THe ABC’s of Learning: “Q”

“Q” is for Questioning What the Eyes See

The Eyes Have It When 5 + 1 = 5

They look at the work and don’t understand what is going on.  They ask themselves “Why am I the only person in this class who doesn’t get this?”  Eventually they begin to believe, “I must be a real dummy I just don’t understand why I keep getting this wrong!” Their self-confidence disintegrates and at times their behaviour will follow.  After all, “What is the point of turning up every day if I can’t learn this?”

What is happening with this student? 

What would happen if you saw the number zero as a one?  For one thing sometimes five plus one will equal six and other times it will equal five.  When you are in primary school and just learning about numbers and maths, things will become almost incomprehensible.  You won’t understand why sometimes ten is ten and sometimes it’s eleven.  Everything will become an exercise in guess work for you.  These students will also have trouble seeing decimal points, and fractions are just another language when your eyes skip over the line between the numerator and denominator.

That’s just maths.  When they read, “was” can become “saw” and whole lines are skipped because the eyes didn’t see the line to read it.  By the time they are Year 7 their reading comprehension is extremely low and there are gaps in their mathematics understanding because fractions and decimals don’t exist. 

The problem is with their eye tracking.

Eye Tracking issues occur when the two eyes don’t move smoothly and accurately across a line or from word to word.  The student will often lose their place while reading, skip lines, misread short words as in “was” and “saw” and cut off the beginnings and endings of words.

Eye tracking issues are usually corrected by visiting a Behavioural Optometrist who tests for the condition and prescribes glasses that are worn until the condition is corrected.  Normal optometrists don’t usually check or test for this condition, so if your student has glasses and their schoolwork has not improved it may be time to visit the specialist.

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The ABC’s of Learning: “P”

“P” is for Planners

Quite often students begin the year in a casual stride and who is to blame them? After all, they have just come off holidays (about 1 ½ months’ worth). 

I come from a sports training background and understand that an athlete who wants to perform well will not take six weeks off their training year.  The repercussions are too great as they will lose too much form.  They must work too hard to get back to square one. 

A dedicated rugby player will be maintaining his/her aerobic fitness with moderate exercise during the off-season.  When January comes around, they are ready to start full swing on improving their strengths, building on fitness and working on skills.  That is how you stay ahead of the pack.

Most learners will forget the last four weeks of learning over the six weeks of Christmas break. Pretty much everything learned in November is lost by the time they go back to school in January/February.

I often wonder why students don’t undertake the same planning when it comes to academic performance. 

Most students and parents of students are willing to let the achievements of the final months of the previous year disappear through resting the brain after the school year. 

The brain doesn’t need that much time to recover.  In fact, that length of time of recovery is detrimental.  The last month of knowledge learned prior to exams has been lost and must be relearned in the first month of the new year!

During the last two weeks of the Christmas holidays many students maintain their academic conditioning by working with their Academic Coach at after-school tuition.  Some use their coach (their tutor) to work on their weaknesses from last year while others use the time to get a head start on the subject they know is in the next year. 

These guys, like their athletic counterparts, are staying ahead of the pack. 

Is it worthwhile?  You bet it is.  They will go into the new year confident and stress free.  They have locked in with their coach who is helping them to perform at their peak.

We live in a very competitive world and those who rise to the top are those who are willing to go the extra mile to achieve that result.  Time and effort are often put into young people with their sport, but will that effort bring a return on investment for them? Will these skills bring them an income? Most likely not. 

If the same effort was put into their academic ability, or at least more evenly distributed well……

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The ABC’s of Learning: “O”

“O” is for Over-Worked Student

Many parents don’t realise they may be setting their children up for burn-out later in the year because they, as their child’s coach, have not planned their activities so their academic athlete may peak at the appropriate times (exams). 

It is with the best intentions that many parents will fill almost every minute of their little one’s waking hours with sport, training for sport and transport to and from sport.  I am amazed at how many children are undertaking more than one sport a school term.  If you are a parent who is building a champion, please remember three things.

1.         Training and playing sport are tiring, very tiring.  That is why great coaches don’t over-load their prized athletes.  They allow down time for recovery and for their protégés to spend time doing non-competitive recreational activities.

