real life, one has to constantly recheck if the 'North' direction set by the compass is right. This is the process of calibration.

For instance, a 10th class student may set North direction in choosing his discipline, say psychology, based on his native abilities. However when he starts working with schools during graduation, he starts liking 'education' very much( an unexpected event). Now should he re-calibrate his compass to change the 'North' direction to 'education' or should he keep the compass settings of North same as 'psychology'? In other words, should he use 'psychology' as a means to work in 'schools', or should he use 'schools' as a means to master 'psychology'.

Means and ends get exchanged midway and therefore we need to re-calibrate the compass accordingly. Although compass acts as a North Star, one has to constantly ask oneself if the "North star' is set at the appropriate direction. Or in other words, even when compass provides the 'what' direction initially, as 'end goals' and 'mean goals' change later due to our experience, we have to keep on calibrating the compass again and again. Psychologist call this as nested goals. Because of the nature of these goals, we cannot live our career with long-term goals.

Compass is however more important because it provides 'how' direction ( guidance on how to put the effort)

Compass setting also includes our values. Values are beliefs which we hold close to our heart and therefore they guide our actions. For instance, when the student is compelled to work deeper in a subject, say History, he should overcome the desire to 'work for marks' and study it deeply, even when his effort is not going to produce measurable result. He can do this only if he has accepted the value of 'mastery' or also called as growth mind set. For more details on this value, read this.

Or when a student is forced to work on a subject like English language, which does not fit in his plan, his compass should provide him the 'reason' to study English. I know of a parent who tells his children that 'Studying language is a waste of time'. Without compass offering appropriate 'how' direction, the student almost always gets derailed from his path, and fails to reach the destination.

Some parents unknowingly demotivate a child with wrong value. For instance, they may teach a belief such as ' Result based philosophy'. In this philosophy, parents advocate that 'results' are important irrespective of how they are achieved. For instance, they do not 'value' hard work if it is not resulting in 'high marks'. A student with such 'misdirected' compass ( values) cannot reach his goals, because he is so stressed with the possibility of failing that he fails to put in the requisite efforts.Or he may do 'anything' to achieve his goals, such as educated and highly paid Enron executives did.

Infact, success or failure of our careers depend on these 'how' direction, and therefore more on these 'values' which we accept without any questions. And they can derail us from our path without our knowledge. In this way, compass provides the 'foundation' in taking such small but  important 'decisions'. Without an appropriate compass therefore, a student cannot achieve his goals.


Most of the students lack internal motivation to reach their goals. Even when they are scoring high marks, they are not aware of what to do in their life and why. Depending on external motivation alone, they keep on chasing other's goals till the end of their life or chasing visible 'results' of success like cars, gadgets and foreign travels, but remaining dissatisfied with their lives.

How does a student with internal motivation behave? He manages his time actively. Knows how to use money. Whenever he does not know anything, he is confident to ask for help. He knows what he wants and why, which itself may change. He pursues what he likes even though it may not be part of academics. He is member of some group: meditation, clean drive, anti-corruption or something. He likes to read or see movies. He may even play some musical instrument. He reads newspapers. He has friends and he knows which friend can do what. He may not be 'talkative', but he can communicate his ideas and thoughts. He expresses his emotions and knows his triggers. And more importantly, he actively probes his 'values and beliefs', because he knows that they determine his success or failure more than anything else.

Maintaining internal motivation however is not a quick fix. Maintaining internal motivation is a constant effort. If you are serious in achieving anything meaningful in life, constructing a map and making a compass is the only known way to maintain your internal motivation. There is no short cut.

In the next blogs, we shall list down the steps in 'making the compass' as well as 'constructing a good map'.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Do not hasten your child to chose his/her education path after 10th at the last moment, instead give him/her enough time to equip

As we discussed elsewhere, our  subconscious mind takes the decision without our conscious knowledge most of the time. Psychologists believe that we are cognitive misers, people who are lazy in using the conscious mind. But this approach paralyses us because we are unable to face the unintended consequences of the chosen path.

