Improving Academic Performance

Six Issues Tutors Must Address When Teaching Students with Autism

Posted by Morgan Bissett-Tessier on Wed, May 02, 2018 @ 09:00 AM

To nearly everyone off the spectrum, autism is an utterly baffling disorder. Autism rewires how those affected see and understand the world around them, but the severity of the disorder varies widely. Sometimes, autism manifests as a bit of social awkwardness; sometimes, it prevents those afflicted from communicating, sensing the world around them, developing fine motor skills, and worse.

Autistic students typically require special attention in educational environments — but rarely are teachers or tutors equipped to manage an autistic student’s unique needs. In some cases, a psychologist or clinically trained learning expert is appropriate, but in other cases, students with autism just need and could benefit from the expertise of an academic tutor for a given subject who is sensitive to the needs of the autistic student.

Considering that cases of autism have increased in recent years – perhaps due to a greater familiarity with the disorder – tutors should strive to equip themselves with tools to help autistic students learn. This article addresses six unique things a tutor must keep in mind when working with a student who happens to be autistic.

Students with autism often have:

  • Difficulty with Social Interaction
  • Delays in Cognitive Development
  • Differences in Sensory Perception
  • Struggles with Motor Skills
  • Trouble Focusing
  • Fear of Change

 

Difficulty with Social Interaction

Some will say that this is the most obvious aspect of autism. There is a social disconnect for people with autism, and they are unable to read the social world as the rest of us are. The social cues and body language we take for granted on a daily basis are difficult, and sometimes impossible, for autistic students to interpret.

For a tutoring relationship to be truly successful, a personal connection must be established. The best tutors will take extra time to get to know their students and connect what they’re learning to the individual’s particular interests and learning style. This can become difficult when working with an autistic student.

  1. Be clear. Don’t rely on tone, sarcasm, or body language to convey your point.
  2. Don’t be offended. People with autism don’t necessarily recognize social norms or etiquette, and they can be very blunt.
  3. Use structure & routine. Create an outline that you’ll more or less stick to for every session.
  4. People with autism are typically visual thinkers. When learning vocabulary words, write them down. When teaching math problems, try to use concrete objects to represent numbers, percentages, etc.
  5. Don’t be afraid to get to know them. Usually, autistic students have specific, intense interests. When meeting them for the first time or taking breaks, figure out what they enjoy and try to connect the lesson to these things as often as possible.

 

Delays in Cognitive Development

Oftentimes, although areas of intellectual development are strong, autistic students will struggle on varying levels with certain topics or subjects.

When teaching an autistic student new or problematic content, play to their strengths. People with autism have unique patterns of development, and quickly adapt to using their stronger skills to supplement the areas where they may be lacking developmentally (be sure to evaluate whether they’re visual-spatial, nonverbal/kinetic, or auditory learners).

 

Differences in Sensory Perception

Most of us have heard the term ‘sensory overload’. Many people on the autism spectrum experience some form of over- or under-sensitivity (sight, touch, smell, etc.), and these sensitivities can lead to anxiety, withdrawal from the present situation, and even physical pain.

Of course, as the student’s tutor, you want to make the environment as comfortable and conducive to learning as possible. Always be on the lookout for any loud noises, lights, etc. that may become an issue. Make sure you’re doing all that you can to minimize the possibility that something may be disruptive (turning your cell phone to silent, for example).

Also have a game plan and escape plan in place for when disruptions do happen. Tell the student about possible stimuli they may experience if this is a different environment for them. Open communication here is key.

 

Struggles with Motor Skills

Children with autism often experience delays in acquiring motor skills such as writing, tying shoes, running, etc., which can lead to frustrating and negative day-to-day experiences at school and in the home.

As the tutor, make sure you check in with the student’s parents beforehand. They’ll be able to fill you in on any specific motor skill deficiencies the student may be struggling with and what strategies they use for combating them. For instance, if an individual has trouble writing, they may use speech recognition software instead. It’s important to know these things beforehand and to be prepared to adjust your usual teaching methods to accommodate these modifications.

If you’re working on developing motor skills, connect the activity to something the student is interested in and take breaks often.

