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Math Is Difficult, but Far from Impossible

Maryke K. is a  Nobel Tutor. She knows a lot about Chemistry, Physics, English Language, and Statistics, but one of her greatest loves is Math! She makes math fun (yes, it’s possible!) and finds the best way for students to learn it. Here she answers common questions about math and shares her personal experience in learning it.

 

Question: Let’s begin with fun stuff. What is the best math joke you’ve ever heard?

Maryke: What do you get when you cross a mosquito with a mountain climber?

You can’t cross a vector and a scalar… (laugh).

 

Q: Can you tell us how did you end up falling in love with mathematics? How did you become the math tutor?

M: From an early age, math has been fascinating to me. Because of that, I focused on it and worked hard. As I began sharing my knowledge with others, I discovered that mathematics was a path to helping people, and that’s what I love to do! And that’s why I became a tutor.

 

Q: Even though some people, like you, enjoy mathematics, there are others who find it hard. Based on your experience, why do some students fall behind in math?

M: Some people have a natural aptitude for mathematics, but that’s not the reason why others fall behind. I think the reason they do fall behind is they need it explained in a different way and there isn’t always time to do this in a classroom setting.

That’s why math tutoring exists! Not because you don’t have the ability to do math, but because a tutor is usually a few years older than you and they were in your shoes a few years before. So it’s easy to relate and find a great way to explain the unexplainable.

 

Q: Is there anything you’d recommend to those students? How should they study math?

M: If you don’t get math, just like anything else you don’t like, you’re going to have to motivate yourself.

Still, what I used to do is play. When I was younger, up to 6th grade, I would use computer games. I played educational games which meant I had to constantly do math in my head. Because of that, and by really putting thought into it, I made math fun, linking it to games.

So how you should study math? You find the fun in math and keep practicing. If you’re not good at it, practice is the only way to fix that.

 

Q: You’ve already mentioned teachers. Do you think that if you don’t understand math, maybe you have the wrong teacher?

M: It’s not about the teacher all the time, it’s usually about their workload. You can’t put a workload of 40 students on a teacher and expect every one of them is going to be catered to.

I think that everybody should be able to get tutoring. But since not everybody can afford a tutor, perhaps ask a friend who’s good at math to help you with the things you’re having difficulty with. You just need to have the additional help.

I come from a very humble background. I begged my parents to get me tutoring because despite having good grades, I needed even better grades to enroll in this program I wanted to get into. But we couldn’t afford it. The only help I had was reading math books and learning it by myself. That still wasn’t enough. I feel that if I had been in a smaller class, if my teachers could have catered to me specifically, then I would’ve had even better marks.. But it just wasn’t in the cards.

So I worked with a friend who was good at math and we made sure we helped each other. I did that my whole university career – we’d teach each other those concepts that we mightn’t otherwise understand.. We’d just work together and help each other. I feel everybody should do that because there’s always something that you don’t understand. So let the students be the teachers, as well.

 

Q: Some people believe that being good at math is a natural ability. What do you think about that? Can anybody be good at math?

M: I don’t think everybody can be good at math. However, I think everybody can do it. You just need the right way, the fun way to approach it.

There’s always going to be someone who gets 100% no matter what – someone with the natural aptitude. It may seem like you’ll never be as good as that person, but you can do it! You just need to accept that you have to practice a lot more than they do.

So, you can be good, but you have to practice. Practice as much as you can and eventually results will come.

 

Q: Natural talent vs. hard work. Do you think that people who aren’t naturally good at math but practice a lot eventually can become better at it than people who are naturally good but don’t practice?

M: Yes, that was me! I fell behind in my first year of engineering because I was like, This is going to be so easy! And all those people who were a little bit weaker than me in high school, were surpassing me. They were doing so much better than I was!

That’s because at some point math catches up with you. You might think it’s easy now, but there will be a time when you don’t understand anything. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way, so you don’t need to.

 

Q: What is your approach to teaching math?

M: Making it fun. I’m a very outgoing person and I always try to make people think of a fun way to go about something. I use visuals, I use tricks, I use anything that might make something entertaining and interesting!

No matter what your learning challenge is, what your skill is, it has to be fun!

 

Q: How do you choose between being an authority figure and a friend?

M: I think balance is the key. You need to be both an authority figure and a friend. I do believe my students respect me, but I also believe I open this door into letting them talk to me about their personal problems, not just focusing on math.

You need to listen to the challenges they have as that can affect their learning as well. For example, if their dog dies and they just don’t feel like doing math today, take things easier.

Being their teacher doesn’t mean you can’t be their friend. You just need to evaluate when that is appropriate. They’ll learn to trust you, and then they will respect you.

MAKE MATH FUN WITH MARYKE

She can’t wait to meet new friends!

 

Q: Does fun make math easy? Do you find mathematics easy overall?

M: Math is never easy. I have an engineering degree and when I was doing models I failed the math model. Yes, that thing destroyed me (laugh).

Now I’m doing a mathematics degree. I’m in my final year now and I’m realizing that math is always difficult. If you’re in that spot, it’s going to be hard. Right now, final-year math is unbelievably difficult, but first-year math was also unbelievably difficult. Math will always be difficult. It’s up to you to practice and find a way to understand it. So practice, practice, practice.

 

Q: Do you have any advice for parents to help their students with math?

M: Don’t start too late. I wish my parents had started earlier in letting me have fun with mathematics. I did start early, earlier than most people. But if they’d started even earlier, I feel that I would’ve been further ahead right now.

You need to make sure your kids are exposed to this environment. Let them play puzzles, let them play logic games when they’re very young. Because it opens a door for problem-solving skills and so on.

Make it fun and start early. But don’t overdo it. so that they start to hate it. Like anything, if you push your child too much, they’re going to resent it. Make sure you strike a balance between giving them constant stimulation and not overworking them. A great tutor would know how to help in that area, for sure.

 

Q: And if I’m a parent of a student with learning challenges (ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia…), what approach would you recommend for me to help my students with math? What should I do?

M: We all have those times when we’re faced with difficulty that causes anxiety. So did I. I know it’s not the same as ADHD, but it does pose a challenge when it comes to learning. One way to deal with it is to learn how to study despite the difficulty. Wishing it away won’t help, but finding a way to figure things out will.

What I would actually do was enjoy some free time but then dedicate 10 minutes to some math homework. It forced me to think about it, but not overwhelm myself. Of course, if you have a lot of homework you might need to up that to 15, 20 minutes. Some people will go up to 30 minutes or more, but if you constantly push a child they’re just going to completely resist.

If you’re helping your child with math, you need to make sure they’re not overwhelmed and that you are making it, again, fun. They need to have that feeling of I really want to solve these logic puzzles.

Also, I’ve always told my mom she needs to reward my brother, because my brother was a very, lazy boy when it came to math.The way she got him to finish his math was by giving him rewards. He has ADHD, and the reward for finishing was time playing computer games. And he would be so excited! Because that’s what children like to do, including me (laugh).

So,give them rewards, make it fun, and don’t make it too intensive!

 

Q: Why do we need math? Do we really need to know algebra, geometry, integers..? Why does math matters in the real world?

M: The things you’ll use depend on the field in which you’ll work. I don’t think you’ll need all the complex formulae and stuff.

But the basic reason everybody needs math is for logical reasoning. If you know math, you build a certain skill when it comes to reasoning with people, when it comes to logical thinking, solving problems at work in the future… So even though you don’t need quadratic equations, you still need to build these skills to be able to function in life and today’s world.

Long answer short, reasoning in real life and problem-solving skills.

 

Q: What are the uses of math? Are there any benefits to knowing math for a future career? What are applied-mathematics jobs?

