“I freeze up when I write exams! I study hard and think I know my stuff, but I freeze up and get low marks!”
Hundreds of high school students have shared this concern with us over the years When students “freeze,” their low grades do not reflect their true potential. Since the first step in beating something is understanding it, we began to ask students why it was so difficult to overcome “freezing.” Their answers surprised us.
We found that many students who had been exposed to study skills programs were not using these skills because they did not know how to apply them to their own lives. Often when students learn a skill, such as study skills, it is just memorized — not understood.
In order to be effective, study skills must be a new way of thinking! A new way of considering information. A student who truly knows how to study also knows what he or she wants out of school and life.
Students experience difficulty with organization, memory, planning, studying, listening, and writing tests for reasons that cannot be overcome by memorizing a bunch of new rules. The magic of a successful study skills program lies in the way it unlocks the emotional and motivational issues that are blocking success.
Many students arrive at exams in a state of mild anxiety, which grows until the teacher tells them to turn over their papers and begin. The first question looks a little familiar but they don’t remember exactly how to do it, so they go on to the second, promising themselves, “I’ll come back to the first question as soon as I remember.”
The Trouble Begins
Each question looks more and more like a foreign language. Remembering only a little of each, they try to fake it. That is called “freezing.” The struggle to remember actually locks the information farther and farther away. Their struggles “freeze” them up even tighter.
Feelings of fear and apprehension are not the problem! The real problem is that students “freeze” when they ask their memory to recall information that they have learned and filed incorrectly. The way most students file information for retrieval is similar to blindfolding a filing clerk and then asking that clerk to find a very important file.
What would your chances be of getting the correct file? Zero. But this is how most students use their memories. They learn information and then file it in their memories incorrectly. When sitting for an exam, they begin to search frantically for the missing files. When this happens, the memory often does not associate well. Mix a little anxiety in and you get the classic exam “freeze.”
An effective study program will address the emotional and motivational issues that are blocking academic success. The secret to overcoming “freezing” is shifting from a passive mind set (” I’ll just sit here and wait for the teacher to teach me”) to an active process of questioning, summarizing and integrating information.
Here are the procedures for active learning:
- Study Notes: Spend 10 minutes per subject every night and summarize the day’s lessons into study notes. Break the information down into Main Idea, Supporting Details and Sub Details. Make these notes short and in point form, in your own words.
- Review: 48 hours later, review your study notes. Don’t memorize; just make sure you fully understand what they mean and what the information is about. Turn the notes into a story or a complete picture — use visualization if possible.
- Keep Track: Keep a small student day book so that you can keep track of assignments, tests, homework and personal information. Make your entries in class as you get the assignments or test dates and look at your book every night before beginning your study time.
- Learn About Yourself : What things distract you? Noise? Movement? Crowds? When you discover what makes it hard for you to pay attention, make sure you change your environment as much as possible. If noise bothers you, don’t study with a radio on or at the dining room table. Find a quiet place instead.
- Set Long-Range Goals: Stop expecting school to entertain you. When you learn to stop blaming school for not meeting all your expectations and learn to keep your eye on your long-range goals and dreams, you will begin to feel more control and power over your life. Forget about blaming others; it’s your life! Take the responsibility to get the most out of it.
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Webster defines ’curriculum’ as ’a regular course of study; an accepted schedule; a routine.’ This definition implies that schools must teach their students according to these principles. If we apply this definition to the teaching practices of the average elementary school, we would find that every class indeed has a ’course of study, an accepted schedule and a routine.’
But this is not enough! For a school to properly educate children, a number of other standards must apply. Decisions must be taken as to what is to be taught; why is it to be taught; and how it is to be taught.
In addition, the skills learned in one grade should build into the next grade. Teachers must use materials that develop concepts in a manner that allows the student to build a conceptual base (understanding of concepts) while he or she develops new academic skills. Grade 2 teachers should teach concepts and skills from which Grade 3 teachers can build new knowledge and skills. There must be a sequence of the content of each grade’s teachings.
But this is impossible without decisions being made above the classroom level. Publishers commonly print excellent texts having completely different sequences of skills. If there is no general decision as to the direction, outlook and content, then individual teachers will be free to choose their own texts, whether or not they integrate from one grade to the next! In this way it may be possible for students to be exposed to multiplication before they even know how to carry or regroup in addition.
