EducationEducation is not just about gaining knowledge in math, science or other subjects. Success or failure can often be determined by how students learn. In both public and private school settings, when student accomplishments are compromised by differing ways of learning, there are numerous strategies that can lead to success.
Social distractions. Lack of confidence. Poor organizational skills. These are just a few factors educators and tutors in the area acknowledge as learning hindrances. But there are ways for students to reach their full potential.
“Learning should be challenging, but fun,” says Dr. Carolyn Goodspeed of Goodspeed Learning Consultants. “We (as parents, teachers and learning consultants) need to teach students how to learn. These are strategies they can use throughout life. And the earlier they learn these skills, the better.”
While students may need help with the content of school subjects, they also need to know how to apply that information, Goodspeed explains.
“I work with them to find out if they are auditory or visual learners, then show them how to get organized, how to take notes and how to study,” she adds.
If a student is an auditory learner, common strategies for studying include reading notes out loud in order to both see and hear what they need to learn. Visual learners do well with flash cards, fill in the blank questions or creating charts, says Goodspeed.
Because the learning process is so complex, Goodspeed says parents need to understand what their child struggles with and help. For students lacking organization skills, parents can assist by putting up a calendar in plain sight so tasks and schedules are visible at all times, for example.
And while it would be difficult for teachers to add the process of learning to their syllabus, it’s still important for schools to show students how to absorb the information presented to them.
“There shouldn’t be a study skills class because that wouldn’t transfer into what they are doing in each class,” Goodspeed says. “If you’re a math teacher, you should show students what a math notebook should look like, teaching them how to organize their notes and study.”
Kristin Smith, dean of students at Faith Christian School, says students may also struggle with long-term focus and overcommitted schedules. Whether it’s a classroom lecture or a multi-step math problem, students often have difficulty remaining attentive.
“As teachers at FCS, we can help overcome the problem of focus by demonstrating problem solving processes in the classroom, walking them through examples, and then allowing students the time required to analyze and work through multi-step problems on their own,” she says.
Overcommitted schedules – both in and out of school – tend to add to the focus issue, Smith explains, as older students often feel pressure to build their college resume with extra-curricular activities such as sports and clubs.
“With so many things vying for their time and attention, students often cannot handle the juggling act and one (or sometimes more) of the balls they are juggling will drop,” she says. “We (both teachers and parents) need to encourage students not to be overcommitted and to find a healthy balance.”
In addition to learning skills, writing has become a weak area for students in Virginia, says Lindsay Stinson, center director for Sylvan Learning.
“Writing is a lot like math in the fact that you have the mechanics, formulas and rules of grammar,” she says. “Students should be able to apply the fundamentals to create something greater. Specifically speaking, I don’t feel like our students are prepared for college level writing and the use of rhetoric.”
Helping students achieve in writing – and any subject – begins with their parents.
“The biggest step a parent can make is having open communication with their students about their education and their goals. Asking the simplest questions about a school day can make the world of difference in being proactive versus reactive,” Stinson says.
Building confidence also is key to progressing towards success, says Stinson.
“If a student is feeling down, they could miss out on learning more skills,” she says. “We have kids that are afraid to raise their hands or ask questions in class. If they don’t ask questions, they aren’t getting the help they need.”
It’s important not only for teachers and tutors, but parents as well to encourage students.
“If a struggling student knows he has someone on his team cheering and supporting him, he is more likely to push through and create his own success,” says Stinson.
According to Goodspeed, Stinson and Smith, technology is a great tool to help students with the learning process.
“Technology should expand learning,” Goodspeed says. “But students also need to learn how to reason and think for themselves” instead of just turning to the Internet for a quick answer.
And while technology allows students to readily obtain information, Smith says it’s important to teach students what to do with that information.
They need to learn “to think deeply and critically, to be problem solvers that develop wisdom that will tie together the vast amount of information we now have available,” she adds.
Trouble with focusing can also come back into play because of technology.
“The problem is the amount of time spent using technology and social media and the very nature of multi-tasking while working,” Smith says. “Our students struggle to stay focused because they are constantly flipping from one thing to the next, their brains click from the research they are doing for a history paper, to the text they just received on their cell phone, to a good song on the radio, to the latest news feed on Facebook.”
“When used appropriately, technology can be extremely helpful in education,” adds Stinson. For example, students at Sylvan have the option to use iPads during their tutoring sessions, which has helped some improve their skills at a higher percentage. Through the computer program My Sylvan, parents can log on to see what their child has been working on and students can log on for extra activities based on the Sylvan program they use to further work on improving learning skills.
Communication among teachers, parents and students also leads to achieving success. Students may become more eager to learn if everyone works together on their common goal.
“Parents don’t have to drag their kids here,” Goodspeed says. “That’s how it should be at school too.” I