During this period of sequestration, those of us lucky to have jobs and kids are facing more interruptions to our work than ever before, right when we most need to be able to concentrate. This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course; for example, this breezy article on the topic dates from 2015.
What is new is the acuteness of the problem, and the unexpectedly strong emotions it can raise. A friend just offhandedly told me “I’m still trying to get to the bottom of why it makes me angry.” And I thought, Wait. I know this one.
If you’re in this boat, I’d like to suggest the possibility that it’s because the locus of control for your own thoughts belongs with you, as opposed to being a resource that is implicitly shared with everyone moving through your environment. In other words, you might be angry because other people are exerting control over your own thought process — in effect, over the proper function of your own mind and experience. It’s a violation of something extremely personal.
COVID-19 is here, and we’re all figuring out the new normal.
For many students, one consequence looms large: schools are closing, and they’re preparing to stay closed for months. The schools and the students alike are making the shift to distance learning. And they’re doing it right now, whether they’re ready or not.
But there’s more to it than just scheduling a video chat, or training for a day or two on Google Classroom.
We’ve been teaching the majority of our students via face-to-face video for years now. And not just from across the country. In fact, some of our students live less than a mile from our office. No kidding: the experience can be so seamless that even a five-minute walk seems wasteful.
It’s because we’ve practiced, year-round, for years. We’re happy to share our experience with you.
Here are some ideas for getting the most out of an educator who isn’t accustomed to working over video. They all come from years of trying everything, talking to everyone, and figuring it all out. It’s our pleasure to share it with you.
If you have more questions, schedule a chat. (Yes, we really are happy to help. No fee, no obligation.)
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
When it comes to STEM tutoring, test preparation, and contest preparation for especially strong students, this is a shockingly important concept. After all, strong students know a lot; they know what they know; and they are aware of things that they ought to know but don’t yet.
But typically there are things that they are missing that they don’t even know that they are missing. And this is where most of the real trouble lies. I help these students recognize these “unknown unknowns” in their academic lives.
The most common unknown unknown is a deficit in one of three qualities (which some colleagues helped me identify in a previous post):
Fluent:the successful student knows the material and how it all interconnects. Otherwise, success is necessarily limited (of course). This category includes not only “I need to study more” but also “I had memorized that fact, but didn’t know how it was relevant to this question.”
Present:the successful student is fully focused when engaging with the material. Otherwise, knowledge doesn’t matter; you’ll still flub it, e.g. by misreading the question, answering a different but related question, making an arithmetic error, doing too much in one’s head rather than on paper… in essence, a forehead-slapper. This is often missing in students who are so fluent that they aren’t used to having to focus 100% of their attention.
Bold:the successful student is willing and able to make progress with incomplete information. It’s often called creativity, critical reasoning, or problem-solving. But at its core, it’s about reasoning successfully even when some pieces of the puzzle appear to be missing. This is often missing in students who are so fluent that they aren’t used to having anything less than complete information in the first place.
That’s it in a nutshell: to be extremely successful academically, you should aim to be fluent, present, and bold. But most strong students consider any academic issue to be a failure only of fluency, which means they often use the wrong tools for solving their problems.
This can cause extreme frustration, and can threaten both morale and identity.
My diagnostic systems identify gaps in these categories, and my interventions help students build the new habits that bridge these gaps. This eliminates these frustrating “unknown unknowns” for most students.
I’m glad to finally have a way to easily discuss these issues with students and parents, so that we can all help the student as a cohesive team.
This outstanding TED Talk by Barnard’s president is mainly about choking under pressure. But how interesting that the example Professor Beilock spends most time on is girls’ learning math.
One of the excellent points she makes so well is that there’s a difference between knowing how to do something, and being able to do it when the pressure’s on. And as you have probably experienced yourself, the pressure is in some sense always on.
I’ve experienced this since my school days, and I’ve done my share of studying this issue and experimenting with various best practices. When it comes to preparation for math tests of any kind, I consider this issue to be of equal importance to actually learning math.
I know. It sounds like heresy. But I know it’s right. So we use a three-pronged approach to preparing for math tests and math competitions alike:
Learn the necessary math to fluency
Identify and resolve all your performance/execution issues (per the above)
Strengthen your ability to critically deconstruct and to creatively synthesize
We give equal weight to these keys to success, because we understand that it isn’t just about what you know. It’s also about what you can do, and how you feel when you do it.
As the offshore tutoring industry continues to gear up and get huge, I’ve been coming around to the idea that different people have different needs, and it’s good for everyone when many solutions are available for a problem. It’s just like having McDonald’s around the corner: it’s no good when you want a gourmet meal, but if you want a Big Mac, then that’s the very best place to go.