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Mindsets, Grades and Test Scores

Friday, April 11th, 2014

London with Hannah Aug 2010 031Dear Friends,
I was delighted to arrive home from my spring break and find good SAT results from my students who had taken the test for the second time in March. In every case, their consistent hard work between the two testings had produced significant gains of 50, 100 or more points!

Students are always exhilarated to see their efforts pay off, and I am also always thrilled, because it drives home to them this critically important life lesson: Hard work is what makes improvement happen.

Here in the US, we arguably don’t teach this lesson very well. Our culture is very talent-focused;


The Textbook Is Still A Great Learning Tool

Friday, January 24th, 2014

cats in the snow  Jan 27 2011 012It seems like every year my students use their textbooks less and less.

Teachers still hand out textbooks in September but then so many (I’m tempted to say MOST) teachers rarely assign readings or homework from them, instead supplying students with hand-outs, worksheets and powerpoints.

Commonly, students claim that their texts are “up in my bedroom somewhere,” never to be opened!

Yet textbooks can be wonderful tools for learning and for exam review.


Is Your Student “Pumped Up,” or “Deflated”?

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

PTown New Years Weekend 2011 027Last week I wrote about the demonstrably positive effects of longer-term studying. Kids who begin studying several days before a test and who study consistently and to the point of mastery get high grades.

This seems like a no-brainer, right? So why don’t more kids do it?

One reason is that fear and anxiety hamper people’s ability to think straight and organize themselves. (We talk a lot about executive function issues in kids, but these are problems all people of all ages experience)

As part of his research with couples, John Gottman attached heart monitors to his subjects, and he discovered that when people become emotionally agitated, their systems “flood” with adrenaline and their heart rates elevate. A heart rate above 95 beats per minute signals that a person’s listening, planning and reasoning skills have broken down.


My Experiment Shows: Longer-Term Studying is Better

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

PTown New Years Weekend 2011 010Students typically wait until the last minute to begin studying for tests, and many parents support this practice, fearing that their kid will forget the material if they review it too early. But decades of tutoring as well as personal experience has taught me otherwise: Consistent, deliberate practice over time is the way to master material.

I have 30 tutoring students, and bunches of them go to the same schools and are in the same classes. This means that I often have multiple students taking the same test on the same day.

Recently, I was working with a number of students who were all getting ready for the same Monday algebra test (the test was being given by more than one teacher at the same school). My weekend schedule was so hectic that, in order to find enough time for everyone, I met with some students after school on the Friday before the test (my least popular time slot as you can likely imagine). The rest of the kids reviewed with me on Sunday.

This arrangement accidentally created a nice mini-experiment, with interesting results!


For Better Grades and Scores, Students Need This Kind of Practice

Friday, November 15th, 2013
Fall is the time when first-quarter grades come out, and many students would like to improve.

Fall is the time when first-quarter grades come out, and many students would like to improve.

When I teach my SAT class, I begin by administering to my new students two sections of a practice test out of the Official SAT Guide.

Invariably, some student informs me, “I’ve done this test already.” Many kids come to my class having already purchased the SAT Guide and done some practice on their own.

“Do it again,” I tell them, and I find that, not only do these kids NOT score perfectly the second time around, their scores are indistinguishable from those of the rest of the class; if they hadn’t told me they had done these sections before, nothing in their scores would have tipped me off.


Parent Involvement in Kids’ Homework: Important and Difficult

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Getty Center July 17 2010 024As a tutor, the most exciting, emerging area of my work is parent involvement. More and more parents are reaching out to me for information, skills and tools they can use in supporting their children’s learning. And, I am always encouraging parents sit in on tutoring sessions so they can refresh on the subject matter and learn new strategies.

All learning, including tutoring, is most effective when it’s backed up with daily, active involvement from parents and/or other caring adults.


Do Kids Know How to Use Educational Videos?

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

P7180052Khan Academy is one example of a terrific online learning resource, a huge collection of short, specific video lessons on all kinds of math, science and history topics. I’m also a fan of the free Kaplan videos for SAT and ACT lessons.

But I find that kids need to be taught how to use these videos.

When Khan Academy first came out, I eagerly recommended Khan videos to students, only to have many report back that “I didn’t get it,” or “It was confusing.”

I wound up sitting next to students and watching them watch!…and I discovered that the kids who didn’t get much out of the videos didn’t know how to use them in an active way.


Does Your Student Know About Khan Academy?

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

P7150013When I taught my SAT class this summer, I asked students to raise their hands if they used Khan Academy; only half the class had even heard of it!

Khan is a powerful, free resource for help in math, science, history, and SAT prep. Please do go to www.KhanAcademy.org and familiarize yourself with all Khan has to offer (including topics of interest to parents such as medicine, banking  and art history), and then make sure your child knows how to navigate the site.

Here are some Khan Academy highlights:


Seven Tips to Help Older Kids Who “Choose Not to Read”

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

P7180040Many students complain that reading is boring, books are stupid, and the material in their textbooks is pointless. In my experience, these are the kids who, in fact, find reading difficult.

When was the last time you listened to your child read out loud? For most parents, I’d guess it was elementary school. It’s natural to assume that once kids are reading independently, they don’t need any more help from us…but that’s very commonly not true. Many, many, many students in middle school, high school, and beyond, are still surprisingly unskilled readers.

I typically ask my test prep students and my content-area (history, literature, science) students to read a passage or two out loud for me. This gives me a quick snapshot of their reading capabilities.

If kids are tripping over lots of words and stalled by big sentences with complex phrasing, their comprehension is bound to suffer. When too much attention is absorbed in wrestling with the text, there’s too little brain-space left to think about what the passage means.

And, of course, struggling like this is no fun at all! So, poor readers typically use words like “boring,” “stupid,” and “pointless” as face-saving rationalizations for the truth; They find reading difficult, confusing, frightening, and ego-flattening…and they create every excuse to avoid it.

I’ve found that the best fix for turning reluctant, struggling readers around, is to read to them.Older kids (and adults!) usually LOVE being read to, and, no, it won’t spoil them or make them lazy. On the contrary, reading aloud to an older child helps motivate them by letting them absorb and enjoy the content free from all the stumbling blocks.

In this good article, read-aloud specialist Jim Trelease lists the benefits of reading aloud to older kids (though I disagree with his “up to age 14″ part; I read to 17, 18, and 21-year-olds all the time and they love it and gain from it!)

Here are seven suggestions for reading to, or with, your older child:

  1. Read the first chapter of a new book out loud, to spark your child’s interest and set them up for the …

Summer is Perfect for Habit Building!

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

When our schedule changes, many of the environmental cues that trigger automatic behaviors disappear. We feel unsettled, but our mind is open to developing fresh routines.

So although summer may feel tumultuous, it’s actually a wonderful time to help your student establish a new study habit, such as daily reading, vocabulary study, sentence writing or math practice.


 

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