M: As I’ve said, reasoning and problem-solving but not just that. For example, you’ll use it if you’re an animator. You’ll need math to put things together in a program and work through possible problems you might encounter when you animate different things. The same would apply to working as a game designer, It doesn’t mean that if you’re not good in math you can’t go into these areas. However, knowing math can be helpful.

Additionally, think about engineering, architecture, law… each requires logical reasoning, (especially law) and a background in mathematics.  Computer science, astronautics, the visual arts (such as painting).

 

Q: What message would you like to leave with our young readers?

M: Mathematics is always useful, so practice it and study it. You’ll use it in any career you choose. You’ll use it in the future just by practicing reasoning and in everyday activities that you need to think about.

However, if you’re not good at math, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to be successful. If math is not going to be your career, you just need to find someone who can help you with logical reasoning so you can have a foundation to build on in your future life.

Math can be very useful and if you can’t figure it out on your own, there are great tutors to help!

IF YOU NEED ADDITIONAL HELP WITH MATHEMATICS OR ANY OTHER SUBJECT, OUR EXPERT TUTORS ARE HERE FOR YOU

 

The Pygmalion effect – How Teachers’ Expectations Affect Students’ Achievement

The Pygmalion effect describes how a teacher’s higher expectations lead to the student’s higher performance. If a teacher believes that certain students are late bloomers, there’s a good chance that they will become exactly that.

Pygmalion effects in the classroom

This effect can be found in different settings, but here we’ll focus on the classroom and the discovery by two American psychologists, Rosenthal and Jacobson, who conducted a study to test if children could be brighter when expected to be by their teachers. In another words, whether changes in teacher expectations produce changes in student achievement [2].

In their study, at the beginning of the school year, all of the children in the study were given an intelligence test, which was disguised as a test that would predict intellectual “blooming”. About 20% of the children were chosen at random and the teachers of these children were told that their scores on that test indicated they would show surprising gains in intellectual competence during the next few months of school. The important thing to remember is that the only difference between those children was in the minds of their teachers.

At the end of the school year, all the children were re-tested with the same test. The children from whom the teachers had been led to expect greater intellectual gain showed a greater gain than did the other children.

girl thinking positively about studying

How to use these effects to achieve better performance among students?

Teachers, but also parents, influence whether children will have higher or lower achievement. So, now when we are aware of the power of our expectations, one question arises – how can we help our children?

  1. Look for the good and positive things in each child. Find something to like or appreciate about every child, even if it’s their independence and tenacity. The teacher’s behavior is important. However, there’s more to it than that – it’s about the way you think about the child.
  2. Be aware of your effect. Teachers should always bear in mind that their behavior can affect a student’s performance. Although it’s impossible to like all students equally, it is imperative that they are all treated equally.
  3. Reconsider your treatment. Think about how you treat students you find smart/charming and compare that treatment to the way you approach those you find uninteresting/annoying. Who do you criticize more? Who receives more attention?
  4. More positive treatment. Try to give more attention to students you neglected before. Also, reinforce them if you see them struggling or feeling unsure. This way they’ll be more motivated to raise their hands and ask questions. Consequently, they’ll work harder at your subject and do much better in it.

We, at Nobel Coaching and Tutoring, believe in your student! Achieving better performance demands hard work, but with our help it is much easier and faster. Therefore, there’s one more way to help – you can schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our Coaches HERE.

References:

[1] Babad, E. Y., Inbar, J., & Rosenthal, R. (1982). Pygmalion, Galatea, and the Golem: Investigations of biased and unbiased teachers. Journal of Educational Psychology,74(4), 459-474. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.74.4.459
[2] Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom. The urban review, 3(1), 16-20.

Back to School: How to Be Prepared

It’s that time of year already! Whether you’re ready or not, summer break is over and school has started. Since going back to school is often a bit scary, we want to help prepare you to crush this school year!

How to prepare for going back to school?

So, how can you ready yourself mentally and physically for a new, successful school year?

Get enough sleep.

Sometimes we underestimate the value of sleep but sleep has effects on performance. It involves a range of complex functions associated with memory, the ability to learn, brain development, immune functioning, etc. So try to sleep at least eight to nine hours every night. While this might not always be realistic, do try to respect your sleep schedule!

Prepare everything you need the day before.

Pack your bag and choose your clothes the day before, so you don’t have to worry about it next morning and won’t have to rush. You’ll have time to think about the things you want to do that day, have breakfast, and get ready on time.

Be there 15 minutes early.

And while we’re talking about time… Don’t be late! It’s an annoying habit and you know that. The best way not to be late is to get to school 15 minutes early every day.

Study routine.

Establish your studying/homework routine. This will help you concentrate, memorize, and recall information faster and more effectively.

Be organized.

Write down all your due dates on a calendar template and review it daily as a study guide. Make a plan for how you’ll achieve everything you want to and stick to it. This helps with focusing time and energy on tasks you need to complete, and you can track your progress and make adjustments as necessary.

Planner and a yellow marker pen

It’s okay to be afraid

Have you had negative thoughts – for example, of having a test you didn’t study for that are coming back all over again? Do you have trouble falling asleep or you’re waking up frequently during the night? What about nightmares? Maybe you have none of these symptoms, but you still feel school-related nervousness.  However, there are ways to beat it!

Remember you’re not alone.

Many students feel that way and have the same worries that you do. It’s not unusual to experience some anxiety facing the new school year, even more so if you’re moving up to middle school, high school, or college. These “big changes”can be really difficult, but certainly manageable.

Don’t forget to breathe.

If you feel very anxious and don’t know what to do or how to stop it, just breathe. Try to find a place where you can be alone, close your eyes, and breathe slowly. Here’s a good exercise that is called 4 7 8 breathing:

  1. For 4 seconds inhale silently through your nose.
  2. Then, count to seven as you hold your breath.
  3. Next, exhale completely through your mouth for eight seconds.

You can also use this exercise if you have trouble falling asleep.

Talk about it.

Sometimes the best way to face a fear is to say it out loud. So if you have any fear, or you feel nervous, anxious, and/or sad, share it. Share your feelings and your fears with someone you’re close to. For example, a friend is a good choice – they might be feeling the same way and you can talk it through together.

However, if you have trouble adapting to school for more than the first week or two and it’s affecting your everyday life, talk with your family and friends and consider asking for help.

School is cool

Even though you’re a bit nervous and a little bit fearful facing a new school year, you can also look forward to some great new experiences. These are a few reasons why School is Cool.

  1.      New people.

The new school year is a good chance to meet new people! Why is that so good? Those people may become your friends (or a crush, right?).

  1.      Friends.

Seeing classmates after a few months is great, isn’t it? You can finally hug them and talk about how you spent your summer break and what’s new. Friends are also a great support that all of us need from time to time. Even if you experience some anxiety in social situations, you now have a fresh chance to make connections and to work on maintaining a sense of calm while joining in new experiences.

  1.      New, interesting things to learn.

There’s plenty of new things to learn and you may be surprised by what you’ll find to interest you! Also, there’s a wide variety of opportunities available for you at school which may be beneficial in your future career. Leadership in a student organization is a good example of that.

  1.      Extracurricular activities.

Have you already found your favorite one? If you did, congratulations! Keep doing a great job! However, if you didn’t, here’s a chance to try different extracurricular activities and find out what you like and what your passion is. There are many benefits to joining a choir or a basketball team. Also, you can meet new people and learn many interesting things there!

Arts in Education Week: 51 Reasons to Shout About It

It’s National Arts in Education Week: a time to unite and celebrate the life-transforming and life-affirming power that the arts can have on children’s lives.

