SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

Use Table of Contents Tools for Note-Taking

My students often have difficulty keeping up with their notes. Those who type them on their tablet or computer often save each day’s notes in a separate file. When they need to use the notes to study or do homework, they often can’t remember where they saved them. Using the table of contents feature in a word processor can solve this problem very easily. If this is a problem for your child, show her this blog.

All of your child’s notes for one class can be typed in the same document. The table of contents will make it easy for him to find what he needs. This way, there is only one file for each class, and that is much easier for him to organize and find.

If your child does not type her notes at school, perhaps she could spend some time each evening organizing and typing her notes. That has always been a great study strategy, and now it is even better because of the linked table of contents in the document.

Here is how to set up a table of contents using Google Docs. (Other word processers such as Microsoft Word work in a similar way.)

  • Open a new Google Doc and name it something that makes sense (maybe “Notes for Science Class”).
  • Select “Insert” and then select “Table of Contents.” A box will be inserted where the table of contents will be. When you click inside the box, you will see a tool that allows you to add topics to the table of contents. The table of contents grows with each section of notes you add. I like to keep the table of contents on page one and start my notes on page two.
  • Type a title for your first day of notes. The title should match the topic for the notes. If the lesson is about magnetism, title that section “Magnetism,” highlight it and change the font to “Heading 1.” (There is a drop down menu where you can select “Heading 1.”) Every time the topic changes, use “Heading 1” as the font for the title.
  • Click inside the table of contents box where you inserted it on page one, click the update tool, and a link to your notes on magnetism will be created.
  • Type all your notes on magnetism. When your teacher changes topics, insert a new heading for the topic and add it to your table of contents using the update tool. You can also create subheadings by using “Heading 2” and “Heading 3.”

For those of you who prefer to watch how to do something new, here is a YouTube video that shows two different ways to make a table of contents using Google Docs.

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Tips for Better Note-Taking

Taking notes is difficult for many students. Teachers often talk quickly, and students are not able to get everything written down. Additionally, students often do not know how to make the best use of their notes once they take them. There are some tricks that can make note-taking easier and the notes more useful. If this is a problem for your child, think about the following.

First, decide how to take notes. While some students do better handwriting their notes, using a computer is more flexible. If your child has a laptop, she can type her notes in a word processor. But I would encourage her not to try to get everything down that the teacher says. It is better to listen and write only what is important. Teachers use key phrases like “listen carefully,” “you will see this later,” or “pay close attention” when they are about to say something that will become the foundation of future learning (or show up on a test or exam). If your child tries to write down everything that the teacher says, she will not be thinking about the key points. It is better to type a few key words and fill in more details later using her textbook. (It is also good to have a note-taking buddy. The buddies can get together after class and compare notes.)

It is important to develop a set of abbreviations for frequently used words. It is a good idea to enter these into the auto-correct feature in your word processor. For example, when I type “govt,” my word processor types “government.” “Imp” turns into “This is important!” As your child is typing notes in class, he can type “Imp” when he hears his teachers say, “You will see this later.”

If your child finds that her teacher lectures from the textbook, she might try to set up an outline before class using the textbook, so that she can listen in class and enter details into the outline.

Just taking notes in class isn’t enough. Students should spend some time after class revising the notes and making sure they make sense. Visual learners should use colors to highlight related information and draw arrows to show cause-and-effect relationships between concepts. Kinesthetic learners should create flash cards (either on paper or electronic) that can be manipulated while studying. Auditory learners should read them aloud and talk about what they mean with other students.

Find out from your child whether their notes are useful when studying. If not, talk about how to listen for key words, use abbreviations, make outlines before class, and spend some time working with their notes after class. With practice, note-taking gets easier and more effective.

To learn about an interesting note-taking technology, see Audionote: A Technological Solution for Note-Taking.

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Does Your Child Need Extra Time for Achievement Exams?

Receiving extra time or other accommodations on the SAT can be a lifesaver for some students. Those who process more slowly than others or who have attention deficits, vision problems, or learning disabilities may get lower scores if they’re required to take these standardized tests in the same format and in the same amount of time as other students. Many of these students are perfectly capable of doing well in college, but they have limited choices for college because their SAT scores are too low. When allowed more time or given other accommodations, their scores better reflect their ability. How does a student receive the accommodations he needs?

  • First, there has to be formal documentation of a learning disability. The College Board wants to see a student’s IEP or 504 plan that addresses her disability. If the student is not attending a public school and does not have an IEP or 504 plan, the College Board will require a recent psychological evaluation completed by a licensed psychologist.
  • Second, students must be using the requested accommodations for an extended period of time before they apply for it through the Board. For the SAT, a student must have been receiving the accommodations in school for at least four months.
  • Third, students will need to have supporting documentation from their high school teachers.