Path is never right or wrong

This phenomenon happens with the student of 10th class. He/She unknowingly chooses his/her next path after 10th either by following his/her friend or by agreeing with the parents. But this does not prepare him/her to face the unintended consequences of a chosen path. 

Unintended Consequence 1: Chosen path cannot be continued because of lack of  ' necessary ability'

Jeevan's father wanted to become a doctor. So Jeevan always wanted to be a doctor. But Jeevan was very good in drawing. He stood 3rd in Maharashtra state in elementary exam. In 10th, he approched me to ask different medical colleges that he could chose.

Jeevan chose the education path of medicine, because of subtle and indirect pressure of his father who wanted to become a Doctor. Unfortunately, he could not get enough marks to take up MBBS. He chose Homeopathy. However, he failed in the first year of Homeopathy.

Students find it very difficult to assess the depth of their own abilities. Marks in the school, the indicator of ability, often mislead. Aptitude tests also do not measure these abilities any more 'accurately', because they are based on 'abstract thinking', which students cannot do because of lack of practice. It therefore takes time to understand the extent of one's ability. 

Unintended Consequence 2: Chosen path faces unexpected hurdles 

Sayali was an academically good student who had scored 90%+ marks in Xth class. She chose the education path of Engineering  without thinking deeply.
But in XIIth she failed to score enough marks in JEE to get a good college. So she was confused? Should she take a year break and try again next year? Or should she join a Tier-2 college but stick to her discipline of IT? Or should she join a college ignoring her choice of discipline? Should she chose a college where her better communication ability gets developed , as her logical ability was not enough to help her get good marks in JEE? Or should she join a college that will help her grow her 'logical ability' further? 

Because Sayali had chosen 'Engineering path' unconsciously with her subconscious mind, Sayali was not prepared to face these tough questions which requires conscious mind. When subconscious mind makes such decisions in haste, one is not equipped.

Students like Sayali cannot change their own decisions because they are 'stuck' in their own beliefs of what is right. Identifying and altering these beliefs once again take time.

Unintended Consequence 3: Chosen path do not fulfill unrealistic aspirations 

Here is another case of Abhay, whom i met 5 years back.

Abhay did everything right to get into IIT. He went to Kota to get through JEE exam. He got in Mumbai IIT. 
But in the third year of IIT, he felt he had made a wrong choice because he did not wanted to do technical job after graduation, because according to him, "Starting pay after IIM is at least 20 lakhs pa". So he decided to go for MBA immediately after graduating.  

Abhay is just comparing himself with others all the time. He does not have the skills to find what he wants. So he chooses his wants by comparing with others. If you are not aware, more than 50% of the engineering graduates do MBA immediately after graduation. Abhay's case is therefore not unusual.

Aspirations change without our conscious intentions. Until one's motivation is intrinsic, not extrinsic, it is difficult to control one's aspirations.

Equip the child to face the consequences of a chosen path

No choice is right or wrong. Choice becomes right (or wrong) only if one is equipped ( or not equipped) to face the consequences - both intended and unintended - of a chosen path. Because every child is different, one cannot factor all the possible hurdles and help the child plan. We must instead equip the child to get ready.

I follow these three steps to equip the child:

Step 1. Build enough confidence in the child to help him ask the right questions

Because Jeevan was not confident enough to say " I cannot do medicine because my ability is less", he was not able to tell his father that he cannot 'manage the studies of medicine'. Because Sayali was not confident in saying that " I may get less marks', she was unprepared to handle the hurdle of low marks.

A child is not confident or diffident. It is not a natural trait. Confidence depends on two variables. One, when the child can 'express his thoughts and ideas', he feels confident. Two, when the child understands the events - social, commercial, political - around him, he can form his own opinions which makes him feel confident.