But while it’s a time to rejoice, the sad truth is that Art Education is beginning to find itself on the chopping room floor.

As school budgets get squeezed, the typical curriculum is getting narrower. Principles are feeling pressured to focus on a tighter set of ‘core academic subjects’. This comes as little surprise in a culture where success is often measured purely on academic outcomes.

But here’s the thing:

Art Education is vital. For a start, there is mounting evidence that it enhances academic results. But more importantly, learning arts cultivates cognitive abilities, nurtures positive character traits, and fosters critical thinking. It expands awareness, increases empathy, and develops an array of social skills. And that’s just the start!

Here is a list of 51 evidence-based benefits that Arts Education provides for children and young people:

importance of arts education

Our children deserve to be immersed in a learning environment that is rich and balanced. One that attends to mind, body, and wellbeing. As adults we know how essential this is for happiness as well as productivity. Why should it be any different for our children?

Arts Education provides kids with unique experiences which help then to develop a sense of self and identity. It nurtures their confidence and expands their worldview. It may also lead to a lifelong passion or creative career.

And here’s the kicker:

Even if a young person has their heart set on an academic or technical career, still, integrating arts into their learning can raise it to the next level.

When kids have an arts lesson or their teacher simply incorporates arts within regular STEM subjects, this has a powerful disrupting effect on their day; it can feed their imagination and fuel their joy, breaking them out of the treadmill of core academia. The result: young minds refreshed and ready to tackle their Math and English with vigor and wonder.

TEACHERS: Four Easy Ways to Address Your Students’ Visual and Verbal Learning Styles

Each teacher is unique and has their own particular teaching style. “Teaching style” refers to the way one prefers to teach and is illustrated in instructional behavior from which a teacher will rarely deviate [3]. Despite the fact that teachers seldom, if ever, change their style, they may vary their teaching strategies depending on the nature of the subject, requirements of the course, common learning styles, and other factors.

Understanding one`s teaching style can serve as a foundation for the improvement of instruction and enhancement of the learning experience [2]. How much a given student learns in a class is governed in part by the compatibility of the instructor’s teaching style and the pupil’s learning style [1]. However, although each teacher may consistently embrace one predominant learning style, students will experience various teaching styles as they encounter different teachers. Both students and their teachers can therefore benefit from understanding variations in teaching and learning styles [2]. This awareness can be the means to achieving the highest possible effectiveness.

This article can help you become aware of your teaching style, understand its relationship to learning styles, and how to easily customize it.

Visual and verbal learning styles

Students learn in many ways. There are visual, verbal, and kinesthetic learners. Most children learn most effectively with one of these three modalities and tend to miss or ignore information presented in either of the other two [1]. In current educational practice, we have tended to distinguish principally between visual and verbal learners, although much more attention is now, appropriately, being focused on kinesthetic learning as well.

Visual learners remember best what they see. They prefer using pictures, images, demonstrations, etc. Verbal learners remember best what is explained in words or written and they learn best from books and lectures.  In the article Are You a Visual or a Verbal Learner you may find out more about what suits each type of learner best.

Most learning and teaching style components parallel one another [1, 5]. So, for example, the student who favors visual perception would be most comfortable with an instructor who uses charts, pictures, and films.

The mismatch between teaching style and students’ learning styles

The most common learning style is visual while most teaching is verbal [1]. Educators present information predominantly verbally through lecturing or words/symbols written in texts and handouts or on a chalkboard. Accordingly, there can be a mismatch between the preferred presentation mode of educators and the preferred input modality of most students, which may lead to serious consequences.

Students may become bored and inattentive in class, do poorly on tests, get discouraged about their courses, lose motivation and the desire for achievement, and in some cases, even drop out of school. Educators are confronted by low test scores, unresponsive or hostile classes, poor attendance, and dropouts. They also often become frustrated, because they realize something is not working [1]. 

Teachers can’t adapt to all the students they teach

In the classroom, there’s usually only one teacher and many students. Do you ask yourself Should I adapt my teaching style to the students’ learning styles or should it be vice versa? There are arguments and evidence in favor of both sides [4]. However, if we think about it, we may conclude that it’s impossible for one teacher to adapt to all the students they teach! But there is something teachers can do.

The adoption of a few teaching techniques may help teachers meet the needs of most or all of their students. They can keep their particular teaching style and at the same time find ways to reach students whose preferences differ from their own.

Four easy ways to address your students’ learning styles  

Motivate learning.

If you motivate your students, they will learn more easily and retain information, regardless of the way it’s presented. For that reason, relate the presented material to what has come before and what is still to come in your course, to material in other courses, and particularly to the students’ personal experience. You can even ask some students to present the same material you’re teaching in a different way to the class, you may be able to learn a new technique while motivating students with different learning strategies to pay attention!

Combine visual and verbal presentations.

Irrespective of the extent of the match or mismatch, presentations that use both visual and auditory modalities reinforce learning for all students. Before, during, or after the presentation of verbal material, you can use pictures, schematics, graphs, or simple sketches. The way to encompass both visual and verbal learners is to show films and provide demonstrations, followed by discussion.

Talk to students.

Try to find out what their academic difficulties and learning preferences are, so you can help them. You can demonstrate various learning styles by using the same content presented in different ways and ask them which one they prefer. Sometimes, explaining the way to learn most efficiently to a student who is struggling is a great help – that way they may reshape their learning experiences and be successful. You can also learn about tips and tricks they use to help themselves, so you could recommend those later to someone who has learning difficulties.

Teach students to help themselves and to seek help.

You don’t have to do all the work! For example, teach students to look for alternative sources of information that suit them better or explain to them the benefits of learning in groups. Check in with them to see if they were able to find something that would benefit the entire class. They may feel like the task is more purposeful if they feel is it able helping others.

Utilize brief formative assessments of your students’ learning by quickly surveying the students about their understanding of the material. This will help you figure out if how your teaching is meeting the needs of your students’ learning styles. If a student continues to struggle, we have Coaches and Tutors who can help them overcome academic and learning difficulties, look us up for ways to refer families to our services.

Resources:

[1] Felder, R. M., & Silverman, L. K. (1988). Learning and teaching styles in engineering education. Engineering education, 78(7), 674-681.

[2] Heimlich, J. E., & Norland, E. (2002). Teaching style: where are we now?  New directions for adult and continuing education, 2002(93), 17-26.

[3] Silver, H. F. (2003). Teaching styles and strategies: Interventions to enrich instructional decision-making. Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ: Thoughtful Education Press.

[4] Thompson, T. C. (1997). Learning Styles and Teaching Styles: Who Should Adapt to Whom? Business Communication Quarterly, 60(2), 125-127. doi:10.1177/108056999706000212

[5] Vaezi, S., & Shahroosvand, H. R. (2015). Iranian EFL Learners and Teachers Sensory Preferences and the Learners Speaking Ability. International Journal of English Language Education, 3(2), 14. doi:10.5296/ijele.v3i2.7627

 

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Are You a Visual or a Verbal Learner?

The presentation of information can often be more impactful than the content itself and is directly instrumental in its retention. During instruction and practice, students employ various learning styles. The term “learning styles” refers to the idea that different modes of instruction are more effective for different people. There are several different learning styles. If we take the way people receive information as a criterion, we have three common categories of learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. However, the most frequently used distinction is between visual and auditory (verbal), as those are the modes of instruction most commonly employed in schools. We shall address kinesthetic learning in future articles. The goal of this current article is to help you find out if you are a visual or a verbal learner.

What would you say if somebody asked you, Which presentation style do you prefer – pictures or words? By understanding what kind of learner (visual or a verbal learner) you are, you can gain a better perspective on how to implement these learning styles into your study techniques [1, 7].