Students in such programs find it impossible to understand what they are learning. and either tune out or memorize their way to success. But this is not success! Recent research in Japan has shown that students who merely memorize skills do not develop the ability to think creatively or to problem-solve.
The job of imparting knowledge actually belongs to the teacher, but the decision as to how it should be imparted belongs at the policy level.
For example, before a school board could order textbooks or consider the scope or sequence of a reading curriculum in the primary level (grades 1, 2 and 3), they would have to make an initial policy decision as to whether their reading program would be based on a phonetical decoding method (phonics) or a holistic sight (whole language) method.
This decision must be based on an outlook, belief or philosophy and it must be specific. It would not be sufficient to say that the curriculum must teach to the ’whole child’ or that a ’quality education’ is the objective of the reading program, or even that ’the social, emotional and intellectual development of a child depends upon teaching to the actual child’s needs not just to the outline found in a textbook.’
While these statements all sound or feel good, they do not form an actual philosophy from which to develop policy about textbooks and teaching methods. In fact, history has shown us that often the very worst educational programs are preceded by these lofty, flowery and emotional statements.
The ’whole word’ reading program, known more commonly as Whole Language, was preceded by these grand claims and what did it bring? It brought new programs that allowed children to pass without understanding; programs that substituted fakery for achievement under the false claim that children must never be exposed to difficulty or failure or their self-esteem will suffer.
It substituted a reading program that now allows children to stumble into grades 3, 4 or even 5 without knowing how to read well, for one that had consistently taught children to read in Grade 1. And it continues to claim that it can provide the best education for the whole child and that today’s children have higher self-esteem as a result of these programs!
If one looks at the carnage of the public education system of today, it is hard to accept these claims.
After a philosophical decision has been taken by the board of education as to the outlook their program is to express, a joint effort involving the board, the school administration and the teaching staff must then be made to develop new programs by creating documents that explain what learning objectives are to be met; what learning skills must be mastered in order to meet the objectives; what teaching materials are to be used to teach these skills; and in what order (sequence) the skills are to be taught.
An example of this process follows:
Learning Skills: (a) students must be able to recognize and call by sound all initial, final and medial consonants; and (b) students must be able to recognize vowel sounds, and understand the ’Magic E’ and ’Two Vowels Walking’ rules.
Teaching Materials: (a) Explode the Code Phonics Workbooks; (b) sandpaper letters; (c) vowel stick men; and (d) glass analysis or blending exercises.
Sequence: (a) initial consonants; (b) final consonants; (c) short vowels in this order: a – e – o – u – i; (d) middle consonants; and (e) blending exercises.
Finally, teachers must then prepare to teach by studying the curriculum documents; creating daily lesson planners that follow the scope and sequence of the curriculum.
This work is done by professional teachers well in advance of their actual classes. The hallmark of a professional teacher is a well prepared daily lesson planner covering an entire term, if not a full school year, and both short- and long-term goals and objectives.
Teachers lacking in professional ethics will often develop their daily planner early in their career and use the same one year after year. However, true professionals use their experiences from each term to adjust, change and make their teaching methods and plans better. As teachers learn more about their own strengths and weaknesses as communicators, they understand the need to develop new skills. Experience in the classroom helps teachers to understand better the dynamics of self-esteem and classroom management.
No amount of textbook learning can compensate for the experiences of a dedicated professional. But dedication is not enough. If the curriculum has not been properly prepared to reflect the needs and standards of the community and if the objectives and skills taught in individual grades have not been co-ordinated, then the school program will fail. Even the most well meaning educators will not succeed with an inappropriate philosophy of education.
(Excerpt from Passive Minds! The Dangers of Education!! by Dr. R. N. Whitehead, Director, Oxford Learning Centres).
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Today, more and more parents consider a supplemental education program to be an absolute necessity to ensure a complete education for their children.
“Given the way school budgets are being slashed these days, I just don’t think an average education is sufficient,” says David Drum, a Toronto parent. “The real purpose of education is to prepare children to become successful adults. Children need confidence and self-esteem to equip them for their learning challenges for the rest of their lives.”