Not every child will need same time and efforts to build confidence. For instance, some children, who fare good in academics, have higher confidence than the children who fare poorly in academics.They require lesser effort and time.

Step 2. Help the child understand his own Motivation

Only when a child is confident, he/she can take this step to introspect and ask tough questions about his Self. Without the confidence, finding one's motivation becomes a bookish exercise.

Child is aware of internal triggers of motivation - his own emotions, interests, values - and external triggers of motivation - what is valued socially such as money. Over the period of time, the child has to be taught to shift the source of his motivation from external to internal triggers. This process of discovering self-motivation can be helped by helping the child understand his own emotions, self-beliefs, and self-awareness.

In Jeevan's case, he could not negotiate the hurdle in his Homeopathy path either due to poor academic ability ( which he did not acknowledge) or his motivation for Homeopathy was too low. Abhay's case is of inadequate self awareness. When self-awareness is inadequate, choices are made not on what one wants, but what others are doing, such as what Abhay was doing.

Step 3. Build the talent-unwrapping skills

There are many popular and unpopular beliefs (myths) of 'what is talent and how to unwrap it'. For instance, many students still believe that one has a 'unique talent', although it is clear that 'talent is not one single unique ability, but multiple abilities working together in tandem'. Every child absorbs these beliefs of talent unknowingly. This step helps him question his old beliefs of talent and institute new beliefs that help you unwrap your 'unique genius'.

For instance, Jeevan's belief that "Drawing ability cannot be used to make a career" stopped him in choosing the path of drawing career. Or Abhay's belief that " First job should fetch more money" forced him to leave technical field and join MBA without working in technical field. Abhay was not aware that once he 'masters' a skill, monetisation of skill can follow later. By mastering the skill first and then monetising it later, one can achieve both job satisfaction and monetary satisfaction. However, prioritising monetisation before mastery only offers money satisfaction. Beliefs are invisible and unconscious. Not aware of them we keep on making mistakes unknowingly.


All three steps build three different skills which require TIME. Give the child 2 years to equip himself/herself before 10th. Do not force the child to make his choice at the last moment in the Xth class. It is of no use.

And please remember that this choice will help him use his academic skills - whether he is the brilliant or average- to the fullest. Without making this choice in an appropriate way, even a brilliant student ( with good academic record) flounders. And by making this choice in an appropriate way, even an average student can flourish in his career.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How to find a better school for your child?

By now, you are aware, that the schools are fundamentally different only in two aspects: Teacher versus student centricness and Learning versus Development orientation. Other differences in the school are just superficial. Do not get misled by it.

However, because most of the schools at least in India are Teacher-Centric Learning oriented schools (TCLO) schools, you need better methods of evaluating them, without getting sidetracked by the superficial glossy-looking features of the school. Let us call this TCLO school as classical school because they are available in plenty around you.

When you are evaluating a school for your child, ask these five questions about the school: Instruction design followed in the school, System for tracking and correcting lagging students, Building inter-subject connectivity, Building Real-world connectivity of a subject and Student guidance available in the school. 

1. Instruction designs followed in the school : Instruction design is the design of teacher to help the student learn a specific lesson. The lesson could be of LCM or Fractions in Arithmetic, or it could be Radiomagnetic waves in Electricity, or volcanoes in Geography. Design includes elements like ' method of teaching, sequence of introducing content to the child, getting feedback from students to ensure that the progress of teaching is appropriate, and helping the student to connect with students outside the school'. School therefore has to set up a 'system' to help the student learn a specific subject well. If the 'system' is better, it helps the student to understand the 'content' of that subject in a more easier, faster and accurate way. All three characteristics of instruction design - or system- are important. Please understand that 'teachers' are just one part of the system; good teachers alone are not enough. 

Because setting a system takes time, schools tend to have good 'systems' ( which is formally or informally designed by Instruction designers) only in specific subjects or areas. That is why you will find some schools are known for producing better 'mathematics' students, while some produce better 'arts' students and so on. I have also seen some schools specialised in producing 'Sportsman' in hockey. Find out what the school is offering and match it with your child's needs.