Visual learners

I often think in mental pictures or images.

My powers of imagination are higher than average.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

If you agree with these statements, there’s a good chance you’re a visual learner [6].

Some students remember best what they see, so they prefer pictures, diagrams, flow charts, time lines, films, and demonstrations to access and understand new information. Sometimes they have trouble learning information presented through words. It is more effective for everyone to absorb information when it is presented both visually and verbally, but what if the lectures consist of speech only [3]?

Here are a few ways to help yourself if you are a visual learner:

  1. If the course material is predominantly verbal, try to find diagrams, schematics, photographs, flow charts, or any other visual representation. If you can’t find anything, try to make your own.
  2. Find videotapes, CDs, Youtube videos, or video podcasts about course material. You can ask your teacher to help you or consult a reference book.
  3. Make a concept map where you’ll list key points, enclose them in boxes or circles, and draw lines with arrows between concepts to show connections.
  4. Color-code your notes with a highlighter. You can choose different criteria for this – for example, everything related to one topic could be yellow. Stickers in different colors are also a great way to present the material so it suits you better.

Verbal learners

I can`t imagine thinking in terms of mental pictures.

I prefer to read instructions on how to do something rather than have someone show me.

I have better than average fluency in using words.

Do you think like this? Do you consider yourself a verbal learner [6]?

It seems that there are people who study better when the information is presented through words, by reading or listening. They prefer written or spoken explanations [3]. If this describes you and you’re struggling with learning or recalling the material, try these tips to make it easier for yourself:

  1. Write summaries or outlines of course material in your own words. By adapting the material, you will understand it better and could save yourself some time in the long run.
  2. Working in groups can be effective: you gain understanding of material by hearing classmates’ explanations and you learn even more when you do the explaining. Also, you don’t have to choose between friends and studying. You can have both!

If you are interested in knowing more about balancing between these two, read our article Balancing Homework And Friends After School [5].

  1. Use repetition as a study technique. It is most effective when there’s a short time interval between repetitions at the beginning and then you prolong it every time you successfully remember the lesson.
  2. Make associations of words or information that are hard to remember. For example, you can use some song lyrics as a memorization tool and link them with that information. This could be fun!

Why is it important?

Students who recognize their learning strengths (and limitations) have an advantage over those who don’t. They know how to help themselves, and when and how to seek help. Learning styles may affect learning and eventual outcomes [6]. Since teachers can`t take care of every individual’s needs and preferences, it helps if you know your own strengths. For example, although most students are visual learners, students in most college classes mainly listen to lectures and read material written on chalkboards and in textbooks and handouts. In that case, you can study the content using your preferred learning style, so that it is easier for you to understand and remember [3, 4].

Learning styles continuum

People sometimes think that you are either a visual or a verbal learner, but it’s more of a spectrum. The best way to understand this is to imagine it as a continuum, a line where on the left is 100% verbal learner and on the right is 100% visual learner. The trick is that neither one of them exist in real life – everyone is a combination of not only those two but many different learning styles [2].

What characterizes good learners is that they are capable of processing information presented either visually or verbally. This means you can enhance all your skills, not only your strengths!

As already mentioned, visual and verbal are not the only learning modes. People usually think in terms of visual and verbal learning styles only, so kinesthetic learners can be unfairly neglected. If you want to learn about kinesthetic and other types of learning styles, stay tuned – some of the following articles will deal with them.

Actively engaging in your education by understanding your learning preferences and supplementing material not presented in your preferred learning style will help you attain and retain the information you need to remember. If this is difficult for you, we have coaches and tutors who can help you assess and enhance your strengths, so you can be successful in any learning environment.

References:

[1] Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Should we be using learning styles? What research has to say to practice., Learning and Skills Research Centre, London.

[2] Felder, R. (2011, March 25). Richard Felder on learning styles [Audio blog post]. Retrieved February 24, 2018, from http://onteachingonline.com/oto-4-richard-felder-on-learning-styles/

[3] Felder, R. M., & Soloman, B. A. (n.d.). Learning Styles and Strategies. Retrieved February 24, 2018, from http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/ILSdir/styles.htm

[4] Franzoni, A. L., Assar, S., Defude, B., & Rojas, J. (2008, July). Student learning styles adaptation method based on teaching strategies and electronic media. In Advanced Learning Technologies, 2008. ICALT’08. Eighth IEEE International Conference on (pp. 778-782). IEEE.

[5] Jegdic, J. (2017, September 25). Retrieved from https://nobelcoaching.com/balance-homework-friends/

[6] Kirby, J. R., Moore, P. J., & Schofield, N. J. (1988). Verbal and visual learning styles. Contemporary Educational Psychology,13(2), 169-184. doi:10.1016/0361-476x(88)90017-3

[7] Pashler, H., Mcdaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning Styles. Psychological Science in the Public Interest,9(3), 105-119. doi:10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x

 

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Benefits and Risks of Social Media

Children nowadays have a way of connecting and interacting continuously with friends. They use various electronic gadgets, play games with people from other countries, have live face-to-face conversations via Skype, etc. It’s hard to even imagine a childhood without the internet and social media.

In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015, 89% of teenagers reported using at least one social media site such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. At that time, the most popular was Facebook, with 71% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 reported using it [1]. In a more recent study conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in December of 2016, Instagram and Snapchat led, with about 75% of teens reported using them, while Facebook usage declined slightly to 66%. However, the use of social media in general was on the rise, as 94% of teens age 13-17 reported using them [2].

 

Benefits of Social Media

1. Making Social Connections

Social media provide a convenient way for children to connect with their peers and keep in touch with friends they already spend time within the offline world. This mutual, constant availability can lead to the strengthening of these relationships – they have someone they can share their problems with and ask for advice, or just chat with if they’re feeling bored. Furthermore, they use social media to explore their interests and connect with their community, which helps them further develop existing relationships with like-minded peers. Researchers from the Netherlands found that children between the ages of 11 and 14 who use social media report a higher level of friendship quality. Even though this study focused on their version of Facebook, authors believe their findings can be generalized to users of other social media beyond the Netherlands [3].

Social media also makes it easier for children to make new friends, as they don’t have to deal with the stress that comes from meeting new people face-to-face. For example, they don’t have to worry about being faced with an awkward silence when they feel pressure to speak but aren’t quite sure what they should say next. Texting doesn’t always require an immediate response, so children with less confidence in their social skills can take the time to come up with an adequate answer and reply with less pressure than in a face-to-face situation. In a longitudinal study, researchers concluded that instant messaging increases the quality of existing friendships because adolescents feel less inhibited and disclose their inner thoughts and feelings to one another earlier on, which enhances the relationship [4].

One of the undisputable benefits of social media is the ability to overcome geographical barriers. Using social media to keep in touch with friends who live in a different city, state, or country is a great way of ensuring a relationship doesn’t suffer because of distance. Two kids from Argentina and Iceland can communicate online just as easily as two kids who live in the same neighborhood. And, social media can help bring together diverse groups of children. Having contact and communicating with children of a diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious background can be the key to developing tolerance and respect for different groups of people.

2. A Helpful Tool for Dealing with Problems

There are many ways in which children can communicate online while staying anonymous, i.e. joining Reddit. Shy children, who often feel socially awkward, might use this controlled environment to express themselves and speak their mind without the fear of negative offline consequences or of being stigmatized. This gradually leads to the development of higher self-esteem. On social media, it’s easier to find someone who’s got the same problems and with whom one can talk and be listened to. Reading about the experiences of children who are dealing with the same issues as you are is an invaluable basis for evaluating your own problems.

