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’ve so often wondered why so many students haaaate writing down their math steps, insisting instead on trying to do the work in their heads or on their calculators. Perhaps they feel as if writing is slowing them down, or maybe they dislike the scratchy feel of pencil on paper. (Whenever I’ve asked, kids invariably say “I don’t know).
Meanwhile, kids who don’t write out their math steps, skip copying down formulas and refuse to draw and label diagrams, make a lot more mistakes and also tend to be way more confused. They’ll stare at a problem and then give up, without ever making a mark on paper.
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!
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.
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.
Elena is a beautiful 16-year-old who blithely drifted in and out of my English II classroom this year without any materials…. Over the course of eight months, Elena continued to leave assignments incomplete and did little class work… She lost study guides, lost materials, and lost interest in editing and revising her work.
So writes Colette Marie Bennett, veteran teacher and department chair, in a very good article for Education Week Teacher entitled To Pass or Not to Pass? The End-of-Year Moral Dilemma.
….On the rare occasion when Elena turned in work, she demonstrated that she was capable of writing on grade level. Numerous common assessments taken in class indicated that her reading comprehension was also on grade level…
Now, as the grades are totaled in June, I wonder: Do I hold her accountable for work left incomplete? …If I exempt her from less important assignments, am I reinforcing her lack of responsibility? Finally, is passing her fair to the students who did complete the assigned work?…Will re-enrolling her in 10th grade English bare a different result? Is she prepared or unprepared to meet the rigors of 11th grade English?
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.
I work part-time at a school for students with all kinds of special needs. In addition to the usual academic subjects, kids also take classes in such topics as executive function, sensory integration and behavior therapy.
So much of the instruction is simple and useful and applicable to all of us!
When kids at the school have some conflict, they are required to fill out a Conflict Resolution Sheet:
Last week I said that I see value in having kids (and all learners) memorize a certain amount of factual information.
I also said that I’m not a fan of rote memorization of multiplication “facts.” Kids should also be learning when and how to apply all of the four operations to various situations.
A home school mom of four writes:
The learning material that I struggle with is just that: motivation verses memorization. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around alternative methods to memorizing times tables and science facts and history dates. It just seems like there should be better ways to learn/teach.
Kids (and all people) learn best when information is relevant and interesting. Random facts that don’t connect with anything the student finds familiar or meaningful are tedious to memorize and soon forgotten.