There is a formal filing process through the College Board to receive accommodations, and often a student has to appeal the decision multiple times before receiving extra time. The College Board does not want anyone to have an unfair advantage over other students; they do want those who really need extra time to receive it. That explains why they require formal documentation. Accommodations such as Braille or large print may be easier to receive. Proving the need for extra time is more difficult. Once approved by the College Board, a student may receive the same accommodations for the PSAT, SAT, and AP exams. The ACT requires a similar application process.

For more information about the types of accommodations a student might receive, read ACT and SAT Accommodations: One Size Does Not Fit All.

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The Olympics Teach Valuable Lessons About Perseverance


Many families are spending hours watching the Sochi Olympics. It is amazing to see world-class athletes from so many different countries competing against one another. Several of the medal winners relate how important it is that they did not win when they competed in the previous Olympics. They say that losing is why they got better. They were able to concentrate on their weaknesses and work to improve them. They say losing is what made them come back four years later to win a medal in Sochi. I have written about the importance of failure before. Failure is important, but there is more to learn from these Olympic athletes than knowing their past failure led to their current success. It is what happens in the years between failure and success that makes the difference.

These athletes first had to identify where they were weak. Then they had to work really hard to improve the weak areas. As a student, your child may have weaknesses in basic study skills, knowing how to be a student, focusing her attention in class, completing homework on time, or managing her time wisely. Figuring out where she is weak is the first step to improving. Once the weak areas are identified, she needs a plan of action for how to get better in those areas. Finally, she needs to get down to work. It is work ethic and perseverance that lead to success.

Nick Horton, an Olympic coach, tells of others who became successful after going through very difficult situations in Failing Forward: 7 Stories of Success Through Failure. When your child goes through tough times in school, remind him that he can turn it around. It is up to him to change his failure into success.

Check out these related printables about study skills and have your child read about how to become a proactive student.

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Machine-Scored Bubble Forms Can Cause Problems for Some Students

Multiple choice and true/false tests are often evaluated using bubble-type, machine-scored forms. This is extremely helpful for teachers who have lots of papers to grade. But students who have visual-motor integration problems might have trouble using them and make errors putting answers in the correct spot on the bubble form. They might put the answer to number five on the form where number six is, or they might bubble in the letter “B” when they mean “D.” They might start bubbling in their answers in the wrong column on the form. When these errors happen, the student gets a very low grade that does not reflect how much they actually know. Here are some strategies to try if using these forms is a problem for your child.

  • Ask the teacher if it is OK for her to write answers on the test page before transferring them to the bubble sheet. This might help for two reasons. First, bubbling in the answers is a single step that does not require holding the question and answer in working memory. All your child has to remember is the question number and the answer she needs to bubble in. That reduces the likelihood of errors because of trying to hold too much information in memory at once. Second, if she does make an error transferring the answer, she can always check the answer against the actual test where she first answered. She can show her teacher that she really did know the answer but made a mistake putting it on the form.
  • If your child has a visual-motor integration problem, he might not be able to keep his eyes going in a straight line. He should use a blank index card or a ruler to keep his place on the bubble form. The index card can help make sure he does not skip down a line or number. If he lines up the card with the correct number on the form, he should make fewer errors.
  • Your child might need to cover up everything she is not currently working on with a clean sheet of notebook paper. This helps focus her eyes on what is important for the question.
  • If she makes a mistake on the form, she needs to be sure she erases completely before bubbling in the correct answer. If she does not, the machine may count the answer wrong even though she bubbled in the correct answer.

All of these strategies are easy to implement. The teacher needs to know why your child needs the strategy, though. It would be easy to think a child is planning to cheat if she comes in to take a test with a sheet of paper or index card. These strategies can be allowed as accommodations on a child’s IEP or 504 Plan, as well.

If these strategies do not help your child, she can also be exempted from using the machine-scored bubble forms. If that is the case, the teacher needs to know why it’s necessary. You can say something like, “My child makes lots of mistakes using a bubble sheet.  If you want to know how much she knows, it is better to allow her to write her answers right on the test. If she has to transfer to the bubble form, what you will find out is how well she can bubble in the answers—not what she has learned from you.”

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Adolescence: A Time of Change and Self-Doubt

Most adolescent students have doubts about themselves. Your child may feel that everyone around him is smarter, has more friends, looks better, or is a better athlete. He might think he doesn’t have much chance of succeeding in life. You can help him learn how to handle these feelings and gain more control over what happens to him.