 

Trouble Focusing

As the tutor, you’re most likely only with a student for a limited amount of time every week; therefore, it’s important to maximize the time you have. When an autistic student is having trouble staying on task, here are a few strategies you can employ:

  1. Break content up into smaller chunks. This way, you can have the student complete one part, take a break, and then move on to the second, rather than spending 15 minutes on an entire problem.
  2. Remove distractions. Whether they’re visual, auditory, etc. remove everything that is taking away from the lesson at hand until breaktime.
  3. Use physical activity during breaks. Give the student something active & fun to do on short breaks, whether it’s bouncing on an exercise ball, playing with Play-Doh, going outdoors. This will help them stay more engaged when it’s time to get back to work.
  4. Provide rewards when tasks are completed.

 

Fear of Change

Change, especially unexpected change, causes stress and anxiety for individuals with autism. It is imperative that tutors introduce a sense of structure to sessions to provide consistency and stability. Providing a visual, written out schedule that is shown to the student at the beginning of every session will help keep things predictable.

As always, communication is necessary. Let the student know what is going to happen in this lesson and try your best not to stray from that plan. If you have an idea of what you’ll be working on in the next session (you should, by the way), tell them. For instance, if you’ll be focusing on their vocabulary skills next week, let them know that you’ll be reviewing words and their meanings for the first half of the next lesson. This way, the student knows what to expect and there are no surprises.

 

Conclusion

In recent years, the general public has become more familiar with autism and its meaning. However, there is still a lot to learn. As a tutor working with a student on the spectrum, it’s important to be prepared for their specific struggles and weaknesses, as well as to be aware of their strengths and interests. If you’re interested in pursuing a career working with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a Graduate Certificate Program is a great option.

Keep in mind the six factors explained above, and you’re well on your way to a successful and positive student-tutor relationship. 

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Tags: study skills, tutoring skills, tutoring students with autism, tutoring tips, tutoring autistic students

A Three Step Process to Essay Writing

Posted by Luis Freire on Sat, Apr 28, 2018 @ 10:00 AM

Students who partake in a college English course (most college freshmen) are under pressure to comprehend a reading, interpret a related inquiry to that reading, and produce an individually written response in return for a grade. This alone may not seem sufficient cause for a mental block, but when we consider that students often have math, science, and other course requirements to deal with simultaneously, taking the time to read critically and write a thorough essay seems difficult, if not impossible.

On top of finding time to complete assignments, the reading is often obscure in both content and author. Another complexity is getting used to an instructor's individual teaching style. It's much more likely that time constraints, content difficulty, and issues with class structure or instruction are the obstacles to performing well in English courses than any sort of personal inadequacy.

One particular technique that, in practice, may resolve all matters is to confront the assignment on a closer level.

First, closely examine the question in its entirety. Then begin to read (or re-read) the text, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph until there is a mental connection between the question and reading material. Somewhere within the pages of text and the wording of the inquiry is one, if not more, corresponding themes upon which to form the basis of a thesis along with corresponding topics and subtopics. Then you can begin to write.

The Outline

This phase of drafting is the necessary step in generating ideas and connections between the question and the reading that can be transferred directly into a standard outline. The outline serves as a mechanism for preserving the draft in all phases of composition and revision. The planning facilitated by an outline will save time, boost your grade/score, and will prove valuable in other disciplines. It is the instrument that propels the writing forward and keeps thoughts organized. In essence, the outline exists as a structure that lends itself to incorporating the writer's personal experience and understanding into a formal college essay. Here are a few good outline examples from Explorable.com.

Research

After several iterations, the outline will stabilize to the point where external sources will be required in order to develop and expand the writing beyond the limitations of the course or the student. The first place to look for informational substance is in the course itself and the discussion that emanates from class. It is the main place where crucial judgments can be made regarding what to include and what not to include in the final draft. During this phase, make good use of your college library; it is replete with a variety of publications and librarians who can offer useful advice on how to navigate the seemingly endless supply of research articles, publications, and textbooks.  

Reassessing the Writing

As a final step in the drafting process, it may be worthwhile to read the assigned text once again, followed by reading the written response to the text soon thereafter. Although tedious and time-consuming, it could serve a dual purpose. First, to realign the student’s work with the textual source, and, secondly, to initiate a proofreading phase which could provide further motivation to identify and eliminate any lingering syntactical, grammatical, or thematic inconsistencies. The greater the number of intermediary steps preceding the final draft, the stronger and more transparent the conveyance of argument will be.

