Joanna, a 14-year-old honors student, met me when it became apparent that she was struggling with test preparation and and overall study skills. Her History class presented the most immediate issue, though her academic inconsistencies had impacted every course.
Unlike Paul, who gets lost in the abstract, Joanna is an extremely concrete learner. She has trouble seeing how moving parts of a lesson fit into the bigger picture. She tends to study material in a rote manner, rather than conceptualizing the context or asking bigger questions. Joanna also consistently struggles with expressive language; an issue that was apparent in our first few sessions, when Joanna floundered for the right words and often stopped mid-sentence.
Joanna swims competitively and excels in math and computers. She is a hard worker who spends many hours each night completing her homework.
- Joanna had to begin practicing metacognitive skills. Metacognition involves stepping outside of an assignment to consider questions such as “What does this mean”, “Why does it matter”, and “How does this fit into the larger scheme of this lesson?”
- To bolster her test preparation skills, Joanna needs to anticipate questions she thinks her teacher will ask. In tutorials, I modeled these skills by periodically stopping and asking her questions. As a more concrete learner, she prefers answering questions that have definitive empirical answers (e.g. math problems), so this was an uncomfortable exercise at first.
- When studying for tests, Joanna needs skill- building strategies like creating timelines and making flashcards to help synthesize the material. Much of the material overlaps; it was important for her to realize that not all moving parts contain tons of new content. We made flashcards for terms that appeared in her text, review sheets, and class notes. She seemed relieved when she saw that some of the terms repeated.
- Joanna already knew that she learns best when material is organized spatially. We needed to find a way to organize content and digest it in ways that extended beyond her previous way of study, which was to simply stare are her review sheet. To this end, we used blank pages and a ruler to create timelines of important historical events. For instance, we made a new sheet for each geographic area when she was studying imperialism in India and Africa.
- To strengthen Joanna’s confidence in expressing herself verbally, I encouraged her to continue speaking when she stopped mid-sentence. It was important to reinforce the idea that she did not need to be perfect. I also showed Joanna how I use dictionary.com and thesaurus.com to improve my own vocabulary. By using these tactics, Joanna enhanced her language retrieval and expressive language skills.
Joanna soon began to approach her assignments with increased critical reasoning skills. She is now aware that stopping and asking herself questions about what she is reading is essential to putting the parts together to form a cohesive whole. She is also starting to convert material she needs to learn in a more spatial fashion. She almost seemed to enjoy creating timelines for her history class, and the information itself is easier to digest when she makes it consistent with her learning style. Lastly, Joanna has embraced strategies especially suited for more concrete learners, like flashcards. As a result, her grades and confidence have shown marked improvement since we began working together.
- People with learning differences, like Joanna, aren’t always low achieving students
- A common strategy, used in both Paul and Joanna’s cases, is reassuring the student that overcoming a fear of imperfection is vital to success
- By creating hands-on study materials, concrete learners can adapt their strengths in learning to any subject presented to them
- Using a tutor can help a student permanently change their academic approach and output
Today’s post was written by Susannah B., MA, a learning specialist, education consultant, and Veritas tutor who specializes in maximizing the success of people with Attention Defect Disorder and learning disabilities from an elementary to post-graduate level.