2. System to track and correct lagging students in time:

Despite a brilliant 'system' set by a school, not every student learns at the same pace and time. Some students understand a 'lesson' faster, some slower. Some students may also miss a lesson, because they are not 'attentive' on that day. Variations in understanding the lesson in a class of 30 student are enormous. When a student lags behind in specific lesson ( say LCM), they have to be corrected quickly because that also slows their learning of next lesson , say in fractions. In other words, the effect of 'not learning something' in time can be cumulative. It can set a student progress behind by considerable amount. This is an inherent weakness of a teacher-centric system, in comparison to student-centric system.

To overcome this inherent weakness, a school therefore has to set up a 'feedback system' to track a student's grasp of a specific lesson - after the lesson is taught to students - and then 'immediately' correct those lagging students who have fallen back. Spotting the lagging student and correcting them are both required for a teacher-centric school. Swedish schools, who have ranked the best in the world, have alternative teachers who are responsible for both tracking and correcting the student. But this system is practically absent in many schools in India. But some schools, using e-learning packages, have set up a system to at least track the progress of student's learning and spot the lagging students.

3. Building Inter-subject Connectivity 

Although subjects - Mathematics, Science, History, Biology - are taught independently in a school by separate teachers, in real life they are connected with each other. When a school helps the child to 'see' these interconnections of subjects, learning of student deepens. For instance, teaching geometry while teaching solar system in Geography helps the student deepen his learning of both subjects. Or teaching History and English together, or teaching Algebra and Geometry together. And so on.

Montessori schools (which are student-centric) deepen the students learning because they help students connect the apparently disconnected subjects. Some classical teacher-centric schools, like IB schools, also follow this practice. Many school teachers follow this practice informally at their individual level, but until the school formally adopts this system, this is not very useful for students.

4. Building Real world connectivity of a subject

A concept in a subject can be understood best by a student, when he sees it's practical life application in the real world. For instance, the concept of longitude and latitude is best understood by understanding the coordinates of one's 'house in a city'. Or one can understand understand the concept of light while constructing a camera. Or understanding the concept of compounding by understanding its application in the multiplication of money.

Many schools have caught on this idea . Some schools, who practice this a lot, call themselves 'Experimental schools'. But many schools follow these principles in bits and pieces, only in certain areas and subjects. Therefore, while evaluating these schools, ask some probing questions to ensure that the school is indeed following these practice.

5. Student guidance available in the school

Because of teacher-centricness of the school, a school has to help a student to focus his efforts. Not all children are alike. Some are better at mathematics, some in language. Some learn better by doing, some by observing. Some prefer to be in student groups, some prefer to be alone. Some like to study in the morning, some in the evening. Some are good in understanding a subject in depth, while some are good in scoring marks in that subject. Although emotions help learning, some children are too emotional while some are too rational. Both require separate guidance. Morever, negotiating the transition of 'adolescence', for instance, is one of the toughest hurdle of a student which can derail a child's learning. Without this guidance on different aspects, the students cannot utilise the facilities of the school, even when they are available.

Surprisingly, despite plenty of availability of such guides, only few schools utilise them. Many schools instead have counselors whose job is to deal with 'problem children' in the schools. But a TCLO school requires this support for their 'normal children' so that they can focus their 'efforts' only on chosen areas. We shall discuss about the features of this Student Guide later.


Whenever parents meet me for the first time, they ask me 'Which school is better of my child?'. I hope these five criteria of choosing a school can help these parents. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Help your child to learn

If your child is in school, then the most important objective of yours should be to Maximise his/her learning outputs. For this one needs a Continuous learning plan, based on the child's background of his abilities.

This sounds simple. But there are many hurdles to cross. One is the confusion between teaching and  learning. Second is the blackbox of  'earning?'. Let us try to decode learning bit by bit.