Adolescence is a time of change. It is when your children change from being dependent on parents or guardians to being self-reliant. It is difficult, and often teens feel inadequate. But even though they feel awkward and ugly, others see them quite differently. This is a time when parents can be most helpful, yet teens often do not talk about their concerns. Parents can initiate this discussion and can assure their teens that their feelings are normal.

I have written many times about success in school and life. If your child is willing to work hard, study, and turn in all the work she owes, it is very likely that she will do well in school. It is important that she accepts responsibility for her actions and acknowledges when she makes a mistake. If her first thought is "My teacher didn't tell me," then she needs to give some thought to what determines success. Parents can help her to understand the importance of a good work ethic. Parents should also allow her to suffer the consequences of her actions by not rescuing her from failure. The same is true whether talking about success in academics, sports, art, music, or even friendship. (On the other hand, if your child is working hard but still not succeeding, then it may be time to seek help.)

When you hear your child say disparaging things about herself, encourage her by explaining that her feelings are quite normal and a part of adolescence. Help her to be her very best and encourage her to take charge of her life and work. Help her to connect her hard work to success by praising her efforts rather than her intellect. In this way, she will be successful now in school and later in life after school. She will gradually feel better about herself and realize how special she is to many people.

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Homework Binder: A Strategy That Helps With Executive Functioning

Many children tend to be impulsive and have trouble planning ahead, keeping up with long-term projects, making thoughtful decisions, and turning in all of their homework. These abilities are all a part of executive functioning. (See Executive Functioning: How It Affects a Student in School.) Most of the thought processes involved take place in the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain just behind the forehead. This part of the brain is not fully formed until students are out of high school, which explains why adolescents often have trouble making decisions.

Students vary in their ability to manage their day-to-day life because they do not all develop at the same rate. Nearly all students get better as they get older. If they are struggling with executive functioning in school to the point where it is affecting their success, they need additional support until they can manage their schoolwork by themselves.

If your child has trouble turning in all his homework, a good starting point for help is to set up a homework binder. This binder should be a bright color that is easily spotted in his book bag. The binder should contain the assignment sheets from each of his classes, any handouts that relate to that night’s homework, and a place for completed work to hand in the next day. As he completes the homework for each subject, he should cross it off, making it clear that assignment is finished. The completed work goes in its own section. If there is a question he cannot answer, he should highlight it so that he can ask for help with it the next day. (He needs to understand that he should finish everything else on that assignment.) The binder should also house special notes or permission slips that need attention from parents.

Your child needs help learning to use a homework binder. It will take time before she sees it as her “survival guide” to school success and using it becomes a habit. Once this organizational skill is mastered (she uses it without you reminding her), select something else to start working on. It is best to work intensely on one student skill at a time so she will not feel overwhelmed.

For a thorough discussion on executive functioning, read "What is Executive Function?" by the National Center for Learning Disabilities. They also have a free ebook with explanations and strategies for ways to help.

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A Free App To Help With Time Management

Many students have trouble keeping up with everything they are supposed to do each day. This is especially true when they move from middle to upper school, where teachers expect them to be more independent. I recently discovered a great free app that can help. It is called myHomework Student Planner and is available for free for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

The app allows you to set up your schedule of classes, enter assignments, assignment types (test, project, paper, etc.), due dates, reminders, and priority levels. I really like that you can set up a myHomework account online and enter data from your computer rather than entering everything on a smartphone. The account will sync to your phone (or iPad) with a simple command. You can view upcoming as well as late assignments.

This is the kind of app that will take some time to set up. Once it is all set up, it should be pretty easy to maintain. If your child is really disorganized, you will need to help him set it up and enter homework assignments. You might need to remind him daily to keep it up-to-date until it becomes a habit. Many students need help breaking a long-term project up into manageable tasks, too. Each task needs to be entered separately into the app with reminders set far enough in advance to give time to complete it by its due date.

The ultimate goal is for him to manage the app by himself, but many struggling students can’t do that without assistance up front.

The app does not have the capability to enter other obligations on the calendar. However, it is simple enough to enter family events and ball games by entering them as homework due at a particular date and time.

There are other options for calendar systems that sync from computer to phone. It doesn’t really matter which system students use as long as they do have a reliable, easy-to-use system. Managing time well is a necessary skill for success in school and life.

For more time management tips, read You Can Teach Your Teen How to Manage Time Effectively.

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The Fine Line Between Giving Support and Helping Too Much

A parent of one of my students recently said she was struggling with walking the fine between giving her daughter the support she needs and supporting her too much. This is always a difficult decision parents must make. On the one hand, struggling students have felt abandoned by the people they trust (like their parents and teachers) when they really are trying as hard as they can but still do not do well in school. On the other, they do need to become independent and learn how to succeed in school without extra supports. Let me give you some food for thought.