In conclusion, it's important to examine the question closely and establish connections between it and the required reading while you are reading (and re-reading) the text. Next, it's necessary to build an outline to organize your ideas and keep yourself focused on the prompt. This is an especially important skill that will carry over into other undergraduate and graduate courses. 

Research is another essential aspect of your writing, in all collegiate courses. Make use of the resources available to you (online databases, librarians) to make this a much less daunting experience. Always leave time for editing and redrafting, to make sure that the final result is polished and cohesive.

About the Author

Luis Freire has been an English and writing tutor for the past 10 years. For more information on tutoring, click here.

 

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Tags: study skills, writing an essay, college essay writing advice, college essays, improve academic performance, college prep

How a College Mindset Will Make You a Better College Candidate

Posted by Mike S. on Wed, Apr 11, 2018 @ 09:00 AM

Many high-schoolers picture big lecture halls and pulling all-nighters with a pile of books in the library when the term college academics comes up. The fact of the matter is that few high schoolers have any idea what to expect from college, and end up pretty shocked for most of the first semester.

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Tags: test prep strategies, study skills, applying to college, improve academic performance, college prep

The Art of Reviewing: Three Steps for Studying Meaningfully

Posted by Mike S. on Fri, Mar 16, 2018 @ 10:10 AM

The most typical way people study for a standardized test — be that the SAT in high school or the GMAT long after — consists of solving practice problems, solving more practice problems, and then taking a practice test.

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Tags: test prep strategies, study skills, improve academic performance

Gamifying the Classroom to Improve Academic Performance

Posted by Rachael Tom, ThinkFun Inc. on Fri, Mar 02, 2018 @ 09:14 AM

Gamification is one way teachers are getting students to pay attention. Because no one student is exactly the same, a number of different teaching styles and methods have been developed – this includes applying game dynamics, mechanics, and frameworks into the classroom. 

Although there have been a number of studies on how gamifying non-game settings impacts students, one result is clear: gamification can make learning more fun and memorable. The three main points of gamification have been identified as motivational ‘affordances’ (the opportunities the actual activities give the subject or the mechanics of the game), the psychological outcome (the resultant change in feeling about an activity during and after the activity), and the behavioral outcome (the change in behavior following the gamified activity). Lee Sheldon, an Assistant Professor at Indiana University at Bloomington reported that his application of gamification in the classroom was a success. He renamed student presentations “quests,” taking tests were “fighting monsters,” writing papers were “crafting,” and letter grades were “experience points.” As a result, Sheldon found that his students’ average grade improved one full letter grade.

One analysis on gamification found that the four dynamics and concepts found in game design that were most successful in motivating students to learn were -

 

  • Freedom to Fail: Rather than focusing on an irreversible final grade, students are encouraged to experiment and take academic risks through the concept of having multiple “lives” or allowing them to start over from their most recent “checkpoint.” This gives students to opportunity to take chances with decision-making and be exposed to consequences. Students can then focus on the process of learning, instead of just their final grade.
  • Rapid Feedback: Similarly to a game, continual feedback to learners can also motivate students. Battling a boss in a game using the many skills acquired provides immediate feedback to the player on whether or not they qualify for the next level. This can be achieved in the classroom through self-paced exercises, visual cues, frequent question-and-answer activities, a progress bar, or carefully placed comments by non-player characters.
  • Progression: Categorizing information to improve student focus mirrors the ‘levels’ found in game design. Additionally, creating high low points to grab attention also mimics the interest curve students may experience when playing a game. Progression also includes requiring students to incorporate lower order thinking skills into the first stages of a class and then progressing to require higher order thinking skills as they ‘level’ up. This helps students realize they need the knowledge acquired from past stages in order to arrive at the highest order thinking skills.
  • Storytelling: There have been numerous studies on how using storytelling elements can increase student attention and retention of information. Storytelling elements include the use of characters, emotion, and other descriptors to help students visualize a lesson. By creating moments of surprise or humor, for example, students are more likely to be captivated and remember the lecture.

Several successful cases of gamifying the classroom have been reported in recent years.

