The other day I had a wonderful conversation with one of my older students. He was brimming over with enthusiasm for his senior-level College Reading class.
It’s really more a structured study period than a class, in which students come in every day and spend the entire 48-minute period silently reading a book of their choice. When they’re finished they write a brief summary of the book and then select another.
The whole point, of course, is to get college-bound seniors used to the discipline of sustained, focused reading. And this particular student was loving it!
As soon as he left I grabbed my notebook and jotted down everything I could remember of what he had said so I could share with you this glimpse into the head of an older, more mature student. (Read on, dear parents of tweens, and take heart!):
Dear Friends, Many students believe it’s best to leave their summer math review for the end of the summer; they fear that if they do the work too early they will have forgotten the material again by September. In fact, the best way to make learning stick is to work at it consistently and review all summer long. The brain is exposed to a barrage of information every day, so how does it decide what to keep and what to forget? One big marker is repetition. The brain receives most facts only once, and because those bits of information never show up again they don’t need to be remembered.
A young student of mine began reading a fun-looking (to me) book called Schooled; I smiled as soon as I saw the peace symbol and tie-dye cover.
Here’s the Amazon synopsis:”Capricorn Cap Anderson has been homeschooled by his hippie grandmother, Rain. When Rain is injured in a fall, Cap is forced to attend the local middle school. Although he knows a lot about Zen Buddhism, nothing has prepared him for the politics of public school.”
But of course my fifth grade student was having trouble relating to the book because, unlike me, he knew nothing about flower children, communes or any of the other 60′s era references. He had read the first two chapters on his own and was totally confused and lost.
Each summer I teach a low-cost SAT class at my local community college, and during each session I present various learning and study tips based on brain science. These are pointers that apply to ALL learners, of all ages!
We started with our study of the 100 Most Common SAT Vocabulary Words (which is a wonderful vocab list for ALL students grades 8-12 and beyond, not just those prepping for the SAT).
I wanted to demonstrate this powerful learning technique:
Always preview and take time to wonder over and form questions about any new material, because your brain will begin to unconsciously prime itself to remember the answers.
I know we are all breathing a sigh of relief to finally get finished with the school year and into the blissful mood of summer ease and relaxation.
It’s so satisfying and empowering to accomplish some small academic goal by September. Just 10-20 minutes of studying every day (or at least four days per week) can mount up to noticeable results by fall.
Here are my favorite suggestions:
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;
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.
Last 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.
Students 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!
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.