Learning Problems Articles

Do You Think I Know This Stuff?

Friday, January 31st, 2014
Snow Day Jan 12 2011 003

A Snow Day

One day, I was reviewing with a high school student for a final exam in history. It was rough going; the material was detailed and complex and this young man’s grasp of both the facts and the concepts was poor.

We plowed on for two solid hours, and then he turned to me and floored me with this question: “OK, now, do you think I know this stuff?”

Truly, isn’t that a remarkable thing to ask? This young man couldn’t tell for himself whether or not the hard mental work he had just done had resulted in “knowing.”

But what, indeed, does “knowing” feel like? How do any of us know whether or not we know?

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 …

The Connection Between Attention, Memory and Learning

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
P1010013My son, Matt, uses this simple trick to keep track of his cell phone: Whenever he puts it down, he taps it three times; the tapping focuses his attention just long enough for the location of his phone to register in his memory.
Meanwhile, I spend way too many frantic minutes searching for my phone, my calculator, my car keys, my gym bag…and bemoaning my “terrible memory.”

In Defense of Your “Lazy” Child

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

I’ve been a tutor for 40 years, and I’ve never encountered a lazy student.

Scratch the surface of laziness and underneath you’ll find fear, confusion, frustration, lack of knowledge, lack of skills, anger, sadness…

And, often, just plain exhaustion.

Willpower is a limited resource, and the demands of the school day can drain a student of her ability to attend and persevere.

Four Study Tips You Might Not Expect!

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

I gave this talk today for the PTA at my local high school:

1. Consider Location: Where Does Your Child Do His or Her Homework?
The bedroom is often the worst place in the house!

  • It’s lonely (no companionship or support)
  • It’s full of distractions, electronic and other
  • And there’s that sleep-inducing effect of staring at or studying on one’s warm, cozy, tempting bed

Better choices:

  • Dining room table
  • Kitchen table or counter (especially for younger students)

My very favorite study location: The public library

Better Math Instruction, Fewer Learning Issues?

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

I’m hoping that as math instruction improves and becomes more “brain-friendly,” we’ll see fewer kids struggling in math.

When I was in my doctoral program, I was amazed at some of the research coming out on kids’ understanding of math concepts. We assume that children all learn pretty much the same math at roughly the same ages, and that they learn these concepts in math class.

In fact, there’s a wide natural variation, and not necessarily a lot of correlation between the math kids are taught in school and the math they actually know.

The Worst Room of the House for Studying

Monday, November 14th, 2011

[I’m devoting my Monday blog posts to the topic of Learners with Special Needs, which, I find, describes us all in some way or another.] 

Here’s a thought for students with executive function issues, and for anybody trying to get some studying done:

I’m a nerdy person and I study all the time, and pretty much everywhere. My favorite study locations are my dining room table, my coffee table, and any public library.

I also do just fine in coffee shops, on the train, in waiting rooms, in the car (reading while parked, or lectures-on-CD while driving), on the beach (I have been known to bring a textbook to the beach, yes), and while watching a less-than-enthralling movie on TV (I’ll browse a book during the dull parts).

I even watch Khan Academy videos in the kitchen while doing dishes; I set up my laptop on the counter and try not to splash.

The ONE place I don’t study?  My bedroom. Why? Because I go in there and open a book and fall asleep!

Khan Videos for ADHD? and for Everyone

Monday, November 7th, 2011

[I’m going to try devoting my Monday blog posts to the topic of Learners with Special Needs, which, I find, describes us all in some way or another.]

I’m so impressed with the Khan Academy videos, and I’ve been experimenting with ways to use them with my students….and with myself!

What is Love For?

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

So Jake’s observation stuck in my mind for almost two decades, tumbling around in my psyche along with so many and various other unanswered questions and vague longings and frustrations and angers and despairs.

Jake’s observation was that when people say I love you, what they most often mean is:

I love the way you make me feel about myself.

How does that strike you? Dreadful? Cynical? Immature? Selfish?

Learning to Be Responsible and Autonomous

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

It is back-to-school time which means I have a bunch of new tutoring students. I’m spending lots of time explaining to parents what I do, how I work, what I believe about learning and child development, and what I strive to accomplish with my students.

I’m usually hired because a student is struggling with some school subject (most often, math), and so the surface goal is to help them improve in that area. But my overarching goal is to guide and support each student toward becoming a more confident, effective, autonomous learner, to understand and deal with his or her own learning strengths and quirks. I want my students to grow up to be good thinkers,  confident and successful adults, active and sensible members of society.


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