Open the blackbox of learning

Learning helps the child to understand 'something' and use it to achieve his personal goals. In other words, it changes him in some ways. To help you understand learning, it is useful to know that Learning occurs at five levels:

1. Learning of content ( what )
2. Learning 'why' of the content ( relevance, context, purpose)
3. Learning of how to use the content ( how to use counting to give money)
4. Learning of behaviour ( habits)
5. Learning of beliefs and mindsets

These five levels are inter-dependent and inter-related. But understanding them separately helps you understand and correct the child's mistakes that occur in learning. Lower Level learning ( say level 1 of learning content) takes much lesser time than higher learning levels, say learning a new belief. But higher level learning hastens the learning of 'lower level'. So sometimes, you have to spend time in 'teaching' higher level learning even though it takes longer time.

Learning has four characteristics:

1. Using multiple levels of learning consolidates learning faster

For instance, we often marvel at the 3 year old's ability to remember and recognise 'car names', or 'a for apple' or '1 to 10' numbers. At this age, the child is learning 'content' and 'replaying' it again and again. This is level 1. This is just 'using memory'. There is another way to consolidate learning. For instance, if one uses different 'senses' to connect with a word 'car', memory becomes deeper. Recollection is easier.

But if the child moves to 'level 2' when he understands more about cars. For instance, when he understands why a car is called 'Jeep', and another called 'taxi', it helps the child understand the finer distinctions of 'car', because the purpose of each car is different. Now he understands car a bit more. Earlier, in level 1 he is only using memory to 'remember' car. Now he 'understands' the meaning of car a bit, and therefore put this in 'working memory'. His learning consolidates as he can use this 'data' of car.

The more levels a child uses in learning, better the consolidation happens. For instance, let us say she has learnt counting numbers. If she uses it to count chocolates, which is both level 2 and level 3, learning consolidates better. If he learns to count money while taking it from shopkeeper, it improves even further.

2. Learning 'how' deepens learning very quickly

This is level 3. While learning radio magnetic waves from the books helps, Learning is deep when the student builds a FM radio transmitter. Learning ' the principles of L:ight' from books is helpful even with experiments, but it is very deep when the student builds a camera. Learning 'programming' helps, but learning is multifaceted when the student uses it to program 'robot'.

The first two levels, even though understood at a conceptual level, can be consolidated well if the student uses the 'how to use the concept' in a real object.

3. Learning of appropriate behaviour helps learning

Learning also helps if appropriate behaviour - habit - is accompanied while learning. ( This is level 4). For instance, habit of keeping things in order helps in learning , because it helps the child to take a step at a time and reach the final step ( sense of order).

The most important habit that helps learning of content is the habit to sit and work patiently. This also includes the habit of managing the distractions. Emotional distractions are the most difficult to manage for the child where parents can contribute the most. Without adopting this habit, as the child grows, learning stops abruptly.

Infact because our schools do very little to 'help' the child to increase his attention span, most of the students suffer from very poor attention span. For such a distracted child, the only way to increase attention span is to use the child's internal motivation. For instance, parents can use the child's motivation of learning Tabla or drive a bicycle to increase his attention span.

4. Adopting learning-friendly beliefs is very important for learning 

Learning is never sequential. Learning involves making lot of mistakes and learning from them. But, if your child has a belief that 'Performance matters" then he tends to do activities, or study subjects, where he 'performs well'. He does not take challenging activities where he is likely to fail. Carol Dweck calls this performance mindset. On the other hand, when the child has a belief that 'he can always improve himself', he keeps on doing activities for becoming better at them. This is improvement mindset.

Carol Dweck has done lot of research on these two mindsets ( beliefs) and how they impact learning. If your child has 'performance mindset' and has a fear of performing, then it is important to change his mindset. Because, if not today, his learning will get hampered.


