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Knowing how you learn

As students move from lower and middle schools to upper (high) school, an important reality needs to be remembered. The four domains of learning style tendencies need to be understood and assessed.  There are a number of learning styles inventories out on the web.  I like the inventory used by North Carolina State University’s College of Engineering. It is quick and easy to print off.  All of the students I work with take this inventory to assist in the areas of adjustment and change that we focus on in high school.

95% of the students that I am working with as an Academic Coach are “visual learners” as compared to “verbal learners”.  The diagnostic inventories that they took for me reaffirms this critical piece of information.  I have attached a powerpoint presentation that I have developed to help students and parents understand the very necessary adjustments to study strategies and habits that must take place for students to maximize their performance in their courses.  This is especially true for visual learners!

Unfortunately, 98% of American high school and college classrooms are conducted in methods that are very effective for verbal learners but NOT visual learners.  Most classroom lessons are driven by “teacher-talk”.  A minority of students are visual learners and they have great difficulty staying “tuned in” to the lesson and disengage frequently from the main material/topics/skills being talked about.  As a result, it is quite necessary for these students to use their out-of-class time much more effectively than their peers who garner a much larger proportion of the material during class.

As I work with students who are predominantly visual learners, I find that it is quite difficult to get them to make very needed changes to their study habits and behaviors.  They are bright young people who did not suffer too much in lower school and middle school as visual learners and their behaviors were reinforced by making good grades (B’s and A’s) without too much trouble (read “effort”).  The material is covered in a much slower fashion and these divisions’ teachers are more inclined to have the students engage with the material in more active ways and in repeated activities. As these students reach a more rigorous college-preparatory curriculum, they experience courses that are much more dense and move at a much faster pace.  Most importantly, teachers at the upper school level are more inclined to use lecture and teacher-directed learning.  This is a proverbial “brick wall” for many students who are bright but are predominantly visual learners.

The lesson here is to be fully aware of “what you are working with” when it comes to how you best learn and the accommodations and adaptations that you will need to make to be the most effective and successful student that you want to be.

The Double Edged Sword of Technology for Applicants

College applicants these days enjoy the many benefits of our highly connected world by using the common application software, Naviance software, and other electronic submission portals for getting applications, essays, and supplementary materials organized and sent off to colleges and universities of their choice. Unfortunately, there can be a down side to these digital realities. More and more selective and highly selective colleges and universities are seeking to fully vet the thousands of applications that they receive and many of them are going online and looking at the online presence of an applicant on facebook, youtube and twitter.  I have counseled many, many students to keep in mind this reality and to use some common sense judgment when putting up posts and uploads to the internet.  The old adage is quite true these days for college applicants and job applicants: Don’t put anything up on the web that you would not want your parents or principal to view.  As the Head of three upper schools in Texas, Georgia and Tennessee, I saw an increasing recklessness in many young people’s decision-making when putting up comments, pictures and videos on the web.  Remember, once you put it up there…..it cannot be “undone”.  The digital age is quite unforgiving.  Keep these thoughts in mind as you send those applications off over the next few months.

Other factors College Admissions look for in an applicant

Recent growth in the number of applications an average senior files with colleges and universities, combined with growth in the number of students seeking admission to 4-year colleges have caused an explosion in college applications. With the larger and larger number of applications at many colleges, it is very important to realize the level of importance that schools assign to different aspects and characteristics of applications and applicants. For more selective universities, the strength of the high school program a student participated in is a very important factor. If a student “dodged” AP and or honors-level courses in an attempt to build their overall GPA, they are jeopardizing their chances at being admitted. As I have mentioned before, it is important to take a challenging set of courses while not overloading what you can realistically handle. That leads to the great importance of good academic advisement. when selecting courses each school year.

Be Aware of What Admissions Offices are Looking for in Your Application and Materials

Every few years NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counselors) polls admissions directors and staff to get a sense of the relative importance of key factors/attributes of applicants’ resumes and materials. This list is a very valuable tool in helping students and parents understand the relative importance of a host of attributes that they need to attend to if students will be competitive these days. The number one factor that college admissions officers are looking for is the difficulty of the courses that students elect to take in high school. Every poll recently has this attribute as the top factor taken into consideration along with many others. If a student does not adequately challenge themselves and “ducks” the harder schedule for the sake of keeping their grade point average high…..it can be a “red light” for a number of more selective colleges and universities. The key is for students to challenge themselves without stressing out and getting buried in a slate of courses that were too difficult and time consuming. This is a delicate process and needs a number of “eyeballs” taking a look at proposed schedule of classes each year of high school. Selected teachers, counselors, parents and, if applicable Academic Coaches need to be involved in the construction of each year’s schedule. Honors, AP and/or IB courses come into play with this process. Also, the number of years of foreign language study as well as the number of courses in math and science are also instrumental in shaping admissions decisions for many colleges. It is an important process and needs to be studied, revisited and planned out carefully. I will speak to other factors listed in recent NACAC polls in the coming weeks.

PSAT assessments in October–Get ready with free materials and sites

As a division head at three independent schools, I always emphasized to students the reality that even though the PSAT is a “practice exam”, it is important to do well on these assessments. The higher your scores as a sophomore and then as a junior leads to a larger number of colleges and universities identifying you as a strong prospect for their programs and community. Thus, the higher your score, the bigger your mailbox will need to be by January. Go to http://www.collegeboard.com and check out some great software that will prepare you for what topics and types of questions will be on the assessment (an old SAT). There are practice test items and interactive items that can greatly prepare you for this entry-level high stakes assessment. Once you have taken the PSAT, it is very, very important to take advantage of the College Board’s FREE software, Quickstart.  It allows you to go back through your test as a sophomore or junior and see which items you missed and most importantly, gives you the opportunity to figure out WHY you missed the question.  This is fantastic surgically directed feedback for your betterment of future college admissions testing.  Take an hour or so and take advantage of this software.

We are up and running! 12 students are working with ALM in their effort to become more effective students. With the new school year just about to begin, I look forward to working with these 12 students along with many more.

Office to open

July 2, 2012

Plans are underway to move into the office suite on Murray Road this week and be up and running by the end of next week.  ALM will send out its initial mailing beginning mid-July and it is part of the timeline to begin accepting students at that time. I will begin posting some helpful links on this blog this week.  For example, one of the real revolutions occurring in education is the availability of video/audio files that present short lessons of a wide range of topics.  In effect, every student now has instant access to great tutorial lessons on just about any topic imaginable by taking advantage of various sites available now.  The most effective site that I have viewed is Khan Academy.  Take a look and play around with the site.  It is an amazing resource for better, more deeper learning. That will get the process underway.

Tom