We have no trouble offering support to students with disabilities that are obvious, like poor eyesight or hearing, an inability to move around on their own, or a broken arm. Everyone sees the need for extra support in these cases. Some of these supports may be needed forever, like for poor eyesight or hearing. Others may be temporary, like for a broken arm that will heal.

It’s more difficult, however, when the need for support is invisible. Children with an auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, or executive functioning disability need support, sometimes permanently. They are often accused of being lazy and dependent on others. If you think about it this way, accusing a dyslexic child of becoming dependent on a spelling checker is no more reasonable than accusing a child with poor eyesight of becoming dependent on eyeglasses!

Children with poor hearing can be brilliant, yet have to wear a hearing aid forever. Similarly, a child with a learning disability may need certain supports forever, yet become a highly successful adult because they are creative and innovative. Most schools focus less on creativity and innovation and more on reading, writing, math, and spelling. Of course, all children need to learn these basic skills. But for those who have learning issues, they may need some additional support in order to succeed while in school. They also need encouragement because their areas of strength (such as creativity and social skills) are not valued as much as their areas of weakness (like spelling and academic writing).

If you know a child who struggles in school, consider whether offering support can lead to success. When possible, give them temporary support only until they can succeed on their own. But if they need support forever, that’s OK. Remember that there is life beyond school  where the things they do well may be more important.

My original question was, how much is too much support? We need to offer them exactly how much they need in order to be successful in school. If your son is working hard and still not succeeding, he needs more support. (For ideas of what kinds of support you may need to offer, read "Options for Helping a Struggling Student.") If your child is getting a lot of support from you, and you are working harder than she is—that is too much support. (For help in deciding whether your child is working hard enough, read "Is My Child Working Hard Enough in School?"). We want children to be as independent as possible as soon as possible. That just might mean they will need some supports for a little while and others forever.

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How To Help a Child With an Auditory Processing Disorder

Students who have an auditory processing disorder are often left behind in the classroom even though they are very smart. Like many learning differences, APD is not something you can tell is there. Most of the time, children with APD have no trouble hearing—it’s what happens to the sounds once they enter the brain that causes the problems.

APD can be similar to having an attention deficit disorder. Some kids with attention deficits pay attention to everything around them equally without being able to determine what is important. Likewise, some students with APD cannot determine which sounds are the ones they are supposed to listen to. The background sounds seem just as important to them as the teacher’s voice.

Other students with APD cannot discriminate between similar sounding words or sounds. The sound the letter “b” makes is exactly like the sound of a “d.” APD can also show up as poor auditory memory. These students cannot recall things they hear; they need to see it, too. Others with APD change the sequence of sounds they hear. If they hear the number 25, it becomes 52 once it enters the brain.

Regardless of the type of auditory processing disorder, the strategies that help are similar.

  • Seat the student near the teacher
  • Speak more slowly, and use simple sentences
  • Eliminate unnecessary sounds in the room
  • Provide copies of notes or assistive technology like the Livescribe Pen or AudioNote
  • Provide visual cues and written instructions, pictures, or diagrams to go along with auditory information

If these strategies do not help your child, it is time to enlist the help of an audiologist who specializes in auditory processing disorders. It is important for teachers to understand that students can be very bright but not succeeding in school. When given the needed accommodations, they are able to learn and demonstrate their abilities.

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3 Strategies To Help Kids Follow Spoken Directions

Marcus frequently misunderstands oral directions. There are many children who have this issue. The underlying cause can be difficult to figure out. Consider what has to happen in his brain when he hears, “Marcus, would you please get the plates and silverware out, and put them on the table?” He has to first hear the words that are spoken, process the words in his brain, understand the meaning of the words, and then finally determine whether he needs to take an action.

Assume that Marcus is paying attention and hears the words correctly (meaning his ears work fine and he does not have an ear infection preventing him from hearing). Does he know what you mean by “plates and silverware”? Does that mean the good china normally reserved for company? Could it mean paper plates left over from the picnic? Or maybe it’s the everyday dishes. Some children process this information within seconds, while others take much longer. He might never even get to the silverware options! If Marcus looks at you like he doesn’t understand your request, he may be processing all the options and trying to decide which makes the most sense. Often, we as parents see that he is not taking an action and immediately start giving him more directions which adds to his confusion.

If this scenario is familiar to you, here are some things you might try.

  • Give fewer instructions at one time. “Marcus, would you get the plates down?” Then wait long enough for him to figure out which plates you are talking about before making the next request.
  • Speak more slowly so that Marcus does not have to process quite so quickly.
  • Teach Marcus how to ask for help when he doesn’t understand you. Have him practice saying, “Mom, I am not sure what you are asking me to do. Can you help me?”