Because learning occurs at five levels, one has to be mindful of the level of learning one is trying to achieve. Most of the schools work at the level 1 and 2. Some schools have some activities at level 3. These schools call themselves practical learning schools, experimental learning schools, or even Project learning schools. Very few schools work at level 4/5 and expect the parents to contribute. Parents can do a lot at level 4 and 5 to help their child 'hasten' their learning later even though they fall 'behind' in class. Unfortunately, like schools, very few parents know how to help child learn new habits or new beliefs. Their only method is to instruct, admonish or 'blackmail' children which never works. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Help your child unfold, not discover, his talent

Many parents believe that potential talent can be 'detected' at an early age. This assumption is simply untrue. Benjamin Bloom's study of 120 high performers proved that even 'potential' of high performers could not be detected at early age. Child prodigies make us believe that 'talent' can be seen at younger age. But the conversion of child prodigies to adult performers is so 'rare' that one cannot rely on potential talent at lower age. 

I have researched the process of unfolding of talent over 10 years. I have found large differences in how people discover their talent. Some like Boman Irani discover their talent at a later age. He discovered his talent of acting at the age of 35. And that too by chance. Last year, i met a corporate professional who discovered his talent of writing at the age of 40. Some discover it by chance and at early age. For instance, Jaya discovered her talent of drawing when she met a drawing teacher in her 8th Grade.

I have seen bigger surprises in the process of talent unfolding. Some discover their talent at an early age, but once they start their work-life, they find that it does not suit them. For instance, Jessica spend 28 years of life pursuing medicine, but once she started working she found that she is not ready for using her talent. Every year i meet countless students who pursue IIT courses after grueling preparation, get into IIT, and then find that IIT does not suit them. Abhay is one such student i met.

In other words, the process of finding talent is not a straightforward path of sequentially taken actions. It is path of tangled threads. Some deliberate , some unconscious. Even when the path is understood, one can 'influence' it, one cannot control the process of unfolding of talent. I therefore call the process as Unfolding of talent.

So how can you help your child to unfold his talent? 

Here are five basic rules that are practical and useful:

1. Accept broader view of talent: Talent was earlier seen as a narrow acquisition of cognitive ability like mathematics or programming. Lewis Terman's study of 1500+ high IQ students has proved that IQ alone is not the prime cause of any success. Meaning of talent, as we have discovered now, is much more wider and holistic. It is definitely not just one single skill. It consists of cognitive abilities, character traits and conative traits. For some more light on the subject, see this view of talent.

2. Making the right choice of education path at 10th grade is less important than making the most of a given choice: Our path of unfolding of talent goes through three stages. Stage I is choosing an education path after 10th grade. Stage II is choosing the work path after graduation. And stage III is choosing the career path after exploring various work-paths. If stage I directly leads to Stage III, your child is lucky. But if you do not want to depend on luck, you must take right actions during graduation instead of spending time on finding the right education path of graduation.

3. Maximise your child's learning outputs in school: There is a huge gap between teaching and learning. See this difference and help your child in learning. Help him contextualise his understanding of a subject be it Mathematics, English or History. Help him use his knowledge of subject to manipulate real life objects like radio and bicycle.

4. Tackle the bottleneck of emotional distraction in child's learning in advance: Bigger bottleneck of learning at school is not inadequate efforts or insufficient willpower. The bottleneck is the distraction that is caused by emotional upheavals that are part of growing with other friends. The transition of a student to adolescence during 7/8th grade causes huge hormonal changes that distracts a student the most. I meet many such students who have got distracted from learning because of their misdirected interest in sex-related articles. Help your child tackle emotional distraction by practicing empathy.

5.Actively manage the child's 'motivational engine' to guide learning: A child's motivation is very important for his learning.  But we cannot use his motivation to guide him because we do not know how to use the fire of motivation. For instance, the child's love of bicycle at the 4th grade can be used to motivate him to learn some of the basic principles of physics. Here are some ideas