Oxford Learning Centres spokesperson, Kelley McGregor says it’s just like arts and sports programs that many students pursue outside of school. “If my daughter showed an aptitude for music I would enroll her in music lessons,” she says. “I would never expect the school system to fully develop her music potential. Given all the challenges the school system faces today, it’s the same with academic programs. It’s unrealistic to think that any school system can give a child all the education he or she needs to develop as a successful adult.”
Most commercial tutoring programs focus on academic skill tutoring using a behavior modification process. A famous Japanese company offers a home-study program that focuses on mastery through repetition. The programs offered by Oxford Learning Centres, Canada’s largest supplemental educator, encourage students to understand the material they are learning. The Oxford program develops underlying cognitive (learning) skills as well as academic skills. Over the past 19 years, Oxford’s educators have developed programs that fix problems rather than just cure this year’s crop of difficulties.
Some parents fear that a supplemental program will tire their child out. After all, she has been sitting in school all day,” is the rationale. The answer often amazes. As any parent knows, no child tires of doing things they like doing. Think back to when they were little ones; how they played at school. They wanted to learn. They loved discovering and mastering new skills.
What happened? Why did this change? The truth is that it didn’t change. Kids who do well in school, feel confident and enjoy school. Oxford’s programs help kids to rediscover that love of learning. And they do more if they help kids learn how to learn. They show them that they are capable of achievement.
With this knowledge comes a deep-seated feeling that they are OK, that they can understand the world, that they can cope. That is called self-esteem and it does not come from attention alone. Nor does it come from praise. In fact, the opposite is true. A recent study showed that students who were praised and recognized for their effort, but who neither achieved nor learned how to achieve (to learn), lost self-esteem.
The Oxford program was designed specifically to teach students how to learn, to give them the sense of control over their own minds and to build true self-esteem.
“Too many children just memorize their way through school. Supplemental programs enrich the entire education process,” says Drum. “They are part of our family’s educational experience and they will stay that way.”
By R. N. Whitehead
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Today’s thinking about learning styles reverses a logical process and tries to influence change in the student’s learning behaviour from outside the student. But, changes must be from within and that is the major flaw in these new theories. We are trying to give children self-esteem as if it were a piece of curriculum, rather than helping them in the development of the new, and more appropriate reasoning and thinking skills that are necessary if the child is to achieve any sense of real self-esteem.
We feel that by modifying their environment rather than giving them the thinking tools to affect their own changes, that they will mysteriously develop these personal concepts of worthiness and empowerment.
At the First International Conference on Self-Esteem in Oslo, 1990, self-esteem was defined as —
- confidence in our ability to think and to cope with the basic challenges of life as well as confidence in our right to be happy
- the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert our needs and wants and to enjoy the fruits of our efforts.
If self-esteem is the experience that we are appropriate to life and to the requirements of life, then the development of self-esteem must invariably come from the “self,” as in the concept’s name. Neither teachers nor parents can develop self-esteem in children — we can only help to foster it.
If we attempt to change the learning environment of students because they appear to be learning via a particular learning style, but we miss the actual reasons why they are presently using this style, we lose an invaluable opportunity.
By accepting that this child has a particular learning style and by adjusting the classroom environment, our teaching methods, and our expectations of the students, we further reinforce this learning style. In fact, we concretize it instead of going to its source — the child’s ability, or inability, to think effectively.
If we identify students and struggle to meet their individual learning style needs, we often create environments in which the student cannot develop new methods of learning. If we are only presenting material in a one dimensional manner (the one appropriate to the learning style of the student as we understand it), this prohibits the student from making the integrations, seeing the similarities and differences, and understanding what we are teaching. In other words, we are creating learning styles with our methods of instruction.
A child’s progress along the continuum of efficient thinking (focus — abstraction — generalization — transfer — integration ), will determine to a large extent the type of learning style the child has. It is important to know that the student’s learning style has the potential for change and growth as long as the child progresses.
Although he didn’t mean it in this way, Carl Jung was partially correct when he said, “… there can never occur a pure (learning style) type in the sense that he is entirely possessed of the one mechanism with a complete atrophy of the other. A typical attitude always signifies the merely relative predominance of one mechanism.”
It is important to understand that, for the most part, we could be travelling through these types of learning styles instead of assuming that we are these types. In order to understand learning styles, we must first understand what the concepts of thinking, learning, generalizing and abstracting are. These concepts may now serve as the new benchmark for a fuller understanding of how the student is learning and why.