If children have a history of never understanding what others are telling them, they often give up. They quit trying. With these simple suggestions, they begin to regain confidence in their ability to understand what they are being asked to do.

For more information on a related topic, read "Is It An Auditory Processing Disorder?"

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With Learning, It Doesn't Matter How Long It Takes

Last week, I wrote about grades and what they really mean. Do they really reflect actual learning? Teacher Ron Simmons tells a story in his math classes at Hilton Head Prep School. He shares this with his math students when they tell him they’re not good in math.

He asks his students, “How old were you when you learned to walk?” He pauses for a moment. Then he randomly selects someone and says, “I bet you walked very early. I bet you walked when you were only eleven months old.” To another he says, “I bet you were fifteen months old before you learned to walk.”

They begin to talk about when they learned to walk when Mr. Simmons says, “What difference does it make? You all are really good at walking now. Does it really matter when you learned as long as you finally did learn how?”

He then relates this story to learning math. He says that some students learn it really quickly and call themselves “good at math.” Others take longer. They might even take a really long time to finally get it. Once again he asks the question, “What difference does it make how long it takes to learn it? As long as you learn it in the end you will all be “good at math.” Then Mr. Simmons and his students get down to the business of learning math.

I really love this story because it is such a great illustration of how we should be thinking about the purpose of school. It also points out that all children are not exactly alike. Some catch on quickly in history but not so quickly in science. Others struggle in English or with grammar. All children need to be encouraged to keep trying. They need to know that failure is an important part of life, and that a strong work ethic is a great predictor of future success. They also need to know that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to learn a skill as long as they eventually do learn it. Everyone can be “good at math” if they work hard enough and keep on trying.

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Families and Learning Differences

It is common that learning differences run in families. It is not totally clear whether these differences are inherited. However, I have personally witnessed many, many cases of a child who has the same trouble in school that one of his parents did. This is very difficult for the parent who had the same difficulties in school. Their typical response goes something like this: “I hated school, too, and I turned out just fine! She just needs to try harder and not be so lazy.”

My advice in these situations is to focus on the child. Many parents do not realize the pain these children are in. School is different now than it was in the past. Years ago, many students would end their education at high school to start their career, or they dropped out of school and started their career early. They became successful in a variety of fields that did not require a high school diploma. Many times, this is the case with the parent who responds that they are “just fine.” They really are just fine despite how difficult school was for them. But school is different now and society’s views on education have changed.

Currently, schools are expected to prepare every child for college. All students are expected to travel the same path regardless of their interest and desires. There are few options for a student who does not intend to go to college. Even though many respectable professions do not require a college degree, schools focus on preparing students for college.

These children need to receive help to manage their learning challenges. This is why the response “to try harder and not be so lazy” is not what is best for the child.

Another scenario is that a child is struggling to succeed in school, but is interested in a career that requires a college degree. Many students who struggle in school are very, very bright. (See "Kids With Learning Disabilities Are Actually Quite Smart" to understand this better.) If these students do not receive support in school, they will not learn how to be successful in college. This is also not what is best for the child.

If your child is having a tough time in school, ask your school psychologist or principal for help. The first step might be to have her tested for a learning disability. (You also might want to check out this interesting screening quiz for learning disabilities.)

The bottom line is this—if your child is not doing well in school, she needs to get help. This is not about you, it’s about your child. Do what is best for her.

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AudioNote: A Technological Solution for Note Taking

In an earlier blog I wrote about the Livescribe Pen which is a recording pen that assists students who have trouble taking notes. In this same blog, I mentioned the AudioNote app. At that point, I did not have any experience with it. Since that time, several of my students purchased it and have been using it in my class.

AudioNote is available for the Mac, iOS, Windows and Android operating systems. I downloaded it on my Android phone for $4.99 and one of my students bought it for his Windows computer for $19.99. Here is how it works.

When class begins, the students who wish to use AudioNote ask permission to record class. I give blanket permission to my classes, and the students who are recording just signal me by pointing at their device (laptop or smartphone). But asking is important, because some teachers do not want to be recorded. I teach my students that they must always ask; this is basic etiquette that students need to know.

As AudioNote records the sounds in the room, students type their notes. It does not matter if they miss writing something, because they can later click or touch their screen where they have missing notes, and the software plays whatever the teacher was saying at that time. Before the Livescribe Pen (and now AudioNote) came along, it was difficult to find the part of a recording you needed to hear. You would have to fast forward or rewind until you located the correct spot. This was time-consuming and frustrating. But thanks to Livescribe and AudioNote, recording lectures is a truly powerful assistive technology.