2.         A tired student will find it difficult to concentrate in class.  Many students who participate in after school sports are still running around during the day at school.  Play is how they socialise with their friends.  An over-loaded student will take the  inactive time in the classroom to recharge the batteries with rest.  This will affect their learning.

3.         In today’s world a person has a much better chance of achieving a high-income future with good grades than becoming a highly paid athlete.  It is best to plan a balanced week for your child.  Yes, sport is important, but it should not be the only focus to your child’s development.

Children are growing and that takes energy.  You can help by planning their week to include some down time when there is no running around, high energy sport or study.  Sometimes, it good to let them be themselves to develop their own interest.

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The ABC’s of Learning: “N”

“N” is for Nutrition

Your car will not run without fuel, and neither will your body, including your brain. 

A child of any age is growing rapidly and needs plenty of food for energy and nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals) to help supply the body with the building blocks to allow the cells to multiply and the body to grow. 

The inability to concentrate, feeling listless, unenthusiastic and headaches are all signs of insufficient nutrient intake.  The body begins to slow down by mid-afternoon after a day of high activity and very little nutritious food.

The best way to maintain high-energy output is to ensure a nutritious breakfast, a healthy lunch and perhaps morning and afternoon tea.  A healthy round of vegemite sandwiches with a glass of water or milk will ensure the B Vitamins for energy production are in the body to spur the brain into motion.

The chief function of B Vitamins is to act as spark plugs for the body to assist in converting glucose into energy for fuel.  They are also important for the functioning of a healthy nervous system and in helping to promote relaxation in stressed individuals. 

Very few vitamins are found in a packet of potato crisps and a can of coke.  A person will literally obtain more miles out of a banana than soft drinks and chips.

The importance of Vitamin C can’t be over-looked.  The highest concentration of vitamin C in the body is found in the adrenal glands because it is required to make cortisol and adrenalin for conditions of stress.  But the next highest concentration is found in the brain.  Why would the brain require vitamin C?  So, the body may produce dopamine, serotonin and melatonin.  Vitamin C helps to keep your sanity as well as your collagen intact.

There are five essential nutrients for effective brain function, and this includes memory.  Many teenagers are low in iodine, as can be said about the general population.  It is readily found in some seafood but if you do not eat seafood then you must obtain it from another source. 

Decades ago, iodine was placed in table salt so inland populations may have a non-seafood source of the nutrient.  If your family eats salt, then it may be beneficial to purchase iodised salt. 

Other nutrients are omega-3 (from oily fish), iron (meat), zinc (almonds) and the B vitamins.

Two herbs gaining respect for their ability to aid memory are Ginkgo biloba and Gotu kola.  Ginkgo increases blood flow and fluidity to the brain.  Improved circulation aides brain function.

The quality of food is so important.  We do no good for our children when we give into their tantrums for low nutrient junk food.  Be parents to your children now and their friends when they grow up.

According to Henry Osiecki (B.Sc. Grad. Dip Nutr. & Dietetics) some symptoms of ADHD are like those of essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiencies.  Behavioural and learning problems, tantrums and sleeping disorders are common to both.  Supplementing with omega 3 has been shown to improve learning and concentration behaviour.

Other Nutritional Deficiencies in Learning – if your diet is inadequate then consider a quality multi-vitamin because:

B Complex

The functions of the B vitamins in mental alertness and energy are well established. 

EFA – Omega 3 & Omega 6

Introducing fish oil into a youngster’s diet may do wonders for concentration.      

Zinc

The functions of zinc and the immune system have been known for over 100 years.  Knowledge of its other functions is relatively recent.  Low levels of zinc are associated with low alertness, inability to think along abstract lines (learn a language e.g. English), mood and memory problems.     

Magnesium

One of the most deficient minerals in the modern western diet.  Low brain magnesium gives unrefreshed sleep, causes easy fatigue (important for the Krebs Cycle of energy production), poor concentration and daytime sleepiness.

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The ABC’s of Learning: “M”

memory“M” is for MEMORY

“I just don’t get this!” is a cry for help from a student of any age.  Here is the first thing about the learning process – if you don’t get it you won’t remember it and you won’t learn it.  A student must understand a concept, in their own words, to be able to learn it.

So, the first step to learning something effectively is to understand it and if you don’t understand it then ask your teacher or instructor to explain it another way.  You will not be the only person not understanding and it is your teacher’s job to see that you do understand.

Once you think you understand it, write it out in your own words as this will help to put it into short term memory.  This is where most students stop and then wonder why they can’t remember material.  Short term is good for a few minutes, hours or days, after that it is gone.  You must take the next step to move it into long term memory.

Recitation (saying something repeatedly) has been proved to be the most effective way of placing information into long term memory.  And by long term I am talking about a life time. Reading something quietly repeatedly to yourself or writing it down several times is not as effective as reading the material, in your own words, repeatedly ALOUD.

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The ABC’s of Learning: “L”

Auditory Learner“L” is for the Listening Learner

‘Sounds good to me’;  ‘It’s starting to ring a bell’

These are a couple of the phrases used by roughly twenty percent of the population that help to identify them as auditory learners.

Of course, your little one may not be using such readily identifiable markers, but you may still be able to see qualities that help to give you an insight as to the type of learners they may be.

An auditory learner enjoys movies and music and probably notices the sound effects in movies more than other people.  They will readily put up their hands for discussion, happily participate in discussion groups and be involved in discussions without a group as they use self-talk.  These students are not afraid to speak in class and may be accused of speaking in class as they process the information through self-talk.

They will perform their worst at reading passages and writing answers relating to those passages in a timed test but excel in responding to what they have heard and in oral exams.

The auditory learner learns best when reading aloud, receiving verbal instruction, repeating facts with eyes closed and memorising steps and procedures by repeating them.  Older auditory learners need some external sounds (T.V. or music) while they are reading their notes or processing their homework.  Writing their notes and recording them to listen to later is their best way of obtaining and retaining information.

Remember, looking out of the window while the teacher is talking does not necessarily mean they are not completely aware of what is being said.  Auditory learners do not require a visual context in order to learn.

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“K” is for Kinaesthetic Learner

KinaestethicNot everyone learns the same way, and that creates problems in classrooms and at home.

As a generalisation, there are three types of learners: auditory, kinaesthetic, and visual.

These are the main channels of learning.  It’s a generalisation because, a person is more likely to be a combination of two (or more) rather than simply one, as in being purely an auditory learner.  How do you identify a kinaesthetic learner?

Kinaesthetic learners just want to touch and feel everything. As adults, their mates give them plenty of personal space because they just want to playfully thump them all the time.  Their house is a mess because they just want to collect and pull everything apart, just to see how it works.  Putting it together again may be another matter.  Does this sound like someone you married?

It is easy to identify an adult kinaesthetic learner, but how do you identify it in your child?

Well for starters, their teacher will be strongly suggesting you attend Parent Teacher Nights, so they can discuss how disruptive this young pupil is in the classroom.  They fidget, leave their seat to touch things, move things and find it difficult to sit and learn.  They may not even be aware of their movements as they are easily distracted by the movement of others and want to investigate.

This student needs a hands-on approach to learning so sitting in class and listening, reading from a book, or even taking notes from the whiteboard is not the best way for them to learn.

They will respond better when learning is through participation, such as in chemistry experiments, or building a model. These students do well in sports, drama and live for school lunch breaks.  By the age of seven, they have been categorised as being an under-achiever, or worse still, hyperactive.  But fear not.

Being a kinaesthetic learner is not a problem, as approximately fifteen percent of the population are kinaesthetic learners.  The problem is our education system is geared towards auditory and visual learners, and kinaesthetic learners are the speed bump in our systems road to education.  What can you do?

For starters, accept them for who they are, healthy active children.  Give them down time after an active session and reward them for the tasks they perform.  These guys may be reward driven.  Kinaesthetic learners do best with images so paint them a picture of what you want from them and give them regular breaks while studying.

Your student is likely to become an actor, dancer, physio-therapist, massage therapist, surgeon, mechanic, carpenter, P.E. teacher, athlete, farmer, etc.

The point is, be patient, give them space and let them grow.

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“J” is Just in Time

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” 
 Nelson Mandela

Student 3Is there a good time to seek out tutoring?  Does your son or daughter display any of these?

  • Lacks confidence with school work
  • Becomes distraught about going to school
  • Struggles with Maths
  • Reads without interest or understanding
  • Reads through punctuation marks or skip lines completely

Of course, these indicators are not the only signs for a cry for help.  Any change in behaviour or mood may be an indicator that moves you to further investigation.

One thing you should not do is shrug off these indicators as, “Oh, it is only a phase they are going through.” because chances are it is a phase they will not get through.  The cause, or trigger, of the change may vary from changing teachers to taking your children out of school for off-season holidays.  The latter has a considerable effect on children in Year 3, 5 and 7.

Years 3, 5 and 7 appear to be the years when new concepts are introduced in Maths, and probably other subjects.  But we, at the tuition room, see these years as the most influential to the student’s development.  Basically, a lot of new stuff is taught in Maths during these years.  Missing one or two weeks during the school period has a lasting and recurring effect on that area of knowledge through the following years.

Back to our original question, is there a good time to seek out tutoring assistance?

You would think Year 1 students would not require tutoring assistance, after all they have just started school and what have they learned?  Prep is used to prepare children for Year 1 and it is at this stage they learn the simple things like singing the alphabet, counting to ten or twenty and spatial skills such as left, right, in front, under, first, second, last and inside and outside.  Even colouring in pictures helps to develop the fine motor skills required to hold a pencil to form letters while learning to write.

Sometimes children miss some concepts, and this puts them behind during the first year because there is assumed knowledge in Year 1.  Yes, tuition does help to restore confidence to a Year 1 student.

It is always easier to help students who are in Year 2, 4 or 6 because these are the years before the next knowledge jump.  Catching them up in these years aligns their Maths knowledge for the next year jump in concept learning.  We have noticed the most distressed students who come to us are in Years 3, 5 and 7.

When is the best time to bring a student for tuition?  When you notice a change in behaviour that continues for more than two weeks.  There is generally a reason for that change and if it is related to learning then tuition may be your answer.  Having said that, it is never too late to seek out tuition.  We have had students in Year 8 that have received tuition to cover knowledge short falls from Year 5.  No, it is never too late to help a student who wants to be helped.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” 
 Confucius

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“I” is for Interest

“A man who limits his interest limits his life.” – Vincent Price

Baby ReadingWe all want our children to do well in school and in life, but how do you ignite that spark that fuels a need for knowledge.  How does your child develop an interest in the world around them?

For starters, let’s look at your environment.  After all, we shouldn’t put the responsibility for learning and growth upon the school system alone.  Children’s exposure to teachers and schools is small compared to their exposure to parents and home life.  So, let’s take stock of the most influential environment upon your child’s growth – you and your home.

Talk with your child, not at your child

Talking with your child encourages conversation and participation while talking at your child is more about giving instruction: “Don’t do that”, “Sit and be quiet”, “Go outside and play”.  Which type of parent are you?  Is most of your communication one directional, or do you urge a more open form of communication?  Do you talk with your child about the things you are interested in, such as books, movies, and gardening?

Talk with your child about your interests

Your growth and learning don’t stop when you become an adult.  Your child is likely to become the adult you are because you are the major role model in their life.  Your continued growth doesn’t have to be purely academic.  Your interests, hobbies and activities continue to develop you as a person.  As an adult, have you continued to grow, or do you come home at night and sit in front of the computer surfing YouTube or watching television?

Involve your child with books

Look around your house and count the books on your bookcase.  What? You don’t have a bookcase.  Reading is still the best source of gaining knowledge.  It is a sad fact that today many households don’t have a library.  Their interests and knowledge are not on display.  I enjoy visiting people and scanning the titles on their shelves as it immediately lets me see the interests of the people who live there and gives a basis for conversation.  Many people will have a display case for their sports trophies and I consider bookcases as display cases for your knowledge.  Now, before you go thinking I am some sort of nerd, as well has having several hundred books, our household also has a movie library with several hundred movies.  Display your interests and talk about your interests.

