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Creating a System for Learning


Knowing how to do something is only half the battle. Knowing when to do something is equally as important and unfortunately harder to manage. I first learned this lesson while teaching my Algebra 2 Honors class a few years back. I had been teaching factoring and there are dozens of different methods for accomplishing the task. I taught each method individually giving each method it's own day and when I would walk around class most of my students demonstrated a strong ability to complete the problems. It wasn't until I gave my students the test review that I recognized the issue at hand. When the students learned only one method at a time they all understood it but when they received the test review with the various factoring methods mixed and matched they struggled immensely. This experience led me to the aforementioned conclusion, "Knowing how to do something is only half the battle. Knowing when to do something is equally as important and unfortunately harder to manage."

So here's my solution......

When I (or most people for that matter) look at a string of computer code it appears overwhelmingly complicated. In light of this our brains go into overdrive trying to make sense of it or it shuts down to avoid the complication. Though in the case of a computer programmer it's perfectly readable. They can sift through what is and isn't important in order to interpret it as quickly as possible. That ability often comes through experience but of course "learning through experience" can be further enhanced through the right means. Any organizational system simply takes the complicated and structures it into smaller and more manageable pieces. In light of that I have created an organizational system to ensure that my students can first identify the problem, which in turn makes solving the question significantly easier.

Every question on the SAT falls into one of 26 topics. And about two third of the test is made up of questions from only 8 of those topics. Each of those 26 topics are then assigned a number relating back to the chapter in the book in which those type of questions were taught. Here's why that's important......

My sessions are typically formatted as follows. 30 minutes going over missed questions from practice tests. 30 minutes of the student teaching me questions and concepts that they've previously missed, and 30 minutes of work on specific content. During the specific content portion of my sessions I strongly emphasize the ways in which they can ask questions on the topic and how they can identify what type of question it is just by looking at it. Then when we are going over practice tests I always ask them what chapter the question is from before they even get a chance to put pencil to paper and begin working out the problem. Now this is hardly groundbreaking in the world of test prep I but I'm constantly thinking about every possible little way to improve my test prep service and doing this led to more significant improvement then I expected.

Students say the following to me all the time. "Why can I always do it when I'm with you but it seems so hard when I'm at home?" Now remember I never actually work out an entire problem in front of a student so it's not like I'm helping them along. The explanation behind why the above statement is true is because I ask them the right questions to help them identify what type of problem it is. From there it is amazing how most of my students can figure it out. Once I noticed this I knew how important it was to teach the student to identify the problem type themselves. It holds students back far more often than most teachers or tutors ever realize.

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