By Dr. Nick Whitehead
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The concept of a ’learning style’ is used to describe the preferred way, or process, that a student uses to identify and integrate information. In other words, the way a student seems to learn most often or most effectively is often called his or her learning style.
For example, you may have heard of visual learners or verbal learners. These terms describe what is commonly thought of as a particular learning style. From the number of measuring devices and tests available now — and more are being developed constantly — we are presently able to identify more than 100 different types of learning styles.
It is a commonly held belief that each learning style is the way that that student learns best, and that as educators we must learn how to serve the needs of these students best by changing the way we teach, the way we present material, the environment of the classroom and our expectations of these students.
But what if there really isn’t much difference between these learning styles? What if they come from a fairly common root? What if we are in fact doing more harm than good when we identify a specific and concrete learning style best for a student?
If learning styles are actually quite similar, then the identification of a learning style would be seen as an observation of the student at that particular instant in his or her life. This observation, or measurement would become merely a snapshot of the student at the time her or she was tested, instead of a hardened in stone, particular, specific, discrete learning style not to be changed but to be served.
Most new trends in education suggest that the teacher should pay particular attention to the learning styles of students, should adjust teaching modalities to these various styles, and should use learning style categories to identify behaviour and predict future behaviours of certain students.
Some models even use their particular categories to help the teacher, co-worker or parent, ’understand’ others. (’Now that I know that Harry is a Structured Abstract, I understand why he acts as he does.’) Currently these theories are hot and both educational and industrial psychology publications abound with articles, presentations, and new research findings on the subject.
I object to this trend and to these learning style categorizations on a number of grounds.
Primarily I object to the behavioural concept that takes control from the student and places that burden upon the teacher, parent and administrator. By assuming that a student is powerless to learn effectively unless we spend vast amounts of money and time servicing his assumed learning style, we endorse the concept that change must come from outside, not from within, the individual.
This concept does not allow for the role of volition, change or self-awareness in the consciousness of students. Supporters of these theories suggest that by merely modifying the environment and changing the actions of teachers, parents or co-workers, we can affect change in the subject. In suggesting this, they remove personal responsibility and the need for students to understand their own minds, they entrench more and more power into the hands of others, and they further erode the possibility that the students will gain an increased sense of self-esteem by their own actions.
I also object on practical grounds. Given these requirements, most teachers would be physically, intellectually and emotionally incapable of meeting each and every student’s individual learning style needs. Depending upon the test one used to identify these needs, it is possible that in a class there might be 30 different learning styles identified. It would be interesting to write out that lesson planner!
Assuming that there were no interruptions in a 90-minute class, it might be possible for the teacher to spend three minutes serving the individual needs of each student. That amounts to approximately 12 minutes per week.
We lose something very important when we focus too rigidly on the concept of a specific, concrete and unchangeable learning style. We miss the fact that many, if not most, learning styles may be merely the result of how well the student has learned to think.
If we consider the process of thinking, we will soon see that such skills as those listed below are the prime movers in a child’s process of learning, not the child’s learning style. Preferences in individual learning styles, with the exception of cases where the student has a frank learning disability, can usually be understood in the light of these thinking skills.
- Focus and Identification: The process of seeing the subtle similarities and differences between things.
- Generalization: Making a general statement about these similarities and creating new categories. For example, tables and chairs are concrete things that can stand by themselves and need no further explanation — unless you recognize that there are similarities and organize the similarities into a category called furniture. This is generalization.
- Transfer: Using the process of seeing similarities and differences to create new categories in another area. For instance, hockey and bowling are both sports.
A child who cannot generalize well, or who prefers more concrete concepts, will not understand metaphor well, and will obviously not prefer the more divergent choices that require an understanding of symbols or analogy. This student can thus be identified as a concrete or structured learner by one process (Kaufman) or a concrete sequential thinker by another (Gregoric).
In truth, this is merely a student who, once he or she learns to think more effectively, will begin to generalize, understand metaphor and use analogy. Then, if one tested this very same student, one would miraculously find that there had been a change in learning style.
Extending this reasoning into virtually every model of learning style identification, one soon begins to recognize that underlying these various learning styles is a process of thought that may be shaping the ’style’ itself, instead of the other way around.
Continue reading Learning Style Myths Part 2.
By Dr. Nick Whitehead
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