The internet in general is a place where children can easily access online information about their health concerns, or, for example, a proper diet. Health resources are increasingly available to youth online, but social media can provide even more health information, as users share medical information online with each other [5, 6]. Also, children with chronic illnesses can join supportive networks of people with similar conditions. People with diabetes, for example, often create online communities, which allows them to connect to one another and to members of the healthcare community [7].

3. A Useful Resource in Education

Students often use social media to share information about school assignments, as well as to organize their time in accordance with their homework. Facebook groups, for example, present a common mode of communication and for the exchange of ideas. There are even schools that embrace social media as a teaching tool and find that it’s a necessary resource in education. However, there are some disadvantages when it comes to using technology and social media in the context of education. If you want to learn more about that as well as how children can best use the internet for their educational benefit, you should take a look at our article on this topic.

 

Potential Risks of Social Media

1. Social Media Addiction

All those likes, comments, pictures, texts, etc. can be overwhelming for children. As previously noted, children can reap many benefits from social media, especially in the area of socialization. On the other hand, constantly being online and on-call for friends can inevitably lead to sleep deprivation, which can cause further problems. It’s important not to become dependent on quick replies and a blizzard of instant messaging. If children are spending all that time on social media they’re probably neglecting other commitments at home and school. This also leaves them with less time for those necessary and irreplaceable face-to-face interactions with others.

2. The Burden of Comparisons with  Idealized Depictions of Others

Despite the upside of having a large amount of information available online regarding health and other issues, there’s clearly a downside. Much of what children might see on social media is a calculated and idealized picture someone is trying to present. Most people don’t post photos of themselves on Instagram when they’re sad or angry. You usually only see happy moments, such as them enjoying a party, or going to the movies with lots of friends, which seems to suggest they have a perfect, worry-free life. When children see the idealized life someone they follow on social media appears to be leading, they might ask, “What am I doing wrong?” and “Why is my life not like that?”, and feel like failures.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that it’s not hard to stumble upon complete disinformation online regarding an issue that’s important to children. Sometimes it’s challenging for even the most experienced users to tell if a source is accurate or if there’s a hidden agenda behind the information.

3. The Dangers of Disinhibition and Cyberbullying

Improper use of social media and a lack of restraint in online interactions can lead to the development of behavior patterns that aren’t commonly a part of life in the offline world. Anonymity is a two-edged sword. On one hand, it can help children overcome shyness and social anxiety, but it can also stimulate unwanted reactions, such as hostile or aggressive online behavior, potentially lead to cyberbullying. Bullying and cyberbullying have some elements in common, such as aggression, power imbalance, and the repetition of this type of behavior [8]. Researchers believe we should look at these two as distinct phenomena. Someone who is cyberbullying doesn’t have to be physically stronger than the victim, and usually doesn’t get to see the effect his or her behavior had on the victim. Another difference is in accessibility of the victim. Whereas bullying mostly happens at school, cyberbullying can be engaged in at any time and reach a much wider audience, which makes it potentially even more dangerous [8].

4. Invasion of Privacy

From the moment children start using social media and spending time on the internet, they start making a digital footprint. This can have ramifications for their future personal or professional life. One part of the problem is sharing too much information, which can be used by advertisers or third parties. About 90% of boys and girls share their real names and photos of themselves on social media. Most of them also share their birthdate, interests, city where they live, school name, etc. [9] We’re also witnessing people revealing personal information on Facebook posts, sharing their personal photos on Instagram daily, or indicating their political views on Twitter.

Besides the negative consequences of posting too much information about themselves online, potential threats for children also include security attacks such as hacking, malware, or even identity theft. A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that internet users are able to answer fewer than half of the questions when asked about their knowledge of cybersecurity [10]. Although this research was conducted on adults, we have no reason to believe children would be any more informed. This makes children vulnerable to scams and invasions of privacy, especially if they didn’t get adequate education on these topics.

 

What Can Parents Do?

Let’s face it – most children nowadays can’t imagine life without the internet. As we’ve seen, social media is a helpful tool in many aspects of children’s lives, when used properly. On the other hand, if used recklessly, they can cause more harm than good. With this in mind, we’ll now go over a couple of practices that can help parents ensure their children use social media to their advantage.

– If your children are spending too much time on Facebook or another social media app, you should help them find some other activity to fill in their time. Try talking to them and seeing if they’re interested in taking up a hobby, or a sport.

– Try to set an example for your children and don’t use your cell phone too often. As a matter of fact, don’t use it at all in front of them, especially not for endlessly scrolling through social media, reading the news, etc. Use the free time you have together to connect and bond. Make a rule for everyone in your household – for example, that no one should use their phone during a meal or while having family time in the living room [11]. This will help them realize that the outside world is more important than the online one, and hopefully, they’ll understand that they aren’t going to miss anything important if they don’t reply to a text message right away.

Don’t invade their privacy! One study suggests it may not be the best strategy to intervene in your children’s use of social media [12]. A better approach for children’s online safety implies not necessarily intervening, but mediating their online behavior. For example, you should occasionally monitor the information they post online and talk to them about it, but you shouldn’t read their private conversations or use parental monitoring software to block content that contains online risks. If you merely reduce their exposure to online risks, they won’t be able to learn how to effectively cope with them. The suggested approach is to provide children with more autonomy to take risks, as well as for parents to take corrective action to mitigate those risks [12].

– Make sure you help your children learn not to evaluate themselves in comparison with an idealized image someone presented on social media. Let them know that they should be what they feel and think they should be, and not be driven by their perception of unrealistic depictions of others.

– You should suggest your children make their profiles private on social media such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, so that their posts are only visible to their friends. Educate your children to cautiously and more securely access the online world. Think about enrolling them in one of the many interesting upcoming projects here at Nobel, such as the one concerned with teaching children about networking, firewalls, ports & internet security, etc.

 

References:

1. Lenhart, A., Duggan, M., Perrin, A., Stepler, R., Rainie, H., & Parker, K. (2015). Teens, social media & technology overview 2015 (pp. 04-09). Pew Research Center [Internet & American Life Project].

2. http://www.apnorc.org/projects/Pages/Instagram-and-Snapchat-are-Most-Popular-Social-Networks-for-Teens.aspx

3. Antheunis, M. L., Schouten, A. P., & Krahmer, E. (2016). The role of social networking sites in early adolescents’ social lives. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 36(3), 348-371.

4. Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2009). The effects of instant messaging on the quality of adolescents’ existing friendships: A longitudinal study. Journal of Communication, 59(1), 79-97.

5. O’Keeffe, G. S., & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011). The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Pediatrics, 127(4), 800-804.

6. Moorhead, S. A., Hazlett, D. E., Harrison, L., Carroll, J. K., Irwin, A., & Hoving, C. (2013). A new dimension of health care: systematic review of the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication. Journal of medical Internet research, 15(4).

7. Cotter, A. P., Durant, N., Agne, A. A., & Cherrington, A. L. (2014). Internet interventions to support lifestyle modification for diabetes management: a systematic review of the evidence. Journal of Diabetes and its Complications, 28(2), 243-251.

8. Kowalski, R. M., Giumetti, G. W., Schroeder, A. N., & Lattanner, M. R. (2014). Bullying in the digital age: A critical review and meta-analysis of cyberbullying research among youth.

9. http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/05/21/what-teens-share-on-social-media/

10. http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/03/22/what-the-public-knows-about-cybersecurity/

11. https://childmind.org/article/how-using-social-media-affects-teenagers/

12. Wisniewski, P., Jia, H., Xu, H., Rosson, M. B., & Carroll, J. M. (2015, February). Preventative vs. reactive: How parental mediation influences teens’ social media privacy behaviors. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 302-316). ACM.

