Observations and Perspectives Articles

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;

12 Days of Self-Awareness

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

PC250048I love science, especially psychology. Nothing fascinates me more than to discover yet another fact about how the human mind works. I’ve found that the more I learn about my own mind, the more at peace I feel about who I am and what my life is all about.

 This year I’ve selected another twelve excellent TED talks, each one exploring some surprising, counter-intuitive aspect of our human minds and natures. Our amazing brains often wind up being too clever for our own good, creating illusions and misconceptions that make life a lot harder than it has to be.

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!

Helping Your Student Face Test-Prep Fear

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

P9160358I’ve been a test-prep coach for decades, tutoring students for the SSAT, ISEE, SAT, and ACT, and of course I’m very comfortable with the material by now.

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.

Mistakes are Powerful Learning Tools

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

P8050102Recently, 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.

Can Writing The College Essay Have Mental Health Benefits?

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

P8020181The new Common Application prompts were revealed on Aug 1, and forward-thinking high school seniors are already brainstorming for what to write and attempting some rough drafts.

The prompts are listed below; notice how they are all designed to get students writing about their unique identities, character strengths and core values.

  1. Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Say YOW! to Slow and Steady Learning in 2013

Friday, January 4th, 2013

The human brain is built for learning, even though learning is often not a cake walk.

Ever since our trip to Iceland in July I’ve been enamored of all things Icelandic, including the language.

Every Icelander we met spoke lilting, perfect English to us, and then chattered to one another in a jaunty Nordic blur punctuated by frequent smiles and exclamations of Yow!

These emphatic Yow!’s felt so delightfully cheerful and positive, and it turns out that “Yow” (properly spelled “Ja”) means Yes.

Our favorite tour guide was a college student in his early 20’s. Chiseled, blond, and surely a direct descendant of Leif Erickson, Tucker turned out instead to be a skateboarder dude from Wisconsin.

Tucker had discovered that the University of Iceland provides free tuition, room, board and health care to any student, regardless of citizenship, just so long as they speak Icelandic; he grabbed a self-study language course and hunkered down to practice every day…and, two years later, here he was! Yow!

My main point is this: Resolve to find something you want to learn or get better at, or help your student select something, and set aside a regular time every day to practice for about 15 or 20 minutes. Stick with it for one month, and then glory in the improvement!

The brain is amazingly “plastic,” and even if it’s not “good at” some subject, if you work at it little by little, consistently, learning will happen!

But what if you, or your student, just haaaaates some subject?…and therefore avoids it like the plague? All the more reason to chip away at it, little by little. Research shows that liking increases with expertise, and with familiarity.

I love Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing Up Bebe, which is all about “the wisdom of French parenting.” How, for example, do the French raise their kids to love every kind of food (escargots! leeks! blue cheese!) while American kids refuse to eat anything but pizza?

She describes the little-by-little process the French use to slowly educate their kids’ taste buds and learn to love a wide range of foods:

My American baby books recognize that certain foods are an acquired taste. They say …

My Oh-So-Simple Approach to Stress Relief

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Get rid of the thing that is causing the stress.

Does this sound unrealistic? Impossible?

When my kids were growing up,  we had a big house with an acre of lawn and an in-ground swimming pool. We enjoyed the space and made good use of the pool. Even so, that big spread was a lot to afford and a lot take care of.

I spent a lot of stressful hours, many of them sleepless early-morning ones, fretting over maintenance issues and bills. Paying the cleaning lady, the lawn guy and the pool guy meant I had to work more hours. Letting those folks go and doing the work myself meant spending tons of time doing chores I did not enjoy and couldn’t keep up with.

How I Built One Small, Good Habit

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

Decades ago I discovered a terrific ab crunch routine; it’s quick, easy, shows results within days, and it isn’t even especially painful or uncomfortable…and yet…

I haven’t been doing it.

And I dislike the realities that stem from my slacking. I always love the treat of un-boxing my summer clothes; this June I was so disappointed to find several of my favorite dresses were too tight around the middle.

How Might Differing Value Systems Impact Your Relationship?

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

There was a time in my life when I lived in the South and I dated a military man, a decorated Special Operations soldier, a guy with tons of what I still consider “the right stuff.”

Joe was super-smart, responsible, kind, scrupulously honest, family-oriented, conscientious, and like me, more focused on doing valuable work than on making tons of money.

The relationship itself, however, was stupefyingly difficult, for reasons Joe and I struggled to figure out.


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