Improving Academic Performance

Does Practice Make Perfect?

Posted by Nina Parrish, Parrish Learning Zone on Mon, Jun 04, 2018 @ 09:00 AM

We all know that in order to acquire a new skill we have to practice. Anytime we want to learn something new in school, it requires practice as well. However, some methods of practice are far more effective than others. Often what separates great from average in school, sports, and other endeavors is not just natural talent but how they practice.

Both quantity and quality of practice are important.

It is apparent that people who love to practice often eventually outperform those who don’t. In general, the more you practice, the better the outcome will be. A student who studies every day for several months for the SAT is going to do better than a student who starts studying a few days before the test. However, there is a limit on how much practice a person can do, and you don’t want to practice so much that you start to feel burnt out.

Getting good at something also depends on the quality of practice that you do. If you practice without knowing your specific needs for improvement, you are often ingraining the same mistakes you always make. Conversely, great performers in all areas practice deliberately. This means that they are constantly analyzing their performance looking for areas that need improvement. Quality practice works to improve performance because it builds up myelin sheath which insulates the axons that carry information in your brain. This allows information to travel more efficiently. Quality practice should have several characteristics:

1. Target weaknesses at the edge of your ability.

Make sure that you are not just practicing skills that you already know. When you practice, it should be right at the cusp of what you are already able to do and what you are trying to learn but not currently able to do. Practice should feel challenging, and it is a good idea to practice mixed skills instead of always focusing on one skill at a time. Students who practice the current skill they are learning along with previous skills do better on future tests because they must pair each skill with the proper procedure.

Sometimes it is helpful to have the honest feedback of a coach in sports or a teacher or tutor in academics to help analyze your performance and target skills to work on. Deliberate practice means breaking down the big thing you are learning into its parts. So, if you are taking a test, do a practice test and see which skills you are struggling with the most. Focus on learning those skills before taking the whole test again.

2. Focus on the task at hand by minimizing distractions.

We are constantly distracted by our cellphones, Facebook, and other social media. Place all cell phones in a place where you cannot see or hear them while studying. If you need to use your device for studying, use an app like Offtime  that blocks other programs and alerts for the time period that you are working.

3. Divide time into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration.

Practice for short periods of time where you are completely focused, and then take a break. If you work for too long, you will start to feel fatigued and you won’t be able to retain as much. Practicing for long periods of time also leaves you much more prone to distractions.

4. Practice slowly and work up to the speed that you need.

Don’t worry about timing at first, worry about mastering the skill. Once you are able to perform the skill, then start practicing your timing.

5. Practice mentally between actual physical practice sessions.

When you are not practicing, think about what was challenging and mentally rehearse those skills. Chances are that the next time you attempt them, they will seem easier.

The old saying is that “practice makes perfect”.  However, it is not just quantity of practice that makes a difference. People who become successful at any skill focus on strategies to make sure that their time is filled with high-quality practice.

About the Author

Nina Parrish is a former special education teacher and a licensed school counselor. She is the owner of Parrish Learning Zone a K-12 tutoring company in Virginia. Her blog The Learning Zone publishes content on education and parenting topics.

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Tags: study skills, deliberate practice at school, deliberate practice, improving cognition, improving academic performance, tutoring skills, tutoring tips, improving grades

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