 

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Extracurricular activities – how (many) to choose?

The Romans had a saying – Mens sana in corpore sano – a healthy mind in a healthy body. And they practiced what they preached. In ancient Rome and Greece, it was expected that students not only give their all in philosophy and mathematics; they were similarly required to practice gymnastics – what we would now call “athletics”.

Nowadays, we tend to have a different view of what’s necessary for an adolescent. We often expect them to figure out their own particular interest or vocation and to channel their energies exclusively into that one thing.

However, attitudes are changing.  We’re beginning to acknowledge that adolescents need more than one narrow focus and we’re encouraging their participation in extracurricular activities. And that’s a good start towards fostering a multi-oriented young person with a wide variety of interests and skills.

Unfortunately, society dictates a lot of the choices adolescents have. There are certain labels that, once established, can be very difficult to shake off. We have “jocks”, “nerds”, “cheerleaders”, etc., – and their peers (and adults alike) tend to see them as one-dimensional. For that reason, “nerds” will go for chess club rather than trying out for the football team where they might not be easily accepted. But why shouldn’t a young person who has both the interest and skills go out for both – as unlikely a combination as that might appear to some? It’s up to us to encourage them and teach them that it’s okay to do well academically and be a good athlete at the same time.  Not only is it okay, it’s very good for both their mental and physical well-being!

So, how do we recognize which extracurricular activity is right for a particular adolescent?

Here’s some questions whose answers might offer a solution to that dilemma

1. What is your child interested in?

Even though adolescents spend a lot of time with their friends, parents have obviously been with them far longer. They’ve watched them grow up, playing with the same toys for hours and begging for that soccer ball until they finally got it. You are clearly the ones who can best try to answer this question – what is it that always interested my child? Sometimes, girls will be interested in new technologies and dream of becoming a programmer or a game developer. But once they enter high school, they’re told that it’s a man’s field and they might be encouraged to go for soft skills instead. The same goes for boys and, say, dancing. But if these kids had spent years practicing different programming languages or dancing in their room, you should talk to them about it and try to convince them to pursue their passion by joining a computer club or a dance troupe. Just make sure to be as objective as possible. Try to remember those early occasions when your child asked you for something, not when you bought it for them without asking first. It’s important (and not always easy) to distinguish between your child’s and your own interests, as parents often see themselves reflected in their children.

Extracurricular activities shouldn’t be there to fill in their free time with just anything – they should offer children a unique chance to develop, to find something they are passionate about and, who knows, maybe make a living out of one day. Adolescents who work at something they’re interested in and motivated by tend to have more success in that field than their peers, as well as being happier and more fulfilled. [2]

2. What are they good at?

Another important thing to consider is not only what children like, but also what they seem to be talented at. If they choose to engage in activities they already have a gift for, it will significantly elevate their fragile self-esteem. [1] Adolescence is a time when it’s important to develop a sense of self and confidence, and for most, years will pass before they master this. So being very good at something and having the opportunity to prove oneself might be extremely beneficial. That being said, the chosen activity should still be sufficiently challenging – they might not enjoy “easy wins”.

Now, if what interests them and what they are good at are one and the same, they’ll have the perfect extracurricular activity. But what if it’s not one and the same? What comes first? Should they choose what interests them or what they’re good at?

Well, there’s no reason to choose. There’s nothing wrong with participating in several organized activities in one’s free time.  And when they’re involved in more than one extracurricular activity, adolescents tend to like school more and do better academically than their peers who only follow one. [3]

3. Do they enjoy socializing or are they shy?

So far I’ve been arguing that extracurricular activities should be tailored to the child’s interests, but there’s definitely more to it. Different activities offer different possibilities, and if they choose the right one, children can develop all sorts of skills. For example, if an adolescent prefers doing things alone – not because they are shy, but because it’s simply their preference – joining a math club or chess club may be the right thing to do. However, if you’ve noticed that your child wants to socialize but feels too shy to attempt it, a team sport could help them enormously. Of course, it might be difficult in the beginning. Trying new things usually is. But as time goes by, spending hours of their free time in a structured environment with their peers learning responsibilities and team spirit will start reaping benefits, and you’ll soon see them turn from shy to sociable.

4. What are their priorities?

It’s good to encourage adolescents to try many different things. But occasionally, you’ll find children who’ve been obsessed with a only one activity since their earliest years. They may see themselves only as dancers, or actors, or game developers, and they focus all their efforts on becoming better at that one particular thing. In that case, it’s okay to remind them there are other activities out there, not just drama or computer club. It is up to them to decide whether they’ll give them a try or not, though. If they identify strongly with the activity they’ve chosen, they might see other activities as a waste of the time they’d rather be spending practicing what they enjoy most. [3] However, bear in mind there are certain caveats here. If their action-of-choice is a physical thing, such as football or dancing, go for it! But if the activity they’ve chosen is sedentary, it might affect their physical and mental health negatively. Since most school activities are done while sitting down, going to a computer club just to sit some more could carry certain health risks. This is why it would be good to encourage them to practice a variety of extracurricular activities. [4]

Mixing it is best!

Adolescents need to be stimulated both in terms of learning and physical development. Their brains and bodies alike are undergoing a lot of changes that are sometimes confusing and not easily understood. It definitely helps if they can hold on to something throughout these changes.

School tends to focus on academic achievement, be it through math, languages, or science. That’s far from a bad thing, but it’s not enough for a developing young person. And even though they have the opportunity to practice PE, its benefits are easily diminished by the overwhelming amount of time spent sitting, studying, and doing homework. So, if your child wants to only do things related to athletics outside of their school time, it’s okay. School will deal with their knowledge and learning habits, and athletics will help with that, too.  Children who engage in physical activities such as sports or dance have shown greater liking for school and enhanced learning ability, probably because physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, making it more active and alert, which positively influences their attention. [4]

What are their choices?

Up until now, I’ve been separating extracurricular activities only into academic and athletic, but there are at least two more types of activities a child might want to try – performance arts and prosocial activities. If they are interested in performance arts, they might want to join a school band or a drama club, for example. The children who will go for these are usually those who enjoy being in front of the audience, but shy children can benefit from participation as well; performing is good practice for the future, as they may one day be required to give a speech or hold a presentation. And there’s the added benefit of the built-in socializing factor that goes along with it. Just keep in mind that it’s up to you to encourage your child to try something, but in the end it’s up to them whether they feel comfortable enough to do it.

Finally, we have the so-called prosocial activities –  the one most commonly practiced being volunteering. This one is very important, as doing something for the community helps an adolescent feel more a part of things and gives them a sense of belonging. Not only that, they become part of a social network of both peers and adults who could potentially give them useful advice and teach them new things.

The important thing is that all of these activities have a lot of pros – they all lead to better grades and a higher college attendance, while prosocial activities and performing arts also help prevent potentially risky behaviors. Now, I’ve mentioned previously something along the lines of “the more, the merrier”- but there’s a limit to that. So where do we draw the line? At what point do we tell them they’re putting too much pressure on themselves? How many activities are enough and how many are too much?

Magical number 5-19

Different cultures have different expectations for their children. In Europe, students are expected to have high grades, while volunteering is looked upon as a plus. Anything above that is a bonus, but not necessary for success. In many countries in Asia, they have a different outlook. From a very early age, children take on piano lessons, English classes, swimming, baseball, art… And that’s just for one child. Children who have too many responsibilities and too little free time growing up tend to be very stressed-out, not only as adolescents but also later in life. However, children who have few commitments and challenges during their school days also tend to be under a lot of stress once they get a job and responsibilities, since they’re not used to the pressure and not well equipped to deal with it. So what’s the solution? Moderation. Children whose parents’ expectations for them are moderate tend to go on to lead more fulfilling, healthy lives while still managing to succeed in their chosen area.