My students have learned a few things about AudioNote that may help you. Those who use it on their iPhone or Android phone find they are not able to type much on their phone. They use the app on their phone and type one or two words when something new starts. For example, if the subject changes or a new bullet point starts they might type and “A. Genetics,” or “B. DNA Fingerprinting.” While doing this, they also write their notes in a spiral notebook which they later fill in as they listen to the recording. Students who bought the software for their laptop love typing their notes in the software; but they find that the sound is too low because the microphone on their laptop faces them instead of the front of the room. They can hear it if they use their headset, but it is really too soft. They find that they must sit near me in order for it to be loud enough.

We are still working out these issues. Regardless, my students find AudioNote to be a useful tool that assists them taking notes in class. Many times students try new technology, software or apps, and only use it for a short trial period before giving up on it. AudioNote is helpful enough to some of my students that they are still using it after weeks of use.

If you have found an assistive technology that works and proves to be really helpful, please let me know. I always appreciate learning about something from someone who has actually given it a try!


> Necessary Skills for Students in the Digital Age

> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

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Let Kids Know That Failure Is a Normal Part of Life

As parents, we want to protect our children from failure. What we don’t realize is that failure is an important part of life. If children do not experience failure, they may not learn to struggle through to success. Think about when you watched your child learn to walk. If every time she fell down you rescued her, she would have taken much longer to learn to walk on her own. On the other hand, there were times when she did need encouragement from you to keep trying.

The students I teach are dyslexic. This means they have a specific language learning difficulty that affects them in many ways. They often experience school failure before coming to our school. More than once I have heard my students say they feel their strength is that they know how to fail, sometimes over and over again, and not get too discouraged. To get to this point, however, takes support from parents, friends, and teachers.

When your child fails (such as getting a low grade on a test or project they thought was really good), you can help him to learn resilience—to bounce back and keep trying until he finally succeeds. Here are some suggestions for what you might do.

  • Ask him to help you figure out exactly what went wrong. It is important to identify what caused the failure. Was it that he did not understand the task? Was it that he did not study? Or, was it that he did study, but it did not work? Was it a time management problem? Did he complete all the pieces of the project? Once you have identified a problem, you can take steps with him to solve it the next time he is faced with a similar task.
  • Remind her that she is really good at doing other things, such as playing a musical instrument, participating in sports, painting, or entertaining children. Genuine praise goes a long way in uplifting the spirits of a discouraged child. Everyone is good at doing something, and children need to celebrate their gifts as they are struggling with their weaknesses.
  • If you can think of a time when you failed at something and later made it through your struggle, discuss what you learned from the experience. Did you give up? Did you try again to see if you could do it better the next time? Did you ask for help from someone along the way?
  • Give your child a big hug and assure him that you love him no matter what. Tell him that you believe that he will make it through tough times and that you will be there to help him. Adults who succeeded in school despite having a learning difference often attribute their success to one person. This person—whether a parent, teacher, coach, bus driver, or custodian—simply told them often that they believed in them. This helps to build resilience—the ability to bounce back after failure and to keep on trying.

If you have a child who struggles in school, resist the urge to do her work for her. This will not help her to be successful. It will teach her that she cannot do it without you (or someone else who will do it for her). It is OK to help, but be careful not to do the work. On the other hand, if you see that she is getting too discouraged and is unable to bounce back, it is time to see a professional to help your child find out why school is so difficult for her. The school psychologist is a good place to start. If one is not available, ask her teacher for advice for where to get the help she needs.


> Sometimes, Success Starts Out as Failure

> Low Skills Do Not Mean Low Intelligence


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Struggling Students Require More Energy To Learn

A person’s brain occupies approximately 2 percent of the body’s weight, yet it uses 25 percent of the body’s energy. This amount of energy is required to stay alive, move around, and think. Studies have shown that struggling students require more energy in order to process what they are learning, especially if what they are asked to do stresses weak abilities such as working memory or processing speed.

I led a learning differences simulation this week created by the Northern California Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. Each station simulated what it is like to have a particular learning difference. For example, one activity is supposed to simulate an auditory processing problem. The students were supposed to be on a science field trip. They were told to listen to their group leader and do what she told them to do. The problem is that the students could hear their own group leader and five other group leaders all speaking at the same time. There were times when the other group leader’s voices were as loud or louder than their own. As I watched the participants try to do the activity, they looked very distressed and upset.

The whole event lasted a little over an hour. As I would escort participants between one simulation and the next, they often mentioned how exhausting the activities were. I heard more than once, “I can’t imagine how a student feels after struggling like this all day long.” The parents who participated left with a deep understanding of why their child comes home from school totally exhausted.

