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.
Last month, my own daughter was getting ready to take the LSAT (the law school entrance exam), so I tried a few practice LSAT sections myself…and, guess what?
I found them stunningly, amazingly difficult! And, I made TONS of mistakes!
For example, on my first reading passage, I answered the eight questions, and got SIX of them wrong!!!
This was an excellent experience for me, because I felt something I’ve lost touch with: I felt a sinking, dizzying fear of this difficult material.
As 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.
Recently, I made a mistake that, thankfully, caused only minor damage. I was pulling into my driveway, and my foot slipped off the brake pedal and became momentarily entangled in my sandal; I wound up bumping the nose of my car into my front porch and making a small dent in the wall!
It was a split-second event, one of those common sorts of accidents which occur when we’re doing something routine and operating on mental auto-pilot. That momentary shock and confusion and panic really rattled me!
After I calmed down, I looked online and, sure enough, there are many articles cautioning people to wear proper footwear when driving. I now have a pair of slip-on sneakers in my car for those flip-flop or high-heel-wearing occasions.
I’ve been telling my cautionary tale to every one of my students, because besides conveying a safety message, I also want to make sure and model for all of my students the importance of viewing mistakes as learning tools.
This is true in all of life, including academics.
Khan 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.
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:
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:
The prompts are listed below; notice how they are all designed to get students writing about their unique identities, character strengths and core values.
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.