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.
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.
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:
The prompts are listed below; notice how they are all designed to get students writing about their unique identities, character strengths and core values.
It’s my third time teaching this class, and I’m finally feeling like I’m getting the curriculum shaped into a form I like a lot.
I’m trying to create something more than just an SAT class: I blend in research-based study tips, plus I’m trying to get my students embarked on some good habits that they’ll need to succeed in college and in life:
After each class, I’ve been posting on my website my outline, notes and assignments.
I’ve also inserted links to many useful and free online videos, worksheets and interactive practice. My students use these posts for review or to catch up if they miss a class, and…
Anyone who wants to follow along at home each week is welcome to access all of these materials and use them as a FREE do-it-yourself SAT prep class!
We’ve had two classes so far (there will be six in all):
Session One (January 26)
Session Two (February 2)
I will post notes for the remaining classes after I teach them, on the following dates: Feb 9, 16, 23 and March 2. Just go to my website, www.LeighCousins.com, click on the “Tests” page, and visit the purple box.
A student who follows my notes and does the work ought to be well-prepared for the March 9 SAT or any other SAT this year. (Make sure and register soon for the March 9 exam!)
It would thrill me to have any or all of you …
Why don’t they listen to us?
Along with academic tutoring and test preparation, I teach study skills: how to study for a biology test, how to write a term paper, how to learn vocabulary words.
Parents are eager for these lessons, and also jaded.