But what exactly constitutes “moderate”?

It’s been shown that adolescents who spend between five and nineteen hours a week doing extracurricular activities are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Anything above nineteen hours has either no effect or a negative one, as it leads to adolescents being under too much pressure and resorting to risky behaviors to try to find a way out of anxiety or depression. [3]

So, what can we conclude?

Encourage your children to try different things. If they are shy, a performance art might help them. If they feel like what they love doesn’t fit their perceived role in society, urge them not to give up on their passion. If they are only interested in academic or prosocial activities, help them fit a physical activity into their schedule. If you’re not sure what they are interested in, feel free to recommend them one you’re interested in or have experience with, as long as you don’t push it on them. It will give you some extra time with your teen that they might otherwise prefer to spend with their peers.

And last, but not least – don’t let them over-commit themselves. They still need some unstructured, free time with their peers or alone.

by Jelena Jegdić

References:

  1. Eccles, J.S. (2003).  Extracurricular activities and adolescent development. Journal of social issues, Vol. 59, No. 4, 2003, pp. 856-889
  2. Holland, A. & Andre, T. (1987). The Effects of Participation in Extracurricular Activities in Secondary School: What Is Known, What Needs To Be Known
  3. Farb, A.F., Matjasko, J. (2005). The role of school-based extracurricular activities in adolescent development. Review of educational research.
  4. Biddle, S. J. H., & Asare, M. (2011). Physical activity and mental health in children and adolescents: A review of reviews. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 45, 886-895 doi:10.1136/bjsports-2011-090185

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Where Do Bad Grades Come From

Long before they start school, children are given feedback on how they are doing in the form of stars, bows, stickers, and other tangible rewards. These are not only reinforcing for the child, but also for their parents. Once school begins, many parents assume that grades (whether expressed by numbers, letters, or smiles) are a good indicator of their children’s knowledge.

“You were great! You get an A!”

“You get five stars for reciting the poem!”

Consequently, when a child brings a test back home, parents will commonly remark solely on the grade itself: “Why did you get a C?” or, if the grade measures up to what the parents consider good enough: “Wow! You got a B+ on your test, I’m so proud of you!
Bad grades alarm most parents, concerned that something “isn’t right”. To them, this usually means that the child is lazy, that they procrastinate, that their “attention is poor”, and so on.
Once you consult with professionals, you’ll see that they rarely rush into giving you a definitive answer as to the source of the problem.
This article aims to address some of the most common reasons for bad grades. Think of it as a “checklist” to direct your attention into exploring the possible issues that, when resolved, might help the student achieve better results.

They can’t or won’t study?

If there is a line between “can’t” and won’t”, ability and motivation, it is very thin. The two are often intertwined. Recognizing what comes first – difficulty with handling a task or a lack of willingness to do it – is a very important step for those working with the student.

Abilities – Reasons why they “can’t”

Cognitive abilities

Let’s start with abilities. Parents, unaware of an underlying problem, often push their children to succeed and exacerbate things by frustrating the child with demands the child can’t fulfill. It is important to assess whether the child’s cognitive status, their “intelligence”, is equal to the task. If there is a suspicion that the issue is the child’s intellectual ability, it’s necessary to contact a psychologist, who can determine, through testing, exactly what  “isn’t working” in the way the child thinks. After assessing the problem, the psychologist then designs a plan to work with the child. Other abilities we need to pay attention to are the student’s hearing and vision. You want to make sure there are no sensory problems causing the learning difficulties.

Attention problems

Cognitive-abilities testing also encompasses attention issues, with subtests specifically designed to gauge attention deficit. Frequently, a child simply gets distracted because the material isn’t interesting, engaging, and stimulating enough, not because they haven’t learned how to focus their attention. With gifted children, especially, it’s quite common to confuse a lack of interest for attention issues.
However, for some students, directing attention and maintaining focus is more difficult. Their brains just function differently. That’s why, if you see that no matter how much you try helping your child focus, and no matter how hard they are trying, nothing seems to really work, make sure you have them tested for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD).

This, of course, does not mean that once the student is diagnosed and gets treatment and begins focusing better, we should give up exploring how engaging the material and how difficult the task may be for them.  ADHD/ADD can often go together with various learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, dysgraphia or dyscalculia, as well as with students who are very interested and gifted in specific subjects and lacking interest in others.

Speech and language development

Speech therapists assert that reading and writing problems are rooted in earlier phases of speech and language development. Being able to differentiate the sounds that constitute a word or having sufficient vocabulary are both prerequisites for acquiring reading and writing skills. If your student has had problems with speech development, a consultation with a speech therapist is recommended.

There are also cases where the child’s abilities aren’t in question. The problem with grades is masking another problem.

Reasons why they won’t

Attention seeking (due to concerns at home)

Given that parents value and care about academic performance, a perceptive child can use their concern for bad grades as a means of manipulation to achieve a personal goal. This is not to imply something “bad” or “negative”. For instance, the child may figure out that a bad grade can divert a busy parent into dedicating more time and attention to what’s going on with them and help with homework even if that help is not actually needed.  For those children who feel uncomfortable communicating their need to spend more time with their parents, getting bad grades “on purpose” can be an effective strategy.

Bad grades can, in some cases, be seen as a symptom of challenges within the family. Family therapists have many times described examples where “helping the child with motivation” serves as a common goal for parents to work on together when the student sees the parents going through tough times in their marriage. The student offers the problem to help change the family dynamics. This is not to say that bad grades are caused by inadequate parenting. It says that to understand where bad grades come from, the dynamic within the family should be addressed and better understood.

The subject, the teachers, the peers

When we talk about a student’s motivation, it’s important to consider whether the student is not getting good grades in all their classes or only in specific ones. Some classes might just not “suit” the student’s skills and interests in a way that motivates them to push harder. They might see a class as boring and not worth the effort. Try exploring with the student: “If there was anything that could make Math fun, what would that be?” or “If you had a chance to transform your Language Arts class, how would you do it?”

The student-teacher relationship is also an important factor to consider.  Teachers play a major role in sparking a student’s interest in a subject and we need to learn the student’s opinion of the teacher in a class where they’re not performing well.   Another question worth asking is: “Who’s in your class?” Just imagine a teenage boy in the same class with a girl he really likes, and you’ll get the idea about why this is a good question.

The “I don’t care about grades” approach

Sometimes, when asked why they don’t want to try to do better in school, the student will just shrug, “I’m lazy and I don’t want to do it.” This can leave the parents frustrated and feeling helpless. How can you support a kid who does not want any support?
That is precisely the right kind of challenge for Coaches. We unpack “the box” of behaviors that the label “lazy” has been put on.
We look carefully into the meaning of all of those behaviors headed “lazy”. Perhaps the child isn’t used to doing something that demands more work and did all their previous tasks with ease (or the tasks were too easy and this is the first time they’re being faced with something that requires more effort). It may be that the student does not connect grades to any tangible goal they might have for themselves in the future. It might be that they feel better “saving” their energy for something with more meaning to them. In some cases, it’s easier not to try and call yourself “lazy”, than try, not succeed, and call yourself “a failure”.

The “good grades aren’t cool” approach

Are bad grades perceived as socially acceptable? “Cool”? For a student trying to fit in, academic performance can sometimes not count as much as being on the basketball team or having an amazingly cool shirt. So good grades can be “sacrificed” for the sake of different positioning within the social group.
How to deal with this challenge? We need to understand why it is so important for the student to fit into a specific group and why they see that as more significant than getting good grades.

