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A Word From Our Founder

Alexandra Mayzler, Executive Director, Thinking Caps

Until recently, I spent most of my time in and around middle and high school students. For students in those grades, the prospect of learning is usually a serious matter. While these kids often find the content riveting, they don’t say the same about the process. The expectations are hefty and so are the tools used to meet those expectations – hours spent poring over textbooks, flashcard stacks as tall as skyscrapers, and memorization accomplished by sheer drilling. Having dedicated a lot of my pedagogical attention to these upper grades, the rigor of such studying was my norm. I thought about ways to optimize learning and make it more efficient.

Then, thanks to my 3 year-old, I started seeing a very different kind of learning. He’s singing and dancing and having a great time—and all the while, he's learning. He has managed to learn two dis-tinct alphabets through song. He’s identifying numbers not because he’s drilling them with me but because he knows we live on a certain floor and that we do laundry on another floor. And never has a conversation about the digestive system been as entertaining as when he imagines the journey of his daily oatmeal.

The juxtaposition of my so's early learning to what I encounter from many upper class students got me thinking: Why is the joy of studying so often missing after elementary school? What hap-pens when we get so serious about school? Of course, I recognize that content is different in the upper grades and that there is a time for serious study. But, on average, when we’re having fun learning, we're more engaged, more willing to stick with something tricky, and we're also interacting with the material in a more meaningful way. It's a bummer that the fun of the process gets lost as we move to high school.

As we head into the final leg of the year, I’m challenging myself to think about how learning at the upper levels of school can be a little more entertaining. A 9th grader I met with a little while ago told me about "Quiz Ball," an assessment her teacher does – a real quiz, with a real grade – with a ball she throws to students and asks them to answer questions while holding the ball. I’d never heard a student talk so excitedly about taking a quiz. Sure, the teacher also uses regular paper tests, but quizzes are "Quiz Ball"-style and the class is pretty enthusiastic about it. That's pretty cool. I’m off to think about games, songs, and other things we could do to make the learning process enjoyable. If you have any ideas – let me know!

Tutor Spotlight

Here’s a memory I have from high school:

It is 10 P.M., the night before the New York State Regents exam for chemistry. I tell myself that I should finally start studying, so I open the review book and thumb through the pages. Fifteen minutes later, I put the book down and go to sleep.

That was the most I ever studied for an exam.

Reflecting back on my studying habits, I am amazed that I made it out of high school without failing a class. I never studied for my tests - not because I didn’t want to - simply because I did not know how. In fact, I did not learn how to study until I was a junior in college, when several of my friends went to the library to study for a midterm. Wanting to do the same, but not sure how, I sheepishly disclosed to my friends that I did not know how to study. They were astounded; they could not believe I made it to college and had never studied. They taught me some techniques, such as using flashcards and rewriting my notes, but this was only the beginning.

Once I overcame my initial embarrassment, I sought out help from my professors. I asked them how they thought I should study, because I not only wanted to better my grades, but also my life. You see, learning how to study is not simply about learning the subject matter, it is also about learning more about yourself. You have to figure out how your own mind works, what comes naturally to youand what doesn’t. You have to take a step back and think about yourself from the outside, and that’s a good thing. This ability to be introspective and evaluate yourself will enhance all areas of your life: academics, work, and relationships. Today, as a professor, the most important message I'd like to convey to my students is how to study, so that they can learn how to learn and gain insight into themselves.

You Ask, We Answer!

A student asks: I am really nervous about my upcoming standardized tests. I also seem to struggle with the reading passages and find myself picking the wrong answer. How can I better know what the question is asking and then choose the right response?

Answer: First of all, you are not alone in this feeling. Many students become overwhelmed with reading comprehension sections and get tripped up by all the options for multiple choice questions. The testers often try and throw students off by adding in some trick answers. Here are some tips for tackling these passages and strategies for determining the correct answer choice:

Tutor Tips

Parent's Corner

A parent asks: Lately, my 14 year-old (a freshman in high school) has been really anxious about going to school. Last week he refused to leave the apartment on Monday morning, and said he was too overwhelmed to go to class. The next day we had the same issue—except it was worse because he had make-up work to do, too. We got him to go by promising that we would help him get all the home-work done, but we really would like some advice on how to deal with this in the future!

Answer: Kids can often become really stressed by homework and school overall—especially if they’re still getting used to the transition from middle school to high school. More assignments and higher ex-pectations plus a new environment can be a difficult combination to navigate. As grownups, we can forget how daunting this can all be, so it’s really important to listen to your child and to figure out where they’re coming from. Here are some tips that can help you: