Tag Archives: Learning Difficulties

Is It Worth Being A Student Who Plans?

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  1½ month’s worth). I come from a sports training background and I can tell you that an athlete who wants to perform well will not take two months off their training year. The repercussions are too great as they will lose too much form and have to work way too hard to get back to square one.

A dedicated rugby player will take one month off and during that time will be maintaining his/her aerobic level of fitness with moderate exercise. When January comes around he/she is 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.

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 does not 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 has to be relearned in the first month of the new year!

During long Christmas holidays many students maintained their academic conditioning by attending the Tuition Room at Ferny Hills.  They used their academic coach (their tutor) to work on their weaknesses from last year while others used the time to get a head start on the subject matter they knew was coming this year. These guys were 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

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I Forgot To Tell You How To Improve Your 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.  If you do not 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 then write it out in your own words, this will help to put it into short term memory.  This is where most students stop and then wonder why they cannot remember material.  Short term is good for a few minutes, hours or days, after that it is gone.  You have to take the next step to move it into long term memory.

Recitation (saying something over and over again) 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 over and over again to yourself or writing it down a number of times is not as effective as reading the material, in your own words, over and over again ALOUD.

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visual“Let’s look at this differently”, “I can’t see the big picture”, “See how this works?” – stand back here comes a visual learner and a future artist, builder, inventor or musician, that is if they can get through our education system.

These right hemi-sphere thinking (that’s creative thinking) students are not wired to produce written reports on the thoughts they visualise in their mind, at least not until they learn how.  They think and learn in multi-dimensional images.  Our education system is more geared to teach left hemi-sphere thinking auditory learners who think and learn in words rather than images.

A visual-spatial learner may be good at spelling and lousy with names, needs a quiet study time, likes colour and is good with charts, maps and diagrams.  They remember pictures and are good with direction.  They will always have trouble remembering verbal instructions and have to learn by taking notes.

As a parent you can help by explaining a project you wish them to do by explaining why you want them do something, because they need to see the big picture first.

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The process of choosing a tutor can be daunting and confusing. Generally when a parent is told by a teacher their child is struggling it comes as sudden news to the parent but has been viewed as a gradual process by the teacher or various teachers. One wonders why measures were not taken sooner to halt this process.

For whatever reason your student now requires tuition so how do you choose? I have seen many one-on-one tutors who do very fine work helping the student with maths at their current level and at times this is successful. School results improve and grades come up, but this system has its limitations.

Learning maths is a progressive process building upon previous knowledge of various maths strands until eventually the student is able to solve complex problems by drawing on their various knowledge strands. If there is a hole in their knowledge strands this makes solving these complex problems more difficult. This hole may have appeared years before and not been repaired.

The tuition process you choose should be able to identify these knowledge holes and plug them. By doing this your student is armed with complete knowledge that allows them to move to the top percentage of their class.

Your tutor should be able to identify the time when your child started to have difficulties; set up a program to begin at the point of trouble; move progressively forward plugging up other holes as they are identified; monitor the student’s progress (we do ours daily); provide progressive reports (our parents receive monthly progress reports on students); and set goals that engage and reward students (this keeps them motivated).

This method takes time but produces the best long term results.

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Type ‘student’ into clipart and you have fifty-one pages of cartoon pupils sitting quietly at their desk diligently working away.  DREAM ON.  We know all students are not alike because all children are not alike.  In a (teacher’s) perfect world all students would be just so, but …

Approximately 15% of the population are kinaesthetic learners and that means there will be no such thing as a quiet classroom.  Kinaesthetic learners just want to touch and feel everything.  Their friends are bruised because these learners just have to thump their mates.  Their homes are a mess because they have to pull everything apart, just to see how it works.  Does that sound like someone you married?

You can picture this in your husband, but how about your little one?  How do you know you have a kinaesthetic learner on your hands?  Well for starters their teacher will probably be calling you in to complain about how disruptive they are in class.  This student finds it difficult to learn through reading and writing.  They need the hands on approach so they do better in chemistry experiments, sports and acting.  They may not even be aware of their own movement and are easily distracted by the movements of others.

By the age of 6½ they are generally classed as under-achievers or worse still hyperactive.

What can you do with this learner?  For starters accept them for who they are. There is nothing wrong with them rather it is our education system that is not geared to accept 15% of the population.  As a parent, give them down time after an active session, and reward them for the tasks they perform.  These guys may be reward driven.  Kinaesthetics learn best with images so paint them a picture of what you want from them. (For more information visit www.educ.uvic.ca )

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This was the result of a creative writing game we ran at our tuition room.  You can see how the game was run on the Study Tools page under Creative Writing Game.  The following result was the final product of our maths tutor, Peter.

Neither Uncle Tom nor Georgina were ever able to explain how they got themselves locked in the Veterinary Surgery overnight.

old_manUncle Tom was a confusing old man who wore round spectacles on a round face on top of a round body.  A lot of him moved when he laughed at his own jokes.  Georgina had known him all her life and at five years old that was a long time.  Her short fuzzy red hair and chubby pink cheeks made them look like a pair of clowns when they walked down the street.

In total terror she now clung to her uncle’s large leg while all around dogs howled, cats hissed and parrots screeched.  The room was totally black and smelled of anti-septic.  The noise was deafening and would surely wake the dead thought Georgina.  Now she had something else to worry about.  She squeezed tighter on her uncle’s leg.

‘This is going to be a long night’ thought Uncle Tom, holding Georgina close to him as they huddled under the Vet’s table.  This adventure was not going as he had planned.  All night long they huddled and shivered and the animals screeched and cried.  Not once did they or the animals sleep.  Georgina kept vigilant in case any of the dead were also awake.

From somewhere outside the safety of the vet’s table came a loud thump, and the darkness disappeared.  Victor the Vet stood in the doorway, ‘That should teach you a lesson not to sneak into the animals sleeping room again Tom!’

‘So you knew all the time!’ cried Tom in amazement.

‘Yes we did.’ Bellowed Margaret, Tom’s wife and Georgina’s aunt.  ‘That should cure both of you of sneaking out at night.  How do you feel now Thomas?’

‘You better get out a bottle of your parsnip wine mother, I’m going to need it.’

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How Important Is Handwriting?

Handwriting“Does handwriting matter?  Not very much according to educators.  The Common Core standards, which we have adopted in most states, call for teaching legible handwriting, but only in kindergarten and first grade.  After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.”

“What’s Lost As Handwriting Fades” – by Maria Konnikova

I have just finished reading this article and you can follow the above link to access it.  The article suggests evidence is emerging of a greater link between handwriting and learning.  It appears children learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand.

A 2012 study by Karin James at the Indiana University supported the association between handwriting and learning.  Children who had not learned to read were presented with index cards with a letter or shape they were to reproduce.  They could either:

  • Trace the image on a page with a dotted outline;
  • Draw it on a blank sheet of paper;
  • Type it on a computer.

A study of their brain waves as they reproduced the shape or letter showed an area of the brain, active when an adult reads and writes, was highly stimulated when the child drew the letter on a blank sheet of paper.  The activation was significantly weaker through the other two processes.

Learning is a complicated process.  When we reproduce letters, or anything else, by hand a plan is required before executing the action.  The end result is highly variable in that it will not exactly represent the original.  Learning to identify variable representations is important to decoding letters when reading.

The research by Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at University of Washington, indicated that when a child who composed text by hand (either printing or cursive) “They not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on the keyboard, but expressed more ideas.”

There is also a suggestion of different neuro-pathways being developed in the brain when a child progresses on from printing to cursive writing.

Research at the University of California have reported laboratory and real-world studies of students learning better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard.

So is it time to throw away the pen and paper and adopt the technology and the keyboard?  Was it time to give up walking when we invented the car?


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The Pig – by Jacko (aged 10)

Escaping PigEarly one day on an old dairy farm lived a shaggy worn out pig.  This old worn out pig had lived a horrible life on a small dose of food and water.  The pig was tired of living on the farm so he thought to himself, “I have to escape”.  Every day he chewed and chewed at the barbed wire fence until it snapped apart.  The pig was so happy!  Later that day the pig escaped.  In the morning the dairy farmer realised the shaggy worn out pig had escaped.

Jacko (aged 10)


At times the writing tutor will challenge the student to write on a topic, in this case a pig.  The student and the tutor have fifteen minutes to come up with a story.  Creative writing can sometimes be creative anxiety, and an anxiety which may leave a child immobilised (and not just children).   You cannot remove anxiety by avoiding the stimulant (the test situation) so we encourage the children to have fun with the pressure of competition.  Once fun is realised pressure dissipates and creativity flows.  This time I have included the tutor’s work, just for fun…

The Singing Pig – by The Tutor (age, not game to say)

Singing PigWhen the rain came at the old tractor factory the pig knew it was going to be a good day.  Slender by pig standards she was a pale skinned pig with a gentle nature.  It was her normal job to sweep the floors and feed the dogs, but not on wet days.  When it rained her task changed to singing for the assembly workers to keep their spirits up.  At morning tea when she had sung her way through Justin Beiber’s songs and was gargling in the bathroom for her next bracket, the sun came out.

The Tutor

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Are Your Expectations Aligned With The Curriculum?

Year 3

Tuition Logo“These are the best years of your life.”, self assuring words spruiked by many a parent and teacher to seven-year old students who do not need reassurance after remembering their potty training years.  They have just cruised through the first two years of primary school, they know all the numbers, the alphabet and can write their name; what else is there to learn?

Year 3 is where many young students realise their world will never be the same again.  It is during this year they discover numbers do not stop at 1,000 but continue all the way to 10,000 and they have to know their order, place value, and be able to recognise if they are odd or even!   Not only that but there are numbers smaller than one that no-one told them about as they are introduced to the fractions 1/2, 1/4, 1/3, and 1/5.

When learning the multiplication table by heart for 2, 3, 5 and 10 no-one warned them about having to manage multiplying a two digit number by a single digit number, without a smart phone.  In fact, they are expected to develop strategies to perform addition and subtraction in their head (mental maths).  Counting on, regrouping and partitioning are all strategies employed to perform mental maths.

It is during this year our students are introduced to metric measurement.  I hear very few complaints from students in our tuition centre about learning measurements.  I simply remind them that learning 1,000 metres equals one  kilometre is much easier than remembering there are 1,760 yards to a mile, 22 yards to a chain, or 16 ounces to a pound.

Yes, there is a lot to learn in Year 3 (and this is only maths) and yes, these may be the best years of their life because Year 5 is ahead of them, but we won’t tell them about that yet.

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I Can’t Tie My Laces Because I Can’t Write

Man walking on 1 2 3 stepsIt caused me considerable concern when I read that the American Government had dropped teaching cursive writing from the core curriculum in 2010.  They have left it up to the states to decide if it should be taught in elementary schools.  Some have decided not to teach the writing and reading of cursive script.  Their students are not being taught to read or write past the printed letter.

Does not teaching how to write have repercussions other than affecting the way we develop and record our thoughts?  Is it even a concern that we become solely dependant upon smart phones, tablets and computers for recording our words?

People may have asked the same question as the motor car replaced the bicycle or television replaced evening family interaction.  Change produces change and each alteration to our lifestyle needs to be considered for its own new path.  If we haven’t looked far enough down the path before we have taken the first few steps we may arrive at a destination we did not desire.  I do not think an obese society and world environmental problem  was what Henry Ford envisioned with his Model T; nor did Steve Jobs foresee family members retreating to separate rooms when he wanted to bring the world together.

What damage can possibly be caused by not teaching cursive writing to young students?  I have already encountered a young postman who has difficulty delivering hand written letters because they used “running writing”.  So we don’t receive our mail, is that a problem these days?  The fact the young man could not decipher or decode the letters on the envelope is of greater problem to me.

Cursive writing as with all writing requires the development of fine motor skills; skills that come with practice.  The fine dexterity of finger and hand movement learned by a seven or eight year old is the same skill required to tie shoe laces, do up buttons, place a nut on a bolt or to produce a painting.  I have already begun to see within my tuition experience young students unable to control letter and number formation between 8 millimetre lines or contain them within 7 millimetre squares of a quad page.  Is this a problem?

When I was in primary school the pencil and then the pen was an important tool to my learning.  Our teacher came in early to prepare the black board with the day’s lessons.  These lessons were copied into our notebooks.  Maths problems were copied from the board or the text book before being solved.  Our scholastic days were filled with scribing and learning.  Our weekends required us to compose an essay just so we could practise our scribbles and improve our imagination.  Even now I produced drafts for this post with pencil and paper before committing them to digital creation.

Reading, writing and arithmetic formed the foundation of independence for an individual.  With all three mastered a person was armed to contribute to society, create wealth from nothing and control their destiny.  I am afraid the removal of just one may have an impact on creating an independent individual.

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