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Three reasons a hard-working student isn't succeeding
  • Calendar Nov 28, 2018
  • User Jared Wells
  • Category In Uncategorized
  • Comments 0 Comments

It's tough when a student is doing everything they know how, and it isn't enough.

One of the questions I ask potential instructors during our interview process is “What are some reasons that well-intentioned, hard-working students don’t see the kinds of success they think they should?” It’s an important question, because although many student who look for tutoring help come in knowing exactly what they need help with, many students come in and don’t really know why they are struggling. They feel frustrated because they are putting time and effort into their work (it’s not uncommon to hear that students are staying up until 11pm every weeknight studying/doing homework!) But while every student has unique challenges and every class and teacher is different, there are some common threads among the majority of students in this situation (and in each of these, there are some behaviors that the student can change to see improvement).

They don’t write things down

I always tell my students, instructors, and administrators that “Writing is doing” (and to be fair to them, it’s a lesson that life keeps teaching me as well!) Where does not writing things down cause problems? -A student doesn’t write their test date in their planner, and forgets about it until two days before the test, meaning they need to cram -A student doesn’t write down a step in an algebra problem, leading to a frustrating careless error, needing to re-work a problem from the beginning. Without the work shown, it’s also more difficult for the student to find the source of error. -A student doesn’t take notes on the reading, which means it’s more likely his mind wanders as he reads, leading to needing to re-read, with less retention (and more frustration). -A student doesn’t write out a plan for what each step of a project needs to be, and when each step should be done, instead thinking “I know what I need to do”. This leads to procrastination, and, in the end, a lower quality project. The common thread here is that writing is the evidence that the student fully thought through the idea (and can even be the trigger to fully think it through!) Learning to use a planner well (and even a pocket notebook like a memo pad) can be a huge benefit for students (for school and the future)

They think “I did what the teacher said to do” means “I am ready for the test”

Teachers and students frequently have a very different view of homework. Teachers look at homework as an opportunity to practice the skills being taught in class. They grade homework to a) make sure students are getting the practice they need and b) give student the opportunity to boost their grades in case tests aren’t going as well and c) help the student find the topics that they need additional practice on Students look at homework as a) a task they need to complete because their grade will drop if they don’t do it and b) their preparation for the test. Students should treat assigned work as the minimum that must be done in order to be ready for a test. For some students, for some classes, doing assigned homework is enough to do well on the test. But for students who are doing the homework and reading, and still struggling need to ask themselves (and/or teachers/parents/tutors) “What more can I do to prepare?” Some ideas include:
  1. Pre-reading

  2. Taking Cornell notes on the reading

  3. Working through problems until they can answer 5 in a row correctly without a mistake

  4. Teaching the chapter to a family member

  5. Creating a study group that meets 1-2 times per week

  6. Making a mind map of the chapter

  7. Making work maps for difficult vocabulary

and many, many more. But the most important idea is this: students should treat homework as an opportunity to find out what they don’t know, and, as Judy Garland said, practice “until you can’t get it wrong” and, if what you are doing isn’t working, try something different.

Study time is not “focus time”

Think back to a day at work when you were just unstoppable. You got so much done, you were amazed at the quantity and quality. On your way home from work, you were happy and proud of what you accomplished.  I bet that day at work, you weren’t constantly checking emails, going to meetings, or having people “drop in” to your office. Those days stick out for a lot of people, because we find ourselves constantly interrupted (or we are subconsciously seeking out interruptions!) and those interruptions cause us to get off track of our important work. Students experience exactly the same thing. If you were to watch the majority of students study, it doesn’t look like an uninterrupted flow state. What it looks like is reading for a couple of minutes, and then checking their phone/computer/getting up to get a snack/etc. It takes time to get into a groove when it comes to doing any kind of thinking work...it only takes a few seconds to knock you out of it. The key is to consciously set up a time and place that is devoid of distractions with phone put away or on airplane mode. A great option for families is the “Forest” app on ios/android. Turn it on as a group to hold each other accountable for not touching the phone for a period of time (anyone who does breaks the streak for the whole group! Schedule study time, beforehand get all materials and information ready (and all un-needed materials put away!), and commit to doing nothing but studying for the full period of time (even if it is a short period of time.) If students practice spending their time exactly as they intended, they’ll not only see their grades improve, but they’ll gain a skill that will serve them for the rest of their lives. Is your son or daughter struggling without knowing what they are doing wrong? Call us a 858.551.2650 or email at help@wellsacademics.com today to discuss how we can help!
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