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Successful Students Put Pencil to Paper


As a former teacher and now full time tutor I have had the privilege of working with just about every type of student both in a classroom and one on one setting. Given this experience I have noticed something interesting that I don't think is often brought up among teachers and tutors. I have noticed that (for the most part) the best students put pencil to paper and write out their thoughts to work through a problem whereas below average achievers try to work through problems in their head. Now my observations are far from a conclusive scientific study but I do believe this highlights something that we all conscious or subconsciously know but don't always apply; that the act of writing something down makes us far more likely to accomplish a task or solve the problem.

Take a grocery list for example. Send anyone to the store to shop for an entire family without giving them a list. I'm sure we can all agree that it'd be unlikely we'd leave with everything just as intended. While there may be multiple items the task is far from complex. Now imagine a multi-step math problem. Students in this case are less confident and unsure and yet they rely on processing it entirely within their own mind. Students who succumb to this trap unfortunately suffer from what I call "lazy hands." When you are working through a problem you need to write down your thoughts! I'm sure we have either experienced or watched a movie where people are lost and walking through the woods for hours only to end up back where they started. The same thing happens to students when working through problems if they don't write down their thoughts.

Here's my solution to the problem. My FAIL sheets serve as a convenient and organized way for students to document their work. (and it has the actual question on the back to boot! Photo of a FAIL Sheet is posted below) In addition to that I never work a full problem in tutoring. I will ask the right questions that will lead a student to the answer; I will workout the first part of the problem and leave the rest for the student to complete, but I'll never workout a whole problem for the student. Mostly, my students know that they can't just leave a space on the FAIL Sheet blank. My students also know that if they don't write out how to do the problem or what they didn't know, they may get a visit from Vinny. (My imaginary Italian Mob Boss who "don't take kindly to students with lazy hands")

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