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February 17th, 2016, 03:36 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by mike1127 View Post
Thanks, Benit. Your exercise idea is very useful.

As an aside, there is a lot of "psychology" in my work with this student. I mean that he has counterproductive habits that hamper his learning. One thing is that he doesn't like doing exercises that he thinks he understands already, because he regards them as a waste of time. I am coaching him to regard exercises as good training that deepen one's understanding. I.e. understanding something is not all or nothing. It's a question of how deep and confident you can get.

Such is life!

It sounds like he no longer finds the lessons fun/interesting/challenging. Start to mix things up... perhaps move away from the usual "Textbook + workbook; sit and write" approach and try something else. Invent a game or a challenge, get him to work on a whiteboard/chalkboard instead of his book... create a mini-project with an actual application... find interesting visual (or even audio) representations of the work... get creative.

Also, if he brings this up that specific excuse again, consider telling him about how memory works. Namely the following: (almost) all human brains will only retain knowledge through repetitive application of that knowledge; everything else is forgotten. The duration that the knowledge is retained is generally logarithmically increasing in time. Something like the following:

Number of times exercised | Duration remembered
First time - 1-3 days
Second time - 1-3 weeks
Third time - 1-3 months
Fourth time - 1 year

Everyone has their own memory ability; some will require only a few revision sessions to remember something for a long time whereas some will require many revisions. However, it is generally true that only through repetition does someone remember something for a long time. The above applies to skills as well as straight up knowledge. This is one of the reasons why homework and revision sessions are important; repetition is actually a key aspect of the learning process.

If he argues with you, ask him whether he remembers any faces for the people he walked past on the way to meet up with you (or something). Unless he is a savant or has photographic memory, he probably won't remember any (or most) faces... the reason why is that the brain has no need to remember the faces of everybody you walk past, so they are simply forgotten. There is also experimental evidence that if two methods are presented to a person to solve a single type of puzzle or problem, people are more likely to forget one method and choose a preferred one rather than retain both methods and those who try learning both methods find the puzzles harder to solve and generally get more confused. The brain is so good at discarding knowledge... it's a shame really!

Conclusion? If you don't like what you're doing, tough! It will help you to repeat something, even if you do understand it already, so get on with it and stop moaning! Okay... maybe don't say that...

One last point: I recommend having a quick 10 mins or so at the start of every lesson doing a couple of old questions from the previous lessons. This is not just useful for you to identify any difficulties with earlier work, but to enforce repetition. It's actually super important.

Last edited by Benit13; February 17th, 2016 at 03:49 AM.
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February 17th, 2016, 05:56 AM   #12
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Thanks, Benit. Good ideas.

I didn't think about the simple memory issue of repetition. That's a good point. I was just thinking about how working a series of similar -- but slightly different! -- problems tends to deepen and broaden your understanding.

I should clarify that he is dealing with a high degree of anxiety about all his classes (he wants good grades, but is struggling so much he fears he might not even pass them all), so he feels this urgency to make the maximum use of any practice time. He actually works long hours, and presses to keep going even when he is exhausted. The problem is that he has an incorrect model of how learning happens. For instance, he thinks that he's learning faster when a problem feels hard and confusing. I am trying to get him to relax and take things at an appropriate pace. That means giving easy problems and gradually introducing new ideas.

About special activities--I tried something yesterday. After I introduced an idea, after he seemed to get it, then I asked him to pretend he is the teacher and explain it to an imaginary high school student. I then took on the role of the imaginary student, expressing my "confusion," and asking him to explain it to me. This seemed to help him clarify some things. For instance he sometimes gets confused about whether a line has positive or negative slope because sometimes he looks at the line going from right to left rather than left to right. He sees a line sloping "downward to the left" and thinks it has negative slope. So I pretended to be a high school student confused about this issue, and he had an epiphany. He realized that some things are true because that's how they've been defined, and that theoretically you could have defined it some other way, but as the student he has to be aware of the definition. So x values increase going to the right, and y values increase going up, because that's the convention. This might sound trivial, but the way I saw his eyes light up, I think it was helping him sort out different kinds of truth in math -- things that are true because you've proven them or calculated them, versus things that are true because they are conventions.

I also asked him to draw his own diagrams in whatever way would help him understand the best. First I would explain something and draw a diagram. Then I would ask him to draw his own diagram. I am also helping him with chemistry, and the "make your own diagram" thing had a big impact there. He was confused by the way a chemistry problem was presented, and I told him he is right to be confused! Because the way it's presented is not straightforward. Then he said, "But I wish I never got confused! I shouldn't have to draw anything!" I said that everyone needs to work out a way of making it clear to themselves. So we eventually settled on a diagram that cleared it up.

He needs, basically, to take a longer-term view of learning. He doesn't like that we are taking new ideas slowly. But I said that taking them slowly now will help him move faster later in the class. I said that helping him to truly understand something, rather than just memorize it, will make everything easier as the class goes on. Furthermore, as he learns general strategies for learning, it will help him in his other classes. And he's only in his second year, so I pointed out that as he develops better study/learning habits it will support him in the last two years even more.

I said that our exercises to work with his learning style are like tuning up a race car. If you want your race car to go as fast as possible, first you have to take it to the shop and tune it up. If it's not functioning well, it doesn't help to stay on the track with the pedal to the metal.

So he seems more willing to follow this path. It's actually quite gratifying to see him open up to new ways of learning. Near the end of our session, he said "I wish this didn't take so long!" But that's a good sign, that he is starting to accept that he needs to slow down and breathe, and that he is starting to look at the "long game."
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February 17th, 2016, 06:14 AM   #13
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Okay... good stuff! It sounds like you're on top of things.

If you have any further queries, give us a shout.
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