One case is of Clifford Lampe, an Assistant Professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan. He applies gamification to his 200-student lecture class by providing students with choices, rapid feedback, collaborative processes, and competition. Students also have the option to “choose their own adventure” by selecting assignments, although higher level assignments are not available until they have been ‘unlocked’ by completing lower level assignments. Lampe has concluded that gamification has improved his student’s motivation and retention. Another Assistant Professor, Dr. Carman Neustaedter from the School of Interactive Arts & Technology at Simon Fraser University found that creating a scoreboard with students’ class ranking in real-time provided the rapid feedback he needed. Each student also earned a rank title, such as “Artistic Intern” or “Grand Master Speculative Designer.” Neustaedter found that the scoreboard has increased students’ motivation and sparks healthy competition.

Beyond the classroom, gamification has also been incorporated in other non-game settings.

Road contractors in 2014 implemented musical grooves on Route 66 to encourage drivers to obey the speed limit. The language-learning app DuoLingo also uses gaming techniques to make what could be a mundane lesson fun.

Despite the many case studies that demonstrate gamification in the classroom can be successful, it must be noted that not all elements of a game are equally motivating to each student. Providing differentiated instruction for students not only means gamification, but also includes other methods of teaching.

 

About the Author

Rachael Tom is the Marketing Communications Manager at ThinkFun, an award-winning global company and the leading developer of logic and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) games that make learning fun!

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Tags: study skills, gamification, gamification in classroom, improve academic performance

Note Taking and Memory: Put Down the Pen!

Posted by Stephanie Ingraham on Wed, Jan 17, 2018 @ 02:00 PM

Note-taking, once the activity de rigueur of learning and memorizing facts and new information, and an activity that certainly appears, well, active, is fast becoming replaced with newer forms of active engagement. Taking notes has long been lauded as a tried and true approach to memory and retention, as well as the best option for having recorded documents with which to refer after an initial discussion, but note-taking in and of itself might not be the best strategy available and can often become its own mindless, passive, or even distracting activity. Instead, active listening with a more strategic approach to obtaining information allows the brain to stay focused on the lecture while still capturing highlights and overarching ideas.

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Tags: study skills, improve your grades, improve study habits, note-taking, improving academic performance

Five Tips to Prepare for Exams

Posted by Stephanie Ingraham on Sat, Dec 30, 2017 @ 10:11 AM

As you move into the end of a semester, the pressure of exams can daunt even the most successful students. It’s a busy time of year in general, and the mounting strain of a large looming test can feel outright agonizing! Fear not. Here is a list of go-to tips to help you be your most prepared and confident self going into those final exams (or any tests, at any time!)

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Tags: study skills, improve your grades, improve study habits, grit, Grit drives academic performance, improving academic performance, exam preparation

Using the Science of Habits to Improve Performance in School: Part II

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Fri, Dec 29, 2017 @ 08:30 AM

In a previous article on the power of habits,  we discussed how habits are a tool our brains use to be more efficient. Instead of consciously analyzing every situation, thinking about various courses of action, and then deciding what to do, we use habits to automatically do this or that to save time. In theory, this allows us to decide to use our brain power to focus on things that really matter and really do require conscious deliberation. This is sometimes a good and sometimes a bad thing. It’s good when the habit is brushing our teeth each morning and night, or looking both ways before we cross the street. It’s bad when we grab a few cookies without even thinking about it when we are bored, or react negatively to constructive feedback.

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Tags: mindset, study skills, how to improve my grades, improve study habits, study tips, study strategies, improving academic performance, habits

Getting 'Gritty' With It

Posted by Stephanie Ingraham on Fri, Dec 22, 2017 @ 09:53 AM

Failure ain’t what it used to be. Or, at least, failure is understood differently today, as we examine more closely how much it actually helps us in the long run. When we allow failure and setbacks to be learning experiences and jumping off points for the development of resilience and grit, our lives transform. We refine our character all the more, but like a fine work of art that benefits from revision and reframing. Nowhere is such an experience in growth more valuable and applicable than education.

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Tags: study skills, improve your grades, improve study habits, grit, Grit drives academic performance, improving academic performance

Using the Science of Habits to Improve Performance in School: Part I

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Fri, Dec 08, 2017 @ 01:00 PM

We write a lot on this blog about how academic success (and other types of success) is much more a function of the choices you make and the effort you put in than a function of your intrinsic or genetic talents. In other words, most recent research suggests, and we firmly believe, that academic skills are built through practice and success comes through developing better strategies and making better choices. 

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Tags: mindset, study skills, how to improve my grades, improve study habits, study tips, study strategies, improving academic performance