Stage fright and other fears

There are cases where it’s not that the student doesn’t care about the grades but actually cares too much. So, when they “practice” at home, they achieve great results but have problems when it comes to presenting what they’ve learned. Tests, quizzes, exams, and other ways of assessing knowledge can be a great source of stress for children. Children, like adults, often suffer from stage fright and don’t perform at their best. If this ends up being a problem, the child should work on their fears with a professional Coach, who can help them identify key triggers and the source of those triggers. By reaching a deeper understanding of why the fear exists, the student and the Coach can come up with better ways to cope with it in a more functional way.

Where bad grades come from is a complex question to which the answers never come easily. Sometimes, we become so focused on what we perceive as a problem, that we miss the solution – or too focused on what we think is the solution, that we misunderstand the problem.
And given the emotional investment and attachment to their child, it makes it all the more difficult for parents to approach the problem in a way that would truly help.

That is why it is a good idea to consult with people who can help provide your student with the best possible support.

We have tried to outline the most common “roots” for bad grades. Bear in mind that this article cannot cover each issue in detail. That’s why we welcome your questions. We’ll be happy to answer them.

If you have any questions about your children’s bad grades, you’ve come to the right place!

Schedule a FREE CONSULTATION with one of our Coaches:

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by Ana Jovanović

The Growth Mindset – The Power Of Yet

One of the more talked-about topics in psychology and especially in educational psychology is Carol Dweck’s idea of the “growth mindset”, a concept she discusses in her book Mindset: The new psychology of success. Growth mindset isn’t something that Dweck invented and is now teaching us all how to attain. It is a distinctive trait she observed in people who are happier and more successful, which led her to seek ways to help develop and nurture it in people who do not share this predisposition.

So what actually is growth mindset?

While working as a young researcher, Dweck noticed that some children face challenges in a much more “positive” way than others. They would say things like “Oh, I love a challenge” or “I expected this to be informative”, instead of having tragic and catastrophic thoughts when faced with difficulties. Dweck coined the term “fixed mindset” for children who shrink before obstacles, and “growth mindset” for those who seek challenges and become even more engaged when faced with obstacles. Of course, these two mindsets apply to us all, and it is important to note that whereas we can’t have a growth mindset in every area of our lives, we sure can try to develop it.

To show what growth mindset really is, let’s try to contrast it further with the fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset think that their characteristics are carved in stone and can never be changed. They firmly believe that intelligence, creativity, and personality are things we are born with and can hardly be something we develop. People with a growth mindset believe we can cultivate these characteristics through effort and that the process of cultivating them is more important than the actual outcome. A fixed mindset, on the other hand, wants results right away and doesn’t care as much about the process as it does about the outcome. Of course, Dweck doesn’t deny that people differ from the get-go, but she claims that we can all “change and grow through application and experience” (Dweck, 2006).

Another thing that differentiates these two mindsets is how they perceive and react to failure. People with a fixed mindset are more likely to believe they can fail and that by doing so their abilities will be questioned. Just the act of hitting obstacles would prove to them that they aren’t capable of overcoming them. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, don’t really see failure as on option – obstacles are just perceived as opportunities to improve and learn, and by being faced with them and, generally something new, we get smarter.

Dweck illustrates this difference further with an interesting remark about language and how we use it to rate success. She mentions how saying “not yet” to students instead of saying they failed a class is a much better way to show them that even if they have difficulties overcoming something now, the time will come when they will succeed if they continue tackling the obstacle from different angles. The use of “yet” shows that there is a learning curve, and points to the process, not the outcome. This also tells children that they aren’t being taught to learn simply for grades, but for their future and it encourages them to dream big and think about what they want to do with their lives, instead of on focusing only on what they are currently achieving in school.

This entire idea of the power of yet and growth mindset isn’t just something Dweck came up with and wrote overnight. She (and many others) actually did research and showed time and time again that if a growth mindset is encouraged, children earn better grades and achieve better results than they did before – even better than some of their peers from much more affluent schools, which shows that growth mindset is a great path to achieving a more equal education system.
This research illustrates two important facts about growth mindset: it does work and it can be developed. It is not something we are born with.

What is a false growth mindset?

Before we dive into the exciting topic of how a growth mindset can be developed, we need to do some myth-busting. As with any other trending topic in education, it is hard nowadays to avoid the words “have to”, “need to”, and “all” when reading about growth mindset. It is often declared that we should all have to develop growth mindsets because they are just so much better, which ignores the principle behind the concept. Firstly, a growth mindset isn’t something you can just achieve overnight. It takes a lot of work and develops over time. Secondly, it isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card you can use whenever you’re faced with difficulty. Dweck points out that we are a mixture of both growth mindset and fixed mindset, and at different times and in different areas of our lives either one can predominate.

Another point she makes is that people often claim they have a growth mindset when they actually don’t or use the concept of a fixed mindset to excuse why someone is failing when the only failure is actually not providing the context in which a growth mindset can be achieved. It is also easy to think that simply by encouraging children and praising their effort, we are developing their growth mindsets. It’s a bit more complicated than that – it is not just about praising, it is about praising the right way.

So how is a growth mindset developed?

Developing a growth mindset is a complex process, but it is not unattainable and can actually serve as a great first obstacle on which to practice our mindsets.

The main point that Dweck makes is that a growth mindset is developed through praise, but not the usual after-the-fact praise which focuses on outcomes, but the praise that focuses on the process of learning. This isn’t about blanketing children in praise for any of their efforts, but about praising the strategies they used and the entire process that leads to outcomes. A simple example of this would be saying “I love how you tried all these different strategies while solving this problem until you got it” instead of saying “Great job. I knew you’d get it, you are smart!”

That example showcases another point that Dweck makes; we should praise the process, not the abilities. Praising abilities encourages the fixed mindset that these things are set in stone, which definitely doesn’t promote change or development. Rather, it makes children think that what they can do is what they can do and the same applies for what they can’t do.

Another reason why Dweck insists “it is not the outcome, it is the effort that counts” is ineffective is because it lets students believe that if they try hard enough, they will succeed no matter their strategies. In effect, it can bring them to repeat the same futile strategies over and over again. On the other hand, insisting on the process or the use of multiple strategies until the obstacle is overcome, and praising that effort, teaches them that they need to change their strategies in order solve the problem. It also shows them they can use all the resources available and ask for help when they need it.

And finally, Dweck points out that even failure should be addressed as something that enhances learning. We can ask children “What is this teaching us? What should we do next?” instead of either praising the effort or protecting them by saying things like “Don’t worry, not everyone can be good in everything. You are not the only one that failed.” In both cases, we are developing a fixed mindset and letting children know that we believe they can’t do better, while a switch in mindsets would help them achieve so much more and help them in their future lives.

If you are already thinking of implementing these ideas while raising your child, there is more encouraging news. The growth mindset isn’t something we can start developing only in early childhood, Dweck says it is never too late for change, so why not try it on yourself, too, and see how it goes.

 

If you need any kind of advice related to the Growth Mindset of your kids or teens, you’ve come to the right place!

Schedule a FREE CONSULTATION with one of our Coaches:

 

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Resources:

  1. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
  2. Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential. Constable & Robinson Limited.
  3. Dweck, C. S. (2014). Developing a Growth Mindset.
  4. Dweck, C. S. (2016). What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means.
  5. Gross-Loh, C. (2016). How Praise Became a Consolation Prize.
  6. Romero, C. (2015). What We Know About Growth Mindset from Scientific Research.