How can parents help? If your child has a hard time in school and comes home exhausted each day, there are several things you can do to help.

  • Make sure she gets plenty of rest. Children need more sleep than adults do. Many of my students come to school already sleepy, because they stayed up too late the night before. Sometimes it’s because they have their cell phone in bed with them and spend time visiting with their friends even after they are supposed to be asleep.
  • Provide for a healthy diet that includes protein for breakfast. I know many children do not like “normal” breakfast foods, but there are many nutritious foods they can eat in the morning that will give them extra energy throughout the early hours of the school day. It is also important to drink plenty of water throughout the day because your brain requires hydration to operate efficiently.
  • Exercise should also be a part of every child’s day. If they do not participate in sports or physical education programs at school, encourage them to play active games at home.
  • Drill and practice basic facts. Believe it or not, this can preserve energy. The brain won’t need so much extra energy to do these tasks. When struggling with something, the brain uses a lot more glucose than when facts are on “auto pilot”—some say as much as 7-10 times more energy is needed. For more information about the importance of drill and practice, read "Drill and Practice: The Basic Keys to Student Success."


> Eating, Sleeping, and Learning
> Breakfast Ideas for School Success

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Small Steps Can Improve Student Skills

Students who struggle in school often have many areas where they need to improve. This is true whatever the age. I currently teach high school students who struggle with student skills, and it is unreasonable to expect them to fix everything at once. Students should only work on one major issue at a time. If you limit what you are working on to one or two things, you can measure progress which encourages students to keep working.

Identify the problem. Whatever the problem is, the first step is to clearly identify the problem and come up with a possible solution. If your child forgets to write his name on his homework, there are steps to take to make this a habit—something he does without thinking. He must know what her teacher expects to be written in the heading and where it should be written. A sample of the correct heading should be posted near where your child does her homework. Once everyone is clear about expectations, the next step is to come up with a plan for how to change the behavior so that writing the proper heading is automatically something she does.

Guided practice. Whatever skill your child is working on, in the beginning he needs to practice with help. He will need to be reminded how to do it and monitored until he can do it without help. This takes time. Depending on the skill, it could take a long time. Children with executive functioning problems will especially need a lot of guided practice.

Independent practice. The next step is for him to practice by himself with you checking afterward to make sure he did it. It is a good idea during this stage to begin charting progress. Everyone needs to feel success and a bar chart or checklist is a visual way to see how well things are going. Some parents provide rewards for improved behavior, but I prefer to offer genuine praise for a job well done. Celebrate with an occasional trip to the frozen yogurt shop. Say, “You have made so much progress lately, I think we should celebrate.” My personal belief is that this will help your child become intrinsically motivated rather than motivated by constant rewards you offer.

Occasional check. With enough practice, your child should be independent and not need your frequent reminders and checking behind him. Occasionally, check to make sure he is still doing it and praise him for remembering. At this point, you can begin working on the next skill.

If your child can master two new student skills a month, in one school year he should experience a boost in self-confidence and perhaps improved grades.

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Deep Breathing To Help With Test Anxiety


Many students completely stress out when they have a test. They might be totally prepared and know everything on it, yet they are so scared and worried that they become unable to show what they know. There are some strategies that might help. Learning how to breathe deeply is a good place to start.

When a person is stressed, the body produces adrenaline which is the hormone that creates the “fight or flight” response. During this response, breathing is quick and shallow and the body’s oxygen supply is directed to the legs and arms in order to protect oneself from danger. Deep breathing can actually help reduce the level of adrenaline in the body, increase the oxygen level in the brain, and help a person relax.

If your daughter knows the material when studying at home but gets too anxious when taking the test, teach her how to do this deep breathing exercise. She can reduce her anxiety while sitting at her desk about to start the test. No one will even notice.


  • First, have her inhale slowly through her nose and hold the oxygen in her lungs for a couple of seconds.
  • Next, she should slowly exhale through pursed lips. The stomach should rise and fall as she breathes.
  • Tell her to repeat this for several minutes until she begins to relax.


She needs to practice this at home until it is easy to do and feels natural to her. At home, you can help her practice when you notice she is getting angry or worried about something. Later, on test day, she will know what she needs to do.

Deep breathing will only help her to perform better if she is prepared for the test. If not, the source of her anxiety might be that she knows she is not ready to take it. In that case, she needs to learn how to study. Check out the study skills archive of articles for ideas to help her learn how to prepare for tests. 

