It’s a snow day here, and I crave nothing more than a cup of tea and a good book. But so many of my students don’t feel the same way; they don’t “choose to read,” as parents often despair.
Although it is true that some kids learn to read more easily than do others, love of reading itself is not an inherent personality characteristic but is instead an acquired taste.
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?
Here in my school district, mid-year exams are on the horizon, but still far enough in the distance so that there’s plenty of time for students to prepare thoroughly and well.
This is a golden opportunity for kids to learn how to make an action plan so that daily review happens.
I always start by asking students to come up with a list of what they’ll need to do in order to be well-prepared for their exams, and most kids are pretty good at this part. Here’s a real-life, anonymous sample:
For chemistry I’m going to make flash cards based on the test study guides and my notes/worksheets. For history I will review my hand-outs and practicing writing some essays. For English I’ll have to refresh my knowledge on the books we read and their themes. In math I’m going to look over any old tests and quizzes as well as do the activities my teacher has on his website. For Spanish I’ll look at old quizzes and review the vocabulary and conjugations.
I hope you will agree that this student clearly knows what he’s got to do, and is off to a great start.
But now here comes the hard part: Notice how vague and unspecified this list is? It’s full of phrases like “review,” and “look over,” (what, exactly, does he have in mind to do? What, for example, does he mean by “look over”?) and it doesn’t specify WHEN he will do these things, HOW MANY flashcards he will create per day, and so on.
This list now needs to be converted into a daily action plan, including specific, quantified activities that will be completed each day.
Here’s my own hypothetical example of an action plan for this student:
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!
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.
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:
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.
Vocabulary development is not just for school, not just for the SAT and ACT, not just for students. It’s a terrific way to promote brain health by staying mentally active. Plus, vocabulary study helps people of every age to stay connected to literature, science and current events, because the more words you know, the easier and more enjoyable reading is. Vocab study ought to be a lifelong habit!