Do things and show your child how you do things 

Involve your child in your interests, within reason.  If your hobby is your garden, then have them help with the weeding.  If you love live theatre, then take them to some live shows to expose them to the experience.  Just keep the experience relative to their developmental level.  Let your children see you reading at night instead of squatting in front of the television.  Being entertained by books offers a different intellectual experience to being entertained by X-Box.  If you are an X-Box kind of dad, you may just have to try a little harder.  Try playing board games that offer challenges and choices while playing to help with the thinking process.  Become involved with your children in thinking games and not just reaction games.

Become your child’s best teacher

From the day they are born your number one priority is to protect then and to prepare them.  The adult they become is the result of your influence as much as that of the school system they fall into.  Sometimes being a good parent requires learning new skills, but that is alright as learning new skills is part of life’s processes.  No-one is born knowing how to parent.  We learn some of it from our parents through their role modelling and we learn some from interacting with people as we grow up.  Though, having said that nothing will prepare you for being a parent, you just learn as you go along.  But you do have to learn.

Don’t overload your child

You don’t have to expose your child to everything at one time.  There is no need to fill every waking moment with experiences and knowledge.  You should allow down time, so they may process what has been experienced, what has been learnt and to rest and recover.  Being a child takes a lot of energy and there is a need to re-charge their batteries from time to time.  Build quiet times into their day when it is alright to sit and do nothing.  Remember, a tired child will struggle at school.

Be positive about their school experience

“It’s alright mate, you have to go and there is nothing we can do about it.” doesn’t send a positive message about going to school.  The school years are such a wonderful time of our lives and must be reinforced as such.  Don’t bring the woes of being an adult, or the problems you are experiencing upon your child’s fun years.  You can use their experience to bring some release from the pressures of your life.  Encourage them to become involved with school activities and then be supportive and join in with them at these events.  One of my most vivid memories is when my father and his friends turned out to watch me at my school rugby league game.  I played many games but that one I remember.  Don’t under estimate the importance of being part of their school experience.

“We will all be role models in our children’s lives.  We don’t have that choice.  The choice we do have is whether we are a positive role model or a negative role model.  That is our choice.” – Peter Kenyon

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“H” is for Help

Crying StudentA decreased ability to concentrate, confused thoughts, motivation low, increased irritability, grumbling, quarrelsome, overly sensitive to criticism, anxious or depressed.  This may sound like a typical teenager, but they are also signs a coach watches for in athletes.

Good coaches recognise the signs of over-training and adjust their athletes’ schedule so the next phase of over-training, burn-out, doesn’t occur.  A great coach will not let these signs develop because they know how to pace the training sessions without over-stressing the athlete.

What has fitness training to do with students?  Burn-out may occur in any person in any profession at any age.  Many parents don’t realise how much pressure they place on their children when they load up their awake time with sports training and competition outside of school hours.  Some students are playing two sports a season.  Some parents don’t realise they may be setting their child up for burn-out later that school year because they haven’t planned enough recovery time for their student.

If you are a parent who encourages outside sports for their children, then you should consider these three things:

  1. Training and playing sport are tiring, very tiring.
  2. A tired student will find it difficult to concentrate in class.
  3. In today’s world, a person has a much better chance of achieving a high income with good grades than becoming a highly-paid athlete.

An over-committed student who finds it difficult to concentrate in class will eventually fall behind on their grades.  They may require the help of a coach, an academic coach.

When athletic students attend tuition sessions, we ask parents to consider dropping one activity before introducing a program of tuition.  There is no sense in adding to an already over-loaded timetable.  Nothing will be achieved.  The tuition, depending upon the grade the student is in, will probably take one full year to bring them aligned with the class.  That is only one season of any one sport, so they will not miss much when dropping one activity to replace it with tuition.

As an academic coach (with a long background in fitness training) I watch for signs of over-training in our students and act on it.  Sometimes, that action will be to remove tuition from the student’s time-table if nothing else is removed.  We do this for the well-being of the student.

You don’t have to be a sporting student to fall behind.  At times a high achieving student places themselves under unnecessary pressure because they have not learnt to budget time or to study correctly.  A student like this will benefit from some one on one guidance so they may learn from an expert how to research and produce assignments, or how to prepare for secondary school exams.

So, as the school year progresses, watch for signs that indicate your student may not be keeping up and is silently crying for help.

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