> More tips to overcome test anxiety


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Problems Copying From the Board

Some children have a hard time copying things from the board. Some are unable to do it at all, while others are just very slow at copying. There are multiple reasons for this difficulty. Regardless of its cause, students need accommodations to overcome this barrier before it causes problems in school. (An accommodation is something that allows the child to perform and succeed despite having a difficulty that prevents her from doing an action by herself.)

If a child cannot focus on the board clearly, this can cause problems copying. School-age children should have their eyes examined every other year unless they already wear glasses or contacts. In that case, the eyes should be reexamined every year. Another possibility is that the child is sitting in a place where there is too much glare on the board. Teachers don’t always look at the board from every location in the room, so don’t rule this out. These vision issues are fairly easy to solve. Glasses or contacts can resolve the focusing issue, and changing angles with the screen or closing the blinds on the windows can remove the glare. 

Hand-eye coordination issues, poor pencil grasp, or muscle weakness in the hand also can cause a child to have trouble copying from the board. Other possibilities relate to poor language skills. If a child has to copy letter by letter because he doesn’t know how to spell well enough, it takes a lot more time for him than for other students. A student with poor working memory may not be able to hold the information in his head long enough to get it down on paper. All of these should be diagnosed by a trained professional who can then make recommendations to address the problem. In the meantime, the child needs an accommodation so that this does not keep him from learning in school.

There are multiple accommodations that could help. One answer is to provide a copy of notes to the student. Another is to make a copy of another student’s notes (one who has legible handwriting and takes good notes). If the teacher is using an interactive white board, she should be able to take a snapshot of the board and provide it to the student digitally. Or a student could take a picture of the board with his smartphone or iPod. Some students can copy something for themselves if what they are copying is close by. This is called “near point copying.” For these students, they can simply copy a nearby student’s notes.

If your child is having trouble copying notes for himself, speak to his teacher to see if she is willing to provide an accommodation to help. If not, I would suggest you go to the school psychologist, counselor, or principal to ask for help.

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Back to School: College Options for Students Who Struggle in School

As students prepare to go back to school, parents of those students who find middle and high school difficult may worry about their child’s future. Many students who struggle believe college is not an option for them. While college might be difficult, it is not necessarily out of the question. Sometimes it is the choice of college that presents a problem.

When considering which college to attend, students who struggle (and their parents) should think about these 9 points:


1. Will the college I am considering offer me the same accommodations I have been receiving in high school? This can include extended time on tests, access to a computer, or exemption from foreign languages. (See Ask for Help if Your Teen Has a Learning Problem.) When you visit the school, talk to enrolled  students with similar learning struggles to make sure the college actually does provide what it claims to provide.


2. How big are the classes? Smaller classes offer more opportunities for personalized help, so looking at smaller colleges is probably a better option.


3. Will I be allowed to ask questions? Some colleges have such large classes that students do not get to speak to their professors at all (and, as at any school, some professors are open to questions being asked during class and others are not). Be sure to choose a school that provides access to professors outside of class time. And then choose professors who are easy to work with. You can find this out by asking other students, your advisor, or by visiting online sites that rate professors such as Rate My Professors (note that while most reviews are legitimate, some especially negative reviews may be posted by disgruntled students).


4. Choose a major that will make use of your strengths. Some of my students have chosen to major in areas like physical therapy or recreational therapy because they are so good with people. Think about what you like to do and find a course of study that will allow you to do that.


5. Take fewer courses at a time. This way you can focus on less material and spend plenty of time studying for each course. It may take you longer to finish college, but the extra time will be worth it in the end.


6. Sign up to receive services from the learning resources center (or whatever it is called at your college of choice). Typically you qualify for this if you had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in high school. The center can help you stay on track, offer proofreading and other services, and help you receive accommodations if you need them. They can also recommend professors who are better at working with students who need a little more help. But signing up for services isn’t enough—you actually have to show up and use them!


7. Attend class regularly. It is so much easier to learn if you are in class, hear all the discussions, and participate in the activities. This is especially true if you have difficulty navigating your textbook and learning from what you read. (See Student Absences: They Hurt Learning More Than You Might Think.)


8. Form partnerships with other students in your classes. Set up study groups so you can get together to discuss what you are learning in class, and exchange phone numbers so you can help one another when you have to miss class.


9. Understand that some people learn easily in school and don’t have to work as hard as you do. Life is not fair. But someday when you have your college degree, you will be able to pursue a career that makes use of your strengths. You will have a better work ethic than other students who didn’t have to work as hard as you did. I firmly believe that School Is Not Life!

So, don’t give up. Hang in there until you get to begin really having fun, in your career.         

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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

No - 37.4%
Sometimes - 25.4%
Yes - 31.6%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016